As January drags on, my thoughts have turned to later in the year and trying to predict what’s in store for the casual dining sector over the coming 12 months. My crystal ball may be a bit foggy given the volatile climate, but here are a few things we might expect to see in 2024.
1 More deals
A flurry of activity towards the end of last year (D&D London, Big Mamma, The Restaurant Group, Vinoteca) has shown that there is an appetite for investment in the sector and this looks likely to continue in 2024. Businesses that have a lot of space in which to expand, either domestically or internationally, will no doubt be top of many investors’ shopping lists, as well as those that have a proven track record with franchising, a business model that has become increasingly appealing to investors.
2 The spin off concept
The past couple of years have seen a growth in businesses taking an omnichannel approach, entering into retail or developing an ecommerce offer, and while I expect this trend to continue, 2024 will be the year businesses explore other ways that they can broaden their appeal. One tried-and-tested approach (with differing success levels, it has to be said) is the spin off concept that enables a brand to target a different segment of the market. This year we shall see this in action from Honest Burgers, which is looking to challenge the big fast-food brands with its own smashed burger concept, but also possibly from Prezzo, which has spoken of its intention to enter the QSR space with a Pronto spin-off targeting transport hubs. Barbecue and steakhouse brand Temper is also understood to be eyeing the smashed burger category with the launch an offshoot brand called Temper Burger. History tells us that this move isn’t without its challenges – by-the-slice pizza attempts by Pizza Pilgrims and Pizza Express never got off the ground, nor did attempts by Wagamama and Café Rouge to create faster dining experiences – but times have changed, as McDonald’s new CosMc’s concept shows.
3 Overseas expansion
As the trading environment in the UK remains challenging, the temptation to look at overseas markets for growth has never been so strong. The Middle East remains an obvious choice – Patty & Bun being the most recent group to make the move to Dubai – but a number of ongoing conflicts in the region might mean that businesses turn their attention elsewhere. Step forward the US, with a number of operators seeking to make a play stateside, not least JKS with its BAO and Hoppers brands, Big Mamma, The Wolseley Hospitality Group, and D&D London. Steakhouse chain Hawksmoor led by example when it launched in New York in 2021 and a second Chicago site has the hallmarks of being equally successful - the steakhouse’s actions have likely got other businesses thinking about heading to the land of opportunity.
4 Improved loyalty schemes
Despite better technology and improved collection of customer data, restaurant loyalty schemes have remained largely unchanged for decades, with point collections and the occasional promise of a free side the extent to which most businesses stretch. Yet Pret A Manger’s subscription model, where customers pay a monthly fee in return for decent perks, shows there is another way to encourage loyalty that has invariably made other businesses take note. With some joined up thinking brands, particularly those with an omnichannel offer, could create some truly compelling loyalty schemes to encourage customers not to stray from their venues/products. Gusto Italian restaurant group, for one, says it has been looking at how it can evolve its loyalty offer, and it certainly isn’t the only one.
5 Franchising becoming more popular
There was a time when the idea of franchising was looked upon sceptically by businesses wary of letting standards slip as a result, but in today’s climate the franchise model is very much back in fashion and regarded as a financially prudent way of expanding at pace. Boparan Restaurant Group will open six franchise sites of its Slim Chickens brands this year alongside nine company-owned sites and some of the fastest growing dining brands in the UK – Fireaway Pizza, German Doner Kebab, Creams – are using it to great success.