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Opinion: A cheeky Nando’s? Let’s just be thankful we have a dining choice in Preston

Posted on - 12th April, 2019 - 9:58pm | Author - | Posted in - Business, Food & Drink, Opinion, Preston City Centre, Preston News, Restaurants in Preston, What's On in Preston
The Nando's Preston team
The Nando’s Preston team – clearly Gilly’s expression meant he knew what was to come

If you’re in the PR department of Nando’s this week you’ll be spending your Friday night kicking back with a beer and some chicken wings (and Peri Peri sauce). All publicity is good publicity right?

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Unless you’ve been under a rock in Woodplumpton you won’t have missed that the national media decided to seize on ‘uproar’ from a number of tweets on Tuesday evening after the Cheapside restaurant of the chicken chain was awarded Restaurant of the Year.

Blog Preston’s been covering the Smiles Better Awards for a number of years – they started out as the ‘Alive After Five’ Awards which just championed the city’s nightlife.

From a very sweaty event in what was the Frog and Bucket (now Blitz) it gave those who serve behind the bars, put on gigs and more a chance to have a night off and be recognised for their work.

Staff from Tinos celebrate their win
Staff from Tinos – an independent Italian restaurant in the city – pictured winning at the Alive After Five Awards in 2013

Those awards have grown bigger each year and they’ve always been conducted as a public online vote.

Preston’s leisure scene and particularly its food and drink scene is very different now to how it was in 2013 when I can remember those awards starting.

Unfortunately, lots of London-based media, and some North West-based media too (BBC North West Tonight, looking at you with your three-day late story) have licked their lips at a chance to give a Northern city a good kicking and throw a slur across what is actually a positive story to tell about the city’s dining scene.

Korean, tapas, Italian, cafes, street food, burgers, and plenty more there’s more variety than there’s been in recent memory for eating out in the city.

Are Nando’s and Fino Tapas directly comparable? Well in a restaurant critics eyes, then no, but hundreds of people choose to go to each one each week and spend their money. They expect a good experience regardless and both provide a service. They provide jobs. They pay rates into the city. But it’s how they are owned and the ethics behind that which seem the sticking point.

Read more: Independent restaurant owner wants to see ‘overhaul’ of city centre awards

Preston’s dining scene may well now have expanded for Preston BID to consider introducing some different categories into the awards which split out the different categories. Although, to the man or woman on the street, a meal is a meal and for many it is cost, circumstance and many other factors which may dictate their choice of restaurant rather than its registration at Companies House.

I do have to take issue with some comments I’ve seen suggesting Nando’s almost shouldn’t be in Preston. What would they prefer? An empty unit on the city’s proud Flag Market. Given the fist shaking that happens each time we run a piece about the empty BHS store and calls for ‘do something about it’ I don’t think many would stomach that either. And that’s less money being contributed to the city too, in wages, in tax, in trips out, in the toilets being cleaned and all the other services that hang off a functioning property.

Take the empty units under the Premier Inn on Ringway. It seems only national chains are taking these on, with Kapas now fairly well established and German Doner Kebab – an international food chain – announcing it is opening. That’s jobs. That’s investments. Not another missed opportunity. You can’t sit on units or restrict them only to local businesses, or we’d have even more empty units in the city centre.

Nandos in Preston city centre Pic: George D Thompson
Nandos in Preston city centre Pic: George D Thompson

Whenever I go by that Nando’s in Cheapside is busy. It doesn’t seem to matter what time of day, Prestonians love their Peri Peri. And if that’s what people enjoy, then so be it.

The uproar also overshadowed the fact an independent business won two awards – a line we led on – with Bernice Marie Newton and her team at Townhouse Coffee winning the Independent Business of the Year Award (a category omitted from many other reports) and the City Star Award (full disclosure, I was nominated and on the shortlist for that award, and was delighted to see Bernice win as she’s doing great things and I have utmost respect for anyone who opens any kind of retail/leisure/trading business or works in one).

Plau bar team
Plau bar team from the Meat & Drink Group receiving their award

Not to mention the other independent businesses that won like The Warehouse, Plau bar and Mark O’Rourke himself who has been able to expand into three different ventures in a fairly short space of time. All are a credit to the city.

But that doesn’t mean the manager and staff of Nando’s aren’t. They don’t pick the financial model for how the chicken gets on the plate. But they clearly do know how to win public votes in Preston. With the local elections in full swing, maybe councillors should have a word for the secret sauce?

I am sure BID Preston will go away and reflect on this year’s awards, they’ve made changes each year and adjusted categories and I’d be surprised if there’s no tweaks for next year. Everything always needs freshening up once in a while.

Read more: Preston to hold Monthly Makers Market down Fishergate

And I am sure the ‘all publicity is good publicity’ line being trumpeted in the Nando’s PR agency will be quietly whispered to the BID as well. Preston’s certainly been back in the headlines, how many other towns and cities hold umpteen awards and would kill to make the Daily Mail, The Times and The Independent. Nando’s and Wetherspoons certainly have universal appeal.

But some of the vitriol and sneering in the comments is pathetic.

I’ve eaten at Nando’s. Does this make me a bad person? I’ve eaten at We Don’t Give A Fork. Does this make me a good person? No. It makes me someone who sometimes eats out and it all depends on the circumstances and the occasion. Let’s stop judging people for their food choices and focus on the fact Preston has a range of choices, and that to me is the most important thing. That we have a choice.

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