I've run Manchester brunch favourite for 10 years and this is the key to success amid hospitality crisis

While some businesses struggle - one continues to see queues out of the door.
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Federal café has been at the top of the breakfast and brunch game in Manchester for a decade now. That’s what owner Claudio Ribeiro says at least – and if the constant queues outside the door are anything to go by, it’s hard not to agree. 

Founded in 2014, Federal now has two city centre locations, in the Northern Quarter and Oxford Road, and business is booming. The café had a record month in January and 2023 was “as good a year as any.” Claudio and his team seem to have found the winning formula of quality food and service, clear concept and a robust social media strategy.

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Not all food and drink businesses in Manchester can say the same. While new bars and restaurants are popping up each month in the city centre, just as many, if not more, are closing, mainly due to rising running costs. 

We spoke to Claudio about what it takes to build and maintain a successful business and the future of the Manchester food scene.

Federal is one of Manchester's food and drink success stories with regular queues outside the door. Credit: FederalFederal is one of Manchester's food and drink success stories with regular queues outside the door. Credit: Federal
Federal is one of Manchester's food and drink success stories with regular queues outside the door. Credit: Federal

“Consistently good”

It was a trip to Australia that gave Claudio the inspiration for Federal. At the time, he was working at the Crowne Plaza and had started thinking about creating something new for himself in Manchester. He noticed that there was a gap in the market when it came to brunch and breakfast. 

He said: “The cafes [in Australia] were a bit different to the ones in the UK, they had a neighbourhood feel, they sold things that were a bit different. I also noticed that the service was completely different: the warm feeling when you came through the door, the way people treated you, the smile, the hello.”

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Business was slow at first and Claudio’s main challenge was getting noticed. “The menu was good, the service good, but we had no customers for a long time,” he said. But the spark eventually came, four or five months in when Federal rose to the number one place to eat on Tripadvisor – that’s when the queues started. 

Customer review platforms like Tripadvisor help greatly when it comes to getting people through the door, but Claudio believes it’s the product that keeps those people coming back. He said: “We are consistently good. You can come to Federal any day in the week, at any given time, to any of the shops, you're going to find the same food, the same good quality fresh food, the same coffee, the same service. I think that consistency has been instrumental in keeping us as popular as we are.” 

Federal owner Claudio Ribeiro.Federal owner Claudio Ribeiro.
Federal owner Claudio Ribeiro.

“Going viral will only get you so far”

As with most businesses today, social media is another key component when it comes to success and Claudio realised this from day one. He credits his now ex-wife Emily as the mastermind behind the business’ winning social media strategy. They started with an Instagram page, which has now organically grown to 60,000 followers, and have since embraced TikTok. A study by Betway, recently placed Federal as the most popular café in the UK, based on more than one million TikTok views. 

Claudio said: “There's no doubt in my mind that if it wasn't for social media we wouldn't be here now. It has played a massive part. We grew really fast, consistently posting, consistent tone of voice, good photos, customers interacting with our pages as well as they did, it was a massive help.”

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For some food and drink businesses in Manchester, a good social media presence can mean make or break. For example, Ancoats pasta restaurant Onda recently went viral on TikTok for its Tiramisu draw, which, as the chef recently explained in a separate TikTok video, saved the business from going under. Elsewhere, Spudman, a jacket potato van in Tamworth, went viral on TikTok and saw a massive uptick in sales, flogging as many as 1,500 potatoes in one day. 

But going viral will only get you so far, Claudio explains. He said: “If everyone knew how to go viral, everyone would be doing well. Going viral, I think, is a luck thing. It's doing the right post at the right time and the right audience picking up on it. But we've never had anything that we consider to have gone viral and we are still busy.

“I think it is important but you don't need to go viral to have a presence online. If you're consistent with your posts and you're showing people really  what you do, if you keep learning about how Instagram wants you to do certain things.”

“This is not a game”

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There are more and more restaurants in Manchester that are in the same precarious boat as Onda and there are concerns about the ongoing hospitality crisis. In a campaign spearheaded by night time economy advisor Sacha Lord, businesses across the region are calling on the government to reduce VAT rates and provide better support to the hospitality industry. 

In this regard, Claudio regards himself as in a “position of strength” but says that it is “tough out there.” He told Manchester World: “I can tell you that the margins are getting smaller. The food costs, costs of wages are going up and all that. You can't just pass everything to the customer, but hospitality is a tough game and anyone coming into the industry needs to understand that you can't just open a restaurant and expect the government to lower the VAT so it can fit in with your margins.

“I think the difference is we need to be able to provide a good product to people. For us, on the brunch and breakfast side of things, we need to be able to provide excellent service, because that's what people come for day in and day out. We need to make a difference to people's lives. We can't just be 'one more', because those 'one mores' are not going to stay afloat for sure.”

Federal in the Northern Quarter, ManchesterFederal in the Northern Quarter, Manchester
Federal in the Northern Quarter, Manchester

As the owner of one of the more successful food businesses in the city, he is also keen to pay it forward. He describes the Manchester food scene as a small (compared to London, where he also has other businesses) and tight-knit community.

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He said: “When people ask me, I do go out of my way to sit down with other business owners and tell them what my thoughts are about certain things. There's a coffee shop that's opened close to Federal on Deansgate and the owner is a good operator in that he knows how to make a good coffee, that's his speciality. But running a business, that's a bit different than making a coffee. So when I go there, he does sit down with me, he does ask questions. I'm always open to offer support I can to anyone, because this is not a game.”

This is just one aspect of the Manchester food scene that gives Claudio optimism about its future. He said: “I am really optimistic. I think the good places that are doing good things will get noticed sooner or later. I think that Manchester is getting busier and busier. You have places like Diecast, which is massive and they get busy every weekend. So there are people out there, loads of people out there.”