Wagamama has secured a site in Milan, where it hopes to open a number of sites this year, and is also aiming to add three more in Madrid in 2017, MCA has learnt.

Brian Johnston, managing director of Wagamama International, said the group’s international strategy was to become established in meaningful countries in continental Europe, with recent openings in Madrid, Bulgaria and Bergamo in Italy.

He told MCA the major challenge was building up awareness of the concept in countries where there was zero-recognition of the Pan-Asian brand.

The debut Italian restaurant, which opened last night, is a partnership agreement signed W Italia SRL, a company formed by the collaboration between Percassi Food & Beverage and Migebar SRL and is the first of a series of planned future openings across Italy.

Speaking of the difficulties of launching in a new market, Johnston said: “The initial challenges are the lack of brand awareness. We start on the context there’s zero awareness of the brand internationally.

“We have a lot of work to do to engage with customers, it’s a completely unknown brand, let along concept.

“In every market we have a social media programme running for months prior to the opening, building our following, which was evident with the enthusiasm that greeted the opening.

“It starts with curiously, goes to interest, turns to enthusiasm and then finally to passion.”

Johnston said the customer demographic in Spain so far was similarly broad to Wagamama in the UK, skewed to a younger generation, mid to late 20s up to 40s.

He said there was some variation at the international stores, with local franchisees able to have some selection over product selection, though there were 90% the same as UK stores.

In the Middle East the brand had a specific Ramadan campaign to fit in with the tradition of Islamic fasting.

International stores generally follow UK stores with a 12 month delay to new products.

The total number of Wagamama restaurants worldwide is 174 across 22 countries.