This year's winner - or rather winners, for they are a team - were judged to be highly consistent, with a well-focused expansion policy using detailed research going into new outlets.
With 14 restaurants and group sales of about £25m, this team has gone from strength to strength since its inauguration 12 years ago. The investment and expansion programme predicts two to four new outlets a year with a capacity of between100 and 200 seats. Admirably in today's industry, they care about their 700 employees and have been awarded Investors in People. To boot, "they have the best steak and chips in London," according to one judge.
They are, of course, Neville Abraham and Laurence Isaacson of Groupe Chez Gérard. "In the end, the brand is the key to everything," Abraham has said, and the judges certainly agreed as they sought a group running a system-led company with branded and themed restaurants. Chez Gérard, a series of Parisian-style café-restaurants, is the group's best-known brand, although Livebait, a fresh-fish concept, is the most recent.
"They are long-standing restaurateurs who have a vision for consistency and value for money," said Jeremy Mogford, last year's winner of this award.
The judges particularly noted the pair's dedication to staff development and the human resources side of the business, especially at a time when the industry is bemoaning the difficulties of finding, investing in and keeping good people. Andrew Radford praised their attitude towards the staff and quality of the food.
In addition to the Chez Gérard chain, the pair launched Livebait, a fresh-fish restaurant last year. The intention is to invest £7m over the next two-and-a-half years to add five Chez Gérard restaurants and five more Livebait units. Groupe Chez Gérard also runs Café Fish, Bertorelli's, Soho Soho and Scott's. Restaurants have an average spend of £20 and are aimed at "sinkies, dinkies and silvers" as deputy chairman Laurence Isaacson described them in a Caterer article in 1996.
Neville Abraham, the group's chief executive and chairman, is active as joint vice-chairman of the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain, devoting time to working on award schemes such as Young Chef/Young Waiter to promote the development of the next generation of the hospitality industry.
He has championed the industry time and again and said last autumn: "The restaurant industry in the UK, led by London, is on the brink of a golden era… It will not, however, reach the heights forecast unless it succeeds in changing its image sufficiently to attract the right people to work in it."
From 1997 to the millennium Groupe Chez Gérard will invest £500,000 in staff training and development, proving Abraham is willing to put his money where his mouth is.
This year Abraham was recognised with a listing in Who's Who, the annual guide to the great, the good and the famous, joining Isaacson, who was already listed, and who has this year been appointed a CBE for services to tourism.