May 23, 2019 |
I quote Jamie Oliver who in 2008 stated that he started his Jamie’s Italian chain “with the intention of positively disrupting mid-market dining in the high street in the UK, with great value and much higher quality ingredients, best in class animal welfare standards and an amazing team”.
This week his restaurant chain was placed into administration with a reported 1,000 jobs set to be lost, accompanied by mass finger pointing and head shaking by those never brave enough to stick their head above the parapet. Oliver will be washed, spun and hung out to dry by keyboard warriors and self-ordained governors of righteousness the world over.
But when you start something and it fails you should be held accountable, you should not just be allowed to place it into administration and walk away leaving people facing an uncertain future. I am not saying this is what he will do, but many before him have done exactly that and resurfaced with a new venture that, apparently, will be better than the last.
So was Jamie Oliver’s Restaurant Group a victim of the change in consumer trends or did it lose its way in an attempt to become/stay profitable? If you read the opening quote it would appear that the purpose was to bring independent restaurant ethics to a chain and deliver a higher level of product and service to a customer that was used to the standard chain offer. But the reality was that as growth ambitions took over, the quality probably dropped and it became yet another run of the mill chain. So why would a customer choose to eat there when they can get bog standard pizza and pasta anywhere and probably cheaper?
There is a big difference between a chain and a chain owned by a celebrity chef. The former can create a brand that lives and dies by its own adherence to its principles, whilst the latter lives and dies by its adherence to its principles and its celebrity chef’s diary. A celebrity chef, by inference, has become a celebrity first and the skill that took them there has been demoted to second place.
Commercial opportunities to use their intellectual property become far more lucrative than spending time going around every restaurant to ensure that the brand’s principles remain intact. Understandable given that founders aren’t always the right people to operate a business and, especially when it is time to grow, the business may be best served by appointed experienced managers.
This desire to scale the brand means that experienced CEOs and directors are appointed to oversee the business, make sure it remains on brand and generally operates in a way that it would if the founder was in charge. But in this case they didn’t – they were slow to react to the changes in the high street and the changes in consumer behaviour and instead chose to put Jamie Oliver in front of the nation to blame a “perfect storm” of rising rents, wages, food costs, as well as the impact of Brexit and changing shopping habits.
Sorry hold on, you can’t be a director that clearly has mismanaged a company and then put your celebrity founder in front of the media to take the blame. Where are these faceless stewards of good business who for years took their dividends and waxed lyrically about their mate Jamie? Nowhere to be seen, that’s where. Hiding away in their faux-mansions, bought out of dividends earned from using Jamie Oliver’s name, that’s where.
Yes tastes have changed, but if you read Jamie’s intentions from the outset he recognised that.
He said that he wanted to disrupt the stale chains with better food for the masses. It is probably a shame that his management team did not share this vision or simply chose to ignore it for profit.