Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group chief executive, Jon Knight, has told MCA that the group wants “to come off the discount drug”.
Jamie’s Italian today unveils its latest menu, with Knight describing it as representing phase two of his transformation of the business, which underwent a Company Voluntary Arrangement at the start of the year, closing 12 sites.
Knight said the focus was on lowering prices permanently and gradually reducing the reliance on promotions. The new menu, which was designed in consultation with a series of listening groups across the chain’s 25 sites, has cut average main course prices by 8% and sides by 7%.
The group is also rolling out pizza ovens across the estate, with five restaurants left to convert.
Knight said: “I don’t want people to come to me because of whatever offer is on that week but to know that this menu is live at these prices for the duration.
“We know it’s not easy to do but if you’ve got the right strategy behind you in regard to sales and communication to your customer then it shouldn’t be put into the too-difficult-to-do basket.
“We are trading down in pure percentage terms versus last year so we are coming off that discounting drug. We have had to make some tactical decisions so when snow week hit us we had to do something. It will be a drip-feed off it but we know we need to do this.”
He said the restaurants would also make a strong showing of its specials, which would allow chefs more room for creativity.
Knight said the other key pillar to his transformation programme so far had been working on customer service. The group has engaged Hop Training for a re-education programme themed around “giving our customers a reason to return”.
Knight said: “Part of that is some training we are doing across the estate – we did our first four restaurants last week and another four this week. It’s about teaching our staff to interact with customers as well as they can – understanding the touchpoints, knowing how far you can take the customer on a journey without invading their space. It’s also about upskilling on product knowledge and shouting about the things we are proud of.”
On the future for the company, Knight said: “The CVA process was horrible but it was something we needed to go through to put us on a stable financial footing for the future. I am really positive about the prospects ahead for us.”
He said the partnerships with Aramark Northern Europe and SSP would drive growth for the brand in the short term but insisted he hoped to open further company-managed UK restaurants in the future. He said the company hoped to announce the first Aramark site, which will see Jamie’s expand into workplace environments, in the coming weeks. He said the company had recently signed on a new site with SSP that would take the partnership outside Europe. In the UK, the group is teaming up with SSP to bid for two new UK airports.
On international expansion, Knight said the group was still actively looking to enter the US market, with a focus on three key areas – Chicago, Texas and Florida, but insisted any expansion in the States would depend on finding the right partner.
He said Barbecoa remained a brand with growth prospects internationally and said the company continues to work with the landlord at the remaining site in St Paul’s, where the lease is up for renewal in July.