Prezzo chief executive Jon Hendry Pick-up speaks exclusively to MCA on the back of last week’s approval of the group’s Company Voluntary Arrangement. He talks about the further rollout of the group’s new restaurant design, with another 18 sites expected to be upgraded by the summer and discusses the focus on capturing customers in the right “moments and occasions”. He also addresses the issue of promotions, stressing that Prezzo needs to “earn the right to step away” from the discounting scrum.

Prezzo’s high-profile CVA programme was agreed at the end of last week, paving the way for the closure of 94 restaurants, along with rent reductions at a further 57.

The company is currently in a one-month “challenge” period, which allows creditors to question the fairness of the process.

The group will exit the 94 restaurants over the next 60 days, although some may close sooner if landlords feel they can fill them immediately.

All of the group’s subsidiary brands, including the 33-strong Chimchanga will go as a result of the process, leaving the management focussed on the c200-strong core Prezzo brand. Hendry-Pickup told MCA that the challenge here was to identify the “Prezzo of the future”.

There are four key pillars to the group’s Transformation Plan, focussed on making the brand distinctive; refreshing the estate; step-changing the food and drink and improving its people culture.

On the first pillar, Hendry-Pickup said: “First and foremost, we have to make sure the brand is distinctive and really stands for something. Not just for customers but for the team. People like Wagamama and Nando’s have done a great job of staking out their brand identity for both team and customer, and what I see when I go into their restaurants is their team projecting very clearly what the brand is about. It’s about making sure we all know what we’re about and what space we are going to play in. We are working with Interbrand at the moment to make sure we are clear on what the brand future looks like.”

On the estate refresh, he said: “We’ve been pleased with the new look and feel in all of the 12 restaurants we have put it in so far but it’s not just about the colours on the walls, it’s about the impact that has on the teams. It’s about them feeling proud of what their restaurant looks like.

“We are confident that we have had enough time to gauge the impact of the new look and feel project but the work we’re doing to get the overall brand in the right place is going to take longer. While we’re working on that we will probably continue putting that new look and feel into other restaurants. I would expect us to get from 12 to about 30 by the middle of the year. We know some of these things work now, so we will put them into place now and evolve them over time.”

We’ve probably been guilty of not doing enough to get people talking about us

On the food and drink, he said: “Customers have said our food is good but I want it to be brilliant and I want it to be seen as good value for money. That’s not just about cost price engineering, it’s about understanding what we’re delivering in the restaurant. I want our people to be really excited about food. We need to get them involved with every aspect of that – the ingredients, the cooking process and how it is served. I want them to be a core part of that rather than the staff being a functional part of the process of feeding people.

“We’ve probably been guilty of not doing enough to get people talking about us. The black pizza we did earlier this year was a great example of doing that well. We got more social media engagement from that to a factor of about 10 than anything we had done in the in the previous two months.”

On people, he said: “We have to build a brilliant team. The focus is on getting managers in place who can lead their teams brilliantly and bring together back and front of house, which hasn’t always happened. This isn’t about teams learning a prescribed structure, it’s about a personality-led proposition, which is what I think customers want - authenticity and personality. They know when people are following a routine.

“Our 90-day retention has improved in a major way and our team turnover has reduced by about 10% from a year ago. We’re getting the right people in and we’re keeping them. Now we can overlay personality and bring that to the forefront. That’s our next stage with this.”

On the overall plan, he concluded: “Those are the four pillars of the plan. What we are working on now is how over the next year we can bring all those elements together. Then we can start to say we are looking at the Prezzo of the future.”

We have to earn the right to step away from the discounting landscape

On the core demographic for the brand, Hendry-Pickup said: “Our audience is predominantly women, and we particularly strong with the 50+ market. But the research that we have done shows people behaving more and more in what we describe as moments and occasions, and there are several key ones which we see as our sweet spot, and these cut across demographics.

“I have no doubt that our demographics will change over time but I think it’s hugely important that we are respectful of our core audience. We have over 11 million customers a year and we have no interest in alienating them.”

On discounting, he said: “There is a discounting landscape specifically in our space at the moment, that is very difficult to step away from and we have to earn the right to step away from that. What that means is we have to deliver excellent value for money, in the customer’s eyes and we have to match their needs. What they are saying at the moment is that they can’t distinguish across the sector so deals are the defining factor.

“We want to make sure that promotions are done on the right moments and occasions, so we don’t confuse the customer about what value for money is. They see 2 for 1 or 30% off and they associate that as the core price. I don’t think we’re necessarily helping ourselves as a sector in not being entirely clear about what the price and quality proposition is.”