Luke Johnson speaking at Hotelympia

19 February 2008 by
Luke Johnson speaking at Hotelympia

It is a great time to be starting up a restaurant business despite the ongoing credit crunch and fears about consumer spending, according to entrepreneur Luke Johnson.

"It's becoming a great time to start up," Johnson said. "Landlords have been forced to be more realistic on rent and premiums and the availability of premises is going to be better."

Many commentators have suggested that the squeeze on credit and falling leisure spending will badly hit the restaurant sector, but Johnson insisted there was still room for growth.

"The availability of money from the banks is falling and discretionary spend may reduce but property availability is such as key part of the mix and I can already see that improving," he said.

Johnson, who has 20 years experience in the hospitality industry including a stint in charge of The Ivy, was asked what he liked so much about working in the sector.

"It is great fun to give people pleasure," he said. "We opened our latest Giraffe in Oxford on Saturday. It's tremendously exciting moment when you see a shell of a building transformed into a busy, bustling environment. It's the most exciting thing I have experienced in business."

Asked who he admired in the world of business, Johnson pointed to Peter Boizot, the founder of Pizza Express.

"He has given away the vast bulk of his wealth," he said. "It's really admirable - not only has he changed the way we dine as a nation, but he is also philanthropic.

Does Johnson agree with that philosophy? "As you get older you need to give away more," he said. "When people inherit money it only corrupts them. I am a strong believer in making your own way in life."

Johnson on:

Pizza Express

It's simple and consistent. By using just a baking oven, you simplify the skills required make service quick and keep the customer expectations realistic. Oven-baked pizza isn't something you can replicate at home - this is very important. And it is very accessible - it's sophisticated yet mainstream.

The restaurant business

You watch Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares and the classic mistake restaurateurs make is to try and be too ambitious. At the end of the day, people want the classics like steak and chips but done superbly well.


Within the casual dining market, I am a great disbeliever in paid-for advertising. PR and editorial are important, but the most important thing is word-of-mouth. This means executing every meal is vital. Giraffe has taught me that if you can serve a harassed mum and dad well and deal with their children, they will be your best customers - ever!

Day-to-day involvement

It's limited. I will get involved in the major changes and financial transactions but I think it is important not to micro-manage. I can remember Bob Peyton, the creator of Henry J Beans, in the Kings Road outlet absolutely tearing into a member of staff in front of the customers. That is not the right way of doing things.

By Daniel Thomas

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