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Restaurant trends from across the pond

During last week’s National Restaurant Association Show, as I’ve done in past years, I met with Peter Backman, managing director of Horizons, a foodservice consulting company based in London. Backman makes his annual trek to Chicago to spot trends at the show and report his findings back to his restaurant clients. We meet to exchange our thoughts about the latest developments in the restaurant industry on both sides of the Atlantic. His keen British eye catches interesting ideas that some American attendees might miss.

After a couple of days on the show floor, Backman was ready to take a few minutes to sit down for a conversation with me, and share his thoughts on what restaurant trends are emerging in the UK. Some restaurant trends mirror America’s, but others go off in surprising directions.

  • There’s been a big change in the British foodservice scene in the last two years. The restaurant market is booming and more chains are coming in—especially fast-casual concepts. Some are British originals, such as Pret a Manger, while others—such as Chipotle—emigrated from the U.S.
  • Right now, the British fast casuals primarily are destinations for lunchtime crowds. They include Eat, a sandwich chain; Chop’d, a salad concept and Abokado, a health-oriented grab-and-go restaurant.
  • London’s Ziferblat Café is trying a new tactic to attract customers: charging squatters. Premium coffee and Wi-Fi are free, but patrons pay about five cents a minute just to sit in the cafe. So far, the city has just one of these “anti-cafes,” which debuted in Russia, but the Russian owners are looking to expand.
  • Two other coffee concepts are growing at a faster rate than Starbucks in Britain, according to Backman. Costa Coffee boasts 1,600 UK locations and Caffe Nero, which Backman feels is more authentic, has 580 locations. According to Backman’s “Rule of 10,” [the United States has the population to handle ten times as many] that number would equal 5,800 Caffe Neros in U.S. terms.
  • Bubbledogs is another concept that’s catching on. The draw: hot dogs and sparkling wine. But it’s a full-service kind of place, as fast casual is not normally licensed for alcohol service in the UK. Back in the U.S., fast casuals are increasingly tapping into the lucrative beer, wine and cocktails market.
  • Cocktails still are not as big a restaurant trend in the UK as in America, and they are not prevalent in restaurants, Backman claims. When Brits go out to eat, they tend to order wine; beer is the beverage of choice in pubs, he says.
  • A concept to watch is Ed’s Easy Diner—a retro eatery that now numbers 25 units in Britain. It’s catching on for its take on American comfort food. Although the British restaurant scene is booming, consumers across the pond are still a little wary of opening up their wallets, Backman says, and Ed’s offers satisfying, on-trend food at good prices.

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