Food as Entertainment

Food as entertainment is the logic underpinning new food markets being opened around the world, TimeOut chief executive Julio Bruno tells the Farmers Club

FORGET food as a form of sustenance, think of food as entertainment, globally, for a burgeoning population of affluent under-35 year-olds, who take a real interest in what they eat, and are prepared to pay for the privilege.


Such was the underlying theme from Julio Bruno, chief executive of the iconic TimeOut worldwide entertainment guides, and until very recently living a neighbour of the Farmers Club in Whitehall Court.


“We are discovering that young people are more and more into food and eating out, it is incredible how young people are looking at food much better than people have for decades, the data really shows it,” Mr Bruno reflected.  


Originally from Spain, but educated in London and fluent in four languages, Mr Bruno is three years into a major push to develop food as a key strand in TimeOut’s entertainment portfolio, having joined from Tripadvisor where he was head of sales .


Long known for its detailed guides to entertainment in the world’s top 108 cities, in 39 countries around the world, TimeOut started in London in 1968. Now Mr Bruno is over-seeing the roll-out of its latest venture – foodie venues across the globe.


“Food and drink has always been at the heart of what we do, alongside theatre and the arts. We pride ourselves on our independence, on being the helping hand you can trust to bring you the best of the city. You could say we are in the happiness business really.”


First to launch was the TimeOut Market Lisbon – the best of the city under one roof. The concept is simple – take a large venue, equip it with kitchens and self-service eating areas, and invite the best of the city’s restaurateurs to provide the food.


“Curating what we offer has always been a TimeOut strength, so our journalists choose the chefs to profile on merit, reflecting the food culture of the city, with no other influence. That makes us genuine, which not many others do.”


Significantly, the food on offer is not street-food. “We invite the best of the city’s restaurants to participate. In Lisbon we have 26 top end restaurants, including three Michelin stars.” Art galleries, live concerts and paid-for cooking academies also feature.


Promoting the venture through TimeOut’s captive audience of 242m people around the world, using established print and digital channels, has ensured rapid up-take. Launches in Miami and Boston are next, with a project in London’s Spitalfields only delayed by planning. Up to 25 such markets are hoped for. “We’re effectively democratising fine dining.”


Lisbon food market was destined to have 3.5m consumer visits in 2017, in a city of just 1.8m people. Last year it attracted 12,000 visitors per week, 70% of them tourists, generating a turn-over of €31m. Restaurateurs pay no rent, but TimeOut takes 30% of gross turnover. “It means we carry the risk,” Mr Bruno notes.


Typical spend is just €11. But with thousands getting a taste for high-end food every day, unencumbered by the number of covers available for booking, the approach has potential as a revenue generator as well as a marketing channel for restaurateurs.


TimeOut further leverages the model by capturing vast amounts of point of sale consumer data, revealing valuable trends, such as the surge in vegan enquiries in January, before a surge in burger interest as New Year’s resolution falter in February. More significantly vegan enquiries outnumbered vegetarian for the first time in August last year. The data is widely marketed, as well as being used to drive the TimeOut business.


Since floating on the stock market to raise £90m analysts have been impressed with TimeOut’s results, and anticipate profits in 2019. Food as entertainment clearly has merit.


  • TimeOut Market

TimeOut Market’s mission is to get the best of each city and bring it together under one roof. Born from decades of local knowledge, independent reviews and expert opinions, and curated by TimeOut journalists and critics, it takes fine dining and makes it casual, and champions street food that should have a Michelin star. The first TimeOut Market in Lisbon had 3.1 million visitors in 2016 and is now the number one tourist attraction in town.


  • TimeOut Group

Time Out Group is a global media and entertainment business focused on inspiring and enabling people to make the most of a city. Operating in 108 cities, across 39 countries, it has a global monthly audience reach of 242 million.


Its mantra – “no one knows the city like TimeOut” – is based on editorial staff “discovering the brilliant and searching out the secret and extraordinary, since 1968”. “If you want to know about food, attractions, art, culture, shopping and nightlife, then Time Out is your social companion,” it argues.


A world-class digital platform and top-quality curated content means TimeOut can connect brands and businesses to cities. In a fast evolving digital world its expertise and growing community of Time Outers and Tastemakers puts the very best of the city in the palm of the consumer’s hand. “We are global, and no one knows local better than we do.”