You might not know that today (Friday 3 June) is National Fish & Chips Day. And you may be wondering why that matters to Fresh Business Thinking.
We wanted to find out what it's like to serve-up the nation's favourite dish day-in, day-out - the highs and lows of running a small business and pass on some advice to anyone looking to open their own restaurant.
We spoke to Luke Godfrey, who opened his own chip shop four years ago. Like many business owners, he grew tired of the commute and corporate working lifestyle.
Although it’s a highly contested claim to say any one restaurant in England serves up the best fish and chips, Hertfordshire-based and award winning Godfrey’s has the special honour of not only being the highest rated restaurant in Harpenden, but has also been shortlisted for the National Fish & Chip Awards three years in a row.
Do one thing and do it well
When he was young, Luke helped out at his mother's fish & chip shop, and when faced with the open-ended possibilities of life outside the corporate world, it seemed to be a natural solution.
“From the outset we knew we wanted to keep things simple but do them well," Luke said.
“All of our fish is MSC certified sustainable and our packaging compostable. We do offer pies too but they are homemade by my dad, who also worked in the catering industry when I was growing up. We’ve gone back to basics and our customers seem to appreciate that. We even have a dedicated gluten-free day so that coeliacs can enjoy fish and chips too.”
this mindset has proven incredibly successful for Godfrey’s. In an industry particularly renowned for harsh first year failure rates, Godfrey’s instead placed in the top 10 at the National Fish and Chip Awards in its first year and won its region. From a small team of 8, Godfrey’s has since grown to a 35-strong staff and Luke’s mum works alongside him, as well as his dad.
“You just can’t beat something that’s been done right.”
"Ensuring you have the right team of staff is a constant challenge," Luke added. "... as is maintaining the consistency of the product you’re serving up. But, we’re lucky to have found our niche with the UK’s favourite food – you just can’t beat it when it’s been done right.”
“It’s a simple dish that’s a favourite all year round; comforting in winter and imbued with memories of the beach in the summer. Though we’re often asked, we don’t have a secret recipe. We just put a lot of love into our food and double cook our chips. Maybe that’s the trick!”
Although there have been a lot of highs in the four years since Godfrey's was opened, there have been some lows. As a small, family-run business, Luke believes bad reviews are one of the hardest things to cope with in this type of industry.
He explained: “Of course, it’s hard not to take reviews personally, whether on TripAdvisor or otherwise. Godfrey’s is definitely a labour of love for me and as it’s evolved into a family business with my parents helping out, it honestly couldn’t get more personal than that."
But there is a fairly simple way of getting past those sometimes personal reviews: “It’s also good to take a step back and look at what’s directly in front of you. If the shop is busy and you have happy customers, it validates all the hard work you’ve put in.”
Admin, admin, admin
When he’s not greeting customers, refurbishing the listed building Godfrey’s calls home or dropping a basket of chips into the fryer, Luke is taking care of areas you might not think of when you're ordering your Friday night dinner.
"Front of house is closed on Sundays, so that’s when I sit down to manage the nitty-gritty bits of Godfrey’s. When we first started out I didn’t have a good system in place so managing our finances and paperwork took ages, even with having a third party handle payroll.
"I use Xero, which has transformed it into a 20-minute, in-house process that helps me keep costs down. You don’t need accounting expertise to be able to use it and not needing to rely on someone else is fantastic. Having to instruct another person about our receipts and invoices was incredibly time consuming. I wanted to do it myself and gain control of my business back."
Top tips for budding restaurateurs
Keep things simple: Luke says it has really benefited Godfrey's to do one thing really well, than try to do too many things. Find your niche and perfect it, you will be come the 'go-to' place for that food.
Admin: Make sure to put a good bookwork and accounting process in place from the start as it will save you endless time in the future.
Love people: You might love food, but do you genuinely love interacting with people? Being a restaurateur is a very demanding and public-facing role, so it is essential to enjoy interacting with people on a day-to-day basis.