Loungers plans to test what sort of impact smaller menus have on kitchen efficiencies and how revised restaurant layouts could support the introduction of physical distancing rules – but has steadfastly ruled out moving into delivery.
The 160-strong restaurant chain today provided an extensive update on the measures it is taking to move the business forward ahead of the anticipated relaxation of government restrictions on hospitality businesses next month.
So far the company has opened 17 Lounge sites for takeout and intends to open a further 10 sites on the same basis over the next week.
Takeout is a completely new model for the business, but it has used the exercise to explore if it could provide an additional revenue stream once it has fully re-opened and to understand what it takes to operate in a physically distanced environment.
It has also enabled the firm to get its supply chain back up and running, to bring team members back from furlough and to further energise the culture of the business and generate some excitement.
“It has been a big success, hugely welcomed in the communities where we have opened, and we don’t rule out following up with more sites in the coming weeks,” the company stated.
“It won’t move the dial financially on a standalone basis but could potentially provide a further revenue stream when re-opened, as well as providing a service to anyone who is less comfortable eating out.”
The company said it has chosen not to go down the delivery route, and still doesn’t think it appropriate for its concepts, “which have customer and community engagement at the very heart of them”.
However, it said that operating an order and collect model “suits Loungers’ personality”.
As it prepares to re-open, the firm said it was challenging aspects of the service model in both Lounge and Cosy Club.
“We are looking to trial order-at-table technology, for example, and whilst this is something we have ruled out several times in the past, we would be keen to try it post lockdown if it makes a minority of our customers feel more comfortable.
“Likewise, we are considering menu size, understanding what efficiencies we might achieve with slightly smaller menus, a change we will trial whilst operating physical distancing in our kitchens.
“We also plan to trial going cashless when we re-open. Importantly these changes are not just relevant in the immediate months following re-opening but may well teach us more about how our brands can evolve in the longer-term.”
The firm – which floated on the London Stock Exchange last April – said it was anticipating that some – and potentially the majority – of sites being allowed to open in July, assuming the hospitality sector gets the go-ahead from the government to do so.
“As a business that is used to opening a new site every two weeks, this is the kind of logistical challenge that we relish and perform well at. We are in the process of planning revised layouts and removing and storing surplus furniture to allow for the introduction of the physical distancing rules.
“Due to the size and layout of the majority of our sites and the spread of our trade across the day parts, we anticipate being able to trade profitably with distancing rules in place.”
Loungers said it is using the closure period to perform regular site visits and allow its in-house build team to carry out both essential and preventative maintenance work that will help its P&L going forward by avoiding interruptions to trade.
“Our approach to partitioning and physical distancing in the sites has been to challenge ourselves to find ways to improve the sites from a design point of view, regardless of coronavirus.
“Naturally, it will be necessary to have PPE and additional hygiene protocol in place for a period of time but we think the measures we are taking from a design perspective will feel very complementary to the look and feel of a Lounge and Cosy Club, whilst providing reassurance to our customers.”
Given that Loungers sites are generally based in suburban and market town locations, and it does not have a presence in central London or close to transport hubs, the firm believes it could benefit from an increase in home-working.
The company had been rolling out new sites at a rate of 25 a year prior to the pandemic and it said it is “keen” to resume that programme as soon as it is sensible to do so.
It added that it expects to be able to secure some attractive property opportunities in the coming months in a “tenant-friendly” market.
Loungers also said it was encouraged b y a customer survey in which only 2% of 6,000 respondents said they would not be comfortable resuming their normal visits to Lounge and Cosy Club when government restrictions are lifted.