Keeping it simple at Ego
16 October, 2009
Nothing from the central kitchen is frozen or sous vide; we deliver everything fresh to our sites. That’s where the market is
Just like its customers, this popular chain is beating the recession by saving on the non-essentials.
In August, Ego Restaurants opened its ninth site, in Lytham, Lancashire, and used the occasion to introduce a new menu. Dishes at the Mediterranean brand have been simplified and prices reduced by 20% to 25%. The result is that Lytham has traded “miles ahead” of expectations, says executive chairman James Horler, formerly CEO at La Tasca. The company is backed by private equity firm LDC.
What’s the concept?
Good value, fresh Mediterranean food in a modern(ish) setting. “We smaller boys have to work harder at value, service and price,” notes Horler.
The new menu is still Mediterranean, but simply done and less expensive. “We’ve kept the protein in dishes, but 40% of our costs formerly were from non-protein items, like expensive sauces. So with the sea bass, for example, we’ve reduced the price from £13.95 to £11.95 and simplified the dish, taking away the sauce but adding sauté potatoes and salsa verde.” The price of a bouillabaisse has been cut from £13.95 to £10.95 by omitting rouille (“only a few people knew what it was anyway”) and king prawns.
All dishes are prepared fresh in restaurant kitchens, but a central kitchen prepares more complicated sauces and items such as the mix for fish cakes. “Nothing is frozen or sous vide; we deliver everything fresh to the restaurants. That’s where the market is,” says Horler. The central kitchen, however, speeds up service and consistency, and allows for higher volumes to be served.
The new Lytham site operates a separate bar and features seven speciality cocktails – but the focus is on food.
Average spend is £18 a head, with a 70:30 food-to-drink split.
Aimed at the 45ish age group: middle-class empty-nesters, still working, with low debt, who like to eat out regularly.
Lytham has just over 100 covers (more with outside seating) and has handled 444 in a day at its peak.
“We don’t overly worry about it,” says Horler.
Promotion for the Lytham opening was largely by word of mouth. “We were building it for five months, so people couldn’t miss it.” But the group actively uses email marketing, via Fishbowl (www.fishbowl.com) and has a 21,000-strong active database.
11 by the autumn. There are three types of site that Ego is looking for: city centre; suburbs; and small market, commuter or seaside towns like Lytham. Ego aims to avoid the bigger chains where it can:
“We want to go where they aren’t.”
Ultimately, Ego is looking to grow to 30 sites in three years, with a focus on the North and the Midlands.
Click on pictures (right) to enlarge
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