How does London foodservice compare with Chicago
21st May 2012
I love going to the States to understand what’s happening in terms of food and drink trends. It’s always exhilarating to see new restaurant and bar concepts and it’s just as instructive to explore how existing concepts are increasing their covers and driving spend per head. I often learn new marketing and PR ideas I can put into practice with clients.
So I headed off to the NRA in Chicago a few weeks ago with a spring in my step and dollars in my hand to see what was going on. Paul Charity had planned a great trip with a mixture of fantastic characters who threatened to (and did) make the trip, one to remember. Since returning I have had to visit a huge range of restaurant and bar concepts on behalf of a client of ours and have walked with a high degree of purpose around Soho, Covent Garden, Borough Market, Spitalfields, Westfield and Leadenhall eating, drinking and taking photographs in a variety of establishments. It’s been really interesting to contrast the eating out environment in Chicago with that of London.
In London I have really been struck by Yalla Yalla, The Jugged Hare, Bumpkin, Pho, Brindisa, Polpo (as ever), The Parcel Yard, Barrafina, The Cow and Princi. In fact there are almost too many fantastic places to mention. The ambiance in all of the pubs was friendly, warm, female friendly and inclusive – much of Howard Saunder’s presentation at the ALMR conference (and his concept of TWWWW) makes absolute sense in the context of these three pubs in particular. They make you feel like the ‘pub’ has moved on yet stayed close to its roots – quite a challenge but they have achieved it in spades. Yalla Yalla and its ilk have just managed to deliver what most of us really want, particularly at lunchtime, small portions packed with flavour that deliver every time. I know tapas is probably the right term for this sort of food but it doesn’t really do it justice somehow. The rise of the restaurant entrepreneur in the centre of London is something Tracey Mills from DCL has picked up and transferred to Westfield very successfully. Everywhere I went, but everywhere (especially at Bumpkin), I experienced outstanding hospitality not just competent service. People were genuine, natural, welcoming and interested. They talked, they listened and they were flexible- they made me feel better walking out than I had when I walked in.
I think London service has improved in leaps and bounds just in the last 12 months and I would be proud to take anyone to the restaurants and pubs I visited (and lots more). In contrast, Chicago service was much more brusque, not over friendly and much more forced. Yes we got the ‘have a nice day’ touch but that paled into insignificance compared to the personalised service in London. In fact most service elements felt more standardised and more processed than in the UK. We did have some great meals and there were some awesome concepts (see www.foodlifechicago.com) but we also had some pretty awful experiences including seeing really dirty kitchens, nearly falling on slippery front of house flooring and watching dreadful cooking processes at a dim sum takeaway.
Perhaps the most telling of all was our experience at Chicago Chop House (see Trip Advisor for here dated 9th May) where we were upsold outrageously priced starters without being offered the menu until we had ordered them. No doubt an increase in spend per head for the restaurant but achieved at the expense of customer satisfaction, recommendation and revisit.
London vs Chicago? London wins hands down for me.