Much has been talked on the topic the apparent battle of independent versus chain in retail, restaurants and bars.
But is this something that has been dreamt up by the media or something that the public should be putting attention to?
There is no denying that Harrogate has seen a number of independents that have closed or changed hands.
With restaurants and for some, there is almost an unwritten definition that chain means poorer quality and that independent means better and more unique – the reality is that you of course can have good and bad meals from both local and independents.
The perception that a chain restaurant is damaging for the town is very much open for debate. An independent can add to the uniqueness of a town, but there is no doubt that a name to a restaurant can make it a destination venue, so draw people into the town. Having a variety of restaurants adds more to Harrogate being a destination town.
If the restaurant is owned locally then they will likely be spending their money locally, where as Mr Oliver or Mr D’acampo have probably not spent much of their fortunes in the town (other than the multi-million investment when they opened).
An independent and chain both draw on exactly the same local resource pool and buy produce from the same group of suppliers. Interestingly very few of the local independent restaurants buy produce locally, meaning they don’t support independents themselves.
It is also interesting when people view somewhere as a chain. The more stylish and upmarket people consider somewhere, the less they tend to consider it as a chain. As an example, Pizza Hut, that used to be on Parliament Street in Harrogate, was always popular, and for many it epitomised a chain pizza restaurant. But people enjoyed going, so what’s wrong with that ?
Moving up the hill to Hotel du Vin, it is of course part of a group of hotels, so a chain hotel, again nothing wrong with that!
People will generally go where they get the right balance of value for money, quality of product and a good level of service – they will have loyalty to somewhere that gives them that. Independent restaurants need to move away from the notion that people owe them their custom.
Chains restaurants know the benefit in setting up alongside other restaurants. It develops vibrancy and people then go back to that area as the go-to place to eat. That has happened in Harrogate around the Everyman Cinema. Many will return to the same area to try the other offerings.
The significant investment in the town, both by the chains and of course any new independents, should be warmly welcomed. Locally Harrogate needs to tread carefully in not being seen in having nimbyism and it must strike the right balance of traditionalism and progressiveness.
There has been a number of initiatives to promote the independent restaurants, but all have failed. Harrogate as a destination needs a more overarching marketing and brand management. It would need to be financed and have the backing of both trade and public alike for it to work.
Visit Harrogate was set up a few years ago and has so far it is not clear what it has done for the town. It has spent much of its time trying to secure its own future securing a income stream for itself.
However, it is the logical group to pick up the baton for both independent and chain, but their role should be much more on developing and promoting “Brand Harrogate”, the issue is lack of funding for what they do.
So to answer the original question in the headline of this news item, yes people should support independents, but they should also support other restaurants, but then this is happening already!