Steve Richards will step down as CEO of Casual Dining Group in May to take on the same position at Parkdean Resorts.
Casual Dining Group has about 290 sites under brands including Las Iguanas, Bella Italia and Cafe Rouge.
Richards was appointed CEO in April 2014. Under his leadership the group 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.
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.
In July 2018 the restaurant group agreed a refinancing deal with American private equity company KKR including a cash injection of £30m to "fund growth opportunities".
Casual Dining Group chairman, Rooney Anand, said: "On behalf of the board I would like to thank Steve for his achievements as CEO of Casual Dining Group. We will be appointing his successor soon and making a further announcement in due course. Steve will be helping us effect a smooth transition as we continue to grow and develop the business in the fast moving and competitive casual dining market."
Speaking at the Casual Dining Show last week, before his move was announced, Richards had a mixed view of CDG's high street portfolio. He described Bella Italia as the firm's "workhorse" that was "doing very well" and Las Iguanas as "absolutely shooting the lights out". But he painted a dimmer picture when it came to Cafe Rouge. He said: "Cafe Rouge is in a very tough environment on those high streets and shopping malls. It's an all-day offer, it's 25-26 years old, and it's holding its own but it's a very, very, very tough market place, particularly in UK shopping malls."
Richards presided over a tough period for the French casual dining restaurant, with the firm appointing a restructuring adviser in November and seeking to renegotiate rents across the portfolio. Richards said the brand had struggled in particular to adapt to a delivery model as steak is its top-selling offer, prompting CDG to launch several "virtual brands" from Cafe Rouge kitchens.
He added: "We listened to all the conversations about dark kitchens, though that seemed like a lot of CAP-X and expense when we've got 280 kitchens, so we launched some brands online - Mac Shack, Statten Grill, etc - and you'll see these on Deliveroo and all the various apps. So they're virtual brands, they are cooked in our existing kitchens - so you may find a Statten grill burger comes from a Cafe Rouge kitchen - but the brands themselves have their own identity, their own marketing and their own feel really."
Richards has 25 years' experience in the multi-site hospitality sector 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.
Richards will replace co-founder and CEO John Waterworth at Parkdean Resorts, which operates 67 holiday parks across the UK, when he retires this summer.
Martin Robinson, Chairman of Parkdean Resorts said: "On behalf of everyone who works at Parkdean Resorts, I'd like to acknowledge John's immense commitment and passion for the business which has allowed him and the team to achieve so much.
"We are fortunate to have such an able successor for the CEO role in Steve Richards. Steve has huge experience of consumer facing businesses built over 30 years in the hospitality sector, equipping him to drive Parkdean Resorts on the next phase of its development."
Richards added: "Parkdean Resorts has been well run and has been an incredible success story, but there remains considerable opportunity, not least with organic opportunities across the 67 parks. It has a sound strategy and supportive shareholders, with over £40m being invested in the estate this year alone. Working with the team, board and investors, I am looking forward to developing the company further."Get The Caterer every week on your smartphone, tablet, or even in good old-fashioned hard copy (or all three!).