One of the greatest financial success stories of the past 10 years has been the phenomenal growth in the themed restaurant market. There was a time when concepts such as Hard Rock Café, with its burgers and Beatles, and Wheelers Restaurants, with its classically cooked fish, seemed quirky as well as innovative. Today we are awash with themed restaurants, covering everything from football to rainforests.
Many operators have recognised that such restaurants have a clearly-defined market in terms of age group and food requirement. Like it or not, the cleverness of the food tends to matter less than the buzzy and trendy nature of the restaurant to the all-important 25- to 34-year-olds that make up the largest segment of customers.
There are plenty of entrepreneurs who can think up new themes - and this is important, since themes are fashion-driven and fashion, like most themed restaurants, has a finite life span.
Yet the Marketpower report on this sector (page 10) will be causing a good deal of head-scratching in the boardrooms of companies that run themed restaurants. It predicts that there is a decline coming in their core customer base. Government demographic forecasts are for a 20% fall in people in the 25-34 age group in the years ahead.
So what should the themed restaurateurs do? First, don't write corporate strategy for the next 10 years based on one report or one Caterer & Hotelkeeper Opinion column.
But the restaurant themers do need to be aware of the effects of growing choice and the predicted diminishing of the market.
The answer may be for themes to mature along with their customer base. The family dining market is growing rapidly in the USA and will follow here. Dating sweethearts who 10 years ago were happy to gaze at just each other over dinner now need a restaurant that can accommodate both their own hunger and that of their young children. This family dining market is already core business for pubs in the UK, but ripe for widespread restaurant development.
Alternatively, the restaurant themers could move ahead of the market. If fashion and football were the banker's bet of the1990s, maybe the ultimate in trendy themed restaurants with long-term growth might be the grey market. Anyone care to develop a themed restaurant called Gramps?
Caterer & Hotelkeeper
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