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Carluccio’s has recovered from opening too many “marginal” sites, insists CEO

Carluccio’s Marriott Maida Vale 1

The CEO of Carluccio’s said yesterday that efforts to revive the Italian restaurant chain are paying off following one of the toughest years the company has ever encountered.

In 2018, the brand found itself battling difficult financial conditions which eventually led to it shutting 35 sites in a bid to stay out of the red.

Since then, chief executive Mark Jones – who conceded that the chain’s problems stemmed from “opening too many restaurants in too many marginal sites” – has spearheaded a new strategy named ‘Project Fresca’, which involves the transformation of selected restaurants and is funded from £10m private investment.

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So far, the brand has tracked the efforts of three new refurbished sites, in Newcastle, Chester and Dublin – which Jones said have “all gotten better”.

After looking at the restaurant’s statistics, the company concluded that it wasn’t doing enough work on elevating service and “premiumising” the menu.

In order to solve this, the firm took six weeks off to “analyse” and then opened its latest Fresca Project restaurant in Richmond last week.

Speaking in an interview on stage at the Casual Dining Show yesterday, he explained: “Forget the numbers, all of the feedback we have received has been off the scale. We think it looks amazing, we’ve upgraded the menu, upgraded the service and the décor is very different from what you’d expect at Carluccio’s.

“It’s signalling a way for us to head forward and the plan is to do another six or seven this calendar year. There will be another reiteration of what we have done at Richmond.”

Since last year, Carluccio’s has attempted to reposition the brand in the “premium casual dining” sector because did not “sit comfortably” in the mass market due to its pricing, Mr Jones said.

The chain has upgraded what’s on offer with a more premium food menu, adding more variety of fish and steaks, plus a more extensive wine list which offers a French wine – a rarity for the brand which is known for being ‘pure Italian’.

Alongside the food and drink, Carluccio’s has also tried to change the ambience at the Richmond branch by buying new comfier furniture, altering the lighting and playing different music.

He explained: “That was one of the big issues that we struggled with, our furniture was very café, very day-time, flimsy and noisy. If you go to Richmond now it’s sumptuous and comfortable and can happily sit there for an hour and a half sitting a bottle of wine. All those things pushed us into a premium casual dining space and that’s where we want to be.”

Coming into 2019 with new enthusiasm the company looks as if it is off to a good start, in comparison to last year’s mass closures – which Jones blames on opening too many “marginal” restaurants.

Mr Jones said: “Our view is one of the reasons we got into so much trouble was because we were opening too many restaurants in too many marginal sites and that was using all of our cash and we weren’t spending that cash on refurbishments, amongst other things.

“When focusing on opening one restaurant a month that’s a huge distraction from your core business. In hindsight, we should have done stuff differently, but we’re not alone in that, it is a common element of casual dining.”

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