“To make it in today’s high street or restaurant business, you must stay true to your roots,” Michel Roux Jr told a packed auditorium at RetailEXPO 2019 this week. “Be timeless, be classic, but at the same time you have to evolve within that. If you don’t, you’ll stagnate and die. I think it’s important to evolve in a way that doesn’t alienate your core customers.”
Interviewed by Caroline Baldwin, Editor of Essential Retail, Michel spoke enthusiastically about the changing face of the restaurant business in the UK. Sharing his insights into success and longevity in the restaurant industry, he stressed the importance of watching the market closely, and adapting to meet new customer expectations. His view was that in the hospitality sector, having a clear point of difference would be key to long-term survival.
Restaurants and eating out will be central to the future of the high street, according to this well-known gastronome, but he acknowledged the challenges of punishing rents and business rates in the UK, and the uncertainty of Brexit and next generation consumers.
Protect the dining experience
The two-star Michelin chef, (Mayfair’s Le Gavroche), author and TV presenter said that the dining experience was at the heart of what he and his family have always offered. “My family pursued excellence, always wanting to go further.” He described the lengths his mother, father and uncle went to in the 1960, 70s and 80 to source the very best ingredients in England and France. He sang the praises of British produce today, compared with 40 years ago – with particular admiration for British cheeses and game.
Le Gavroche has retained its tradition of menus in French and this is all part of the experience, said Michel. “This encourages customers to engage directly with the waiters and sommeliers. It’s an opening, a conversation starter. I resolutely do not translate the lunch menu. It’s part of our point of difference to have it in French, and customers seem to embrace and enjoy it.”
Don’t lose the human touch
While the Roux family clearly understands the increased use of technology in business and consumer lifestyles, Michel warned against allowing tech to undermine the dining experience. “I can see AI being used to professionalise the running of kitchens, in regard to predicting stock requirements and replenishment,” said Michel, “but I don’t see robots cooking your steak any time soon.”
He warned against the use of automated, contactless payments in the high end restaurant trade. “We do see how front of house technology is getting more sophisticated, with mobile point of sale, and apps to settle your bill. But I go back to my earlier point about having the menus in French. You need to interact on a human level. To remove the human touch is unhelpful in restaurants – talking to the maître d’ and the sommelier should be all part of the experience.”
The value of repeat business
Asked what his most valued KPI is in running La Gavroche, Michel said repeat business is his go-to measure of success. “Of course the bottom line is vital, but for me seeing returning customers – people who come back again and again – is what truly matters and keeps me motivated.”
He said that some customers are ‘regular’ in his eyes even when they dine once a year. “One couple come back every year on their anniversary because the proposal was at La Gavroche. They’ve been marking their anniversary here for 35 years. That’s a proper indicator that what you are doing is right.”