Times are tough in the restaurant sector. A supply glut offers diners a vast number of options, with hungry consumers not just fussy about their food but also careful with their wallets. Inflation has reined back spending and exacerbated costs for restaurateurs who must battle against soaring business rates and a sharply rising minimum wage.
This backdrop was blamed over a year ago when the company behind Jamie’s Italian announced that six of the chain would be closed down. At the time, then-CEO Jamie Blagden even dared to point his finger at Brexit when seeking to explain the restaurant’s troubles.
The environment is difficult, for sure, but cannot be blamed for the business failures of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of eating at one of the aforementioned “Italian” outfits, you will not be surprised by the current struggle to keep the brand alive. Moreover, if you have ambled past City retail hub OneNewChange over the last year or so and observed empty tables amid the huge, premium space occupied by Barbecoa, then that brand’s near-collapse will also raise little more than an eyebrow.
The problems at Barbecoa and Jamie’s Italian follow on from those at “Union Jacks”, a strange concept in which Oliver tried to marry his supposed passions for Italian food (in this case, pizza) and traditional British ingredients. The final branch closed last year.
Nearly two decades have passed since Oliver burst onto our screens with a bombastic blend of mockney soundbites and carefree cooking. His success has been undeniable, building a multi-million pound media empire around a well-publicised TV personality.
However, his ventures into the restaurant business are less impressive. And while the Essex-born 42-year-old’s enterprise is significantly smaller than most of the companies covered in this newspaper, it does hold a lesson for all business folk.
Oliver’s dive into the hospitality sector at worse smacks of hubris, and at best resembles the inevitable consequence of a business spread too thin. If this were a large plc, shareholders would be demanding that management undergo a swift period of divestment and return the company to its core strengths. Oliver would do well to follow suit.