Marks & Spencer is embarking on a major UK cafe transformation project aimed at extending its scope into hospitality.
The retailer has just opened its first new-look M&S Café at its Solihull Sears store and will use it as the catalyst to drive forward a landmark store renewal programme.
The renewal scheme, which has now been implemented in 16 stores across the country, is all about modernising the way M&S brings its products to customers, better showcasing the quality, value and freshness of its food offer, alongside new concepts in areas such as ‘fill your own’, coffee tasting and ceramic pizza ovens.
The new cafe at Sears Retail Park is a ‘test and learn’ renewal concept in hospitality, according to the firm, which has invested significant sums into creating more efficient store operations.
The new format is designed to deliver a complete step-change through its inviting store design, improved range, food quality and freshness combined with improved coffee credentials.
It has been completely redesigned as a new café operating model focusing on a digital customer experience with on-screen and on-phone ordering.
The M&S food development team have transformed the café menu to ensure it offers something for all the family, with a focus on healthier options and children’s meals.
Kitchen staff will use the same high-quality ingredients on offer to customers in M&S Foodhalls, producing meals that are freshly prepared and beautifully served.
Customers will be able to place their order in seconds either via their smartphone at their table or via the new self-service digital screens.
QR codes are in place at every table offering easy access to the menu.
All food is prepared on site and, to reduce packaging, the refrigeration unit that usually houses packaged sandwiches and bottled drinks has been removed.
A water refill station has been added for customers, while new crockery, furniture and contemporary aesthetic are designed to give it a modern look.
Roles have been split out and reassigned to allow colleagues to become masters of their craft and better serve customers.
It means baristas can focus on coffee, chefs can focus on food and a dedicated hospitality manager can bring the overall leadership and operation together.
With its estate of 350 cafes, hospitality represents a sizeable chunk of M&S’ trading space in the UK and is consistently a key topic for contacts from customers each week.
Caroline Cromar, head of hospitality at M&S, said the retailer is committed to offering the best possible dining experience for its customers, no matter which café they visit.
“The Café has been developed to create a warm and inviting space for our customers to relax as part of their shopping experience,” she said.
“The new operating model allows for a seamless ordering process and improved speed, whilst delivering exceptional M&S quality food and drink that our customers know and trust.”
Refurbishments have already taken place at the company’s Stratford City, Wolstanton, Gyle and Lisburn stores, with new cafes opening at Paisley, Staines and Straiton.
A further 24 renewal stores are planned for the 21/22 financial year, taking the total to 40, while a further two renewal cafes are in the pipeline as M&S tests and learns the concept.
The M&S renewal strategy is all about creating magical stores that offer the efficiency of a supermarket and the soul of a fresh food market.
Sales at the initial trial stores outside of Covid-affected city centres grew by 15% last year too, underscoring the potential return on investment.
Stuart Machin, COO and managing director of M&S Food, said: “We’re relentlessly focused on protecting the magic of our delicious, great quality M&S Food at fantastic value whilst at the same time modernising how we bring these products to our customers – and that’s what our store renewal programme is all about.
“We’ve seen our renewal store concepts deliver a bigger, better and fresher experience for customers across food and we’re excited to expand the programme further this year. With hospitality being a key part of the M&S shopping experience for many of our customers, by testing our café renewal format in Solihull, we hope to cement our reputation as a great destination for families.”