Strada is aiming to broaden its appeal through a number of changes to its menu and the design of its restaurants.

The 70-strong Tragus-owned group has introduced a range of new dishes, including burgers, sharing plates and pizzettes, to the menu in a bid to attract a wider range of customers and make its dining experience less formal. 

A cocktail range has also been added to the drinks menu for the first time and a lunch menu featuring lighter dishes such as foccacias and piadinas (Italian wraps) is currently being trialled in selected restaurants to help boost lunch sales and provide a faster turnaround for workers and shoppers. 

Strada and Bella Italia marketing and food development director Hilary Ansell, who joined Tragus seven months ago from Compass, has spearheaded the changes and said it was part of a plan to broaden the restaurant brand’s appeal. 

“When I joined, Strada was appealing to a certain demographic. Our guests were those with money to spend and who were looking for a restaurant for a more formal occasion,” she told BigHospitality. 

“There was a big reliance on our secondi (main) dishes, which cost a bit more than pizza and pasta, and people perceived us differently to other Italian restaurant brands. 

“The idea with the menu change is to make the restaurants more accessible and places where people can come in and use the menu in any way they want. It’s not about a three course meal anymore.”  

As well as changes to dishes on the menu, there have been subtle changes to the way the restaurants look. New artwork featuring images from Milan, has been installed in all 70 Strada sites to bring a fresh look to the decor and staff uniforms have become more relaxed with waiting staff allowed to wear jeans for the first time.  

Everything we do at Strada now has to be ‘bold, simple, fresh, approachable and Italian inspired’,” said Ansell. “Allowing staff to wear jeans was part of the subtle changes we’ve made. It makes them feel more comfortable and is a shift away from our more formal perceptions.”

While the menu’s content has changed, so has its presentation. Back in June the menu format was changed from a booklet to sheet style with its content changed this week to signify the new seasonal menu. 

All changes have been subjected to rigorous testing through trials, said Ansell and customer feedback has been actively sought. A burger menu was trialled in three restaurants - Horsham, Cobham and Brunswick - for more than six weeks before the Italian chain made the decision to add two variants - a beef burger with taleggio cheese and a chicken burger wrapped in parma ham - permanently to the menu. 

“It was a big decision putting a burger on the menu as we have always been about the authentic Italian experience, but the feedback from the trial was amazingly positive and it was what our customers wanted,” said Ansell. 

The addition of burgers, which use pizza dough to form the bun, meant that Strada’s kitchens had to introduce fryers for the first time so fries could be served alongside them. Ansell said the move was an added expense, but the addition of fryers meant there was now more scope to introduce other fried dishes. 

More changes are expected to be introduced early next year with those implemented over the last few months already benefiting the business according to Ansell. 

“We are definitely seeing a broader range of customer coming in now which is great to see,” she said, “and I think that will continue as perceptions of the brand move away from something more formal to a more casual place to come and eat.”