Burger & Lobster will open five to eight restaurants in the UK within the next four years, with the aim of adding two sites to its estate next year, managing director Dino Sura tells MCA.

The group is also on the lookout for its first location outside the capital. Founded in 2011, it has nine sites in London as well as locations in New York, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Kuwait, and Qatar.

Last week, it reported a 47% increase in turnover to £36.5m for the year ended January 2023.

“We’re growing the business cleverly,” Sura says. “We’ve had issues in the past where we haven’t always been analytical enough.

“We’re look at sites with a smaller footprint, which opens us up to places we might not have thought of in the past.”

Burger & Lobster has major cities such as Manchester, Edinburgh, and Bristol on the radar, to be followed by areas such as Guildford, Reading, and Cornwall in the future.

Pre-pandemic, the strategy saw the business venture outside London with a focus on larger venues. It has now pivoted to 4,000-4,500, 70-80 cover spaces.

“We’re very considered about where we open,” Sura adds. “We’ve got to make sure the sites are right for us. What we do next will be a catalyst for the business.”

The group is also keen to expand its footprint in London, particularly in the North of the capital where it doesn’t yet have a presence, according to Sura.

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It has also invested in its existing estate, with its refurbishment programme resulting in a 15-20% increase in dwell time. A $1.1m refurbishment of the New York City site is also underway.

“We hadn’t invested in the estate for some time…we made sure the investment paid off. It’s still a luxurious environment for eating lobster, but feels cosier.

“Customers are staying longer and average spend is climbing up, and not just through price increases.”

Trading throughout 2023 has been robust, with the year getting off to “a better start than expected” followed by a strong summer.

Like-for-like growth is in double digits this year, staying consistent despite some dropoff due to a comparative with Covid-related restrictions in early 2022.

The business is on track to beat forecast this year, from both a top line and bottom line perspective.

“There were three months where we delivered better numbers than pre-Covid, in terms of profitability,” Sura says. “The UK market in terms of transactions has been pretty strong.

“We need to make sure there are incentives for tourists to come back.

“There’s also local support there for us…late September was amazing for us, we had one of our best Saturdays.”

Despite the return of tourists, the removal of VAT-free shopping has had an effect, with the group seeing a noticeable impact on numbers at its restaurant within the Harvey Nichols department store.

From a profitability perspective, Burger & Lobster is working with Zero Procure to implement efficiencies across its supply chain and has seen energy costs decline substantially, with the expectation of further falls next year.

The refurbishments have entailed investment in sustainability, with everything from equipment to lighting designed for better energy efficiency.

“We really believe in value for money…we haven’t passed everything on to customers. Our numbers are indicating footfall growth coming through in like-for-likes.

“We’ve kept margins tight but managed to improve profitability without compromising on quality.”

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Despite the brand’s focus on two items, it has managed to keep things fresh with a rotation of guest chefs and collaborations, as well as introducing new dishes such as lobster linguine to its menu for the first time.

“It’s nothing revolutionary – just constantly driving the experience and ensuring the team is happy.”

A lack of staffing challenges have also helped mitigate costs, with the business investing heavily into teams to maintain retention levels.

“We’re not losing staff at the moment,” Sura explains. “It’s cheaper to invest in people than to recruit and train.

“We’re also looking at using tech…we’ve used Seven Rooms before and we’re now working with OpenTable to see if it opens up a different market.”