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Eating out: A restaurant’s guide to attracting modern diners

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It was the English author Somerset Maugham who said, “The only way to eat well in England is to have breakfast three times a day.” Maugham died in 1965 and therefore missed out on the British food revolution that took place over subsequent decades – not just in the quality and variety of the food that we eat, with previously exotic spices and vegetables becoming standard ingredients, but also in our increasing fondness for eating out. 

The Great British national dish

Although the British had shown a liking for exotic foods in our taste for Chinese restaurants – the first one opened in London in 1908 - the revolution really took off in the 1970s, with Indian restaurants popping up on every high street, culminating in 2001 in the then British foreign secretary Robin Cook’s claim in a speech on British identity that chicken tikka masala had become our “national dish”.

A country of multinational cuisine

As incomes rose and our lives became busier, leaving us less time to cook, eating out became something normal rather than a special occasion, with pizzerias, Italian eateries and Thai restaurants spicing up our high streets. And the British weather has played a role, too: the long hot summer of 1976 led to a drought and a potato shortage – with the result that the British discovered pasta as a substitute. (For some, it was a revelation to find that spaghetti doesn’t have to come from a tin.) Meanwhile the arrival of the gastropub has perked up thousands of pubs. 

And mealtimes themselves have become less clearly defined. Breakfast can drift into brunch, which becomes lunch, which stretches through the afternoon to become dinner. Our eating habits are regulated not by the clock or by set mealtimes but by when it suits us to eat. We have become a nation of casual diners; going out to eat is no longer the big deal that it used to be – for many, it’s part of everyday life, often with children too.

Which brings us to today, when, according to a 2015 survey by the online restaurant booking service OpenTable, the British now eat out on average 1.5 times a week, with a typical spend per person of up to £53. And analysis from the market research group NPDsuggests that by 2017 the British could be spending £54.7 billion on eating out. So, how can your restaurant be sure to get a share of that spending and help keep Britain a nation of happy diners?

Set the scene first, deliver satisfaction later

Surveys suggest that first impressions are vital. And if you want to make a good first impression on your customers, the most important factor is cleanliness and hygiene: the restaurant needs to be spotless, ditto the tables, staff clothing and uniforms. It’s interesting to note that a 2014 survey by the UK government’s Food Standards Agency showed that people are less impressed by hygiene certificates than they are by the general levels of cleanliness that they can see for themselves.

Then there is the welcome. It’s essential that this is warm and friendly. This is your restaurant’s first point of contact with a customer, and if it goes badly, your customers might not come back – however much they enjoy the rest of the experience. So: smile! Talk to them. Let them know what’s happening – if there’s going to be a delay in finding them a table, be realistic. Phone conversations are important, too. Phone calls need to be answered politely, and – crucially – quickly. Today’s customers have short attention spans and little patience, so they will hang up if they don’t get through within the first few rings. And your website needs to be smart, attractive and easy to navigate. Increasingly, customers prefer to make their bookings online, so it’s important to offer this facility.

The environment itself needs to make a good impression. Is it cluttered, messy, poorly arranged? What about the colour scheme? These things matter. On the one hand, customers might find the sight of row upon row of identical tables and chairs daunting, but on the other hand, a haphazard clutter of furniture can be similarly offputting. So you might wish to create a mixture between the two.

Designing for first impressions

There is no law stipulating that all your restaurant furniture should match; mixing things up can create a more homely, “organic” atmosphere. A sea of metal chairs and bare wood surfaces can look somewhat sterile, so it would pay to add touches of warmth – napkins, maybe tablecloths, candles, walls decorated in comforting colours, framed prints. It’s also worth bearing in mind that although today’s trend for “open” restaurants with lots of hard surfaces, bare floors and open kitchens looks very cool and metropolitan, such places can be offputtingly noisy. And while music is fine, it shouldn’t drown out conversation.

Eating out has also become a family affair. So you should have a ready supply of high chairs and cushions, as well as a children’s menu. It’s worth bearing in mind that many parents do not want to fob their children off with children’s “junk” staples such as fish fingers and chicken nuggets, so take care over planning your children’s menu, and be prepared to offer children’s portions of your adult men (at a lower price, of course). Children like to pick: so, cherry tomatoes, chopped carrots and peppers, cucumber, mini-pizzas and suchlike will go down well.

