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don't quite understand the point you're making here john, with regard to 'provincial'.

I can only discuss winteringham (and my love of it is well documented on this site) but they are leaving at the top of their game with a fully booked restaurant, 2 stars and accolades coming out of their ears. Yes they want to retire, who doesn't (i would and i'm only 32 :biggrin: ) but they can look back with immense satisfaction of a job well done, created careers for many in literally the middle of no-where and brought a great deal of pleasure to a lot of people. it's not as if they are being forced out of business (and i suspect that is the case with the others too)

it's more a case that their hard work and commitment has paid off and hopefully then can sell up and enjoy the financial benefits they have worked for rather than being tied to the stove due to onerous financial constraints.

Surely that's inspiration enough to open a restaurant in the provinces?

cheers

gary

you don't win friends with salad

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Agreed -- none of the reasons they cite for closing (basically working their bollocks off) seem specific to the provinces, just specific to any ambitious high-end restaurant. Now if, for example, they'd complained about the prices they were able to charge vs. London, or the number of people they could attract out to the sticks, that would be different. But they didn't.

I also assume that the 'in ... Britain' bit is irrelevant, as you have to work hard in other countries too.

Deleting these red herrings leaves us with a more accurate, edited version of John's original question, viz: Who in their right mind would open a restaurant?

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I think the issue of the provinces is a valid one.

Outside of the major cities and to some extent even outside just London, it is difficult to get huge backing to open a restaurant.

In places like London, Manchester, Birmingham etc, VC's and chains are more willing to invest in openings. The places there are not run as "Mom & Pop" places but as hard nosed businesses. The owner/chef/manager may have to work like a dog, but they can at least afford to take some time off from the Kitchen.

If you are going to open a restaurant of any quality in a smaller town or village, then the chances are that it is run by one person or a couple who cover all aspects of the business from purchasing to serving, from cooking to cleaning. I can imagine as in any small business that can wear you down.

I thought I worked hard in my small business, but listening to Basildog modestly describe his working hours/week/year, I realise that I am living on easy st.

I can imagine that there is by necessity a short shelf life for such an occupation as you get older, get different priorities and get worn out by the daily grind.

S

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Some 10 years ago I did a study of small business credit risk for a UK bank.

If I recall correctly the businesses with the highest rate either of failures or of so-called "hard overdrafts" were hairdressers, independent (non chain) restaurants and taxi drivers.

Comparing an investor-owned restaurant with an chef/owner model is tricky, because the chef/owner has strong incentives to keep the place running, even if it means that she/he works at ridiculously low hourly wage rates. In other words, the opportunity cost of the chef/owner's time is not correctly estimated. A detached investor would expect to pay a market rate for the chef, but also to earn some reasonable return on investment. An employed chef would expect to earn a market rate for her/his time.

To be sure, there are other businesses where this goes on -- high-tech startups funded by venture capital, for example. An economist friend of mine believes that the big returns earned by VCs, even after the tech bust, are largely due to their ability to get people to "work for love". The difference is that most VC-funded startups have some probability, however low, of later achieving a very high growth rate, one that amply rewards the capitalist's investment. It's hard to see how this holds for a restaurant that begins as an independent, unless the chef/owner's explicit model is to create a chain like Pizza Express. I can see that a chef (one in thousands) might achieve high personal earnings as she/he becomes famous, takes on TV adverts, etc., but I wonder whether outside investors are likely ever to realise much of a return.

I don't have much data on how UK restaurants are financed, and it would be interesting to see comparables for the US and for France. If the work I did many years ago still holds, bank debt is not a good way to finance an independent restaurant.

