Say no to Nandos: It’s time to react against chain restaurants as ‘stratospheric rents’ drive independent eateries out of Norwich

Andy Newman wants to see more independet restaurants prosper in Norwich Picture: PA/Jupiter Images C

Andy Newman wants to see more independet restaurants prosper in Norwich Picture: PA/Jupiter Images Corporation - Credit: PA

The report this week about the strength of the restaurant scene in Norwich isn't just good news for those who make a living out of the city's hospitality industry – it will gladden the hearts of our estate agents, too.

A wide choice of places to go out and eat is increasingly high on the list of things that potential house buyers look for apparently – although if we are to believe another story published this week, those running our most prestigious top-end restaurants might be holding their heads in despair.

Is it Michelin-starred establishments that most attract people to live in a locale? Attractive gastro-pubs? A wide choice of ethnic restaurants celebrating the cuisine of our multi-cultural community?

No, it is the presence of a Nando's – at least according to one estate agent in Milton Keynes.

Neil Briggs, director of Inspired Estate Agents (a name that defines the word 'oxymoron', surely?) in that dreary concrete metropolis, claims that having a branch of the Portuguese grilled chicken emporium close by is a 'huge draw' to buyers, and that he is 'often questioned' during viewings on whether there is a Nando's nearby.

Now, it may be that Milton Keynes is such a gastronomic desert that the opportunity to stick your snout into a bucket of piri-piri chicken (or PERi-PERi, as Nando's bizarrely insists on spelling it) is as good an edible treat as it gets.

But surely the same cannot be said of our own fine city – we have a much wider choice of places to eat.

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Well, as this week's report showed, yes we do – but that diversity is under threat from a combination of economic reality and big-company muscle.

As I mentioned in this column last month, the cost of running a city centre restaurant has reached such heights that it is becoming out of the reach of all but the biggest chains; independent establishments are increasingly being driven out of the city centre by a combination of stratospheric rents, soaring business rates and the desire to pay a decent living wage.

It is only the big corporate chains which can afford these costs, partly because they have economies of scale, but mostly because they can buy ingredients in bulk without

worrying about local sourcing or even quality, and because some of them (although to be fair not all) also choose to treat their staff like serfs, paying them the bare minimum they can get away with, and skimming a percentage of the tips that you and I hand over to them.

But if we rely on chain restaurants to feed us, we risk turning Norwich into a clone of every other mid-sized city, or, even worse, Milton Keynes.

Just as the Norwich Lanes thrive because of their variety of small, independent, locally-owned shops, then our eating-out scene needs independents as well.

Unfortunately, when it comes to choosing where we eat, too many of us have become more interested in the latest two-for-one deal than what the food actually tastes like.

Perhaps this is why so many of us eat out so often; I'd argue that we would be better off dining out a little less frequently, but being prepared to pay a fair price for the experience.

That way the independent restaurants could compete on a level playing field.

Those towns and cities which have carved out reputations as being foodie destinations – and which have brought significant tourism spend along with those reputations – are those which have nurtured a strong local, independent restaurant sector, not just at three-star level, but at the less expensive end of the scale as well.

Norwich should be better known for its food than it actually is.

We live in a county which boasts some wonderful produce, and which produces around a 10th of the nation's food.

How sad it would be if we let the diversity of our eating-out experience dwindle because we are in thrall to the big-spending chains.

Although presumably as long as there was a Nando's, at least the estate agents would be happy.