Frankie & Benny’s gets creative in its test kitchen to win back lapsed customers

TRG development kitchen 2

Menu refinements and new product trials are among the actions that Frankie & Benny’s is planning over the coming months as it bids to re-establish the competitiveness of the brand and attract back lapsed customers. 

The performance of the chain, which spans 258 restaurants, has been under close scrutiny by owner The Restaurant Group (TRG) over the past 18 months, with bosses implementing a series of changes during 2017 to reinvigorate the business.

Unveiling its interim results this morning, TRG said the launch of an improved, cheaper fixed price menu (£9.95 for two courses) at Frankie & Benny’s “continues to perform well”, while its new core menu has proved to be considerably more competitive than the previous version, with entry prices reduced by 22%, and like-for-like dishes, on average, 7% cheaper. As a consequence, it claims its prices on key value indicator dishes are now “significantly lower” than its peer set.

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The firm said its kitchen development team had been working hard to come up with new offerings to win back customers, including a revamped kids’ menu with a much more engaging food offer and presentation.

“We have invested in improved food quality to ensure we can produce dishes consistently well, introduced new sharing dishes which are proving popular among our target family audience, and created new dishes which have shown encouraging early adoption,” it commented.

TRG said the pace of change at Frankie & Benny’s was “accelerating” and in the second half of the year it will refine its menus, making changes based on insights gathered to date, as well as trialling a series of new product innovations which, if successful, will feature more broadly in 2018.

The Restaurant Group, Frankie & Benny’s

Towards the end of the year, it also plans to pilot a low cost ‘capital refresh’ of some of its older properties which will focus on improving the look and feel of customer-facing areas.

“While there remains a lot to do, there are early signs of customer awareness of our changes, with recent data showing an uptick in value for money ratings, net promoter scores and the brand rankings for quality of ingredients and freshness of food,” it said.

Overall sales at TRG, which also owns Chiquito, Coast to Coast and a raft of concessions, were down 2% to £333m for the 26 weeks to 2 July 2017. EBITDA slipped from £60m at the same stage last year to £44m this time around.

CEO Andy McCue said customers were beginning to see some early signs of volume improvement following a renewed focus on its leisure brands, but warned that 2017 remained a “transitional” year for the business.

As it makes investments in price to correct its previously weak value position and improve the consistency of its food offering, it expects like-for-like sales and margins to come under pressure in the short term.

Mr McCue stated: “We have made good progress against our strategic initiatives outlined in March. Our Leisure customers are enjoying a better value, higher quality product; our growth plans for our Pubs and Concessions businesses are advancing well and we have made good progress in delivering cost efficiencies. I’ve been impressed with our colleagues’ receptiveness to change and thank them for their contribution to stabilising the business.”

The current TRG estate includes 258 Frankie & Benny’s, 83 Chiquitos, 19 Coast to Coasts, eight Garfunkel’s, seven Filling Stations, four Joe’s Kitchen, 59 Pub restaurants and 56 Concessions.

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