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Carluccio’s boss calls out casual dining operators for aggressive expansion plans

Published:  04 March, 2019

Carluccio’s CEO has criticised the UK restaurant sector for focusing on “capex-heavy investments” – the same focus which almost brought the chain to brink of collapse last year.

Mark Jones, who was brought in to turnaround the ailing business, said the high street Italian was “two weeks away from going under”, when a CVA hit headlines last May.

At the time, Carluccio’s was tied into lease commitments to open a restaurant a month, which - at a million pounds per site - was a “huge distraction” from the company’s core business.

Speaking at last week’s Casual Dining show, Jones said: “It wasn’t our week to week performance, but with our lease commitments…we would have run out of cash. In hindsight, we should have done something different. It’s a common ailment of casual dining.”

Since then, the company has axed 35 sites, bringing the total to 75, and has pooled its resources into a refurbishing its remaining sites and “repositioning” its image as a premium casual dining chain.

This incudes its £10m Fresca project, which has successfully enticed customers to the notoriously competitive weekend dinner spots.

“Carluccio’s had lost its way on Friday and Saturday night,” Jones confirmed. “It wasn’t special enough. Casual dining is so sophisticated now. It’s not enough to put a candle on table and turn lights down and expect to compete to with a ferocious set of competitors.”

Broadening its wine range and not being constrained by its Italian roots is another lesson the brand has learned over the past year.

It now stocks a number of French wines alongside a more premium “wine list, menu and service”.

Premiumisation and improvement over expansion was highlighted again and again by Jones.

This included avoiding a reliance on discount vouchers: “You’ve got your everyday pricing wrong if you’re doing that”; as well as doing the detailed work on selecting new sites.

This is especially important in today’s challenging retail environment, which is “only going to get tougher”.

“You need to be there every day, not just at the weekend during dinner time but during the week. It’s vital to understand drivers of footfall,” he said.