EAT chief executive Andrew Walker has updated MCA on the progress of the brand’s turnaround programme.

He said of the three core pillars of the refresh programme – service, food quality and ambience – the first two had now been overhauled, while rolling out a fresh look across the estate was the target over the next three years.

He said that the introduction of hot cabinets had speeded up service – impacting on both hot and cold food sales - while the counters had been redesigned to incorporate coffee into the main ordering process.

Meanwhile, executive chef, Arnaud Kaziewicz, has led an overhaul of the menu, which has seen all product lines relaunched over the past 15 months across the c80-strong estate.

The new-look stores delivered year-on-year sales uplfits of 20% in the final week of January, he said.

Speaking at MCA’s Food To Go Conference last week, Walker said that while healthy eating remained a focus of EAT’s innovation, the trend had to be considered in context.

He said: “We think about 30% of our range would be classed as healthy and yet it’s only about 15% of sales. It’s certainly an important trend and we have to provide that opportunity but we also have to be honest with ourselves that people also like more indulgent food.”

On the strategy going forward, he said: “Service, food quality and ambience are the three things customers really look out for but the weighting changes depending on the sector. In pubs, the ambience is clearly at the fore. In casual dining, certainly in fine dining, it is food quality. In grab and go, service is probably number one.

“Our new model is all about speed of service and the hot cabinets have really made a difference. EAT has always been known for its food innovation but we have got much better at launching these products.

“There is still a lot of work to do on the look of the stores. But once we get that ambience right then I think we will be able to take on anyone.”

He added: “This is EAT’s time. It’s been around for 20 years but it’s always been about health, about variety and real food. It was a bit early but we’re ready to capitalise on all that now.”

Last month, MCA reported that the Horizon(formerly known as Lyceum)-backed group has seven openings abroad planned over the next year, following its launch at Gare du Nord station in Paris at the start of this month.

The next will be Malaga Airport at the end of February and two openings at Barcelona airport – at Terminal 2 in March and Terminal 1 in May.

A launch at the Disneyland Paris train station, Marne La Valee, in June will be followed by the group’s debut in the Middle East, at Bahrain Airport in December.

EAT also has sites lined up in Alicante and France’s Gare du Nantes in 2020.

EAT made its international debut in 2017, with an opening at Madrid Airport.