Sarah O’Connell, London Office, Bord Bia – Irish Food Board
A new breed of specialist – often ‘single concept’ – casual dining brands in London is beginning to emerge, driven by a tightening of the consumer purse strings and shorter lunchtime breaks as well as a demand for a more focused food offer as busy customers shy away from long, ‘dish-heavy’ menus and seek an alternative to ‘tired’ sandwich shops.
The fast casual dining sector, particularly concepts with a strong lunch trade, has become awash with brands with an ultra-specific offer as restaurant chains and independents alike tap into consumer demand.
Recent exponents of the trend include Spud – specialising in luxury baked potatoes, Pilpel – falafel and houmous bar – and Mother Mash – where the humble mashed potato takes centre stage.
Other examples include Herman ze German, Square Pie and NOW dumplings.
The trend, dubbed the ‘Keep it Simple, Stupid’ approach by Restaurant magazine, usually offers customers a tight menu offer with options to use ‘building blocks’ by which an order may be customised. Geared to the urban professional lunchtime trade, these concepts tend to focus on fresh, healthy ingredients, playing into the trend for simple, ‘pure’ food.
Specialising in one area allows brands to carve out a ‘quirky’ niche for themselves as well as positioning themselves as experts in that particular food offer. Whether the model is sustainable in focusing on one daypart – lunchtime – or forced to diversify has yet to be seen.