The upheaval that has characterised pubs and breweries in the past year or two has spilt over into the restaurant market, with a number of major brewers taking a long, hard look at their restaurant portfolios. These reviews, often following a large acquisition, have led to many selloffs.
An example of this is Whitbread's decision to sell 50 of its Mamma Amalfi restaurants. It has also disposed of the dõme chain and Casa to Morgan Grenfell Private Equity.
Scottish & Newcastle is also selling some restaurants and has decided to offload its Old Orleans chain and its De:Alto restaurants. In addition, Wolverhampton & Dudley has put Pitcher & Piano on the market as part of a strategic review.
But it is not only the major brewers and pub companies that are selling. Compass, which has realised some £3.21b from the sale of many of its newly acquired hotel assets, has secured sales for most of the Wheeler's fish restaurants and four other restaurants placed on the market through Christie & Co. City Centre Restaurants, the subject of much speculation in the City, has sold its OK Diners and is also reviewing its major brands.
Although some of these corporate restaurants have been successfully sold to independents, many of the restaurants - especially the better-quality ones in good locations - have been snapped up by other corporate operators. We are seeing considerable interest from the fast-growing restaurant groups, but often piecemeal rather than acquiring entire groups. Ask, Giardino, PizzaExpress, Dutch chain Gioma, Fish!, Nando's, Noble House Leisure, Ma Potters and Groupe Chez Gérard are all seeking new sites, cherry-picking the best from those for sale. There has also been a notable change in the previously vibrant coffee shop market, which has been suffering from increased competition, a plethora of brands, and talk of future consolidation.
It is easy to predict that the pace of activity in this constantly changing market will increase as consumers become more sophisticated in their tastes, searching out more interesting and unusual places to eat.
Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 7-13 June 2001