The impact of the pandemic has not dampened The Restaurant Group’s (TRG) ambition to continue to expand the footprint of its Wagamama brand – but it has changed where those restaurants will be located, chief executive Andy Hornby has told MCA. 

Wagamama will open fewer sites in central London and other big city centres, while opening more suburban restaurants, Hornby said. 

Growth of delivery in the overall sales mix, expected to make up at least 30% of sales at Wagamama in the medium term, has meant the group has reined back on its ambitions for total site numbers, from 200-220 sites, to between 180-200. 

But Hornby told MCA there was “still a lot of growth runway”.

“I would argue we have still got up to 10 years’ of natural growth to come from site expansion,” he said of the Wagamama business, at a rate of no more than four to five new restaurants per year.

“What has changed is where they will be. Clearly, we will open fewer in central London and the centre of big cities, and we will do more suburban ones – of that there is absolutely no doubt,” he explained.

He said the group would come out of the pandemic having traded at levels “we have never dreamed off” in subarban locations like Richmond, Enfield, Hammersmith and Wimbledon, while the likes of St Paul’s, the Royal Festival Hall and Wigmore Street “will probably not quite see the same level of trading again”. 

Recently named Investor of the Year at MCA’s annual Retailer’s Retailer Awards, TRG has continued to invest in its businesses – particularly on the delivery side of things for both Wagamama and Frankie & Benny’s – despite having to restructure the business last year and downsize its historic Leisure estate from 350 sites to 140.

Hornby said he saw the potential for between 10 and 20 delivery kitchens for the Wagamama brand, up from the four it has open now – all of which launched during the pandemic.

International expansion is also still on the cards for the brand. It currently has six sites through a joint venture in the US, and Hornby said he would be “really disappointed” if in five years’ time that hadn’t grown to around 25.