With National Fish and Chip Day taking place today, Luke Godfrey, owner of award winning Harpenden fish and chip restaurant Godfrey’s talks about serving up the nation’s favourite dish, the highs and lows of owning a small business and his top tips for anyone considering opening their own restaurant.
Although it’s a highly contested claim to say any one restaurant in England serves up the best fish and chips, the award winning Godfrey’s in Hertfordshire has the honour of not only being the highest rated restaurant in Harpenden, but also being shortlisted for the National Fish & Chip Awards for the third year in a row.
Doing one thing, and doing it well
Luke Godfrey opened Godfrey’s four years ago after tiring of the corporate commuting life. When he was young his mother ran a fish and chip shop where he would help out, and when faced with the open-ended possibilities of life outside the corporate world, it seemed to be a natural solution.
“From the outset we knew we wanted to keep things simple, but do them well,” explains Luke. “All of our fish is MSC certified sustainable and our packaging compostable. We do offer pies too, but they are homemade by my dad, who also worked in the catering industry when I was growing up. We’ve gone back to basics and our customers seem to appreciate that. We even have a dedicated gluten-free day so that coeliacs can enjoy fish and chips too.”
Indeed, this mindset has proven incredibly successful for Godfrey’s. In an industry particularly renowned for harsh first year failure rates, Godfrey’s instead placed in the top 10 at the National Fish and Chip Awards in its first year and won its region. From a small team of eight, Godfrey’s has since grown to a 35-strong staff and Luke’s mum works alongside him, as well as his dad.
“You just can’t beat something that’s been done right.”
Commenting on their success and the inherent challenges of the hospitality industry Luke says, “ensuring you have the right team of staff is a constant challenge, as is maintaining the consistency of the product you’re serving up. But we’re lucky to have found our niche with the UK’s favourite food – you just can’t beat it when it’s been done right.”
“It’s a simple dish that’s a favourite all year round; comforting in winter and imbued with memories of the beach in the summer. Though we’re often asked, we don’t have a secret recipe,” Luke continues. “We just put a lot of love into our food and double cook our chips. Maybe that’s the trick!”
However, with the highs come a few lows. “Of course, it’s hard not to take reviews personally, whether on TripAdvisor or otherwise. Godfrey’s is definitely a labour of love for me and as it’s evolved into a family business with my parents helping out, it honestly couldn’t get more personal than that.” But Luke advises, “It’s also good to take a step back and look at what’s directly in front of you. If the shop is busy and you have happy customers, it validates all the hard work you’ve put in.”
Xero granted me control of my business again
When he’s not greeting customers, refurbishing the listed building Godfrey’s calls home, or dropping a basket of chips into the fryer, Luke uses Xero to take care of the behind-the-scenes aspects of running a fish and chip shop – invoicing, checking payments and payroll. He says, “front of house is closed on Sundays so that’s when I sit down to manage the nitty-gritty bits of Godfrey’s. When we first started out I didn’t have a good system in place, so managing our finances and paperwork took ages, even with having a third party handle payroll. But now with Xero, not only have I got it down to a 20-minute process, I’ve even cut down on costs as it all can be done in-house. I really enjoy how simple Xero is – you can tell they’ve put a lot of thought into the software. You don’t need accounting expertise to be able to use it and not needing to rely on someone else is fantastic. Having to instruct another person about our receipts and invoices was incredibly time consuming. I wanted to do it myself and gain control of my business back. Xero has let me do that. I can feel confident in our cashflow with just a glance at the Xero dashboard, knowing our payments are up to date.”
For budding restaurateurs who are considering opening their own business, Luke has three top tips to bear in mind:
- Always keep things simple – it’s better to do one thing really well, rather than lots of things not so well.
- Make sure to put a good bookwork and accounting process in place from the start as it will save you endless time in the future!
- It might seem obvious, but ask yourself if you truly enjoy interacting with the public. Being a restaurateur is a very demanding and public-facing role, so it is essential to enjoy interacting with people on a day-to-day basis.