Bake off blasé or traditional burgers

Which brings us to the main attraction: the food itself. The huge popularity of TV programmes such as Masterchef and The Great British Bake Off shows that we are now a nation with sophisticated palates. We are not daunted by sourdough pizzas, “deconstructed” dishes, quinoa, foams and savoury ice-creams. At the same time, the classics are still popular; the rise of the London chain Dirty Burger shows that there is still a huge appetite for a well-cooked burger with proper ingredients served in cool surroundings. But whatever you serve, make sure that it’s fresh, honest, and appealingly served. Don’t over-complicate your menu; British diners are savvy enough to know that a restaurant can’t realistically offer a huge range of dishes without the aid of a microwave – so slim it down to a hard core of high-quality options. (And bear in mind, too, that there are a lot of eaters out there who are vegetarians and/or gluten-free.)

Finally, there’s the vexed issue of Trip Advisor. Some restaurateurs can’t bear it, as it brings out the British tendency to smile and say “Yes, everything’s fine” while they’re at the restaurant – and then write a vitriolic Trip Advisor review afterwards. But it does offer a chance to find out what people think of your restaurant’s offering. And most good restaurants will post a mollifying response on Trip Advisor to the more serious complaints, and perhaps offer to put things right.

Take your brand message to the web, and stay positive!

There are some restaurant owners, though, who react angrily to critical Trip Advisor reviews. One such is Jason Tanfield, owner of the Mexican-themed restaurant Chimichangos in Middlewich, Cheshire. He has become famous for his rude ripostes to online critics. When one diner complained about the burritos at Chimichangos, Tanfield posted a reply: “The burritos are oven baked hence being crispy on the outside. KFC do soft burritos try that next time.” And when another customer complained about rude staff, Tanfield hit back: “The staff are not rude it’s your fault.”

 

Author: David Cheal

Trent Furniture at the Holiday Park and Resort Show 2016

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With the recent resurgence in holiday parks, this years’ Holiday Park & Resort Show will see over 6000 visitors descend upon Birmingham NEC to find out about the latest innovations within the holiday park and resort industry. Trent Furniture will return again this year and would love to meet as many of you as possible and showcase our holiday park furniture.

The boom in British holiday parks

The boom in British holiday park attendance has been helped by revitalised and modern accommodation, attracting a younger audience to what has stereotypically been an older fashioned holiday destination. Large TV’s, comfortable sofas and relaxing beds are now staples in lodges, static caravans and chalets.

Another key feature in holiday parks resurgence is the higher calibre of in park entertainment. Recent summer tours of holiday parks have included arena filling Britain’s Got Talent winners Diversity completing an exclusive live show as well as teaching visitors how to dance.

What was once a looked down upon entertainment scene is now able to pull some of the biggest names within the industry. Children friendly parks like Haven and Butlins continue to pull in the best names in children’s entertainment with Dick and Dom, Shaun the Shee p and

Fireman Sam performing throughout the summer.

Holiday park event tips

Event rooms can be populated with a wealth of stacking chair options available from Trent FurnitureStacking chairs allow for easy storage and re-arranging capabilities, perfect for events that required central stages like wrestling, boxing and concerts. Our Harrow chair has proved popular with thousands sold to big UK holiday parks over Trent’s history. Folding and stacking tables are also ideal

for main event halls and exhibitions, versatility is provided thanks to their capabilities to be reduced in size and easily stacked for safe storage.

Furnishing holiday parks

Lodges and static caravans require comfortable and sophisticated furniture to relax guests after their busy days enjoying the holiday park facilities and entertainment. Luxurious leather sofas add class to an environment, as well as warmth and cosiness. Again, fold up tables work superbly within this format, allowing space to be utilised as effectively as possible. Though for roomy accommodation like chalets, solid wooden dining tables can be used as a centre piece to a traditional dining room.

Though accommodation furniture isn’t the only area holiday parks have approached us for; Trent Furniture has also sold a wealth of restaurant furniture to parks all over the United Kingdom.

Setting the right theme at holiday parks

Whether that’s to chain restaurants housed within parks, at companies like Center Parcs and Haven, or unbranded eateries at places like Butlins. Chains follow their standard looks and guidelines whilst unbranded restaurants can mould their own image and design. Trent’s wide range of restaurant tables and chairs allow for all looks and themes, with our experienced team having provided furniture to the holiday park and restaurant industries for years.

