Young’s gives kitchen teams licence to innovate and seize new food opportunities

Pub chain Young’s might operate nearly 200 sites but its chefs are encouraged to be entrepreneurial and take ownership of their menu offerings, its group executive chef has said.

Chris Knights, who oversees Young’s and Geronimo Inns’ kitchen operations on a multi-site level, said that each venue has autonomy to operate an individual business but the two parent brands exist to underpin a great value, premium atmosphere, premium service and premium product.

“I think the difference when it comes to our ethos and our strategy with the Young’s and Geronimo pubs is that there is not a model that fits all. We invest a lot of time into our people, so we meet with every one of our 180 head chefs once a month to inspire them around seasonality and trends, and why it would be the right choice for them to have it on their menus, to drive sales and to drive profitability. Because there is not one thing that is going to fit all, the individual aspect is actually the key.”

Mr Knights said that while customers can expect a consistent food quality across all of its predominantly London-based sites, chefs and pub managers are encouraged to tap into opportunities that exist within their local markets.

“If you are in Kentish Town and you have got a slightly more foodie clientele, the health and wellbeing lifestyle choices that customers are making are in abundance, so it would be only right that we have a menu more fitting to that customer profile,” he explained. “But they do all follow a strategy and there is clarity when it comes to what their pub menus should be. We like our chefs and general managers to have that interpretation, entrepreneurialism and take ownership of the site, and identify what those opportunities are and encompass trends to drive sales.”

He added: “We are a managed pub company with 180 pubs, but of courses there are processes. It is not that choose their own suppliers or they diverse in different styles and ranges of cooking. There is a clear strategy, a defined strategy, and we invest a lot of time in them. And, we are fortunate enough to have an amazing team that are out and about in pubs every single day working with the head chefs to drive that food offering.”

Young’s food innovation comes from a variety of places. It remains heavily dictated by the British seasons, so its menus change regularly. “We have the tools, the systems and the processes within our businesses to change on a daily basis, although we predominantly do it on a monthly basis. It really comes down to how we interpret and use those ingredients four or five times on the menus and I think you just encompass what’s going on within the industry without completely hanging your hat on it. So the healthy wellbeing lifestyle choices that people are making are not a trend, it is culture, it is here — and you have to look at how you can use it as a sprinkling on your menu.”

Mr Knights added more interesting ingredients — “not weird and wacky” —play a central part in menu innovation.

“The biggest one that we are seeing, and where we are seeing volume-led sales come through is the treacle tarts, the ham, egg and chips, and the scampi and chips. These are dishes that are commonly associated with the pubs 20 years ago when it comes to their quality, but it is about how you take that product and interpret it into our premium food strategy. So what might be a frozen scampi and chips would be a made-in-house monkfish scampi with crushed peas and lovage and a chopped egg tartar sauce and beef dripping chips. The innovation is within itself, it is just a more premium product.”

Mr Knights was speaking on the ‘Menu Innovation for Multi-site Operators’ panel at the Casual Dining Show.

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