“The capital is a trailblazer when it comes to gastronomy”

Frédéric Schumacher knows the whole world of gastronomy - literally. In order for him to analyze global trends, Berlin seems to be the right spot.

TEXT: Valeria Truschinski BILD: Marian Lenhard


If you are looking to observe global developments of the gastronomy-sector, push innovations of the industry, connect big players from the industry with startups and the capital market – then Berlin is the place to be. This is the reason why Frédéric Schumacher travels to Berlin nearly every week. He is enthusiastic about the city and the freedom that restaurateurs and startups are able to experience. Frédéric is head of the METRO-subsidiary HoReCa.digital and as such performs the task of innovation leader and president of their US branch. He is at home in the world of gastronomy: the German-French with roots in Neckar grew up in South America

Especially in Berlin we see a great future for creative concepts with local customer loyalty

As a student, he opened his first bar, earning his money working seasonally in the Swiss alpine gastronomy scene before attending and graduating from the prestigious Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL). After which he travelled the globe for in his various management positions: Zurich, Vienna, Madrid, Santiago de Chile, Duesseldorf. Frédéric Schuhmacher also is initiator and co-founder of the METRO Chair of Innovation at EHL, where he provides startups and restaurateurs with his knowledge. Which he also provides to family’s business, who produce first-class Iberico ham in Spain. Ultimately, it was Schuhmacher who motivated our young authors to make their conversations with founders and restaurateurs of the city, into a book. We met Schuhmacher at Hotel Le Provocateur in Berlin to talk with him about the future of the individual gastronomy scene.

Frédéric, how come that you, as a co-publisher and non-berliner could give us young authors and photographers, so many various references of the dynamic development of the Berlin restaurant and startup scene?

In every conversation that I have with international partners that I meet in Berlin, they tell me about the newest trends for restaurants, bars and hotels in the city. Every day that I spend in this city, I am surprised and enthusiastic. Behind each restaurateur and startup is a personal story. A founding story. It takes enthusiasm and a decent amount of courage to take the step to create your own business. They need stamina and a lot of know-how to keep up. In the many conversations held for this book, you asked about this personal drive and motivation. The book is an expression of the long overdue respect for these restaurateurs and what they do. It also includes important suggestions for young founders.

Do you see similarities in the founder mentality of digital startups and restaurateurs?

Yes, at the moment in Berlin you can feel this entrepreneurial spirit all over. I enjoy to be part of both industries at the same time. The idea of this book is two show the interdependency of both sectors and how they manage to transform Berlin into an extremely dynamic and attractive city.

METRO has an extraordinary relationship to restaurateurs. You personally observe the industry very carefully, not only in Germany.

Yes, during the more than 50-year long company history of METRO Cash&Carry, independent restaurants have always played a key role. Without the close relationship with those approximately 200.000 clients, only in Germany, the fast-paced growth of METRO would have been impossible to cope with. Hence all the more reason to observe and analyse the evolution of hotels, restaurants and caterings (HoReCa) worldwide. We have great interest in knowing what expects our restaurateurs.

What are the biggest challenges that you see for this industry?

There are two main trends that we are currently observing. On the one hand, there has been a consistent growth of highly systemized restaurants. They are growing everywhere. We see this trend on a global scale. This puts a lot of pressure on individual restaurateurs. But we believe that restaurateurs and entrepreneurs are able to compete in the tough market with globally systemized chain restaurants. Especially in Berlin we see a great future for creative concepts with local customer loyalty. Thanks to qualitative products, great taste and knowledge of their close surroundings, they have managed to outplay some of the globally acting chain restaurants. It is crucial to organise this efficiently. This trend presents an opportunity to the other big trend of the industry – the digitalisation. The restaurant of the future is digital.

The digital restaurant? Chefs are not necessarily known to be pioneers when it comes to digitalisation…

I see many activities and processes of restaurateurs that can and have to be digitalised. This in order for them to have a clear mind to stay creative. At HoReCa.digital we do not define the digital restaurant for our own purposes. Online-Marketing, table bookings, point of sale and payment systems, personnel management and accounting – this is something small restaurants need to efficiently manage too. But it needs to be quicker and easier to link those tools with each other. Therefore, we heavily get involved in this matter. We want to enable restaurateurs to survive as independent entrepreneurs. We promote startups by developing them together with partners in so-called accelerator programs to become companies that can compete in the market and assist them with their distribution. Naturally, we try to focus on solutions and ideas that will make the life of our clients easier in the global food industry.

Frédéric, from your experience, can you tell us the aspect, that entrepeneuers underestimate the most?

Cost controlling and communication are underestimated the most. The formation of a business, and carefully assessing the financial risk, is a tiring and sometimes painful experience. To be able to thrill both friends and family, the local bank and customers, is not as easy as it sounds. Beautifully compiled excel sheets will be of little help. Entrepreneurs should consult with experienced people from the industry, make use of educational programs and primarily be prepared to challenge themselves – these are key success factors.

How can restaurant entrepreneurs limit their financial risks and keep an overview of their economic business?

Fixed costs, especially those for personnel, should be kept as low as possible at first.Variable costs should be kept variable and cost of materials should be carefully assessed. Entrepreneurs need to budget enough capital for dry spells. To only approach a bank once it is going down-hill is a terrible idea. Banks expect to see precise data. Therefore, it is not a luxury to invest in innovative tools, that help you assess the KPIs of your restaurant at one glance. This is what HoReCa.digital aims to tackle – restaurateurs should know their daily business better and be able to manage it efficiently.

Recent studies from EHL show that restaurateurs in Germany are hesitant when it comes to digital tools and mobile payment options.

Unfortunately, that is true. Also in other European countries, we observe this scepticism. This is one of the reasons why in our digital age we still must pay in cash in many bars, restaurants and cafés. But the digital restaurant with enhanced service quality for customers has become reality and restaurateurs will eventually have to lay of their prejudice. I am sure that the startup capital Berlin will be a trailblazer for this.