London: Retail & Leisure
How social media is transforming the London food scene
Like many foodies of my age, I am obsessed with food blogs on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook. Every day, I scroll through an endless stream of new content, sharing, ‘liking’ and discovering the next restaurant to visit and the next dish to try. It never gets boring.
From watching Turkish syrupy deserts bubbling over a coal fire (found at ‘Yemek Nerde Yenir’ simply translated as ‘Where to eat food’), to dough being stretched, placed in a wood-burning oven and then enjoyed by celebrities sharing pizzas larger than a dining room table (at Homeslice, London), these are examples of what a dining experience should be: social, theatrical and accessible to all.
I’ve recently noticed how social media platforms, such as Instagram, Pinterest and apps like DOJO, have played an important role in how food is discovered and experienced in the city. London has seen an amazing shift in its food culture and the ways in which Londoners consume food. There has been a recent emergence of food businesses that are social to the core and have taken a conversational and curatorial stance on their culinary offering.
Social media personalities like Deliciously Ella are a great example of this. She has over one million followers on Instagram, shares her recipes via photos and video posts, publishes books and has frequent curated pop-up delis appearing across the city where people are queuing up to get a spot.
Success stories like these are shining examples to small and independent pop-up concepts of how social media is becoming a catalyst for food businesses of all sizes. For example, Ollie’s Turkish is two months old, has a tiny 15-20 seater residency in a small south London cafe and every Thursday and Friday night serves ‘home-cooked Turkish food from the roots’. Ollie’s mum runs the kitchen, his sister serves coffee behind the bar and Ollie himself welcomes a restaurant full of trendy customers every week. Without Instagram, gems like this would not be discovered. Whilst the cafe has only amassed 2,000 followers so far, it is another success in the making.
These two examples play a small part in London’s fast changing food landscape; but it is clear that a lot has already changed in a short period of time.
Raised in south east London in the 1990’s, I remember growing up with only two types of sit-down restaurants, aside from chains such as Pizza Express and Café Rouge.
There were the traditional, locally-owned pie & mash shops, fish & chip bars and the all-day dining English ‘caff’ where you would visit at least twice a week, have a chat with the owners and order your ‘regular’. These environments felt warm and made you feel part of the furniture. They had no ‘out of shop’ experience, no online presence, no subscribers or followers of their ‘brand’; just something authentic that people loved.
On the other end of the spectrum were restaurants that you saved for special occasions such as Claridges, the Savoy, and Fortnum & Mason. Whilst they were far removed from a local café, they also represented a personalized, intimate dining experience in a social environment.
Whilst these two examples were worlds apart in terms of their customer base and culinary offering, they shared certain characteristics: charm, authenticity, and a loyal and frequent following as a result. There is no doubt that today’s spectrum of sit-down restaurants has changed. However, today we can find some of the same characteristics in casual dining experiences, like Deliciously Ella’s pop-up delis and Ollie’s Turkish.
Today we find that feeling of warmth and authenticity in a new breed of independent restaurants, which combine the qualities of community and speciality ingredients but are also accessible to all. According to a 2015 report from Sacla’, one in five people eat out more than once a week; in London this is as high as three in ten. However, research has shown that whilst we are dining out more than ever before, we are less willing to spend a lot on each occasion. Value for money has become a key factor in consumer decision-making.
Social media is also enabling these burgeoning hotspots to enter into real-time two-way conversations with their customers, adapt to the ever-changing demands of the food scene quicker than ever before and achieve overnight success thanks to one viral post. Just consider the success of ‘Salt Bae’ aka Turkish chef Nusret Gökçe who has become an internet phenomenon thanks to a video of himself sprinkling salt flamboyantly over a piece of meat. His restaurants will undoubtedly flourish as a result.
These are the restaurants of the social media age, where anything is possible.
This article was published in the EG London Investor Guide. To download the full publication, click here.