Food, family business and fun: In conversation with Oliver Peyton

As part of our Cooking Up Success month in the Business & IP Centre on Tuesday evening 13 July Oliver Peyton, founder and CEO of Peyton and Byrne, came to the Library to give a talk to aspiring restaurateurs.

I am grateful to my colleague Maria Lampert for writing this report on the evening:

In a session moderated by Matt Thomas from Oliver spoke of his arrival in the UK from the west coast of Ireland and of working his way up in the business world. He spoke briefly about his experiences running nightclubs in the early 80’s and how having made a great success of those he turned his hand to restaurants. He had, he told us, made and lost a fortune and then made it all back again.

Oliver is passionate about London (a big plus as far as I am concerned), about Britain and about using only British Produce. ‘British meat’, he said, ‘is the best in the World’ (being Vegan I can’t comment one way or the other on that statement!)

He had some great tips for would be restaurateurs, café or deli owners:

First and foremost he said be aware of the value of your intellectual property, Oliver referred to ‘your trademark’ and ‘your brand’ and said he was very firm in clamping down on anyone who copied any of his products. He has, Oliver told us, no problem with people being influenced by Peyton and Byrne products, but he would not tolerate anyone copying them without permission.

When choosing premises he advised that you check out the landlord and well as the premises and no matter how attractive the premises may be if the landlord appeared in any way untrustworthy or dodgy consider walking away. Also read any tenancy agreement very carefully, some contracts can apparently include for example a clause which allows the landlord to raise the rent at an exorbitant rate very quickly or other such clauses that end up costing you more than you actually make.

Once you have found your premises, Oliver said, don’t be tempted to spend lots of money on expensive décor or furniture, the clients won’t notice it and, in truth, if the food is rubbish the fancy décor will not matter (I must be honest I don’t think I have ever read a review by food critic Jay Rayner where he said a restaurant was worth visiting because of the décor alone!) Better to have decent décor and furniture and great food. Oliver mentioned that when he first opened one of his restaurants he commissioned well known artists of the time to produce works of art for the walls of his restaurant, it cost him thousands of pounds and the diners didn’t even notice.

He realised he could just as easily have had a trendy poster on the wall for all the difference it made. The other point Oliver made relating to décor etc. is that you might spend a lot of money on your restaurant to draw diners in, but if you are successful you will find that competitors will come into the area, set up a cheaper version with the same offering, charge lower prices and lure away your diners.

Choosing staff and dealing with seasonal changes in demand was another subject he touched on. When he employs someone Oliver doesn’t just look at the position they will be filling he considers the whole team he will be slotting them into.

The other tip he gave us regarding staff was to be aware of which parts of your business might be affected by the changes in season. As an example, Oliver said, take the Peyton and Byrne restaurant in St James Park, very busy in the summer, very quiet in the winter. Rather than take on part- time staff he moves staff around so in the winter some of the staff from St James Park would be moved to indoor venues which are busiest during the winter months and visa versa.

To my surprise he said that deli’s are never profitable unless they are attached to something! This is apparently because of the very short shelf life of their product. At the end of each day a lot of the pre-prepared fillings etc have to be thrown away, hence a lot of money is wasted. Deli’s attached to department stores or eateries tend to have a bigger turnover due to greater numbers of people passing through or by.

All in all it was a very enlightening evening with plenty of good advice for all the would be restaurateurs who attended from someone who had been there, done that.

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