The flexibility of operators to adapt their brands and offers is being tested like never before as consumers stretch their day part needs and continue to shun the traditional weekend market. Therefore many are taking an increasingly pragmatic approach to the evolution of their offer and toward their expansion plans. There is also a look at “restaurant ticketing touting”; and despite some recent teething problems, why it’s too early for speculation about Tesco retreating from the sector.

Recent research from consultancy firm NPD Group has found that weekday visits to pubs increased by 4.9% in the year to 31 June 2014, compared to a 3.4% rise in the year to 31 March. At the same time, weekend visits declined by 2.1% in the year against a 0.2% increase in the year to the end of March. How are operators reacting to this? They are sweating existing assets, expanding established formats, and trialling new hybrids and day parts.

Tasty, the AIM-listed restaurant operator led by Jonny Plant and Sam Kaye, is a good example of an operator taking a pragmatic approach to the current market and its expansion.

During the past month, it has opened a second trial site under its burger format Relish, secured further sites for sub-brand Wildwood Kitchen and agreed to maintain much of the original offer of the recently secured De Grey’s tearoom in Shropshire. So much so in fact, it will re-open as Wild at De Grey’s later this month.

Kaye said: “We’re going to continue the tea room theme at the front, with a bakery and deli, pretty much in the same style. The big difference will be at the rear where there will be a kitchen doing our high-end pizza, pasta and grill menu.” Although the company can be accused of chasing the market in regards to Relish, the Shropshire site highlights its pragmatism in changing its format to match a local need. The group’s flexibility, out of necessity or otherwise, is further highlighted by the opening of an on-site cinema at its Wildwood site in Peterborough and its upcoming first retail/leisure park opening in Telford.

Such pragmatism is paying off with consumers, with the group reporting a 12% rise in pre-tax profits from £1.55m to £1.74m for year to 29 December 2013, with revenue up 20% to £23.2m. But the City is yet to be convinced, with the company’s share price currently 101.5p, down from 123p at the start of the year.

Another burger joint

Another example of pragmatism has come from the team behind MeatLiquor. Last week, the group, changed all its twitter tag lines to “not just burgers”, with its MeatMission site in Hoxton Market emphasising its wider menu with pictures of a Greek salad and a chicken Nero salad.

In a market that it helped to create and is increasingly getting crowded, it seems the Scott Collins-led business is again trying to stay one step ahead by differentiating itself from the chasing pack, both inside and outside of the capital.

Similarly, BrewDog, for many the leading light of the craft beer bar movement, is also looking to expand its offer with the launch of its Bottle Dog off-licence format and if speculation is right, a more food-focused concept at the recently acquired former Giraffe site in Islington.

This places a spotlight on the growth potential of other fledgling burger or craft beer bar concepts, which have appeared in MeatLiquor and BrewDog’s wake. For some their offer may be strong enough to stand out in an increasingly over crowded market, for others however it may be time to take a more pragmatic approach and reassess their point of difference, or buddy up with a larger group with deeper pockets.

Community feel

The changing of the guard at the top of Tesco and the decision by Giraffe founders Russel and Juliette Joffe to step down from the brand they launched in 1998 and sold to the supermarket giant for £48.6m last year, immediately brought into question the retailer’s move into the eating-out sector.

It is too early to draw clear conclusions, but there have been rumblings that not all the Giraffe openings in Tesco Extras have been successes, while the brand continues to consolidate its London-based estate. However, the momentum the supermarket group has injected into strands of the market should not be overlooked.

The retailer’s backing of the launch, development and expansion of Harris + Hoole should be seen as a success story, despite recent news that six of the brands sites are set to close. Within 18 months, it has become a clear presence in one of the most competitive segments of the market place and is taking the lead on community and digital interaction, and food offer.

Although Tesco has not got everything right in its entry into the eating-out marketplace, the jury is still out on its Decks format, it has put together a strong team in place, led by ex M&B chief executive Adam Fowle, for rumours surrounding a u-turn in policy to seem premature.

Premium price

A key question the New York Times tried to answer earlier this summer, was who owns a restaurant reservation? The question has sprung up in the US through the emergence of mobile apps that are selling reservations for prime tables in high-profile restaurants at the last minute — some in co-operation with the businesses in question, some on their own under assumed names and then sold on.

While it may bring transparency for consumers usually unable to get hold of these seats, those restaurants that co-operate with app providers have to ask themselves if they are comfortable charging for reservations. As the New York Times points out, consumers moaned when fees were imposed by airlines for checking in bags. However, they are now part and parcel of the market place. It seems only a matter of time before this new reservations process or “restaurant ticketing touting”, spreads to the UK.