The story or concept behind a restaurant is just one of a multitude of ways that restaurateurs can get diners through the door and if told convincingly can be a major contributor to overall success.
There are many a way a canny restaurateur can achieve this – be it through creating a back story either to the restaurant as a whole or the dishes being served; through authentic or unique décor, design, food and ingredients; or perhaps by using the menu itself to tell a story. It may even be a combination of all of these, but either way it’s all designed to bring something extra to the dining experience – imparting a sense of place or an authenticity that transports the diner to another location or time. Dining should be about the food but also the night out as a whole (see my previous blog post on immersive restaurants). A little bit of escapism for the evening goes a long way in attracting customers, because sometimes there’s nothing like a meal that reminds you of the memorable dishes enjoyed on that favourite summer holiday – from a sensational laab eaten on the beach in Hua Hin, Thailand to a benchmark-level spaghetti alle vongole in a Taormina trattoria.
London restaurateurs Corbin and King are masters of creating restaurants based around a theme, all of them are meticulously styled and with menus to match and exceptional cooking – from French brasserie dining at Zedel to the cosy Viennese cafe feel of Fischers to the Central European inspired grand dining room of The Delaunay. Their attention to the story does not always stop there, for example, when they opened The Beaumont (which they have since sold) they even concocted a whole history and narrative to the hotel and restaurant, going back to its establishment in the 1920s by a fictional restaurateur and hotelier named Jimmy Beaumont all the way up to its subsequent decline in the 1950s and 1960s. In reality the building was never a hotel until it opened as the Beaumont in 2014.
Similarly the newly opened Gloria Trattoria in Shoreditch has a considered and well thought out story behind it. This all-day dining trattoria is the first London opening for the Big Mamma restaurant group, which is owned by French restaurateurs Victor Lugger and Tigrane Seydoux. The group already operates a number of similarly stylish trattorias and bars in Paris that include East Mamma, Ober Mamma, Mamma Primi and Pizzeria Popolare, alongside La Felicità food market, reportedly the biggest restaurant space in Europe – all of which have thus far proved to be very successful.
These venues are known as much for their well-designed interiors and relaxed vibes as their reasonably priced Italian food – as Lugger puts it ‘We try to have a mix of good design, good value food and good taste, served with a smile.’ Despite London being awash with Italian restaurants, especially in the mid-market range in which it positions itself, Gloria stands out from the rest thanks to this cool design and its playful menu – featuring dishes such as Filippo’s big balls and the YouPorn pizza as well as large sharing plates of risotto and pasta. According to Lugger, Big Mamma is not afraid of the crowded market, as when you have atmosphere and good food at an affordable price and then despite the competition you can still be successful. Lugger also points out that even in a market with no competition if your offering is badly executed then the likelihood is that you will fail.
The aim of their restaurants, claim Lugger and Seydoux is to not only feed people but produce a fully rounded experience that transport customers direct to Italy, and the cool Italianate design, Italian background music and predominantly Italian speaking staff are all relatively simple, yet effective ways in which they manage to achieve this. The Big Mamma group also sources all of its ingredients from its cheeses and olive oil to charcuterie and vegetables direct from Italy (it currently works with over 180 different producers), which also adds to the authentic feel of its restaurants.
Gloria stands out for its quirkiness and decidedly retro and definitely not on-trend design (no exposed concrete and filament lightbulbs here) with the sourcing of quality ingredients and on-point cooking validating the whole concept.
This idea of creating a story is nothing new, in fact it’s something that restaurants have been doing for years, but these days, with the impact of social media, alongside people being ever more widely travelled and ever more adventurous with their eating, a good story can be an essential way to help drive a restaurants success. However with the issues of transparency and inappropriate cultural appropriation becoming major industry talking points of late, and restaurants under more scrutiny than ever, there is an increasing need for honesty and sensitivity in the sector – so any successful stories need to take this into account. Having said that, it’s interesting to note that although there are restaurants (in particular a number of high-street chains) that could be accused of creating or embellishing a story purely to boost footfall – peddling the fake news of the restaurant world if you will – in many cases these stories are still bought into by customers.
Ultimately if restaurants and restaurateurs are able to tell a story that diners can connect with, regardless of the origins of it, alongside delivering excellent food and service then it can dramatically boost the chances of success in this very competitive industry.
Some other examples of restaurants telling interesting stories we like:
Dishoom – Styled like a Bombay-style Irani cafes
Berenjak – An authentic take on a Tehrani café
The Palomar and The Barbary – Tel Aviv transplanted in London
Brigadiers, Gymkhana, XU, Hoppers – All backed by JKS Restaurants and all meticulously styled to evoke a sense of place, with well-thought out menus and top-notch cooking to back it all up
Ceviche and Casita Andina – South America by way of Soho run by Peruvian restaurateur Martin Morales
El Pastor – Authentic taqueria in Borough Market, ispired by the owner’s time spent in Mexico City
Sabor – A menu that takes you on a journey from the tapas bars of Andalucía through to the asadors of Castile and the seafood restaurants of Galicia
Brat – Next level cooking from the wood-fired grill, inspired by chef Tomos Parry’s in the Spanish Basque
Bob Bob Ricard – Lavish and over-the-top designed dining room with an eclectic Russia meets Britain influenced menu
Moro – A journey through Moorish Spain
Honey and Smoke – A Middle Eastern grill house
Barrafina – A flavour of Barcelona in London
Jeow Jeow at The Sun & 13 Cantons – Based on the chefs travels around the Mekong
Restaurant Story – Chef Tom Sellers uses his food to invoke memories and add a narrative to each dish
Dinner – Many of the dishes have stories behind them, and are re-interpretations of historical recipes
The Fat Duck – Create a menu and story tailored to the individual diner