Carluccio’s has seen a 35% upswing in like for like sales at restaurants that have undergone its ’fresca’ transformation programme, CEO Mark Jones has told MCA’s Restaurant Conference.

Jones said the programme, which is live in seven sites, not only involved capital investment, but a focus on elevated food and drink and service.

He also discussed details of the brand’s CVA, which he described as a “brutal process”, after 35 sites were closed, 1000 staff were made redundant, and £100m was wiped from the value of the company.

Jones told the Restaurant Conference that following the CVA, the fresca programme was a chance to bring the brand in line with how Antonio Carluccio might have created it, had he founded it today.

He said: “We decided that we needed something that elevated service, elevated food quality, and drove the customer experience back into premium casual dining, because I think we slipped.

“Capex helps you do that. But we wanted it to be more than just design

“We’ve seen some fantastic results. Some sites were trading negative like for likes, some were minus 20.

“We’ve seen a 35% swing on average, some less, a couple more, so we’re starting to build a business case.

“I’m adamant that fresca is not a capital intensive programme. Some sites we can drive sales by service and food.”

With seven sites converted he said they would take a break and prepare for the busy Christmas period at the retail business.

Jones said the team was influenced by the higher-end experience of Cote and The Ivy Collection in making the Carluccio’s proposition more premium, particularly at night, where he said it was performing “dismally”.

He said he would look to slowly evolve the design of brand, to make it more comfortable, after admitting it had stood still for a number of years.

Meanwhile, Jones shared details of the CVA process.

“A CVA is a brutal process for your brand, your customers, your teams,” he said. ”It’s the difference between surviving and going bust. It’s particularly bruising for customers, because all that good brand sentiment can get lost.

“It’s not to be used lightly, nor did we use it lightly. We shut 35 restaruants and lost 1000 employees – though the vast majority ended up in other hospitality roles, and we tried to help as many as we could.

“It put the business back. We had been in a space race for a number of years, and ended up in marginal sites in marginal towns and had to right-size the business.

“Having come through that, we’re in a much more positive place now.”