It seems that every week a new study comes out to tell us what consumers like and dislike about their eating and drinking out experiences, and each time expectation levels on what constitutes a “good time” increase. So how can established operators compete against the “noise of the new” and have expectations levels got so high that even our best operators start to look like they have lost their shine?

A soon-to-open restaurant in Minneapolis is set to take eating-out to new heights as it will be installed in a 60-foot “ferris wheel” giving consumers a distinctly vertiginous experience. The upcoming launch of Betty Danger’s Country Club shows how far people are willing to go to differentiate their offers in the current market. The need to stay ahead of the pack has never been more acute. The timeline from someone’s USP to the market’s average requirement has never been shorter.

Take Drake & Morgan, the Jillian MacLean-led group. An exceptional business, which grew during the downturn and has spawned many imitators in the process, it has many ways become a victim of its own success. As should be the case, each opening has striven to be better than the last, with in the last few openings the addition of butchery classes and a florist. However, there is a sense that this need to push the boundaries to try and beat people’s expectations is impacting on the fundamentals that made the business great in the first place, the strength of its service and offer.

It is not alone. Over the last 12 months, I have had discussions with industry commentators and operators about whether the “shine” has come off the likes of Jamie’s Italian and Wagamama amongst others. Does that say more for our levels of expectation, which the excellence of these brands helped to create, have they helped in pulling the rest of the market up to their level, or is it a cultural shift where we are now programmed to expect newer experiences at a greater frequency.

Now this change has not been helped by the media, and the role of social media in “creating a monster” has been immense. Everyone is a critic and eating out “trend setters” move from one flavour of the month to the next in breakneck speed. A good example is Pitt Cue Co, the Soho-based BBQ concept, which made what now seems the well-trodden path from street food operator to standalone restaurant. That restaurant will have been opened for three years when January comes around and there is a sense that the business has missed the boat in terms of taking advantage of the early acclaim and goodwill that came its way, unlike say peer MeatLiquor.

The trend should also see brands mature quicker and leads to the question whether we will see many UK operators reach the level of the 400-plus-strong Pizza Express? Nando’s looks well set to do so, but what about Prezzo or Frankie & Benny’s?

In the latest edition of M&C Report, David Roberts, partner at leading sector law firm Olswang, says: “I worry the most about the senior citizens.  When they were in the ascendancy, there was nowhere near the level of competition and consumer savviness that exists today. Some of these businesses took 20 years to grow into their skin and during that time, the market place was incredibly different.”

On the back of this, I think some sort of recalibration is in order and many of the next tier of operators, say YO! Sushi and Carluccio’s, seem to have accepted that 150-200 sites is the new ceiling for them. They have also been savvy enough to realise that in an increasingly competitive market in terms of the race for space, that their core brand may not be able to take them all the way to that target.

YO! confirmed last week that it will open its first YO! TO GO kiosk in partnership with SSP later this month in Charing Cross Station. This should be viewed as a key move for the group in terms of its future UK expansion and also a challenge to brands such as Wasabi and Itsu, which have been nibbling away at its market share. Carluccio’s is also set to launch its first 10 pop-ups across the country in the run up to Christmas. In the majority of cases, the sites will be close to existing Carluccio’s restaurants. It is thought that the sites will generate an extra c£1m of turnover. I understand that the company would have liked to have opened more and that while only highlighting its seasonal products the initiative will produce valuable learnings for the restaurant and deli operator in terms of operating from a smaller footprint. How long before Wagamama, which has already pulled back on the rate of its expansion, explores a “grab and go” model?

On reaching 400 sites in the UK, PizzaExpress indicated that it believed there was at least a further 200 sites available for its core brand to expand into. Its pipeline remains strong and it still has the capability to pick off high-profile sites, witness the recent acquisition of the Café Rouge on Charing Cross Road. However, under new Chinese-based ownership the main thrust of its core brand expansion will be overseas.  I would suggest that in the UK its main two goals will be to keep its offer relevant as consumers become further educated on the pizza market and to explore ways of clawing back market share from delivery operators such as Domino’s and Pizza Hut. I believe that the company is already having conversations internally about trialling a delivery model.

Will Betty Danger’s Country Club be a success? Well it will certainly stand out from the crowd for a few months, or should that be weeks, before something else shiny and new comes along. While the new are good at making noise, the established players most quietly get on with business.