With some of the winners of the 2020 National Fish and Chip Awards.

The FISH AND CHIP SOCIAL is our new forum to bring fish and chip shop operators closer together to talk about the topics that matter to them.

On this first call, hosted by Andrew Crook, we were delighted to welcome John Molnar – The Cods Scallops, Caroline Murphy – The Wetherby Whaler, Josette Foster – Fish and Chips @ Weston Grove, John Lavery – Fish City, Nicola Else – Something Else Fishy and Eric and Phillipa Lambert – Mary Lamberts.

All of these shops were winners at the 2020 National Fish and Chip Awards however, what should have been a life changing achievement and success was abruptly halted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Interview Index

  • AC – Andrew Crook
  • JM – John Molnar – The Cods Scallops
  • CM – Caroline Murphy – The Wetherby Whaler
  • JF – Josette Foster – Fish and Chips @ Weston Grove
  • JL – John Lavery – Fish City
  • NE – Nicola Else – Something Else Fishy
  • EL / PL – Eric and Phillipa Lambert – Mary Lamberts

AC: Let’s start this off with… what did winning the award mean to you and what difference did it make to your business?

JM:  As I’m sure everyone will agree, it is amazing when you win an award.  We are lucky, we are still here and operating but unfortunately, we haven’t benefitted from the Awards as we entered into the first lockdown within weeks of winning.  Personally, I felt that we were just left to get on with it once the event was over.  An appearance on ‘This Morning’ was arranged for us but we had no instructions and were left to forge ahead alone.  I believe that a winners pack should be available to all categories, containing advice and instructions such as the need for you to employ a PR company.  This we didn’t know, we had no direction and felt very lost.  It took us 6 weeks to employ a PR company; one which matched our needs.  Unfortunately, we haven’t even had our name engraved on the trophy yet.

There should be the opportunity to maximise press coverage.  I would like to see the Awards continue as they are important for the industry but believe they need revisiting.  A Champion of Champions category could be introduced and involve winners from the past 10 years.  I also believe that past winners should be allowed to enter again.  Personally, I believe that the Awards are a great opportunity to showcase the industry and fish and chips.

AC: On Monday the 22nd February the NFFF held a meeting with NEODA, SEAFISH, AHDB POTATOES and FASFA to discuss the awards. The general feeling in the room is to get them started back but with the idea of how we can evolve and improve them. I personally will make sure the awards are run in the future. The awards will be different, but we have a fantastic opportunity to take them back to basics and truly work out what we want from them We need to maximise the exposure they offer our trade.

When it comes to media enquires, we always try to use the award winners as they are the shop which have shown they are progressive and want to move our industry forward, however with the pandemic media enquiries have been limited.

JM: Personally, I think the awards should link in with National Fish and Chip Day and the NFFF should be involved with both. If we are going to celebrate a day of fish and chips why don’t we crown it off with the awards. Having both occasions together means you get massive exposure, not just for the Award winners but for fish and chips in general. The 11,000 shops in the UK will benefit.

NE: I would prefer the Awards and National Fish and Chip Day to stay separate as you are not just getting one opportunity to showcase fish and chips. The two opportunities gives shops something else to work to during the year, it also keeps the media engaged through the year.

AC: I would ask is there an opportunity to link the two events together? It doesn’t mean they take place at the same time in the year.

JL: The Awards are crucial, they are a massive event and offer help in so many ways. The exposure you get if you are a winner or just shortlisted is fabulous. It keeps you motivated and pushes you to go that extra miles by giving you deadlines to work to. The Award helps to focus minds on tasks.

We have been involved in a number of award competitions and the National Fish and Chip Awards are the fairest. You don’t have commercial interests which can make results unfair. It’s not perfect and nothing is but I think it would be an awful blow if the awards do not reappear.

On John’s (Molnar) point on PR and a plan after the awards. This has never been more crucial, it also has never been harder to get exposure as everyone is fighting for editorial space. After the awards we need a clear message of what the industry is trying to say as a whole so we can support and promote that.

AC: Yes, I agree, we have heard from previous winners that feel abandoned at the end of awards and no that’s no in best interests of the industry. We want to put this shops on a pedestal and be able to shout about their achievements.

An issue I see is the Awards are so big, they create this huge build up but once its over you need to start the process for the next year straight away.

