Bella Italia provides pathway for kitchen brigade to move up through the ranks

Bella Italia - Milton Keynes

Casual dining chain Bella Italia has launched a “leadership academia programme” with the aim of filling 70% of its restaurant managerial positions internally.

The scheme is designed to enable a clear career path from team member to general manager, and provides a platform for kitchen staff to be promoted from within and take on more senior positions.

The programme is divided into three tiered stages: ‘Stepping Up’ for staff looking to become managers and chefs to sous chefs; ‘Emerging Leaders’ for sous chefs and supervisors looking to step up to head chef and assistant manager; and ‘Future Leaders’ for assistant managers and head chefs looking to become general managers.

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Each stage has bespoke learning modules with participants required to attend external workshops away from the restaurant, with the onus on individuals driving their own learning.

Bella Italia HR director Wayne Morgan said: “Attracting and retaining quality people in an ever-shrinking pool of talent is a challenge all operators currently face. We want to promote a career in hospitality and show it’s possible to work your way up from floor to management.”

Bella Italia already has more than 170 employees training in the programme.

Italian themed restaurant chain Bella Italia has become a “massive, massive profit machine” for owner Casual Dining Group following a repositioning of the business, its CEO said last year.

CDG took over the chain three years ago and conducted a huge refurbishment programme that has seen more than half of its store estate transformed. It now operates more than 150 Bella Italias but Mr Richards believes it can eventually double that figure.

“I am not kidding when I say that Bella makes more profit than most of the high street brands you’ve heard of. It is a massive, massive profit machine,” he said in 2016. “It has been around in its various forms for 37 years and it is a fantastic operation, much-loved and really well-known for good value. But when we bought it, there was limited food quality and service was a bit tired.

“Part of the makeover has involved refreshing it and making it modern. We have completed something like 75 refurbishments now and there are only another 20 to go. The internals are now very vibrant, bright and highly relevant for today’s market. But it is still Bella Italia, we are not trying to throw out the baby with the bathwater here because this is a great brand.”

Richards said that CDG has repositioned Bell and moved it much more towards the themed dining end. Prior to that it was “sitting in that deep discount, overly-supplied pizza business”, he said.

“We wanted to develop an experience brand where people could come in and have a main meal, have a snack, have a coffee and buy into something a bit different than just £7.99 for a margarita. Pizzas now are around 20% of the sales mix. The grill section is equally as large as the pizza section these days and we have been embarking on a process to broaden its breadth to make it appeal to a wider family, value demographic.”

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