On the back of this morning’s trading update, M&C talks to Danny Breithaupt, chief executive of The Restaurant Group (TRG) about trading, the return of discounting, the balance of the group’s openings, new menus and how James Bond has helped combat the impact of the Rugby World Cup.

Trading

This morning the group reported like-for-like sales up 2% in the 45 weeks to 8 November. Breithaupt said the company was “comfortable” with its level of performance against what he described as a “difficult” trading environment, which was impacted by the return of heavy discounting by rivals and the rugby world cup “closing things down” for the casual dining sector during the weekend it was on.

He said: “It has felt like a case of two steps forward one step back over the last few months. Rugby isn’t as aligned with casual dining as it is with say the pub sector, so when the games were on, we definitely say trading come off. It also ran longer than say a football world cup and we had no precedent to measure it against. We also saw a lot of discounting come back into the marketplace over the summer, with a number of 50% off vouchers and offers creeping in, which I suppose highlights how challenging the market has become.

“On the other side we have had two fantastic weeks on the back of the new James Bond film, which have balanced out the impact of the rugby and set us up for a good run to the end of the year. Black Friday is turning into an important day for us, with a number of sites retail-based and we also have Star Wars to come, which experts are predicting will generate more cinema ticket sales than Bond.”

Balance

Breithaupt has previously stated that the group hoped to balance the group’s future openings across more of its brands, taking the weight off core brand Frankie & Benny’s. He said: “This is definitely something that is starting to come through and will continue going forward, with Chiquito, Coast to Coast and our pubs taking up more of the pipeline. We opened three pubs this year, but we already have six lined up for next year. We will open 43-45 this year and we expect to open a similar number next year.”

Menus

In July, the group launch a new pared down menu across its 253-strong Frankie & Benny’s estate under the banner Red Sauce Revolution, which at the time Breithaupt described as a step change for the brand. He told M&C that the menu had continued to be positively received by consumers and the group was gearing up to launch new menus across both Coast to Coast and Chiquito in February/March next year, which would highlight the freshness in the food offer across both brands.

Joe’s

Earlier this year, M&C revealed that TRG was to trial an evolved all-day dining version of its Joe’s Kitchen concept, which if successful could lead to a rollout of the brand.

The company opened the first site in Derby, with a second coming online recentky in Trentham Gardens, Stoke; and a third opening next week in Nottingham.

Breithaupt said: “As with any brand evolution you won’t really know how it will fare until you have three or four open, but so far very good. It gives us another leg to the business and opportunity for growth. We will look to tweak the menu for the new year, but we are happy with its initial launch so far. We will assess it in due course then look about whether we push on with numbers four, five and six.”