Matt Hermer is not a man to let a trend pass him by. The former merchant banker is the managing director of Ignite Group, which rode the trend for neighbourhood drinking with the Eclipse bar chain at the beginning of the decade and whose pan-Asian restaurant Cocoon came on like a cross between Zuma and Hakkasan when it launched at the end of 2004.
So when it was announced at the beginning of the summer that Ignite's next project, the three-storey Bumpkin in London's Notting Hill, would have a casual all-day dining room and take-away deli on its ground floor, it was clear major players had cottoned on to what a number of smaller operators had realised for years: that combining eat-in with take-away is good for business.
Of course, one major player that paved the way was Carluccio's, which now has 26 sites. The company reported a £2m pre-tax profit in its last half-yearly results.
As with Carluccio's, Hermer does not anticipate that the deli will be Bumpkin's main money-spinner; that will be the bar and dining room. "But the deli will add to our profitability" he says. "It will add diversity to Bumpkin and bring in customers. People will be able to come in for a drink after work and have the flexibility of ordering food to take home." When Bumpkin opens in October, the deli will serve what Hermer calls "good, simple food" - olives, salamis, slices of charcuterie and home-made pies.
Already established in the deli sector, and just around the corner from Bumpkin's site on Westbourne Park Road, is one of the most famous of London's delicatessens with tables: Ottolenghi. Co-owner Yotam Ottolenghi worked for five years as a pastry chef in west London pâtisseries and restaurants, including Kensington Place and Maison Blanc, before he opened the first Ottolenghi in 2002. Since then, branches in Islington and Kensington have launched.
All three branches sell deli produce as well as freshly cooked meals to take away. At the Notting Hill and Islington branches, everything available at the deli counters is also available to eat in, although Ottolenghi says there's little overlap between customers. "People who have just eaten a meal aren't inclined to buy more food on the way out," he says.
Ottolenghi believes changing lifestyles are behind the success of the cooked meals to take away. "There was a gap in the market for people who like to entertain but who don't want to do all the cooking," he explains. "Today, people are more interested and educated about food and want a more varied experience - something between cooking at home with raw ingredients and buying a supermarket ready meal. What we offer is a third option: something that you could have made yourself, with fresh ingredients."
Ottolenghi stresses that offering an eat-in facility is a lot more complicated than simply finding space for a few tables and chairs. "When people sit down to eat, they expect polished service, and offering that is an additional effort," he says. "Eat-in and take-away are two different types of business, and you need to be alert to what a challenging experience that is. It's very labour-intensive and it takes a lot of effort on many sides, from the kitchen to the floor staff and management."
Unique selling point Ottolenghi employs 70 staff across the three branches, roughly evenly split between kitchen and front of house. But he has no plans to expand his empire further. Despite the success of a concept such as Carluccio's, Ottolenghi thinks expansion would damage his own delicatessen's unique selling point. "We don't buy anything in," he says. "Even the smallest things, such as our tomato ketchup, are home-made. That kind of individuality doesn't lend itself to a chain format."
But a deli operator who is keen to expand is Bill Collison. He owns two branches of Bill's Produce Store in Sussex, at Lewes and Brighton, and has appointed a new managing director to plan the opening of further sites, with London a prime target.
Collison's urge to expand is understandable: the Brighton branch of Bill's was this year voted Best Newcomer in the Observer Food Monthly Awards, bringing his East Sussex business to national attention.
Collison grew up on a nursery near Lewes and jokes: "I've grown it, picked it, cooked it - done everything with fresh produce." He opened a fresh produce store - he hates the word "deli" - in Lewes 16 years ago. His sister-in-law and business partner, Tania Webb, who was operations manager of the Wok Wok restaurant chain in the late 1990s, suggested that an eat-in area would work well. After the store was damaged by flooding in 2001, and Collison was offered the site next door, the pair decided to test the concept - offering simple British food such as jacket potatoes alongside what he calls "an everyday farmers' market". They haven't looked back.
Like Ottolenghi, Collison believes there has been a recent change in consumers' priorities. "We all shop in supermarkets, but we don't necessarily like it," he says. "High-street shops have to do something different from the likes of Tesco. People can come here for lunch, or just to have a coffee. We give customers a little bit more than they expect, in terms of caring staff, food quality and ambience. It appeals to everyone, from the nitty and the gritty to the rich and the famous - everyone feels comfortable here."
Though he agrees with Collison's conclusion, Michael Kann believes that shopping habits are not going to change overnight. Kann, owner of the Effings group of West Country delis, says he sees a daily stream of Marks & Spencer carrier bags bobbing past the windows of his Exeter branch, which opened last October.
Nevertheless, like Collison, Kann feels that his kind of operation has immense consumer appeal. He says: "If you want a personal shopping experience, it's something that supermarkets can't offer and we can: staff who know who you are and what you like."
