Thursday 23 May 2019 8:10 am

DEBATE: Does the Jamie’s Italian chain have only itself to blame for its demise?

Does the Jamie’s Italian chain have only itself to blame for its demise?

Patrick Clover, founder and chief executive of BLACKBX, says YES.

It’s a sad story for all involved, not least the 1,000 workers made redundant, but to call Jamie’s Italian a victim of external forces is too simplistic.

The climate for mid-market restaurants is difficult, but not impossible. To survive, venues must inspire loyalty among their customers above all else. They must truly understand what visitors want, what they can offer, and have the personality to stand out in a crowded market.

There was a time when Jamie’s ticked these boxes in spades, with affordable high-quality dishes during a recession, while Jamie Oliver himself was the personality. Yet as the chain expanded, its brand and quality were slowly watered down. A younger generation of restaurant-goers also emerged, with whom the celebrity chef didn’t have the same magnetic pull.

There will always be a place on the high street for big restaurant chains, but only if they do as the independent restaurants do: know their customers, know themselves, and inspire people to return.

Read more: Around 1,000 jobs lost as Jamie Oliver's restaurant business collapses

Chris Miller, founder of White Rabbit, says NO.

Yes, the chain lost its way, but it does not only have itself to blame – Jamie’s Italian was operating in a market facing dramatic change and challenges.

The last five years have seen a huge increase in competition as private equity funds pumped millions into roll-out “cookie cutter” concepts. This, alongside loosely regulated capital from crowdfunding, means that the growth in restaurants has far outstripped customer demand. The result: a market where landlords were able to charge extortionate rents, that even good concepts struggle to make work.

At the same time, the industry has been hit with a perfect storm of cost inflation, staff shortages, and rising business rates, in addition to the changing patterns of consumption with the growth in food delivery platforms.

There is still great money to be made in restaurants – people will always need to eat and drink. But expansion needs to flex to changing customer demands, growing steadily with the right systems and processes. Ultimately there still needs to be obsessive focus on quality and customer experience.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.