Another problem, by the way, with all of the troubled sectors (restaurants, hairdressers, etc.) was that their owners were generally inexperienced in business and had weak skills in areas such as pricing, customer relationships, or managing through a downturn, however skilled they were at cookery or hair care. Nor, for the most part, did they have time to learn these critical skills.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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The real reason that these places seem to be closing is that regardless of their good reputation in Harden's or any other guide, they haven't achieved international fame. I mean you aren't reading any articles about The Seafood Restuarant or Mainor au Quat Saisons closing are you? Nor do I see that any of the places mentioned are in a place like Ludlow where they get lots of foodie traffic based on the reputation of the area. Without getting into the mine field of an issue that whether the food these places serves makes them deserving of broader recognition, I think without the financial reward that comes with international acclaim, the amount of work it takes to run a high quality restaurant is burdensome. And if you aren't making a lot of money to do it I can understand packing it in. I mean why not open another type of small business with regular hours that throws off the same income?

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But what I get from the article is that it isn't lack of success, at least in the case of Winteringham Fields. As Gary says its a fully booked restaurant with accolades and awards galore It's the sheer level of commitment and hard work needed to maintain a certain standard that's taken its toll.

I mean how often is Stein actually in the kitchen at The Seafood Restaurant? He's now more of a TV celebrity than a working chef. This may bring its own pressures but it can't be as wearing as literally slaving over a hot stove all the time. I don't know how much time Raymond Blanc spends cooking at Le Manoir but I would hazard a guess he's missed more than three sessions in fifteen years.

To me the question is can we expect top chefs to be in the kitchen all the time, or nearly all the time? I know we've had this discussion before but its a perennial one. What level of dedication can we/should we expect from top chefs whose restaurants often depend on their names?

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Well I can't speak to the type of money they make at Winteringham Fields but I am assuming it is less then a place like Troisgros or another restaurant in that category. Whether the issue is the number of diners per day, the amount they can charge for dinner, the amount of wine one sells and what type, or having a hotel that people stay to add to the per person price they earn per meal, or the amount of staff they can afford to make the chef's life easier, whatever, I would be very surprised to find that with all the restaurant closings in the U.K. that money doesn't play a large part in it. And it isn't like top restaurants in other countries are closing. This appears to be a U.K. phenomenon.

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I agree with Tony, Gary and Simon,

I don't think the closures are due to lack of success - Winteringham fields is always booked solid.

Neither is it simply that they are not making money - I doubt either Claude Bosi or Shaun Hill are rolling in it from their exertions in Ludlow, yet they show no signs of wavering.

I think it is simply burn out. The Schwabs are always in the kitchen, and have been for years. Not for them the relative ease of TV shows, books and promotional tours...

I also don't think it is a case of provincial restaurants being tougher to run successfully. To an intelligent restaurateur the perceived lack of customers is offset by the corresponding lack of high startup costs and competition. I would imagine restaurant failure rates in London are higher (and the corresponding debts higher too) than for the UK as a whole.

I think the fact is that the provinces attract a certain type of restaurateur - individuals or couples who are immensely talented and driven, and happy to live or die by their cooking alone. In London it's largely groups or consortiums, individuals with backers etc etc who get the prime locations and aim for the high end audiences. For better or worse the provinces provide restaurants like Northcote Manor, Winteringham Fields, Merchant House that you simply don't get in the big smoke. How many Michelin starred London restaurants are self contained, and not supported by a group, outside backers, or a hotel?

Because these provincial restaurants require such input from an individual or couple, they often struggle when the founders retire. Equally, not many investors want to take a risk on buying a restaurant driven by one persons vision once that person has left. The next generation of 'restaurant indivudals' would rather carve their own niche without the pressure and constraints of trying to take over a place like Winteringham fields.

Possibly Ramsey (love him or loathe him) is the only London chef/restaurateur to match the commitment and quality of the best provincial restauranteurs, whilst still managing to saturate the media with his inimitable charm. Clever also to establish his most promising chefs as seperate brands under his own wing (Marcus Waring, Angela Hartnett) than spreading himself to thin with too many 'Ramsey' restaurants were he will never cook...

