‘We must stay engaged with changing costs or things could topple’

Juliette Banner, the owner of Banner’s Restaurant in Crouch End, on what the cost of living crisis means for her business
By Juliette Banner

Credit: Emma Strelert Ross
Credit: Emma Strelert Ross

It’s Monday, late morning and I’m sitting at table 14. If you have been to Banner’s in Crouch End, you’ll be familiar with this table, tucked away at the back of my restaurant and affectionately known as The Bob Dylan Table (Dylan sat at it in 1993, the year after the restaurant opened). The word is that the UK is falling into a recession.

I have a reasonable view of what is happening, there are people at most tables, so by lunch time we might be full. This doesn’t happen every week-day, some are quieter. But why are people here at all when everyone is facing the same energy and financial crisis, I wonder?

Crouch End has long been associated with the arts and media scene and has a rather unique demographic in Haringey. According to Haringey Council’s ward profile, the average income in this neighbourhood is nearly 40% above the borough average. These facts contribute to the continued footfall in the restaurant, but I feel that there is another reason for the flow of people.

Chatting to a couple sitting at the table behind me, I ask them, politely, why they were spending money on going out to eat and drink during a financial crisis, when they could do the same at home for far less money. They told me they have made financial cutbacks and will make more, but whatever is going on out there, they feel uplifted in here. I think how lucky that the restaurant is in an area where people have the financial scope to still afford treats. “Banner’s is our familiar comfort blanket,” they said.

It is this mindset from customers that will carry us through the current financial challenges.

Restaurants face similar financial pressures to what we all face at home, Banner’s is no exception. The organisation UKHospitality says that food businesses are struggling with about 18% inflation on their costs. I suspect the figure is higher for the many independent restaurants in Crouch End.

We are on high alert and two problems in particular preoccupy me a lot.

How much of these inflated costs can we pass on to our menu prices and customers? Strictly, it should be more than we are doing. Our operating costs have shot up in a short timeframe, but to pass the full burden onto customers could be disastrous for the business. Equally, so could not achieving the financial margins we need. You can see the dilemma!

There has been the same fantastic core team of people working at Banner’s for more than half of the lifespan of the restaurant, which leads to the second overwhelming problem. We normally increase wages annually, but because of the cost-of- living crisis several employees have had two increases this year, despite this, some of the pay rises still don’t even match inflation. This doesn’t seem right and is an uncomfortable compromise we hope to be looking back on by this time next year.

Managing both these issues against the priority of keeping the business running is a precarious balancing act, so we must stay engaged with the almost daily changing costs of everything, or things could topple.

From this secluded table I notice how festive the restaurant looks in the glow of Christmas lights and I think I’m experiencing what the couple meant by a comfort blanket.

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