U.K. Restaurant Brands Roll Out New Concepts

U.K. restaurant operators are looking to expand their reach and serve new audiences by debuting concepts a step above or a step below their original brands’ service style.

PAUL, which came in at No. 75 on Technomic’s 2014 list of the Top 100 U.K. Chain Restaurants (based on 2013 U.K. systemwide sales), is among this group. The fast-casual patisserie chain last month debuted a brasserie-style casual-dining concept, Le Restaurant de Paul, in the back of its Covent Garden bakery.

Quick notes: Le Restaurant de Paul

  • Open every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Le Restaurant de Paul promises “best-loved French favourites, at their most affordable,” according to PAUL’s website.
  • Menu offerings include brioche perdue (French toast) for breakfast or dessert and charcuterie plates, coq au vin and a selection of wines, beers and apertifs available in the afternoon and evening.
  • Prices range from £2.95 for a small plate of crudites to £13.50 for main dishes of steak frites or skate wings with a brown-butter sauce, lemon and boiled potatoes. Salads at Le Restaurant de Paul are offered in small and large sizes and are priced at £5 to £10.50, whereas salads at the original PAUL are priced at about £3.50 to £4.95.
  • The original PAUL currently has more than 30 stores in the U.K.; so far, no plans for additional Le Restaurant de Paul sites have been announced.

PAUL, founded in France in 1889, has long prided itself on its commitment to ingredient integrity (flour for PAUL’s signature breads, for example, is milled exclusively for the chain by French farmers) and to traditional, time-intensive preparations (bread dough is allowed a longer fermentation time to enhance flavour). Adding a casual-dining concept lets PAUL cultivate after-work, pre-theatre and evening business among Londoners and London visitors who know the brand’s reputation for high-quality fare.

Moving in the opposing direction and targeting on-the-go diners with a condensed menu of “greatest hits,” so to speak, is Ed’s Easy Diner, which recently introduced the limited-service Ed’s Dinerette. Ed’s Dinerette will borrow from the core menu of the ’50s-American-diner-inspired Ed’s Easy Diner and offer hamburgers, fries, hot dogs and milkshakes, BigHospitality reported last week.

Quick notes: Ed’s Dinerette

  • Ed’s Dinerette is debuting in Kent and Sheffield (a photo of the Kent site was posted on Ed’s Easy Diner’s Facebook page last week); it’s replacing two units of Ed’s Shakes ’N Dogs, a three-site hot-dogs-and-milkshakes kiosk concept launched in 2012. With the addition of burgers, Ed’s Dinerette boasts a somewhat larger menu than Ed’s Shakes ’N Dogs—though still much smaller than the extensive lineup of burgers, chicken, salads and diner favourites offered at Ed’s Easy Diner locations.
  • Burgers are available with 3-ounce single or 6-ounce double patties.
  • Value meals will feature a burger, fries and a soft drink.

Ed’s Easy Diner, No. 85 on the Top 100 list, enjoyed strong growth in 2013: U.K. systemwide sales were up 52% (to £25.7 million) over the previous year on unit growth of 15% (to 23 units at the end of 2013). Noting that Ed’s Dinerette will allow the Ed’s brand to have a presence in smaller-footprint sites, Ed’s Easy Diner Chief Executive Andrew Guy told BigHospitality that Ed’s Dinerette “will hopefully open up options for further growth across the U.K.”

Large chains aren’t the only ones looking for a brand boost from new concepts, either. Four-unit contemporary Japanese restaurant Roka is opening a more-casual lunch spot, Shochu Kanteen, in September in the basement of its unit in London’s media district.

Quick notes: Shochu Kanteen

  • Shochu Kanteen will be open from Monday through Friday for lunch only (operating within Roka’s basement Shochu Lounge) and will prioritise speed of service.
  • Menu offerings reportedly will include soy ramen and miso ramen, hirata buns, gyoza, Japanese-inspired salads, dessert pots and fresh juices.
  • Shochu Kanteen’s debut next month is planned in conjunction with the celebration of Roka’s 10th anniversary.

As we noted earlier this summer, Asian/noodle restaurants were one of the U.K.’s fastest-growing full-service menu segments in 2013, with sales for leading full-service Asian/noodle chains rising 12.2% over 2012. And limited-service Asian/noodle concepts including Itsu and Wasabi Sushi & Bento posted robust growth for the year, too. This all points to further growth opportunities for Asian/noodle concepts like Roka and Shochu Kanteen that are attuned to the menu interests and service-style needs of consumers in their operating areas.

Building new concepts from a successful brand always presents risks, including a loss of operational focus and a harmful diversion of resources from the original brand. But in a highly competitive foodservice environment, identifying opportunities to meet the needs of untapped audiences and deliver new ways for loyal customers to access a brand can be a powerful weapon against stagnation and complacency. Indeed, development of new concepts can spark innovation that serves to propel legacy brands forward, too.

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Darren Tristano

Darren Tristano is President of Technomic Inc. Since 1993, he has led the development of Technomic’s Information Services division and directed multiple aspects of the firm’s operations.

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