Restaurant operators at Westfield Stratford City, the retail development next to the Olympic Park in east London, have had a mixed six months of business but are positive about the prospects of the 2012 London Olympic Games.
The £1.45b development is the largest urban shopping centre in Europe, featuring 300 shops and 70 restaurants across 177,000sq m. Like its sister development, Westfield London in White City, the new centre is divided into four distinct dining areas: the external Southern Boulevard and Chestnut Plaza, the Balcony and mezzanine Loft areas and a lower ground floor fast food court.
However, as Westfield Stratford City celebrated its six month anniversary this week (13 March), some operators have expressed disappointment about the level of business.
Stephen Wall, owner of Vietnamese restaurant group Pho, which has outlets in the Balcony area of both Westfield shopping centres, said he was "surprised and a little disappointed" with the level of turnover at Stratford City.
"We knew it wouldn't be the same as Westfield White City because of the increased competition and the demographic in the area but the performance has been below our expectations. The fast food court seems to be driving people away from the Balcony and this has compromised our turnover," he said.
This was echoed by Michelin-starred chef-restaurateur Pascal Aussignac, who runs Chip and Fish. He said: "If we compare our two sites at Westfield, White City has turned over double that of Stratford. We need to find a solution to reduce our costs."
Mark Selby, co-founder of Mexican restaurant group Wahaca, which operates a restaurant on the Southern Boulevard, said the external areas at Westfield Stratford City have not been able to replicate the success of White City yet. "But Westfield has acknowledged this and they know that they have a lot of work to do to give people a reason to come out there," he added.
Tony Kitous, owner of Lebanese canteen chain Comptoir Libanais, said because there are more restaurants at Stratford City, the competition was tougher. "But we have found that although the footfall is less at Stratford than in White City, customers are spending more per transaction there," he added.
All of the operators acknowledged that Westfield was making an effort to improve the number of customers visiting their restaurants as well as helping operators prepare for the increase in visitor numbers during the July and August Games. Wall said: "We feel that things are improving already in the run up to the Olympics as there are various events taking place.
"We're very excited about the Games and hopefully this will make Londoners realise that Stratford is not as far away from central London as they may think and it's a really good place to visit."
For a full feature examining the growing relationship between restaurants and retail shopping centres, see this week's Caterer and Hotelkeeper, pages 30-33.
By Kerstin KÁ¼hn
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