Cutting down the menu, turning off the ovens and installing solar panels, Emir Hikary, owner of Hiks in Swansea, is covering all bases to ensure he makes ends meet
You’ve got a takeaway and 42-seater restaurant, how is trade?
It was okay up until about April/May time. I think what’s gone against us is the fact people haven’t travelled in two or three years so a lot have gone away on holiday. Weather-wise we’ve had a great summer and I think people headed to the beach or had BBQs, fish and chips was the last thing on their minds. To top it off, the rising costs of everything is starting to take effect which means the summer hasn’t been great. I think come October/November when the cold weather starts, that’s when the crunch is really going to happen and people will start saying they can’t afford to go out.
Is there anything you are planning to do differently?
Unfortunately, prices are going to have to go up again. I’ve got 16 staff to worry about; I need to keep the doors open for them. The big issue is my electric bill which has gone up this month from around £7,000 a year to £30,000 so I’m looking at a 15p increase on everything, taking our large cod and chips to about £9.
Have your fish sales been impacted by price rises?
Our fish sales have dropped this summer, but we generally are still quite a busy shop for fish. We don’t do a lot of different species, just do cod and plaice.
You have quite a varied menu including roast dinners, how did they come about?
We started with roast dinners when we had just the takeaway. Back then we were probably averaging about 40 dinners; now we average anything from 100 to 150 and it’s good because the profit margin is higher than on fish and chips. But even with that, the profit margins are starting to be squeezed. For instance, chicken breasts, where we used to be paying £27 a box that has shot up to about £45 a box. So we’ve taken chicken off and now we sell just beef or turkey.
You are open for breakfasts too, how does that help sales?
When we moved into the premises five years ago we started serving breakfast every morning apart from a Sunday. Even if we didn’t do the breakfast, the staff would be in by 9-10 o’clock to prepare to open up the chip shop so by having the restaurant there it’s generating income from the time we open. Breakfasts now are probably about 10-20% of our sales.
Can you anticipate making any changes to the menu?
Yes, next month we are going to simplify our menu and shrink it down. The reason is not to do with the workforce or anything, but it’s looking at ways we can save on electric by not selling items that use the ovens or the steam oven, for example, and concentrating on things that can go through the fryer as that’s on anyway. Things like garlic breaded mushrooms and seafood platters that you can buy frozen.
Last time we spoke you had just installed solar panels. How are they working out?
They have been really good. Over the summer we’ve saved between £500 and £800 a month. I’m not sure how that will compare over the winter without the sunshine and with the increases in the price of electricity, but it’s still a saving and we hope to have recouped our investment of £22,000 in about four years. We did go for the biggest set-up we could, I think we have about 40 panels! It’s been great from a customer perspective too, they can see that we invest back into the business. We’re always looking at ways of improving, whether it’s the quality of the food or the appearance of the shop. We’ve recently upgraded the staff uniforms and our TV screens.
How confident are you about investing in the business currently?
At the moment we are trying to invest as little as possible just in case something happens and we need the money for something else. But it’s my shop, I own it, so I’m always going to invest because it’s going to give me a return, it’s going to feed my family. If something breaks, I fix it there then because otherwise you just end up with a bigger repair bill later on.
What are you doing to stay positive?
We have entered The National Fish & Chip Awards and the Fry Awards so we’ll see how we get on. I think it’s good publicity for the business if we get anywhere and, if we don’t, it’s a checkup for the business. We have a report that lets us know where we’ve gone wrong and then I can look at ways of improving it for the next year. I’m also hoping this year to have a staff party. I know it’s an added cost but without my staff I wouldn’t be where I am and I want to say thank you to them. After all, their cost of living has gone up too. We’ve also started sitting down once a month and choosing an item from the menu and whoever up-sells the most of that item gets a £20 bonus. It’s a bit of fun and, as the tills tell you by clerk who sold the exact amount, it’s a good for me because I can see which staff haven’t been up-selling.
Are you confident the industry will survive?
I think so although if you’re looking to make money for the next year or two, you’re definitely in the wrong business. My aim is to break even, if we do that then we’ve done very well.
What about the future after we come out of this?
I think as an industry we’ll be much stronger. It will bounce back as it did after Coronavirus, that changed everything and we learned so much. For instance, I used to have nine or ten staff working Friday nights but Covid taught me I didn’t need that many to run the shop. It made me realise for the last three to four years I had been losing so much money on things I didn’t need.