Nick Scade, chairman of the Academy of Food & Wine, says real passion will go a long way to helping restaurateurs survive the recession
It's tough out there. Customers are cutting back on their eating out, restaurant chains are in the middle of a vicious price war and operators whose offer isn't tightly controlled or well executed are suffering.
But surely it's not all doom and gloom? Feedback we've had at the Academy of Food & Wine suggests that while people may be reducing the number of times they are eating out, when they are going out, they are quite prepared to spend, as long as they feel what they're getting represents value for money and that it's served by well-trained staff.
Some restaurateurs are even reporting customers who are intent on lifting the recessionary gloom with an extra special bottle of wine or a few glasses of Champagne - long may that last!
Later this month (29 April), 15 of the UK's top front-of-house professionals will meet in London for the academy's Sommelier of the Year competition. Over the years, the scope of the competition has broadened hugely to embrace not only knowledge of wine and drink but business acumen, management skill, diplomacy, tact and the ability to work under extreme pressure and remain professional.
Like the broadening skills base of front-of-house staff, running a successful restaurant is no longer just about good food and wine. To survive, you need to be flexible and adaptable, you must watch and react to your competition, you must support your business with appropriate marketing and, most importantly, you need to be able to keep your overheads in check without compromising quality.
When we see skilled service professionals in action, like the people that will compete in this year's final, it reminds us all of what it's supposed to be about. Here are people at the top of their game, who do it because they're passionate about the business and because they care about giving customers the best dining-out experience they can. They all have a strong sense of passion for this industry and, because of it, there will always be a place for them.
It's important during this economic downturn that none of us loses our passion for this business - ultimately, it will be those that hold on to it that will survive into more prosperous times.