This week we attended the Bath Life Awards. These are an evening to celebrate much of what Bath offers in the areas of retail, food and drink. It was a great evening, and everyone who was nominated, who won or who simply came to support these great businesses had a fantastic time.
The Olive Tree restaurant was nominated for Best Restaurant. We have been nominated in eight of the last nine years for this fantastic recognition, and have won on five separate occasions, including last year. And while we may not have won this year, we can not grumble and, indeed, we are very pleased for the winners, Richard Fenton and the team at Hudson. They, like ourselves, are an independent business; they offer their guests a genuinely unique and local restaurant experience and work very hard to maintain their restaurant in these challenging times, up against the low-cost models of the “chain” restaurant.
Recently, however, more independents have gone under as a result of economic challenges and lack of business. At the same time, almost as many chain restaurants have opened in the middle of the city, with several more planned this year. It seems obvious that you can not keep opening more restaurants for the same number of diners. Of course, a chain’s economies of scale mean they can support the kind of loss-making offers that they use to entice customers. By contrast, independents have to rely on quality of food and service, and the uniqueness of dining experience.
These are difficult times; the independents of Bath – whether retail, food or any other business – will have to work hard to maintain their share and stay the course. A little like the grumbles we hear about the dominance of the supermarket and the demise of the corner shop, the consumer will also have to remember to share their dining pound amongst all if we are to retain a vibrant and unique offer for visitors and residents to enjoy.
So it brings me back to The Bath Life Awards, and the fact that here was an evening celebrating independents and all that they offer, by a magazine that is owned and managed by a local family in Bath. Some people say awards are all hot air, I think that they are a great way for us to celebrate the hard work of all the great small businesses of Bath.