While Kann believes that people will always shop in supermarkets for their basic needs, he thinks that operations such as Effings have an increasing role to play as people become more concerned about where their food has come from. And that concern is shared by all sections of society. "At first," he says, "we thought that our target market would be ABC1s, but our customers are incredibly diverse. People who like good food come from all walks of life, and we stock everything from ham to caviar."
The original Totnes branch of Effings, which has been open for more than 10 years, has 12 covers, while Exeter's has 50. Offering an eat-in area has always made good business sense to Kann. "We felt that it was a much better use of resources," he says. "We make most of our food ourselves for freshness and uniqueness. If you've got a kitchen, you may as well have tables and chairs."
It also encourages what Kann calls "cross-sell": customers will buy food to take away that they have enjoyed from the restaurant menu, especially when a new line is introduced. "You can't be static," he warns.
It was such requests for food to take home - their fish soup, in particular - that gave Stephen and Judy Markwick the idea to open their Bristol deli and bistro, Culinaria, in 2004. The couple had owned well-respected restaurants in the city for 25 years - first Bistro 21, then Markwicks - but, as they approached their 60th birthdays, they felt it was time to slow down. "We'd worked 100-hour weeks for 20 years," Judy says. "This is our pre-retirement business."
The site, close to Bristol University - which provides a handy supply of student waitresses - was previously a 70-cover restaurant. Because the Markwicks were looking for a smaller operation, it made sense to split the space between a deli and a dining area. Keeping things on a small scale also means that Stephen can make most of what they sell himself.
"We don't sell cheese or cold meats," explains Judy, "because we don't produce that ourselves, and we wanted to make it all homemade as far as possible." They do, though, sell the olive oil that diners in the bistro dip their bread into. Having the bistro also means that the bottles from the wine list can be sold to take away, too, as long as food is purchased at the same time.
France has had a similar concept to the deli-with-tables for years: the traiteur. In fact, when London venue Villandry's deli-with-tables emerges from its refurbishment next month, it will be called the Traiteur.
"We're going to take Villandry back to its French roots," says serial restaurateur Jamie Barber, the new owner of the outlet, which has had an eat-in deli since it opened in 1997. He adds: "We'll be selling really zesty lemon chicken that you'd find in Provence, recipes from delis in St Paul de Vence - pissaladière, a fougasse of the day - all to eat in or take away."
Villandry is split between an 80-cover restaurant, the 60-cover Traiteur and a 50-cover bar, and Barber anticipates that revenue will be evenly divided between all sides of the operation, with each part appealing to different considerations of time and mood. "If
people want to eat something that's quick and easy, with a nice glass of wine, they'll go to the Traiteur," he says.
French connection A French connection such as that certainly appeals to British consumers. "When you walk into Epicerie, it's like a French café," says Gregory Spain, the French-born manager of Orrery Epicerie, a 15-cover deli spin-off from Conran's Orrery restaurant in London's Marylebone. "It's what our customers are looking for, but it's a France of the past," he says. "Most French people buy their food from supermarkets these days."
One couple who have put a very British spin on the deli-with-tables concept are Jon and Paula Briscoe, who last September took over the Jolly Farmers pub in Buckland, Surrey, and turned it into the Jolly Farmers Food Emporium by converting the smoking section of the pub into a delicatessen and farm shop.
Although a deli-pub may seem a strange idea, Jon argues that it makes sound financial sense. "When you've got a car park, toilets and late-night opening," he says, "there's a lot you can do with that."
Paula adds: "And it's another reason to visit the pub." Their venture has helped put the Jolly Farmers back into the heart of village life, not least through a commitment to selling produce from small, local suppliers, which also keeps costs down.
Perhaps the most British response of all to the rise of the deli-with-tables will come when supermarkets muscle in on the act. One of them already has: Booths, which operates in northern England, installed Artisan in its newly built Kendal store in 2004, selling local produce alongside an eat-in area.
Judging by its success, it can only be a matter of time before something similar is appearing in a Tesco near you soon.
Bill's Produce Store Two sites, the first in Lewes, the second in Brighton, opened by Bill Collison and sister-in-law and business partner Tania Webb. A third partner in the businesses is Mark Barnes, who owns a shopfitting and kitchen company. He designed and built the restaurants at cost price, which kept the capital investment very low. The Brighton outlet cost £280,000 to build and a further £30,000 in pre-opening costs.
Chef Andy Pelligrino oversees the food at both branches, which includes full English breakfasts, crumpets with blackberry butter, and fish-finger sandwiches. Both stores have a prep kitchen and a front-of-house service kitchen, and can each serve about 90 covers (45 covers at the Lewes branch are outside).
At Lewes, turnover is currently split roughly 60% on eat-in, 40% on retail; at Brighton, the same split is 80%/20%.
Lesson learnt: "Employ people who can do things better than you can do yourself" - Tania Webb.
Bill's Produce Store