Independent restaurants from across the city united this week in a bid to secure the future of their struggling sector with a warning to local customers: use us or lose us.
The move was agreed at a summit meeting of restaurateurs, organised in the wake of recent closures, which was also promised the support of city council food champion Coun Neale Gibson.
Representatives of more than a dozen cafés and restaurants met on Tuesday to plan a joint campaign.
The meeting was sparked by a social media discussion following last week’s Sheffield Telegraph report about the closure of Fitzwilliam & West (formerly named 23) at the West One Plaza.
This came within weeks of the loss of Platillos in Orchard Square and Artisan at Crosspool; a number of other independents are also known to be under threat.
Restaurateurs say they are struggling to compete against an influx of major chains which can draw on central resources, buy in bulk and offer huge discounts to customers.
Most independents buy ingredients that are grown or produced in the Sheffield area – thereby supporting the local economy as well as serving top quality food.
But such ingredients come at a premium, which the businesses must pass on to their customers.
“People see offers like two meals for £8 and we can’t compete with that,” said Stuart Hitchman, a director of the Cross Scythes at Totley.
On the other hand, many customers are prepared to support local businesses: Abi Golland, of Street Food Chef, said 95% of their customers opted to pay extra for local pork when given the choice.
The key is to ensure that people know which restaurants are independent – and the meeting agreed to adopt the distinctive green logo of its local champion Eat Sheffield, with the added slogan ‘genuine independent’.
The logos should be appearing in local restaurants over the coming week.
Other issues raised by restaurateurs included an obstructive response from council officials and red tape preventing access to everything from A-boards to drinks licences.
Coun Gibson – who is keen to establish a dialogue with the group – admitted that there were problems.
He told them: “For a city of our size the food offer is not good; as a council, what ever we’re doing, we’re not doing it right.
“I’ve made it clear that we need to be taking a lead and setting a framework that enables you to grow your business.”
A former restaurateur, his vision includes making Sheffield a foodie destination; a 24-hour city within the ring road, with more night life and more independents.
And he has pledged to take up any issues raised by restaurateurs who encounter problems when dealing with the council.
“We’re still not doing enough to support businesses – I think some of our officers just don’t get it,” he said.
A recurring problem involves premises with stairs. One applicant was refused a licence because of the dual level, another was told he would have to pay out thousands to install a lift.
Coun Gibson has promised to look into both cases: “We need to put a stop to this. It’s ridiculous,” he said. “It’s difficult enough out there. We shouldn’t be putting red tape in the way.”
Some changes have already been made as a result of the meeting.
Business rates are set by the Government and only administered by the council, but in future all bills will give details of where to get help if it is needed. Many small businesses fail to claim the rate relief they are entitled to.
The city council already offers free advice via its First Point for Business centre at the Town Hall. Now other potential schemes are also to be explored.