JM:  We should just be told what you might want to consider.  Anyone shortlisted for a final category should be told ‘this is what you might want to consider if you get into the top 3 or if you win the respected Award’. Here are some guidelines/pointers from our previous winners. Its then up to the winner to choose whether or not to follow it.

JL: COVID has proved how important it is to get your message out to the public. As an industry we are fighting against hundreds of businesses. Our message needs to be bigger and better but we need help for that.

AC: The Awards play a massive part in helping to spread our message, but I agree we need to be more unified.  Other cuisines are wanting the same limelight, this week the ‘kebab alliance’ has just formed so it’s going to be more competitive.

One issue Seafish income has been seriously damaged by the Coronavirus, the fish and chips awards and National Fish and Chip Day may suffer. We need to stand on own two feet, but this is where the NFFF is working for the industry, together with other organisations to try ensuring that these occasions continue!

The impact won’t just be felt in our own businesses but across the whole sector, we need to continue to raise the profile of fish and chips.

JF: I agree. There’s a lot of effort put in at the beginning of the Awards and during the whole process of the awards but you are left at the end.

CM: If shops are feeling abandoned at the end of the awards then the Awards aren’t providing the maximum exposure they should be. A unified plan is needed for the for all these winners. At the moment, they can’t be getting the maximum expose from all that work what goes on before the awards.

JF: If the awards are looked at like a business then its massive waste, with all the time and effort you put into the process you are not seeing the maximum success at the end. We should be used as ambassadors

CM: This is where a unified plan could work to National Fish and Chip Day later in the year. The road from January to June is a plan to maximise the award winners.

AC: A lot is going on behind the scenes to make sure the awards and National Fish and Chip Day happens. One of the issues with the Awards has the been the lack of industry involvement. An industry steering group committee was set up, but it was rarely listened to. We know what goes on in the industry, so with our knowledge we can look to improve them.

There will be another fish and chip Awards we (NFFF) will make sure that happens.

AC: Is everyone doing click and collect and were you doing it before? Is online going to be something you all stay with?

JF: Absolutely. 

PL: Yes, if you’re not going to do it, you’re going to lose it.

They say it takes 30 days to break a habit so with this pandemic being longer people’s habits have changed. It’s a new way of life and it’s a case of sink or swim, either you adapt or you don’t.

Our restaurant provided 90% of our business, that went over night.  We needed to majorly ramp up our takeaway, through click and collect we discovered a new audience which we didn’t have before and hopefully when this is over, we are able to keep them.

It has been an education.

AC: My shop offered click and collect before the pandemic, and on the first day it was launched I had a 76 year old man order as he had been browsing on my website, from that moment I knew click and collect was here to stay. On a Friday night my regulars will now use the click and collect service as they know they can beat the queue and they don’t have to wait.

JL – I don’t think it’s one size fits all as when people have more freedom people will be more spontaneous however, people won’t want to queue. They will want to roll up and get their food straight away. People soon get savvy on when to order; being click and collect, over the telephone or visiting a shop in person.

If you can get every order as a pre-order then great as you know how much to cut, how much to get out, how much to prepare.  I don’t think it will work out as simple as that, but click and collect is here to stay, no doubt about it

AC:  Coming out of the pandemic we need to plan for the future as an industry. There’s going to be a lot of change and the shops that are already struggling will continue to find it tough as the food market will be more competitive. Cost will continue to rise; we need to show there are ways to survive.  Look at investing in training and getting involved in the Awards submerge yourself into the industry.

On social media you always see reference to the ‘big boys’ but I don’t know who they refer too, as it’s not like that. Many shops I know offer an open-door policy, anyone that wants to join can.

Josette you have only been an operator for the last couple of years, but you have got involved in the industry by attending events, entering the Awards. It’s open to everybody to get involved and I think as proactive shops we need to show people the way forward, come along and get involved.

JF: I read a lot of those comments and they are some quite awful comments about the Awards and the shops that enter them.

We are a small independent shop, we haven’t thrown lots of money at it like people say award winners do. The focus is definitely on the quality of the product.  I would love for these people to come and see what we do, what we did and what we are still doing, because its quite unfair, the attacks on the Awards and the people that enter them.

AC: We need to break down the barriers and say come along to my shop, see how we operate. I know people who are engaged do, but we need to keep drumming that to others in the industry as we could see a lot of casualties in the next few months.

