Restaurants must embrace trends like veganism to survive, says Tastecard boss

The boss of diners’ club Tastecard has warned restaurants against being “complacent” and said they must embrace trends like veganism to help avoid the fate of chains including Jamie’s Italian.

Matt Turner, who co-founded the restaurant discount card in 2006, said chains have been hit by a perfect storm of rising costs, falling numbers of customers and over-expansion.

The tough conditions have claimed a raft of victims, including Jamie Oliver’s chains after the celebrity chef’s restaurant business collapsed into administration last month.

Speaking to the Press Association, Mr Turner said restaurants need to adapt to overcome “very challenging times” by making sure they move quickly to capitalise on trends, such as veganism, healthy eating and experience dining.

He said: “It’s crucial that restaurants have their fingers on the pulse about what’s in demand now and what’s around the corner.”

“Restaurants can’t be complacent – they have to plug into what the public wants.”

He said the likes of nationwide chains Zizzi and Ask have benefited from “embracing the vegan trend early on”.

But he said conversations with some of its 6,380 restaurant partners shows the caution among chains.

“When I speak to restaurants they all agree that it is challenging times.

“They are more cautious about the sites that they’re opening, in terms of location and speed.”

He said the ill-fated Jamie’s Italian chain was a victim of market conditions and in having “very large premises in prime locations”.

Tastecard, which has been majority owned by private equity firm Bridgepoint since 2015, is hoping it can help restaurants overcome the trough trading.

It claims to be able to add 5% to 10% incremental revenues to restaurants, especially by boosting traditionally quiet mid-week trading with member offers, a strategy that helped the group flourish throughout the financial crisis and recession 10 years ago.

“We help restaurants when the economy is good as people want to dine out more often, but also during a recession when people don’t want it to have an impact on their lives, so we’re able to sell memberships to consumers as well,” said Mr Turner.

Tastecard has just run a sell-out week-long pop up restaurant in London offering diners a “hands-off” experience as a way to raise its profile and brand awareness.

It has 3.5 million members, up 20% year-on-year and is targeting another 20% growth in 2019 with its app and digital push expected to help drive the increase.

But its business-to-business arm is also a growing part of the group, offering white label member discount offers, such as Meerkat Meals for Compare the Market and customer deals for banking giants NatWest and Lloyds.

It has more than 100 business-to-business customers, also including employee benefits for a raft of firms.

The firm, which also includes Gourmet Society and premium diner’s club Hi-Life, turns over around £20 million a year is soon to open an office in London to add to its existing bases in Manchester and Huddersfield.

Mr Turner said the success of its recent pop-up restaurant offering customers the experience of being fed entirely by servers, with all proceeds going to charity Mary’s Meals, may see it roll out to other cities.

It has Manchester, Leeds and Edinburgh in its sights for potential follow up launches.

Asked if it has given the group the taste for opening its own restaurant chain, Mr Turner said: “We’re quite busy running the service with our restaurants, but we’ll see.”