Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Later, Longer and Louder

Jonathan Doughty, the “RLI Food Guy” is a “C level” executive in the foodservice and leisure industry with 45 years of experience and leadership in restaurants, hotels and global consulting. In his latest column, he discusses the expansion of non-retail in retail areas across Europe and how this is improving each individual area or city.

This week has been a whirlwind of travel and meetings around Europe. Having spent the weekend in London to celebrate my wife’s birthday with the kids, it struck me how much there is now to do in retail places that are not retail.

Travelling in Germany, Serbia, the Czech Republic and the UK all in one week has brought into sharp focus the differences that are appearing in the leisure landscape in each of these countries. It is not about “better or worse” or “ahead and behind” but it is clear that different countries and different cultures are at a different point in their leisure journeys.

I was giving a speech in Belgrade, Serbia at the beginning of the week and I talked about “Later and Longer” – a key part of my strategy for making retail assets work harder with a broader appeal by bringing more leisure options to the guests, providing a broader mix of offers that can spontaneously be used, or booked in advance, the guest chooses. Nothing too radical in that but having spent the weekend in London I had the chance to see it in action. We were enjoying Battersea Power Station and decided to play ping pong and shuffleboard with the kids while we were shopping. It kept them happy, was great fun and we did it in the morning, along with a lot of other people. Thank you BOUNCE, it was great.

We visited the new Lane7 in Victoria. Breakfast in The Ivy, then bowling, golf and a whole lot of fun, again in the morning. I am quite old and I remember how Victoria Street was an emotionless and cold place during the week, with offices, government buildings and a few shops and cafes. It is so different now and a perfect example of continuous improvement, playing to the strengths of the area and bringing in complimentary uses. It is truly impressive.

Arriving in Belgrade I remembered how beautiful the city itself is. The new architecture, the graceful old buildings and the stunning new projects and shopping centres that is there. With a few hours to kill I walked to the Waterfront and visited the new Jamie’s Italian. As Chairman of WhiteSpace Partners, we are helping with their global expansion and it was wonderful to see such a beautiful and well run restaurant. Surrounded by other great offers, night time and weekends are firmly the target for these restaurants and bars, but leisure in its purest sense across the city is limited to cinemas, children’s play and some traditional bowling alleys. In my mind, the city does very well with “Later and Longer” with a great range of terraces, outside spaces and cool F&B locations. The only downside is the near 40 per cent of the population that are still smoking and the fact that they can still do it inside – that was a sharp contrast indeed!

I then found myself in Germany and then travelling onto Prague. Berlin is bustling again and The Playce project at Potsdamer Platz is taking a lot of my time right now, curating the final parts of the food and leisure offer to deliver the “Later and Longer”. It was incredibly exciting to see the progress on Lane7 there, Mission play by Mattel and The Upside Down. All brilliant concepts, “moving the dial” on leisure in the project and all opening in the next few months. How different that part of Berlin will be once these have joined the other tenants and operations. The leisure offer is developed in Berlin, but it is strongly focused on the traditional activities, and the “new breed” of mixed-use leisure boxes has not landed yet, offering four or five different activities in one space, with great drinks and food. It is certainly going to be interesting to see how that works out and I hope I will be able to get in, but I suspect its going to be very, very busy.

Next week I go to Warsaw and I will get to spend time in the award-winning and utterly gorgeous Norblin Factory (Fabryka Norblina) project. Warsaw has been a huge influence on my F&B world and I have been working there for over 25 years, but it still manages to excite. From the outstanding Market Halls of Hala Koszyki, Browary Warszawskie, Norblin and Elektrownia, just a few of those in the city, to the restaurant, café and coffee shop scene, this city has an immense presence in the F&B world. What surprises me constantly is that it is little known and little understood outside of the F&B specialists and influencers, but the numbers are huge.

Finally, I am sure you are asking about the “Later, Longer and Louder” point in the title of this article. Go to Norblin, please just go. Go to the Piano Bar and spend an unforgettable evening and night singing, dancing and enjoying, all courtesy of Everdream Entertainment, the company that runs The Piano Bar, MOXO and so many other outstanding venues in the City. Probably the best company you have never heard of… now get singing!