The outlook for many in casual dining may appear bleak, but as in any crisis, there will be plenty of opportunities for its survivors, Fulham Shore chairman David Page has said.

Speaking at MCA’s The Conversation, Page turned to his own experience as an industry veteran to reassure operators that with the right concept and the right team, the post-coronavirus fallout could be beneficial to them in the long-term.

“Between 1989 and 1993, financially, the city of London was in a terrible place, the UK economy was in a terrible place, and restaurants were in a terrible place,” he said. “The economy bounced back in early ’93, we had a marvellous run in the 90s and people got a bit overconfident, and then we had 911.”

Having seen “three or four” economic crises, Page said that although “each time it feels like the world has ended,” his own experience at the forefront Pizza Express’ initial expansion serves to prove that businesses will survive, and thrive, off the back of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We floated Pizza Express in ’93, and we could pick up sites at very low rent and had a brand and a business that everybody wanted,” he said. “So, to give people encouragement, if businesses manage to survive this, they have a great idea, a great chef and great front of house, there will be lots of opportunities for them after this.

“Property will be very cheap, and there will be lots of restaurants that they can just walk into, pick up their spatulas and turn on the grill.”

Clearly, the creation of such opportunities for some operators will come at the downfall of others, and for Page, the key to remaining on the right side of the fallout is to be an operator-led concept supported by a multi-faceted team.

“If you’re running a restaurant company you need financiers, you need operators, you need people-people and you need a good property team,” he explained. “It’s a team effort. You need a great team, and then you have a great business.”

And unfortunately for some larger venture capital-backed operators in the sector, he added, the trade-off of team for funds has led to a stunting of originality, making these businesses particularly vulnerable in the near future.

“That’s what’s happening with all of these companies that have gone under,” he said. “They’ve been sold two or three times to various venture capitalists, and each time maybe the management team has remained but sometimes and hasn’t, and the venture capitalists think because they own the business, they know how to operate it.

“So now there are far too many mid-ranking pizza restaurants in the UK and about four or five brands are all competing against each other,” he added. “It’s a ridiculous state of affairs.”

And with this market saturation contributing to a crisis in casual dining before the coronavirus pandemic – with the likes of Prezzo and Pizza Express appointing advisors in 2019 – the seemingly never-ending stream of restructuring announcements is only set to continue, added Peter Martin.

“We did have too many restaurants, and we still have too many restaurants,” he said. “So, in a sense it is continuation, it’s no surprise, and it’s the right thing to do for some of those companies going forward.”

And with the crisis likely to accelerate the casual dining evolution already in motion, he added, “there’s going to be some interesting stuff going on, and whether old style casual dining fits the bill is an interesting question.”

“The market will evolve, and I think what this has done is prompted it to move a bit quicker and a bit further.

“I think we’ll still see that competitive edge in the market, but, how big is that market going to be?”