Cheers

Thom

It's all true... I admit to being the MD of Holden Media, organisers of the Northern Restaurant and Bar exhibition, the Northern Hospitality Awards and other Northern based events too numerous to mention.

I don't post here as frequently as I once did, but to hear me regularly rambling on about bollocks - much of it food and restaurant-related - in a bite-size fashion then add me on twitter as "thomhetheringto".

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Well one can't help but notice that a number of top restaurants are closing or have closed in the U.K., and that phenomenon isn't happening in any other country. Not in France, the U.S., Italy or Spain. And I can't believe that it is a function of the type of people who choose to run restaurants in the provinces. It would be one thing if one or two places packed it in. But the U.K. seems to be having a minor epidemic in this regard. I would be really surprised if economics weren't a factor to some extent. Even if it means that revenues aren't high enough to higher sufficient staff so the main chef/owners can take it easy to avoid the burnout factor. But it just can't be that chefs burn out in the U.K. at a faster rate then they burn out anywhere else.

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Well one can't help but notice that a number of top restaurants are closing or have closed in the U.K., and that phenomenon isn't happening in any other country. Not in France, the U.S., Italy or Spain. And I can't believe that it is a function of the type of people who choose to run restaurants in the provinces. It would be one thing if one or two places packed it in. But the U.K. seems to be having a minor epidemic in this regard. I would be really surprised if economics weren't a factor to some extent. Even if it means that revenues aren't high enough to higher sufficient staff so the main chef/owners can take it easy to avoid the burnout factor. But it just can't be that chefs burn out in the U.K. at a faster rate then they burn out anywhere else.

Steve

is it really the case that more restaurants are closing here than in mainland Europe. I would love to see the figures that back it up

That being said, the reason may be thaqt restaurants in the Uk and particularly London are predicated on different values. They are much more aimed at being more of a profitable business than a delivery system for fine food. even the best ones ( RHR ) are still businesses first and restaurants second. They are far more open to the slings and arrows of outrageous media and the fikle public.

Few restaurants in Paris/Rome/Amsterdam will become as achingly fashionable, but by the same token few will fall from grace as quickly ( The Atlantic bar & Grill Anyone?) this gives them the luxury of developing their menu and service and pricing away from the glare of media frenzy. London is far more like NY in that respect than it is Europe

S

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Steve,

I think there are certain specific difficulties in the UK regarding property prices, red tape and legislation; plus the problem of finding and keeping decent staff which all have an effect on the restaurant scene here. I guess it is partly because we have developed as a nation and as a business environment without the restaurant industry being as pervasive, powerful and respected as in other countiries.

I'm not saying that restaurants overseas don't have problems, but I think that all restaurants in the UK have the specific issues touched on above, and they drain the spirit and energy ( and profit) of the restaurateurs here whether they are successful in terms of covers and revenue or not, and whether they are provincial or not.

Cheers

Thom

It's all true... I admit to being the MD of Holden Media, organisers of the Northern Restaurant and Bar exhibition, the Northern Hospitality Awards and other Northern based events too numerous to mention.

I don't post here as frequently as I once did, but to hear me regularly rambling on about bollocks - much of it food and restaurant-related - in a bite-size fashion then add me on twitter as "thomhetheringto".

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One issue i can assure you of is winteringham are not shy about charging!

the a la carte starters are £20 plus and mains £30 plus. Menu surprise £60, rooms up to £250 per night. my once a year blow out cost best part of £600 for 2 and room last year! (but we went a bit mad with quantity of the wine)

As economic conditions worsen i feel punters will baulk at paying celeb chef prices for absent stars.

but anyway i'd better get on with booking a table whilst it's still there....

you don't win friends with salad

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Simon - I didn't make my comments based on nay other type of evidence but the article seeming to say that a bunch of top rated restaurants have closed or are closing and I haven't heard of that happening outiside of the U.K. to the same extent. But can you name restaurants in other countires that have closed? Only ones that are rubbish. None of the good restaurants have closed down.

