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Ways to survive the recession

15 May 2009
Ways to survive the recession

Ranald Macdonald, owner of the Boisdale of Belgravia Restaurant , which this year celebrates its 21st anniversary, says the last recession taught him to stick to his guns and not follow fashion

I never wanted to be a restaurateur. Having started a small wine business in my last year at university, I knew that restaurants were a high credit risk and must, as a result, be difficult businesses to run.

Against all my instincts we opened Boisdale Restaurant & Savoury Bar in 1988. I had been seduced, as so many people are, with the challenge of creating an environment in which I hoped others would do what I liked to do most - eat, drink, smoke Cuban cigars and listen to classic jazz - and, because I had no capital and a growing family, to make some sort of a living from it.

The early 1990s recession created an economic situation similar to the one we face now. From an environment in which bank borrowing was the easy fix for cash-flow, we found ourselves with a brick wall at the end of our overdraft facility. Believe it or not, my bank manager at the time was called Mr Tough.

We all worked long hours and a minimum of 10 shifts a week. I went to Billingsgate and New Covent Garden markets every morning not only to buy less expensively but also to find the best-quality ingredients. We spent next to nothing on our interior and what was done we did ourselves.

One way to go in such a climate is to change with the times and follow fashion, but there is a risk of being stranded when the next genre sweeps along.

At Boisdale I continued and continue to focus on all that we love and have a passion for. We did not try and reinvent ourselves.

Looking ahead, two things are certain. We will come out of this recession and when we do, restaurant fashion will have changed dramatically. My advice to small operators is to stick to your guns and focus on quality: love what you do and the money will follow.

But good endeavour is nothing if you do not control your costs: weekly stock reconciliation and control of labour is the backbone of a restaurant's ability to trade profitably.

It is all too easy to sail magnificently into the sunset in a slowly sinking ship.

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Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.


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