Getting the most with outdoor furniture

In the rare sunny days during our unpredictable British summers, comfortable outdoor furniture can be a true asset for holiday parks and hotels. Allowing visitors to enjoy the sunlight whilst eating their lunch or enjoying a deserved sit down, outdoor furniture can enhance coffee shops and can add popular beer gardens to pubs.

Trent’s designs have been design tested by the Furniture Industry Research Association (FIRA) to ensure our chairs are fit for commercial use. This puts customers’ minds at ease, with our outdoor furniture offering longevity despite the unpredictable weather conditions they may encounter.

Holidaying in the UK

With an abundance of holiday home options throughout the nation, holiday goers are sticking to our own shores rather than fleeing abroad. They can be a perfect way to explore the country whilst enjoying similar atmosphere’s to that of hotels abroad. Locations are populated beachside all across the coast, with central offerings embracing forestry and breath-taking scenery of the UK countryside.

With the recent boom in the industry and Brexit currently weakening the pound against foreign currency, more British residents are expected to look closer to home for their next holiday. Making now the perfect time to invest in renovation and redecoration for holiday parks, to attract what may have been previously disinterested customers.

Holiday Park & Resort Show attendees 2016

Attendees at the Holiday Park & Resort Show include representatives and key decision makers from the stately Glanusk Estate, picturesque Blenheim Palace, family favourites Center Parcs , Butlins and Haven owners Bourne Leisure, homely Ragley Hall, fun filled Longleat and Hoseasons, the owner of the widest choice of holiday parks in the UK.

The Holiday Park & Resort Show will be open on the 9th and 10th of November at Birmingham’s NEC arena. Free tickets can be ordered through the Holiday Park & Resort Show website and will secure you a place at a wonderful event. Seminars and speeches will be hosted by industry leaders from places such as booking.com, Drayton Manor and Airbnb, providing a wealth of information.

If you’re in the holiday park industry, there is no more efficient and effective exhibition within the UK, we hope to see you there – we are at stall 1934, email Sarah at sarah@pubfurnitureuk.co.uk to book time to speak with us.

To shop Holiday Park Furniture now visit Holiday Park Furniture  

The ultimate café furniture buyer’s guide

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When designing a café, there’s a lot to consider: what type of café will it be? What will you serve? Who’s your target audience? The answers you give to all of these questions will have a big impact on the type of furniture you buy.

Not only does café furniture provide somewhere for customers to sit and socialise, it helps create an atmosphere. Choosing the right pieces for your business is therefore vital.

In this guide, we will offer you advice on what type of furniture to purchase for your café based on its style and audience. 

cafe table with cup and phone

International café

European-style cafés, particularly Italian and French, are very popular in the UK. They are casual and laid-back, and yet still feel classy and sophisticated. The international drinks and snacks you’ll serve will make customers feel like they’re on holiday abroad.

To achieve this atmosphere, something we often recommend our Napoli or Rio side chairs. They are simple, modern and attractive, and you can change the seat fabric to suit your café’s colour theme. Pair these chairs with our ornate rectangular bar table with decorative centre or a simple bistro table for a great look.

Of course, you don’t have to go with a European theme. We also stock American diner-style furniture. Our American Diner stools, chairs and benches come in a red and white or black and white stripe design and will transport any space back into the 1950s.

relaxing cafe scene

British breakfast café

British consumers can’t get enough of the traditional fry-up, so it’s no surprise that all-day breakfast cafés do so well in the UK. Though they can vary from budget eateries to more refined affairs, they are typically very casual, friendly places. 

Your furniture should reflect your casual café: try wooden shell chairs like the Catania or Roma furniture ranges. Match the chrome legs of these chairs with our fermo pedestal or pyramid tables for an aligned look. 

busy cafe seating setting

Bakery café

If the focus of your café is delicious cake and other sweet treats, you’ll want to create somewhere that’s family-friendly, quaint and charming. Young, hip families frequent these types of cafés, so you’ll want to draw them in with more than just great cake. Think pastel colours and comfortable seating that encourages long dwell times.