Thom - Haven't you read any of the famous British food threads on this site? It doesn't surprise me at all that the U.K. would have laws that restrict the art of dining in some way. The culture there never promoted eating as a way to improve the quality of your life until the mid/late 70's and I bet you that most of the laws predated the 70's.

Edited by Steve Plotnicki (log)
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I have Steve, I have. More importantly, I've regularly eaten in the UK since birth so I understand the situation in my stomach as well as in my head.

The point you reiterate is exactly the point I was making: That the UK is a tough business environment for the restaurant industry, and this is partly the reason that so many restaurants over here fail. They are tough to finance, swamped in paperwork, and short of staff. Also, as Simon eloquently pointed out, because good food is a relatively new and unusual thing for us Brits our media still tends to treat food as fashion and build up and knock down restaurants rather than just letting them get on with cooking.

That said, I think the quality of our cooking and native produce is infinitely better than anything the French have, that Jamie Oliver is the saviour of Italian cooking (which is a very relevent cuisine) and that AA Gill and Michael Winner should have jointly topped the 'Greatest Britons' list.

Cheers

Thom

It's all true... I admit to being the MD of Holden Media, organisers of the Northern Restaurant and Bar exhibition, the Northern Hospitality Awards and other Northern based events too numerous to mention.

I don't post here as frequently as I once did, but to hear me regularly rambling on about bollocks - much of it food and restaurant-related - in a bite-size fashion then add me on twitter as "thomhetheringto".

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Oh dear...

It's all true... I admit to being the MD of Holden Media, organisers of the Northern Restaurant and Bar exhibition, the Northern Hospitality Awards and other Northern based events too numerous to mention.

I don't post here as frequently as I once did, but to hear me regularly rambling on about bollocks - much of it food and restaurant-related - in a bite-size fashion then add me on twitter as "thomhetheringto".

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I tend not to believe in theories other then good product/good result, bad product/bad result. It doesn't sound feasable that places that are really delicious close because of red tape. The really successful restaurants in the U.K. like the Seafood Restaurant don't seem to have a problem getting their paperwork done. Maybe the fact that I never heard of Winteringham Fields before this article was written should be given more of the blame then you are currently giving it.

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.Maybe the fact that I never heard of Winteringham Fields before this article was written should be given more of the blame then you are currently giving it.

I don't know how you choose your restaurants steve but winteringham is hardly a 'hidden gem' ,yes it's in the middle of no-where but a cursory glance of any of the uk guide books, michelin (2 stars), good food (restaurant of the year last year), hardens (restaurant of the year 03) etc or industry papers, cateys, chefs restaurant of the year etc would have illuminated you :biggrin:

you don't win friends with salad

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The really successful restaurants in the U.K. like the Seafood Restaurant don't seem to have a problem getting their paperwork done.

Stein's continued success has a lot to do with his celebrity status via is numerous BBC TV programmes. The Schwabs don't have that advantage.

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Just a thought,but do restaurants with good reputations actually realise their value when it comes to selling?

My point being that when the person who has "made" the reputation leaves, do the customers still go? Winteringham Fields is obviously a great place,but its value plummets when these owners sell.

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I think Basildog has a very good point. I mean, how much above the market value of a property would anyone be prepared to pay for a restaurant where the chef/owner who made it well-known is retiring or leaving? Robin and Marion Jones were trying to sell Croque-en-Bouche in Malvern earlier in the year; they've closed the restaurant, but, as they're still running their wine merchant business from the same premises, I presume they haven't sold. According to their website, they wanted GBP 550,000 for the place, of which 450k was the claimed market value of the house. I don't know what fitting out a pro kitchen costs, but if much of that price is goodwill you have to ask whether that goodwill exists when the proprietors are leaving.

Winteringham is an amazing success story, but realistically who would want to fork out the kind of money the Schwabs must want to set up in that part of the world? I think they may find it difficult to sell.

Adam

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