THE BIG INTERVIEW: Adele Hing, kitchen and equipment development manager, Nando’s

Adele Hing, kitchen and equipment development manager, Nando's

There are some business experts who will tell you that corporate success comes from doing one thing and doing it well.

If you have any doubts about the validity of this argument, don’t be surprised to get pointed in the direction of Nando’s.

Few epitomise the rewards of harnessing a core product and using it to create a market juggernaut as the South African restaurant chain, which has now been trading in the UK since 1987.

Its emphasis on peri-peri chicken, and all that surrounds it, has driven sales to the extent that they tipped the £800m mark last year. It just goes to show what can be accomplished when you arrive in a market at exactly the right time, seize the opportunities put before you and intricately understand what it is your customers want.

Nando’s kitchen and equipment development manager, Adele Hing, has only been with the business nine months, but she has already seen firsthand how its model transcends worldwide markets.

Speaking during a keynote seminar session at Commercial Kitchen, she said: “Obviously the peri-peri chicken is the heart of our business and it is our one key theme across our global markets — it is a thing we focus on and it’s what drives our core business. Obviously everything else we keep fresh around it, but ultimately that is our main concept and our main focus across the globe.”

Having joined Nando’s from supermarket giant Waitrose last year, Hing has brought a fresh pair of eyes to the operational side of the business. She has a remit to explore new equipment and devise the kind of kitchen blueprints that will keep the company at the forefront of the British casual dining scene for the foreseeable future.

With 400 kitchens to its name, it’s no mean feat. Making the front- and back-of-house work in harmony is fundamental to the masterplan.

Nando’s operates 400 restaurants in the UK, making it one of the largest players in the market.

“We have a really great design team who design all of our front-of-houses,” she says. “We do a bespoke design for every single restaurant and they look absolutely phenomenal — if you go to some of our new sites they are amazing. Obviously my focus is going back to the kitchen, making it look as nice as we can within the environment to go with the front-of-the-house.

“The theatre that we have with our grills, being visible to customers, is really important to us as well. Customers can see pretty much everything in our kitchen from whichever angle they are looking at. But for me it is also about finding the balance between the theatre and the look of it and the functional side of it — it has got to make the operation work. Since I joined we have been doing a lot of work on finding that balance and it is going pretty well.”

Kitchens have certainly become the centrepieces of restaurants in recent years and not only because of the visual element. Open kitchens are also a way of showing customers that food is cooked fresh and to order.

So is Nando’s having to adapt its kitchen designs now that it has the public gazing in? “Yes, we are literally doing a few more things at the moment to make sure that what customers see is clean-looking and nice-looking,” reveals Hing. “But having that grill round-the-front, near customers, so customers can see it, is always going to be important for us because it is part of the theatre.”

In an ideal world, every kitchen would be as simple as possible to operate and identical in terms of flow and space. But for a chain that is present everywhere from high street locations to shopping centres and airports, that often just isn’t feasible. However, the company is an advocate of building standardisation into the design wherever it can.

“We try to keep it as standardised as possible just because that is what’s going to work for us across multiple formats”

“Across our estate we do have many different lay-outs, just due to age, which is only going to be natural, but obviously when we are in such accelerated growth we are trying to make sure we do have some basic standards and we have easy modular lay-outs so that things can be rolled out and rolled in, so that we don’t have problems when we come to replace kit later in the year.

“Obviously there are going to be sites that are more bespoke; you might have a specific site which is going to be really big and will need X, Y, Z because delivery and takeaway are going to be big. But we take those sites and deal with them separately in terms of what they need and what is specific to them. Generally speaking for our operation, and for what I do in terms of making the operation right and efficient, we try to keep it as standardised as possible just because that is what’s going to work for us across multiple formats.”

A big chunk of Hing’s time at the moment is spent reviewing the current portfolio that Nando’s operates across its restaurant estate and identifying the new and improved technologies that could theoretically enhance its kitchens operations. Ultimately, its aim is to remain ahead of the curve.

She is particularly impressed with some of the equipment management systems that are now available to foodservice operators and can see how they would deliver specific benefits to a multi-site business as large and as expansive as Nando’s.

“A lot of the suppliers are coming out in the market with really good systems to back up equipment. For example, Rational has launched ConnectedCooking — [so it is about] how we work with that to improve how our operators use the equipment, what can we see as a central team on our equipment, how can that help maintenance. A lot of other suppliers are doing it — you’ve got coffee machines telemetry and all that kind of stuff, which is great to a certain extent. A lot of it is around the efficiency of an operation.”

Peri-peri chicken is at the heart of the offering throughout all the markets that Nando’s operates.

Machine telemetry — the process of transferring data from an item of equipment wirelessly to a remote device —is an area that Hing believes could deliver major advantages, but she is also aware that it needs to be approached carefully.

“I’ve looked at telemetry in the last few years with other businesses and it’s more about how does it work with all your other bits of kit because you don’t want to get to a place where you have got everything connected by WiFi and a huge dashboard of all this great stuff but actually you’ve got to log into 10 things to get to what you actually need. It is just about managing that and thinking about how the technology will work for you in future, and keeping it simple because ultimately we don’t want it to be complicated, we want it to be easy.”

Another key point of consideration for Nando’s moving forward is how its kitchens deal with delivery. This represents a huge opportunity but it also creates logistical challenges from a back-of-house perspective, especially in legacy sites. Steps have been taken to make sites “more friendly” towards delivery, with purpose-built areas created within the kitchen to service this business. It creates a distinction between orders from restaurant customers and delivery customers, which is designed to make it easier for kitchen staff and therefore ensure both operations run without interruption.

I’ve looked at telemetry in the last few years with other businesses and it’s more about how it works with all your other bits of equipment”

“Putting a small hub of kit together to make delivery run better has been an opportunity for us, but not all of our restaurants are going to be geared up to that so that is something we are currently working through,” said Hing during the Commercial Kitchen session. “We need to make sure that we can keep up with the delivery market because it is obviously going crazy at the moment.”

When it comes to the kitchens of new-build restaurants that are expected to have strong demand for delivery, the appropriate functionality is now designed into the lay-out from the outset. But for the time being it appears that Nando’s is reluctant to go down the dedicated-kitchen-for-delivery route. “I don’t think so at the moment,” says Hing. “I think we are keeping things onsite.”

Nando’s certainly remains open-minded about how the kitchens it operates today might look tomorrow. And if it truly does believe success is sowed by the people who make the chicken, you can expect it to invest in equipping them with the best kit around.

Breaking into the Nando’s supply chain

With 400 sites spread across the UK, any supplier that works with Nando’s needs to be able to offer nationwide coverage and possess sufficient resources to manage the demands that this scale brings. But just how easy is it to get into Nando’s supply chain?

“For some things it would be relatively easy, for some it would be more challenging,” answers Adele Hing, kitchen and equipment development manager at the chain. “Where you have got size to think about with equipment there is always a restraint, but some suppliers will work with you to do what they can in terms of amending their specs, which is really great. Obviously some suppliers aren’t going to be able to do that in terms of their size and their manufacturing.”

Since joining Nando’s nine months ago, Hing has been reviewing its existing equipment estate. And she remains open to new relationships if the technology is better for its operation, more efficient and easier to manage.

“Part of what I am doing is looking at future equipment,” she explains. “Our kitchens aren’t always going to be the same because we need to continually keep innovating. We will need to get in new kit and different kit, and that might mean we need to change our lay-out. It is finding that balance of being versatile and being able to make it work when we roll pieces of kit in.”

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