Roadside restaurant chain Little Chef is to invest £20m in a three-year project to roll out a new ‘Good to Go' deli concept across its 160-strong estate.
RCapital, which rescued the 53-year-old business from collapse in 2007, has already refurbished nine sites and plans to complete 20 by the end of 2011.
Little Chef managing director Tracey Mulligan told Caterer that while the move was a step change for the iconic business, it wouldn't make the brand unrecognisable.
"People's needs have changed on the roadside. We still have 10 million customers who want a traditional Little Chef sit-down experience but grab and go is where the market has moved to. What we've developed is a new twist on what takeaway and grab and go is all about."
The ‘Good to Go' deli will include sandwiches made on the premises. Customers can choose one off the shelf or have a bespoke sandwich made for them. There will also be mini meals to take away in the form of foodie pots. These will include soup, faggots in gravy with mash, and chicken casserole.
"We want to bring top quality foods back to the roadside," said Mulligan. "The critical difference is we will make something fresh for the customer. We want to offer something a little different."
Sales are reported to be up 47% in the nine new restaurants after the first few weeks, while over 95% of the customer comments have been positive.
"We have changed everything," Mulligan added. "Our distribution arrangements, how we work with suppliers, the food, what we've done with our teams at site level.
"It still maintains the face of Little Chef but we have an entirely new business strategy in place. You've got to do that to create a turnaround of this magnitude."
Since taking on Little Chef in 2007 RCapital has taken the business from a loss of £7m to a profit of £2.5m in 2010. It has also shaken up the management team, promoting Mulligan from HR director to managing director last summer and appointing former Pizza Express finance director Paul Campbell as non-executive director.
little chef loos full of the joys of spring
As well as revamping its food offer Little Chef has redesigned its restaurants' interiors to create a more contemporary and light space.
Designer Ab Rogers worked on the restaurant design, building on the sites on which Heston Blumenthal consulted in the TV programme Big Chef Takes On Little Chef. The new sites have a more vibrant design, which communicates a more modern message, from the kiosk and servery to what Little Chef describes as "thought-provoking and engaging toilets".
Having recognised that many customers stop to use the toilet, the company has attepted to make them as welcoming as possible.
"In Little Chef toilets you get the sound of spring, with sheep baaing, cows mooing and water trickling to create a peaceful environment," Mulligan explained.
By James Stagg
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