Now set to return for its second series, the Beeb’s Million Pound Menu was a mixed bag on its maiden voyage. Still, the show, which resembled a kind of Dragon’s Den but with young restaurateurs in lieu of ambitious inventors, showed us some valuable insights into the restaurant industry.
1. Despite headwinds, investors are still looking into new, risky concepts
As talked about with Giggling Squid founder Andy Laurillard on this blog, time is ripe for new concepts to secure investment, what with the highstreet undergoing a purge of its usual subjects – Prezzo, Strada, Jamie’s, etcetera – and the subsequent space made available. Meanwhile, as reflected on the show, investors are out for ideas which could do the job of filling in – six different offers were put on the table, most notably for ex-Ritz chef Ruth Hansom’s Epoch concept (fine dining using only British ingredients) which secured at least £750,000 to bring her idea into fruition.
2. Still, big-time investment is relatively rare
Chris Miller, of White Rabbit fund, said he looked at 300 restaurants in the past year. How many did he invest in? ‘Four’.
3. Ruth Hansom’s Epoch promises to be one of the most exciting ventures in recent times
At just 22 and 20, Ruth Hansom and business partner and FOH Emily Lambert already have a lot of talent in the bag. Considering what Hansom was doing at the Ritz not long ago, we already knew that, but seeing her own ideas in the flesh – and witnessing the punters and investor’s reactions – it puts them in full focus. The two’s ethos, which involved championing exclusively British producers otherwise off the radar, sounded especially good. ’We want to support the small-scale people who find it hard to sustain themselves,’ said Ruth.
4. Investors want to take a little idea and make it very big very quickly
Even if it appears to involve stretching the idea beyond its limit. One backer talked about wanting to expand a concept to ten sites in twelve months, when it seemed not the slightest bit ready for it. Some investors ignored the likelihood that brands would compromise on quality and identity should their money be pumped into it – ‘success’, it seemed, was much closer to the investor’s idea of it than the restaurateur’s.
5. Despite the programme’s premise, money isn’t everything in this game
Hollings – a British ‘suburban’ idea run by two ex-HIX staff – turned down an offer of £200,000, while Trap Kitchen’s Prince Owusu later admitted going on the show was never about securing investment, but rather what he could learn from the experience.
6. Soft launches don’t make good TV
Those who’ve been to a few found watching the programme too close to reality – long waits, misplaced orders, the kitchen running out of cream. In the end it didn’t come off as much of a big deal, as the diner isn’t paying full whack.
7. Interesting new concepts aren’t exclusive to London anymore
We’ve seen it with Bundobust, Mowgli, and Rola Wala, but MPM was a welcome reminder that other places, such as Manchester in this instance, is as welcome to new ideas as London ever was. On a show like this, it certainly helps when punters know what they’re talking about. ‘Everything tasted spot on,’ said one guest of Bubble &. ‘However, I don’t think bubble and squeak has got the legs in this day and age. It’s a dish served in wartime – Millennials will go, “what the **** is that?”’.
8. Not all street food is adaptable to the restaurant
The majority of concepts on display had street food origins. When brought indoors for the first time, the differences were plainly clear. Considering a lot of the street food experience is about the theatre, of food prepared in front of you, something like the Cheese Wheel – where pasta is rolled in an enormous wheel of cheese – doesn’t come off as well in the formal confines of a bricks and mortar site.
Million Pound Menu is seeking applicants for series two. Follow the link for more. http://www.bbc.co.uk/showsandtours/takepart/million_pound_menu