While many a pub operator has turned innkeeper, few hoteliers move into F&B. Nick Taplin, the chief executive of Black & White Hospitality, the Marco Pierre White restaurant franchising vehicle, has just done this. As new concept Koffmann & Mr White’s launches in Bath’s Abbey Hotel, he talks to Finn Scott-Delany, about hotels vs high streets, the pulling power of brands and why the casual dining sector should have seen the looming problems on the horizon.

There’s a conventional wisdom in the hospitality industry, about a perfect storm of rates, rents and regulatory burdens putting operators under extraordinary pressure.

Nick Taplin has the benefit of being far enough removed from this part of the sector that he cannot hear his contrarian instincts being damned as heresy.

The former hotelier, and franchisor of nearly 50 Marco Pierre White branded restaurants, believes rents were too cheap for too long, and excoriates the industry for complacency and not preparing for the incoming cost pressures.

Still, boiled down, his conclusions are not so far removed from more common thinking: that the current problems are a market correction for overexpansion.

“There are too many restaurants on the high street”, he says. “As an industry there’s been too many cheap rents given. Too many long rent-free periods given.

“They all talk about rents and rates – but the rises was always coming. You can set projections, if you miss them by 10-15% over the rent free period, by the time the rent is kicking in, you’re 30-40% down on expectations.”

But he’s not without sympathy, adding: “The high street is tough. You’ve got to have the right location. There’s so much competition. It’s hurt hotels, or course. Hotel dining rooms were hard to fill anyway!”

Speaking at the launch of the group’s latest concept, Koffmann and Mr White’s English French Brasserie at the Abbey Hotel in Bath, Taplin’s priorities as a predominately hotel-based restaurateur are of course different to a high street operator – despite being impacted by the competition.

Yet there are compelling parallels between the high street and his approach, in using a branded experience to attract consumers.

In familiar contrarian form, the model aims to run upstream against the decline of hotel dining rooms, with specialist input on design, food, and drink.

“Our job us to put in interest where there was no interest”, he says. “If you put a name above the door it has its own identity, and becomes somewhere people want to come and eat. It’s not just a hotel anymore.”

Taplin says with hoteliers having lost their expertise at dining, the right concept, training and support is crucial to win back guests and passing trade from a competitive high street.

“When you’ve got people like Marco and Pierre, they can read a room, they understand lighting, atmosphere, produce, the team,” he says.

“There are a lot of people out there good at running hotels and driving business, but doesn’t make them good restaurateurs.

“Our job is to drive business and make it as profitable as possible. What we do is provide a hook to bring people in.”

“We were hoteliers turned restaurateurs. Most of the time it’s the other way round.”

While hotels make up some 85% of the group’s partners, Black & White also has restaurants in casinos, football clubs, and the high street.

The partners takes out a franchise, pays an initial fee, and a percentage of the turnover, the same model as Hilton and Accor operate.

While there are possibilities of sites in others such as travel, Taplin says hotels were the model is most effective.

“There’s one team working at the restaurant and hotel. If you lease a restaurant it becomes too separate, with different working space and different deliveries. They become more like neighbours.

“We give the owners and GM full control, it means they can move staff around. It’s all one team, which is really important.”