As editor of the title that runs the National Burger Awards, I often receive texts, emails or tweets asking if I’ve ever tried this burger – “The best in London,” they proclaim. “Probably best in the country, the Carlsberg of burgers.”
More often than not, it’s a let down – there’s a common misconception that the more a burger has crammed inside it, the better it is. I head to these restaurants and pubs, eager to try a revolutionary burger, only to leave depressed and concerned that someone somewhere thought that crayfish made for an inspired accompaniment to a grey, bleak, burned-to-a-crisp patty. You can’t win ‘em all.
However, there is one burger outfit that kept being hollered by friends and peers. I heard about Dip & Flip around the time of its conception, some four years ago, but had never found the time to visit. It’s a burger/roast meat/gravy concept that has got the burger fiends of London chatting zealously about the wonderfully indulgent experience of meat, gravy and mess. The slogan of the business is ‘life tastes better dipped in gravy’, which every customer soon finds out when ordering – each dish is served with a bowl of the brown stuff to dip into. And you know what? It works. I was unsure about the addition of roast meat on top of a patty, which is then slathered in the restaurant’s signature sauce, but was pleasantly surprised by the result when visiting the Battersea site last month.
“We’re doing around 900 litres of gravy a week,” explains Tim Lees, who co-founded Dip & Flip with Gearoid Hogan back in 2013. “A lot of work goes into that. You can’t beat it really – I think gravy should be served with everything – we even see people finishing it off with straws.”
Those 900 litres are being simmered across the four restaurants that make up the Dip & Flip estate. So far, the duo have stuck to their south London roots, opening up and operating in Battersea, Wimbledon, Tooting and Brixton. Now, a few months after rebranding the debut site in Battersea, Dip & Flip is taking stock, ready for the next part of the gravy train journey.
A trip to the bank
Having opened four restaurants in four years, Dip & Flip has made a name for itself in London. The business has fiercely loyal customers, as well as newly introduced patrons trying it out every day of the week. The recent rebranding saw Lees and Hogan refresh their first restaurant – four years of high footfall had taken its toll on the 50-cover site – but has also allowed for a revitalisation of the company in general.
“Clapham/Battersea has taken a lot of traffic over the last four years, and we felt it needed some love,” explains Hogan. “It’s a good sign to reinvest back into the first store – it shows we’re on the right path. Battersea is the shop that we can now multiply. That’s the task for the future. The last six months have been about working out exactly what we need to make our shops most efficient – what size, number of covers, etc. The combination of that, our new logo and our team puts us in a strong position to get from four to the next amount. We haven’t really got a target for the number of stores at the moment – it will be one at a time. We’ll look for the correct place that fits our recently found criteria.”
Indeed, Dip & Flip is set for growth, but steadily. Though politely declining to share their financial particulars, it’s clear that the business is in a good place. With the debut site now a flagship model for replication, Lees and Hogan have been paying a visit to the banks, trying to secure that next cash injection to invest into site number five and beyond.
“We are looking to get traditional bank funding to expand a little bit further,” reveals Lees. “The shops are doing really well, but we don’t want to expand too quickly. We’ve been to a couple of banks – we’re not looking for a huge amount of money to open four or five stores; we’re looking to borrow as we go and reinvest our own money. I think the [property] market is cooling down a little bit. Over the next six months to a year, there will be some exciting sites coming up.”
What’s more, the business is looking to expand beyond its stronghold in south London. Battersea, Wimbledon, Tooting and Brixton have been good to Dip & Flip, but the time has come for new terrain. With the four sites currently in operation, they have arguably catered for two markets. Battersea and Wimbledon could perhaps be coupled together in terms of the demographic that wanders their streets – a fashion-conscious crowd with a fair amount of disposable income. While Tooting and Brixton are made up of a slightly different set of Londoners – street food-seeking foodies, proud of their communities and always on the hunt for their next restaurant fix. By introducing the Dip & Flip brand within these areas of London that house two key (albeit generically summarised) consumer groups, Lees and Hogan should now be able to expand their business within most other parts of the capital.
“We’d like to move away from the south west of London, so maybe north or east,” says Lees. “It is really down to what’s available and possible. Open kitchens are a massive thing for us – we’re offering a premium product and we want people to be able to see that honesty and integrity. We wouldn’t look to go into Soho, as the rent is so huge. If we could find four more Batterseas, that would be amazing. We’re not in too much of a rush, but I can see us working in Leeds, as I know people would love it up there. That’s in the plans as well, but we’ll stick to London for the next stage.”
Top tier training
Throughout the interview, Lees and Hogan reference the Dip & Flip teams time and again. Yes the product, yes the success, yes the expansion, but it always comes back to the people that work within the restaurants. This leads the duo to talk about their next internal project. While many restaurateurs and hospitality bosses will testify to the vitality of their training programmes, Dip & Flip is doing something a little different. Ordinarily, a training regime is there to get the people in place to do their current job with maximum efficiency, skill and knowledge – nothing wrong with that. Where Dip & Flip differs is the level at which the training stops. With its founders more than aware of the mistakes made and lessons learned since they started the company, the plan is to train some of their people so they don’t have to follow the same trial and error path. Essentially, the idea is to train people to a level where they can then start their own business or run the operational side of the one they’re currently in.
“We’ve got good people who have been with us for over two years,” says Lees. “We’ve got two guys who are now starting to learn about our operational side. So we’re looking to launch a training scheme – we want to show our people the mistakes we’ve made and the lessons we’ve learned, and at the end of it they can go into a corporate role or start their own business. We’re putting that together and I’m really excited about it.
“I used to run pubs and I felt I never had the opportunity to use certain skills. If I were given this sort of training opportunity when I was 25, I would have absolutely jumped at it. We know recruiting is difficult in this industry, but I think we can offer something that little bit different to what the big companies do – freedom to use your skills and potential going forward.”
It’s a key theme to the overall conversation with the Dip & Flip duo – going forward, looking to the future, the next stage. The past four years have been good to them and it’s now time to take what they have, harness the lessons learned and develop the Dip & Flip to come. Bank funding seems inevitable, as does the increasing popularity of the gravy-based niche, but is that enough to secure success in a fiercely competitive and progressively populated burger market? Lees says that before they launched Dip & Flip, he went out and tried every burger that was going, and then finalised their offer. While he won’t comment on where he thinks they stand in the high street burger battle, he is calm and considered when justifying what a restaurant, burger-based or otherwise, has to offer in order to succeed.
“My whole belief is that if you offer something that is great, which has good value, then people will come back,” he concludes. “That’s what we try and do. We encourage our teams to serve people as if they have come to their house. We’ve got a lot of regulars in all of the shops, so we must be doing something right. We’re building internally for the next stage, and we don’t want to over expand. Battersea is the blueprint going forward and the growth will be organic. It’s very much Gerry and I running an independent company, something that we can be proud of.”