By Gaby Huddart
Little Chef is to get a new-look image designed to make it more attractive to customers in their 20s and 30s.
The chain of roadside restaurants, acquired by Granada in January as part of its takeover of Forte, has been underperforming and has enormous potential for growth, said Graham Wallace, chief executive of Granada Leisure and Services.
In his only interview since the reorganisation of Granada's divisions in the wake of the takeover, Mr Wallace said trials of new-look Little Chefs would be piloted in the next few months.
"Forte had put new management into Little Chef and they've made some improvements but we need to speed up the change and see the appeal of the brand broadened," said Mr Wallace.
"Our research shows Little Chef is a strong brand but it hasn't been developed to keep up with changing tastes. Its average customer is aged about 40 and there is little recognition among 16- to 30-year-olds," he added. "That's a big chunk of people we are missing out on."
Little Chef would be regenerated by adding dishes to the menu that have wider appeal, such as salads, pasta, healthy options and trendy food, such as potato skins and chicken wings, said Mr Wallace.
"Logos, uniforms and branding is also likely to be upgraded," he said.
"We have started a trial at a site in Reading, which has a wooden floor and a more modern feel. It retains the image of Little Chef but brings it into the 1990s. And we are going to try two or three other concepts at different sites to see what works best," he added.
Mr Wallace is also planning to review the other roadside restaurant brand acquired with Forte, Happy Eater. Forte had been gradually converting Happy Eaters into Little Chefs, but Granada is to carry out new research to see whether there is room in the market for a second brand.
Within two years, Granada plans to install Little Chefs in all its 36 motorway service areas (MSA) as it sees this as sitting well alongside its Burger King offering. Conversely, Burger Kings are likely to be built on Little Chef roadside sites.
"There are a lot of good-sized Little Chef sites that have room for other outlets. By putting in Burger King and possibly other brands such as Brioche Dorée, we would offer the customer more choice, while sharing back of house resources and car parks," said Mr Wallace.
- The 21 Welcome Break msas that Granada has to sell to comply with Office of Fair Trading restrictions have attracted a lot of interest, Mr Wallace revealed. So far, Granada has received 12 serious approaches to buy the sites.