For a traditional look, opt for solid wood chairs, such as the attractive fanback stacking chairs or simpler crossback alternatives. These chairs are easy to move around, allowing you to create larger seating areas for coffee morning groups. They also look great with our bentwood and wellington tables. Don’t forget to purchase some highchairs too!

Quirky café

Every town and city is overflowing with cafés and coffee shops, so why not do something a bit different? Quirky cafés, such as the cereal café in London, appeal to a younger crowd looking for the next hot place to eat or drink. Think bright colours, retro furniture and signage and anything that will make your café stand out on the high street.

Our steel legged Roma stacking chairs and stools are sure to catch the eyes of your customers. They come in eight different colours, so you can stick to a particular colour theme or mix and match for a more fun appearance. These retro chairs and stools are also stackable and can be used outside, as they won’t fade in the sunlight. They look great with our Bella or alma café tables.

steel legged Roma stacking chairs

Fast food café

Cafés that target the commuters rushing to and from work who just want a quick coffee or sandwich might not be too concerned about providing seating for its customers, but not everyone wants to eat or drink on the go.

Focus on providing cost-effective yet functional seating options, such as our Monza or Dakota bar stools. They are perfect if you only have a small space to work with, as you can fit more seats in. Pair them with alma poseur tables.

bakery cafe furniture

Outdoor café

If your café has an outside space, whether on the street or in a dedicated garden, you’re going to need some outdoor furniture. Luckily, there’s plenty of choice when it comes to rust-proof, UV-protected and water-resistant seating.

Our Monaco aluminium stacking chairs are a simple and cost-effective option. They also come in wicker versions if you’d like to make your customers a bit more comfortable. Stackable chairs are easy to clear away when you need to, allowing you to transform outdoor spaces quickly for events and other special occasions. Our rossa stacking tables are the perfect accompaniment! 

Whatever type of café you decide to create, we wish you all the best with your new business. If you’d like further advice, check out the guides below or get in touch – we’re more than happy to help.

•    Choose the best outdoor café furniture for your terrace
•    How do restaurant and café furniture differ?
•    How to design and run a successful restaurant – a comprehensive guide
 

Getting your restaurant Halloween ready – Top tips and seasonal ideas for restaurants

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It’s that time of year again, when witches and ghouls roam the streets, when front windows are decorated with hideous grinning faces flickering in candlelight and children accumulate huge stashes of confectionery. Halloween has become a big deal – and big business - in the past couple of decades: what was once seen as a niche event is now, according to some business analysts, Britain’s second biggest party night (after New Year). Last year British shoppers were expected to spend around £460 million on Halloween food, fancy dress, and decorations. And it’s not just a children’s event: many grown-ups see it as a chance to dress up and, to paraphrase Monty Python, look on the dark side of life.

For some critics, Halloween is seen as yet another symptom of the Americanisation of British culture.  This is true, up to a point, and it has doubtless been helped along by the success of American horror film franchises such as Halloween. And yet this is a festival with thoroughly European origins.

A history of Halloween

Like all of our popular festivals and celebrations, Halloween comes to us from the pagan era by way of Christianity. It almost certainly has its origins in the Celtic festival of Samhain (“summer’s end”), which marked the beginning of the darker months, a time when spirits and fairies became more active. In the Christian era, it became conflated with All Hallows’ Eve (now shortened to Halloween), a time when tribute was paid to dead saints; also, the following day is All Souls’ Day, when the dead were remembered and given offerings.

The origins of the pumpkin for Halloween

Even the carved pumpkin has its origins in Europe. Centuries ago, in Ireland, turnips were scooped out and carved as “Jack O’Lanterns”, inspired by a character of legend who is denied entry to both heaven and hell and doomed to wander the earth with only a glowing coal to light his way. When the Irish emigrated to the US, they found the pumpkin a bigger (and some would say tastier) alternative to the turnip.

Jack O'Lantern turnips

Mumming, souling and guising for Halloween

As centuries went by, British customs and traditions became attached to Halloween, among them mumming, souling and guising – knocking on people’s doors to perform little plays, or dressed in the guise of the dead or in fancy dress, and asking for food or rewards. Herein lie the origins of trick or treat. In some parts of the country, Halloween now overlaps with the Hindu festival of Diwali (the festival of lights: this year on October 30) and Guy Fawkes’ Night to create a week-long festival of fireworks, bonfires, ghouls and sugary treats.  And today’s Halloween has become almost a fancy dress party, with children dressed in superhero costumes and suchlike.

