Earlier this month, Caterersearch.com, in association with Bisto, revealed its list of the 100 most influential people in hospitality. In our second article analysing the list, we look at the biggest players in the restaurant sector.
From Richard Caring and Nick Jones who have conquered the market in private members' clubs, to Jeremy King and Chris Corbin, undisputed kings of the London restaurant scene, to Harvey Smyth and Graham Turner, who between them dominate the casual dining sector, the top five in the 2010 list reads like a who's who of UK restaurateurs.
And while you are unlikely to spot Elton John and Beyoncé at the opening of a Café Rouge or a PizzaExpress - the pop stars were among a host of celebrities at the opening of Soho House West Hollywood earlier this year - there are some aspects that unite the leaders of these leading hospitality brands.
The top five have crossed paths on many occasions, with Caring's deep pockets generally involved somewhere along the way. The tycoon purchased King and Corbin's Caprice Holdings in 2005, sold pizza chain Strada to Turner's Tragus Holdings in 2007 and, of course, took a majority shareholding in Jones' Soho House Group in 2008. Earlier this year, Caring gazumped King and Corbin for a prime restaurant location in London's Covent Garden.
David Coffer, chairman of the Coffer Group, parent company of hospitality property agent Davis Coffer Lyons and mergers and acquisitions advisory firm Coffer Corporate Leisure, has built close relationships with all of the top five operators during his 40 years in the sector.
He says all of the top five are "solid decision-makers drawing upon generations of experience and, no doubt, errors along the away". "Today, they lead their fields in terms of excellence, profitability and potential," he adds.
Coffer notes that while all five are creative in themselves, they have all strived to build excellent teams around them.
"The infrastructure of their businesses is paramount with expansion leading from this solid base," he explains. "The rule has always been to build Head Office before expanding. Equally, those who have been involved in expansion by takeover have always retained excellent management and acted either as financiers or chief executives."
DEDICATION TO QUALITY
Without exception, the decision to become "top of class" has made the top five preeminent in their fields, according to Coffer.
"Their dedication to quality of cuisine, design, service and financial expertise has created some masterful owners and operators," he says. "Private equity in one form or the other, with the exception of Richard Caring, has had a great influence in enlarging opportunities within their careers.
"In addition, taking advantage of the downturn and cheaper assets within the market place has also helped."
Jane Sunley, managing director at HR consultancy Learnpurple, believes that all of the top five are goal-focused and driven, and "very sure" about what they are intending to create and achieve. Sunley echoes Coffer's point about recruiting the right people.
"They surround themselves with good people, articulate their vision and then drive it," she says. "One key observation is that they do make decisions and are prepared to stick it out in order to do what they think is the right thing.
"They all create their version of style and then do what it takes to make sure those who represent them deliver the experience."
Marketing plays a big part in the strategy of the top five- they create places where people will want to come, while they are inspiring leaders, according to Sunley.
"It's about having vision, understanding style, understanding the customer and being dedicated to getting it right," she says. "Chris Corbin and Jeremy King are known for their presence within their restaurants - one or other is always on the floor - they create the personal touch and are on hand to make sure things are done right.
"Harvey perseveres, is highly driven and focused, he recruits brilliant people and takes tough decisions, is single minded and visionary."
One of the most common features of all of these restaurateurs is that they understand whatever their particular public/customer base are seeking and they ensure that they satisfy their requirements to the highest standards, according to Coffer.
"With the exception of Richard Caring, all of the operators involved had a sound base in restaurant operation and management before embarking upon ownership," he adds. "Ironically none of them had any grounding as chefs. They are all direct and solid decision makers. They know what they want and are normally successful due to their determination in trying to reach their targets."
BUSINESS TIPS FROM THE TOP FIVE
1 Richard Caring (Caprice Holdings) on acquisition strategy,The Daily Telegraph, April 2010 "Now, brilliant I am not but I am bright enough to know that if you're buying successful brands they are successful for a reason. We have taken things that are great and just moved them along quietly."
2 Nick Jones (Soho House) on ‘being lucky', The Daily Telegraph, March 2010 "I think you create your own luck. It's about hard graft, and the moment you take your foot off the pedal, that's when it goes wrong."
3 Chris Corbin (Rex Restaurant Associates) on running a restaurant, The Guardian, February 2008 "The brilliant thing about this business, for me, is that you don't have to know a lot about one thing - you need to know a little about a lot of things. You need to know a bit about human psychology, a little about air-conditioning, you've got to know how the toilets work, a bit about accountancy, obviously quite a lot about food presentation"
4 Harvey Smyth (Gondola Holdings) on discounting,The Sunday Times, February 2009 "If it was damaging the brand it's not something that we would do. By being clever about it; giving customers things that they want rather than some blanket discount scheme - that will build loyalty."
5 Graham Turner (Tragus) on branding, Caterer, June 2007 "We see Strada as having a strong brand. It is not just pizza, it is not just pasta. It has the ability to do more grown-up Italian and offer something more complex."
Richard Caring: "The expansion of an empire which exudes class almost globally."
Nick Jones: "The creation of the institution that is Soho House, which is now expanding globally."
Jeremy King and Chris Corbin: "Being innovators of the club-like restaurant with the creation of Le Caprice, Ivy and J Sheekey and now with the Wolseley Group and also about to embark on hotel ownership."
Harvey Smyth: "Managing a wide range of operations which are brand leaders in their sector."
Graham Turner: "Turning round dormant and depressed groups, such as Café Rouge and Bella Pasta, into being leaders once again, with Strada being acquired and expanded successfully at a dramatic pace."
Source: David Coffer
HOW WE COMPILE THE LIST
Nominees in each of these five categories were judged by panels of industry experts.
To begin with, candidates had to meet these qualifying criteria: the personality should be based mainly in the UK, and their power and influence should be primarily in the UK market.
Shortlisted candidates were awarded marks for each of five criteria, which were averaged out to give an overall ranking in the Caterersearch.com 100.
First consideration was the scale and scope of the operation headed by the nominees. But size isn't everything, and candidates were next judged on the power and influence they exert in the industry and the respect they command among their peers. We asked whether they were shapers of policy, leaders in their field, or inspiring and nurturing the next generation of movers and shakers.
The judges then examined whether the candidates had a proven record of financial success and whether this was reflected in the eyes of their peers and the outside world.
The candidates' reputation for innovation was next, as the judges examined to what degree they were setting standards others wanted to copy and whether their ideas would remain in fashion.
Longevity was the fifth and final hurdle for the candidates as the panellists considered whether they - and their creations - would stand the test of time.
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[The top five contract caterers >> .