Overall ranking: 22 (new entry)
Restaurateur ranking: 6 (new entry)
Steve Richards is at the helm of one of the biggest casual dining companies in the country with some of the UK's best-known restaurant brands. Formed out of Tragus Group (renamed Casual Dining Group in 2015), the business counts Bella Italia, Café Rouge and Las Iguanas among its brands. It has over 10,000 staff and serves more than 20 million meals at close to 300 locations. Richards has been chief executive since April 2014. A seasoned operator, he has 25 years' experience in the multi-site hospitality sector. He began his career at Allied Domecq and is a former managing director of Scottish & Newcastle (now Star Pubs & Bars) and Spirit Group (now owned by Greene King). He is also a former chief executive of bar group Novus Leisure and deputy chairman of trade body UKHospitality, recently formed from the amalgamation of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers and the British Hospitality Association. There's no missing Richards if he's out and about at events. With his imposing physical stature, it's no surprise that he's a big rugby fan.
What we think
Under Richards' leadership, Casual Dining Group (CDG) has had a ravenous appetite for expansion, forking out £112m on acquisitions in 2016 alone, paying £23m for La Tasca and a further £89m for Las Iguanas. The La Tasca deal saw it take over 42 restaurants in the UK and another four in the US, with a number being converted to other CDG brands. In February 2017, the company announced plans to grow in South Africa after signing a franchise deal with Gold Brands Investments that will see Bella Italia, Café Rouge and Las Iguanas open in the country.
CDG already has restaurants in India and Dubai and plans more in Saudi Arabia. It also says it is exploring further franchising opportunities in the United Arab Emirates, the Far East, Europe and North America.
In October 2017, the group signed a franchise deal in Ireland, starting with Las Iguanas sites in Dublin and Cork this year. Whether or not CDG can maintain this level of growth in the face of a tougher trading environment in the UK remains to be seen, but Richards has previously said that CDG could have as many as 600 sites in the UK.
CDG's most recent financials highlight the difficulty faced by casual dining companies. In the 52 weeks to 28 May 2017 the group revealed an overall pre-tax loss of £60m, while total revenue was up 10% year-on-year to £329m, with like-for-like sales increasing by 2.2%. It blamed the loss on increased costs, with the national living wage, apprenticeship levy, pension contributions, food cost rises, the devaluation of the pound and higher business rates all taking their toll.
A high number of new openings and a decline in consumer confidence also affected results, with Richards declaring that "brand development remains an ongoing priority" in a challenging time for the sector. That's likely to come about through a mix of organic growth and further acquisitions. With several operators in the market struggling, it will be interesting to see if CDG is tempted to dine on one or two of its weakened rivals over the next 12 to 18 months.
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