Meanwhile Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration – which goes back to pre-Columbian times, and takes place around the same time as Halloween – has got in the act, inspiring skeleton costumes and skull make-up. With its rising Hispanic population, the Day of the Dead is becoming a widely celebrated festival across the US.

Day of the dead

How can restaurant owners make the most out of Halloween?

So, as a restaurant owner, how can you make Halloween a special – and profitable – time of year? Perhaps the first tip would be to spread it out over several days. This year Halloween, October 31, falls on a Monday, so it would be best to designate the whole weekend, beginning on Friday, as “Halloween Weekend”, and theme your restaurant accordingly.

Simple decorations can transform your premises into something sinister. Material such as cheesecloth can be torn and draped from windows, walls and door frames to create a ghoulish effect. Buy tubs of plastic spiders from a joke shop and attach them to the fabric. Black cut-out bats can be scattered across the walls; these are easily made using black card bought from a craft shop such as Hobbycraft, cut out using this template and attached to the walls using double-sided tape.

And when it comes to drinks, you could create spooky “smoking” cocktails using dry ice or a smoking gun (both widely available online). The sight of a tray bearing weirdly coloured creations trailing plumes of smoke will be quite a talking point among your diners. 

Ask around among your restaurant staff, and it’s likely that you will find someone with a background in art or craft, and they might appreciate being given responsibility for overseeing and making your Halloween decorations. The website Pinterest is also a goldmine of crafty, creative ideas.

Creating a Halloween atmosphere in a restaurant

Lighting should be dim and atmospheric; candles flickering in jars will add to the effect. Jack O’ Lantern pumpkins make an excellent window display. Where possible, as far as your décor goes, it should be, to quote Henry Ford, “any colour you like, as long as it’s black”. If you can find some black candles online, so much the better. Ask your staff to dress up – they will surely relish the chance to break out of their normal work-wear and go to town on costumes and make-up: Frankenstein, Dracula (complete with fake vampire teeth), zombies, skeletons.

Halloween costumes - getting customers dressing up

Celebrating Halloween through food

And then there’s the food. The scooped-out contents of your pumpkins will, of course, make an excellent soup. And you could enter fully into the Halloween spirit by offering a menu of ghoulish and ghastly dishes: blood-red sauces and drinks (Bloody Marys), black squid-ink pasta, “eyeballs” made from lychees stuffed with blackberries, and so on. Chicken wings can become “bat wings” by coating them in a mixture of soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar and black bean sauce and roasting them quickly in a hot oven.

Strawberry ghosts

For sweets and desserts, cupcakes can be iced and decorated with spider-web patterns. Stuffed peppers can be carved in a similar style to your pumpkins (a fiddly job, but rewarding for someone with a steady hand). “Ghosts” can be created by dipping strawberries in white icing, or white chocolate, and using dark chocolate droplets as the eyes and mouth. The Day of the Dead can be used as inspiration, too. The skull is the most widely used design, being used to decorate biscuits, cakes and so on; colours are vivid, decorations ornate. Sugar skulls are popular; they can be made using moulds bought online, then decorated as you wish. And of course, toffee apples are a firm favourite, baked with spices and served with ice cream.

Halloween decorations for restaurants

Encouraging customers to dress up for Halloween

Encourage your customers to arrive in fancy dress – posters in your windows and a social media campaign will spread the message. Take your customers’ photographs and (with their permission) post the snaps on social media – all good publicity for your restaurant. A ghoulish soundtrack will add fun and atmosphere (“Monster Mash”, “Thriller”, “Ghosbusters”): again, one of your staff could be tasked with compiling this – they will enjoy the challenge and the change from the usual routine.

Your Halloween weekend will, hopefully, attract families to your restaurant, so be prepared to cater for more children than you would otherwise deal with. Youngsters will appreciate food that is fun, playful and colourful. And afterwards, when they are on the way out, offer them “trick or treat” goody bags to add to their stashes of confectionery. 

Related business information for restaurants

Here's a sample of our most enjoyed restaurant guides and information.

The ultimate café furniture buyer’s guide

- Your guide to designing the perfect restaurant 

- The ultimate furniture buying guide for restaurants 

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