The cuisine coming out of the kitchen at the recently opened Berenjak restaurant in central London is described as “Iranian home-style cooking”. What’s most interesting to those people happily trapped in the capital’s restaurant bubble is JKS Restaurants is backing the venture.
Berenjak is run by a chef who formerly worked in the kitchens of two of JKS Restaurants’ numerous successes, Gymkhana and Brigadiers. However, this new place has more similarities with another JKS operation – the first Hoppers in Soho. It serves Sri Lankan-style food and with its modest prices, small number of covers, extremely tasty dishes and no-booking policy, it regularly has queues out the door. With the same sort of characteristics it looks as if Berenjak has the potential to see similar perennial queues.
I have been reliably informed queuing is all part of the experience with such venues, while some form of camaraderie can be enjoyed while waiting in line with like-minded individuals in much the same way people seem to joyously camp out overnight for the latest Apple products, fashion “drops” and Wimbledon tickets.
Thankfully for Berenjak, the mobile phone has eliminated the need to physically stand outside the joint so leaving your number with them results in being summoned when a table in the compact 35-cover walk in-only dining room becomes available. There are also some mobile technology solutions in the market place from companies such as Qudini that provide wait-list apps.
While having a queue down the street doesn’t harm the reputation of a venue among younger consumers, it isn’t ideal for all restaurant-goers. Another queue-rich restaurant is Italian pasta specialist Padella in Borough Market, which I’ve never seen without a trail of people around the block. A senior executive at a property developer recently told me he visited Padella on one of his regular research evenings out with younger members of his team, who take him to some of the more interesting venues in the capital. He insisted on popping for a drink nearby while they joined the queue and called him when they had reached the front.
My take here is such a move was not down to arrogance on his part but a result of his advancing age. Life’s too short. I have some sympathy because I’d say I have gone well beyond the point when I’m willing to queue for a meal – or anything else for that matter! The situation becomes more acute when babysitters come into the equation because you need some sort of certainty time-wise when dining out.
It was interesting to note when a second Hoppers restaurant opened you were able to book a table. It was a similar story with Italian small-plates restaurant Polpo. When this innovative no-booking place hit the market the idea was people would drop in and quickly move on in the same way they do in its city of inspiration, Venice. This didn’t happen as British customers lingered far too long – once they’d finally made it through the door.
A booking policy was rapidly brought in for busier nights of the week and every subsequent Polpo has allowed diners to book tables. The reality is it makes sense to do so because I’d argue the diners who are unwilling to queue are probably those people willing to splash a bit more cash on margin-juicing alcohol.
However, don’t think queuing is the preserve of the younger, less impatient, less affluent consumer because luxury bag and travel accessories brand Goyard’s store in flashy Mayfair always has a queue stretching down the road despite the rarified prices inside. What drives this phenomenon is the policy of a member of staff giving each customer their full attention. The employee-to-customer ratio is always 1:1.
While this ensures great service once you get through the door, I remain less than convinced about queuing in the cold, even if it ultimately delivers the world’s best service. The reality for me is I’ll wait for the second branch of Berenjak before I get to sample Kian Samyani’s Iranian home cooking.
Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider
This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.