We need to show that there is a future. Invest in your team, it’s an investment into your future.

CM: That engagement from shop owners is crucial in everything that we do, it comes down to the Awards and National Fish and Chip Day. How many people actually get involved in the day? Is it always the same people? It’s even down to membership of the NFFF, the more people that come on board and support it, the stronger the industry is but you will always get those who won’t partake in that theory, it’s just trying to sing that same song all the time.

JF: Possibly, this is where we could be used as ambassadors to go into the shops who would like to enter and advise them on what they could do very simply without spending money.  Entering the Awards is very easy to do, its very welcoming and it gives you good support.

NE: That’s a great idea, could we get a list of past winners that anybody could contact. Former winners can act as advisors. Go along and have a chat and see how easy it is to enter. Being able to call someone and ask them a question about entering would be useful.

PL: In the past we have looked at a couple of the categories and thought ‘could we enter this award’? It would have been nice if we could have given someone a call to get some guidance on ‘yeh you would fit in that category or no that’s absolutely not for you’.

AC: You can always pick the phone up to the NFFF and we would be happy to help, any time you want.

EL: We have loved entering the award and it has given us something to aim for and it makes excitement for the staff and we have learnt a lot along the way. It was tragic that we ended up in lock down 6 weeks after we won.

From going to the award ceremony, we learnt so much and we learnt about various different activities within the trade. It made us want to become involved and be part of the fish and chip family.

JL: I can emphasis this, when we won our first award it was just a regional award however, we were new to the industry but it did feel like you became part of a family. Support is out there whether you feel you needed it or not.

JM: On the marketing front, on 22nd March 2020 I was due to do a screen test for the BBC’s Saturday Kitchen to showcase fish and chips. On the day I was due to travel down London went into lockdown. It was going to be an opportunity to showcase fish and chips on a National TV programme which would have elevated fish and chips for the whole of us. It was just heart wrenching for me personally but also the industry. 

What we do is world class, and it takes a great amount of skill. I’m great mates with Sat Bains and he’s a phenomenal chef, he came along and worked in the shop for a day and he said it was unbelievable, what you guys do is as good as what we do but it’s just different.

We have to believe in that, and work on it collectively to get better and get the word out there.

AC:  I agree with you, our standing as an industry has increased over the last 10 years or so. I think that is down to the Awards as we are always trying to raise standards. The awards bring a friendly competition to find new ways to improve.

We have a product that can hold its own, it’s a quality, tasty meal with great nutritious value and we have a lot of positives which we can build on.

The more good shops we have, the better we get. If someone has a bad experience from a fish and chip shop it might put them off for the next month, it might put them off for the next 6 months.

If they have good fish and chips, then they are likely to return. This is why we need to replicate lots of good shops. 

EXPAND YOUR MENU

AC: Look at offering something slightly different on your menu, it can set you out from other fish and chip shops. Ive added options like king prawns.

I spoke to you at an exhibition John (Molnar) and it stuck with me. If we can offer something a little different, we can grow.

The likes of McDonalds, they offer monthly specials. It would be great for more shops to try something new, by offering a change can keep your customers interested.

JM: By offering more, you tend to see your customers more often, we will have customers now come in for mussels on a Tuesday and then have fish and chips on a Friday.

JL:  When expanding our menu, we have looked at different regions and culture, such as Mexican food. Its hugely popular with the younger demographic. We looked at how we could incorporate Mexican into our restaurant/takeaway and we have introduced a range of tacos.

They are a product with a huge margin and sells very well.

It about looking around and thinking ‘can we adapt and make something that makes us unique’ as opposed to simply copying and competing on a same product.

AC: There are all sorts of options out there and that can work for you and your business.

YOUNG WORKERS IN THE TRADE

JF: The young people we employ, be it our fish friers or counter staff would love to join the NFFF but currently unable to do so.

Could we start a junior membership where there is a small fee, a membership badge and lots of competitions, trips, benefits and support? Perhaps the Drywite Young Fish Frier winner could produce a regular newsletter to continue keep them engaged. Competitions could be run just for them with fab prizes from suppliers.

AC: We would love to see this happen. We need to keep our young workers engaged as they are the future of our trade. We need to give them the opportunity to meet former award winners, the suppliers to the trade. Let’s get them to the events within the industry that would make a massive difference to them.