Restaurateurs hoping to thrive in the north of England's booming restaurant and bar scene should not underestimate the importance of local knowledge.
That's according to Thom Hetherington, chief executive of Holden Media and hospitality show Northern Restaurant & Bar, speaking at the annual BDO Restaurant & Bars Forum in association with Barclays and Fourth, this week.
The restaurant and bar scene in cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool is booming, he said, but warned that hopeful restaurateurs and brands should be aware that success required local knowledge, close links with suppliers, community interaction, an awareness of local trends, and a real sense of your core audience.
He cited Living Ventures, Loungers and San Carlo as example of groups that had successfully understood the regional audience, and praised James Martin and Hawksmoor for their use of local marketing and involvement to boost visibility in the regions.
Restaurants that did not look after their regulars, he said, would suffer.
This required a slightly different approach compared with that of larger cities such as London, he explained, as many restaurants in bigger urban centres did not rely on repeat custom in the same way.
Decide who you're aiming for, and go for them," he said. "Become a visible mainstay in the region, and personalise the service. Repeat business rules, in Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester."
He also advised restaurant operators to focus on local suppliers to improve regional loyalty; use locally-based marketing teams; and contribute to events such as food festivals, pop-up venues and fundraising dinners.
The dining scene in northern towns is growing rapidly he said, as shown by developments such as Liverpool One and Manchester's Spinningfields.
The scale and appetite of the provinces are not to be underestimated," he said. "Yet breaking into it is no foregone conclusion without immersion into the city. But the market, people and talent are there."
He also said that three destination restaurants was the magic number when it comes to attracting foodie outsiders to a given town, and said he felt that a Michelin star would greatly help improve the attractiveness of cities such as Manchester.