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Running a restaurant – 31 years of change

At a glance

  • The latest in our series of Q&As with small and medium-sized businesses features The Continental, a family-run restaurant in West Sussex
  • Roger, one of the owners, talks about the challenges they’ve encountered during 31 years of business
  • He also discusses the value of a loyal customer base and keeping abreast of changing rules and regulations

After a successful career in transport, Roger Baxter left corporate life to open a restaurant with his wife Sue. Now in its 31st year, The Continental has evolved into a real hub of the community with a loyal customer base.

Located in the seaside town of Worthing, West Sussex, this family-run business has weathered many ups and downs over its 31-year history.

Here, Roger shares some of the challenges and rewards of running a small business – from staying on top of regulatory developments to what they look for in an insurer.

Q: How did you come to open The Continental?

A: My previous career caused me to be away a lot when the kids were growing up. After a surprise third child, I decided to leave corporate life and spend more time with my family.

We’d always dreamt of running a restaurant. It took a lot of searching, but we eventually came upon the ideal prospect.

Q: Was it difficult starting out?

A: Finance was the biggest hurdle. When we opened just over thirty years ago, sale prices were typically equal to one year’s turnover – that meant sourcing £240,000. Most of our finance came from selling our house and moving into rented accommodation. We then secured a low-interest government loan for small businesses and used bank overdrafts to fund the remainder of the investment.

Q: What significant changes have you seen in the 31 years you’ve been open?

A: The increase in overheads has been monumental. When we began, we paid £8,500 in rent and £2,500 for rates annually. Now, that has increased to £35,000 and £15,500 respectively. About 10 years ago we passed the mark where were paying £1,000 a week before even opening the doors.

We’ve had to continually improve how we do things to remain profitable, while carefully nurturing a loyal customer base, who probably make up 70-80% of our turnover.

Q: What is most challenging thing about running a small business today?

A: For us, it’s competition. When we started out over 30 years ago, there were just five other businesses doing what we do. A survey was done recently that identified 103 places nearby now offering similar services. Reputation management and keeping our regulars satisfied is therefore a growing priority.

Red tape also seems to increase year-on-year, but we have an insurer that keeps us well informed. One of our children also manages a car dealership for a big brand, which allows us to see how they’re handling issues like risk assessments and the new GDPR regulations. We can then adapt those best practice approaches to suit our own circumstances.

Q: What insurance policies do you purchase for the business?

A: We’re a shared tenant with some flats upstairs, so contribute to our buildings cover through our rent. We then buy a packaged shop policy, which protects everything from our equipment to potential employers’ or public liability claims.

Q: Have you ever had to make a claim under your policies?

A: I think we’ve only made two claims in the thirty years we’ve been open. Those have been for major damage to our front windows.

We did once have a lady stage a fall in the restaurant. But our insurer successfully defended this, as we had several customers independently tell us that she’d orchestrated it. Our insurer’s lawyers called her bluff and set a court date, at which point she went away.

Q: What do you look for when choosing an insurer?

A: We view insurance as the most cost-effective purchase we make, but that’s because we’ve been careful to choose one that offers a good service at a fair price.

We value personal service and the ability to pick up the phone. It’s helpful to have a single point of contact and to be provided with regular updates on any changes to rules and regulations that might affect our business.

Q: What do you enjoy most about running your business?

A: Whenever I’m asked this I usually say that I only work here because I own the place. But, in all honesty, owning your own business is a great motivation to get out of bed in the morning. It’s also nice to meet and greet so many people each day and to catch up with our regulars, many of which have become good friends.

We don’t just protect businesses, we protect years of hard work

At Zurich, we know how hard our customers have worked to create their businesses, and that they need an insurer who works just as hard to protect them.

We have tailored our SME proposition to carefully match the needs of our customers, and provide a range of additional services that can give them peace of mind, and allow them to concentrate on growing their businesses, from disaster recovery to legal cover and helplines.

For more information, please speak with your local Zurich contact.

“We see insurance as the most cost-effective purchase we make.”

Roger Baxter, The Continental

Image © Getty

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