Come dine with us? How small restaurants are fighting back in Lincoln

– Lucy Vince contributed to this report

With Japanese restaurant Wagamama opening on the Brayford Waterfront in November 2012, restaurants in Lincoln are facing rivalry from the larger chains.

The Brayford Waterfront is the location of many chain restaurants, but local restaurants are also on the menu. Photo: Luke Pennington (via Flickr)

Across the whole of the UK there is a constant battle between chain restaurants and independent bistros, with Lincolnshire especially having a varied restaurant scene.

Competition arises across many businesses, even more so in the food industry. Chain restaurants are constantly offering cheap deals on high-quality food, but are prices the leading problem for independently run cafes and bistros?

A leading study from NPD group, a business analysis company, released information that even in the current economic situation: “Fast causal restaurant chains were the only restaurant segment continuing to grow.” Whether you want Italian, Mexican, American or even Thai food, there are restaurants that offer all of this at the best possible price.

People always prefer different things and have different favourite foods. However, it is clear that the chain restaurants are doing something right. More customers have visited chain establishments compared to any other eatery.

Italian restaurants do tend to dominate Lincoln, especially alongside the Brayford. Such chains include Ask, Zizzi and Prezzo; all of which are mere metres apart. These larger companies can easily offer quick and tasty food.  However, other restaurants are beginning to compete.

Jemma Graby, an administrator for local restaurants in Lincoln, explains how the people of Lincolnshire are changing their minds: “In town there’s not as many independent restaurants, especially along the Brayford. I think people are more into their homely local food and produce nowadays and they’re still visiting the smaller places. People in Lincoln seem to like that more.”

She continued: “Many of the chains buy their food in. Everything that our restaurants offer uses fresh and local ingredients. People think they’re getting value for money, but sometimes it isn’t the case.”

Graby oversees the management of Pomodoro, an Italian restaurant in Lincoln, and Tequilas, a Mexican restaurant situated in the Bailgate. She believes location is the key to attracting customers: “When people see the High Street full of restaurants, it is obvious that’s where most people eat in Lincoln. But one of our restaurants is on the High Street and the other is by the Bailgate.

“We get more local people eating up Steep Hill and people visiting Lincoln eating at Pomodoro. Your location can affect business but, for us, it’s a positive.”

When picking up a Yaki Soba to take away, it is clear that Wagamama is very busy, even though it’s only been open for a short period of time. The management team at Wagamama explained how busy they’ve been in their first week: “We’ve literally been here for around 18 hours a day. There’s been so much to do and we’ve had people queuing outside the door.”

Nicholas O’Connor, a waiter at Lincoln’s Wagamama explained: “Most customers have enjoyed their dining experience with Wagamama. A few have been apprehensive to the unconventional seating arrangement but that is part of the oriental experience.”

Some of the chain restaurants offer competitive deals to all customers, including “2 for 1” and “buy one main meal and get the other free”. However, Graby realises that this sometimes isn’t possible for independent places to achieve: “Obviously, because they’re a larger chain, they can afford to do that but as a smaller chain it’s not cost effective.”

Although deals and discounts attract customers, Louise Wallace, chief reporter for the Lincolnshire Echo, believes that “it comes down to quality at the end of the day.” She think that although Lincoln is a small city, people appreciate the dining there: “I think Lincoln is quite well known for its local food. Although it’s smaller than other places like Nottingham, people appreciate the quality and value for money.”

When deciding to venture out to a restaurant, the main thing people have on their mind is food. If somewhere offers good food at a low price it will be popular with customers.

Wallace also said that the Echo’s restaurant review page is all the rage for the foodies of Lincoln: “People are really interested in our food reviews and we get loads of hits which shows people really care about the local restaurants they go to and the food they eat.”

There is an obvious interest from the people of Lincoln, and this can only be a positive thing. With the restaurant industry developing constantly, new ideas and cuisines are popping up on a regular basis.

Things such as take-away sushi is a relatively new phenomenon but the public thrive off it, along with other restaurants. However, people are always going to visit restaurants as it is an experience.

At any time of day, you walk down the Brayford Waterside and glance into the restaurants’ windows and they are always busy. Local, independent restaurants have a lot to live up to but, with dedicated customers, they may just be making a come back.

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