If you’ve never run a fish and chip shop before, then research is key – and that means doing more than just reading this article – as is seeking advice where you can from other owners of foodservice businesses.
If you’re buying an existing operation, then there’s probably no more valuable source of advice than the outgoing owner – so get your lawyer or business broker to stipulate in the purchase agreement that they will spend a few days showing you how things work.
Buying a fish and chip shop
Buying an existing operation also gives you a regular customer base and everything in place to continue trading immediately.
The degree to which you overhaul the operation should depend in large part on the outlet’s fortunes – there’s no point abandoning a winning formula.
Even with a struggling fish and chip shop, however, it’s worth holding fire on major changes until you’re familiarized with the day-to-day operation.
Watch, listen, learn: observe which items sell well and which don’t, how many customers are regulars, their profile (for instance, they might be predominately retirees or young professionals), and whether the current opening times make sense in terms of how custom is distributed throughout the day.
Chat to customers to understand their preferences. Research the fish and chip shop market in general and local demographics, and visit local competitors for inspiration and missteps to avoid.
You could even pay a visit to some of your province’s most successful operations (TripAdvisor is a good gauge) or, more ambitious still, Canada’s finest fish and chip shops.
All this research should underpin how you develop your menu and business model and choose suppliers.
The fish and chip shop’s very name kind of limits the menu – although that needn’t stop you from offering meat and vegan options of course.
Nevertheless, it’s a good rule of thumb to prioritise quality over quantity of options and to make fish and chips your focus. It’s easier to maintain a consistently high quality with a smaller menu and that will keep regulars coming back.
Whether you sell cod, halibut whitefish, lake trout or pacific salmon should depend on access to suppliers, wholesale prices, and the income and preferences of your customers. If your ethos is all about local ingredients or sustainably sourced fish, then this simplifies your decision too.
If you’re targeting the eco-conscious consumer, you could also source compostable packaging.
Declining fish stocks have squeezed margins in recent years so you could offer customers value by offering mini fish and chips.
Your overarching vision, based on your target market, should inform other specialities, whether it’s hand-cut or double cooked fries, or fish in gluten-free batter, beer-battered fish or batter-free grilled fish. Some operators pitch themselves as British-style operations with mushy peas, pickled eggs and large ‘chips’ (rather than fries).
You don’t have to make everything in house – you could, for instance, source artisanal pies from a local supplier.
Most flourishing fish and chip shops don’t blaze a trail – they simply get the basics right. Nevertheless, there are changes to your business model that could attract new customers or cut costs.
You could introduce home delivery, for instance, or subscribe to leading accountancy software, potentially negating the need for an accountant.
In terms of setting prices, it’s worth resisting going much above those of competitors unless you’re confident that your quality or portion sizes warrant a premium price tag.
You need the right skills to implement all these changes successfully – and this needn’t involve replacing existing staff. You can instead raise standards by sending staff – and yourself – on catering and business training courses in areas requiring improvement.
High standards are particularly important in the era of TripAdvisor, and almost as important as the food is delivering it promptly with a smile.
But no matter how lofty your standards, negative online reviews are nigh on avoidable. Respond with apologies and rebut criticism politely where justified (“we’re sorry you found the prices too high, but we offer generous portion sizes and source the finest local ingredients”).
Don’t squander your revamp efforts by failing to communicate your vision to existing and potential customers.
Whatever your views on social media it’s now indispensable as a marketing tool in any sector. And you cannot count on a customer doing your marketing like one did to dramatic effect for Whitbie’s Fish and Chips in Alberta.
However, if you’re in a high footfall area – a busy high street or shopping mall – then getting your shop frontage right is probably more crucial to converting passing trade than digital marketing.