A juggling act

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With shops juggling rising costs and customers cutting back, we look at what operators are doing so as not to drop a ball

“I haven’t altered anything, I haven’t downgraded my fish, my fat has doubled in price but I’ve not switched, and because I’ve not altered anything I’m quite happy to stand behind my prices. We had a price increase a few months ago with fish and chips going from £6.90 to £8 and I probably will have to put them up by another £1 at some point, but I will stand by it because I know I am putting out the best I can. There’s no point buying inferior fish or a different fish, our customers are used to what they are used to, that’s why they come back.”

Keely Richardson, Frying Nemo, Carlton, Yorkshire

“There’s not too much we can do right now but we have upped our staff training on portion control. Although we use the Hopkins chip scoops we noticed some team members were still overfilling them or adding a few extra chips to the large big bio boxes – I can see where the staff are coming from, it doesn’t look as much once in a box. 

We took in a dinner plate and showed staff how a portion looked and they could see it was plenty. We also took in a set of scales and got staff members to weigh their scoops and compare them to a portion we did using the scoop properly. The difference ranged from between 20g and 50g. On the first day after the training, we compared the amount of potatoes rumbled with the sales and noticed we would have used more chips at that point normally so that has made a big difference – and we’ve not had one customer say that there haven’t been enough chips.”

Tiffany Irvine, The Fish Works, Largs, North Ayrshire

“Things aren’t too bad for us and that’s mainly because, during Covid, when VAT was cut to 5%, I still put away my VAT as if it was 20%. That’s helping a lot towards the increases we’re experiencing at the moment, for example, I’ve been able to forward buy my oil. And although I’ve put my prices up, I’m in a position where I’m able to absorb some of that cost because, as bad as it is for us, it’s an awful lot worse for a lot of our customers. 

That mentality is down to 30 years experience. If I go back 25 years, I wouldn’t have had savings. I had times when I had more going out than coming in but I learnt from that and I didn’t want to be in that situation again. 

I’ve also invested in a soft-serve ice cream machine, which we’re going to use with a quality Jersey milk, to replace the scoop ice cream that I’ve always served. It was a big investment but that will enable me to serve a product that has more profit in it so my food margin will be better and, because it’s a better product, I should serve more and spend per head will go up.”

Fred Capel, Chez Fred, Bournemouth, Dorset 

“It’s going to be a tough year, we’re already seeing a drop in sales because the rising cost of gas and electric means people can’t afford to go out. What’s made it harder is people have stayed at home the last two summers and not gone on holiday, now their priority is to save up and go abroad and I think that comes first before takeaways. We’ll have to sit tight and see how this summer pans out. 

I have just invested £23,000 in 54 solar panels. Currently, our electricity bill is £1,700 a month but when the contract comes up for renewal later in the year I’ve been told the cheapest I’ll get it is around £3,500 a month. I’m expecting the solar panels to save between £400-600 a month. We’ve had to look for ways to save money in the long term because we don’t want to keep putting our prices up, we want to keep them reasonable so customers keep coming back. 

With the profit margin so low on fish currently we are also trying to sell more of our homemade products, and sales are going pretty well. As long as we break even for the next two years I think I’ve done very well.”

Emir Hikary, Hiks, Swansea

“Since Easter, our sales have dropped about 10-15% because people don’t have the money. We’re still serving the same amount of chips and sausages but we’re not serving the fish. If it’s not busy I’m putting the temperature down on my pans so I’m not burning my oil and I’m maybe keeping it for an extra day or so. We’ve tried selling coley and hake but it doesn’t work, people want cod. You can adapt as much as you can but if people aren’t coming in, they’re not coming in. We’ve got to see it out and hopefully in a year or two things will get better.”

Tony Forgioni, Captain’s Fish & Chips, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire

“We’ve just put in a doughnut machine and we’re also creating a space to put in a pizza machine to try and offer our customers different things because there’s profit in those items whereas there isn’t much profit in fish at the moment. I do think things will get better but you can’t stand still, you have to keep evolving, you have to keep up with the trends and continually ask what can I do better and how can I bring more people in.”

Maria Holmes, DJ’s Fish & Chips, Paignton, Devon

“It’s a testing time but I think we are set to be ok. We’re fortunate, we’re set in a relatively affluent area so we don’t have the issues some shops have. I made some good business decisions several years ago, for example, I only open in the evenings and my range is always busy range, we don’t have dormant times. 

I put the prices up about two months ago by 10%, which added 50p on fish and 20p on chips, and I’ll probably put them up another 10% next month because the price of fish and oil is quite scary. Potatoes are static and everything else we can kind of absorb because we do enough volume. We’ll see it through, the sad thing is some of the smaller chippies that aren’t doing the volumes will fall by the wayside, and they won’t survive. That will benefit us because people will still want fish and chips. It’s not what I want to happen, I’m happy with the way things are, but it looks like it’s going to be the reality.”

Dan Edwards, Chips @No8, Prestwich, Manchester

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