Business Profile: Dogs

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Seafood

David Ramsden, chief executive of Dogs restaurant group
David Ramsden, chief executive of Dogs restaurant group
David Ramsden, chief executive of the Edinburgh-based Dogs restaurant group, on making the transition from fine to casual dining, finely tuned margins and ambitious expansion plans

David Ramsden, chief executive of the Edinburgh-based Dogs restaurant group, on making the transition from fine to casual dining, finely tuned margins and ambitious expansion plans

On the origins of Dogs

“For 25 years I was nailed to the mast of fine dining. It came to a head at an Edinburgh restaurant called Rogue in 2004. I was thrust into the ignominy of a failed business and the only thing that really supported me at the time were my dogs. They didn’t notice any difference - my relationship with them remained exactly the same and having to walk them was the only thing that got me out of bed. From then on, I said that if I did get anything together I would thank them in the title.”

“I wanted to get away from fine dining but I couldn’t get away from giving the best that I could. The logic was to give ourselves the best possible chance of attracting attention, from as wide a group of people as possible. My last business had been at a price point that excluded people, I wanted to go to the opposite extreme, I wanted to be inclusive.”

“It was a gamble. But you have to assume you will be successful, that you’ll get somewhere near your planned or optimum turnover. Luckily we got the model right and people came. It works but it’s a very delicate equation. £1,000 a week up or down makes the difference between comfortably breaking even or making a reasonable profit that can be stashed away for expansion.”

On expanding Dogs

“The space next to the original Dogs had become vacant, and I thought another operator might move in and steal my business. The site was too big and the landlord was too greedy, but my hand was forced.”

On sustainable seafood at Seadogs

“We had to be creative in the way our fish were used. We offer fish dishes people will love but aren’t cost-heavy to produce, like fish pie, chowder and paella using plaice, coley and hake, things that don’t take premium cuts of fish to produce. There’s a real interest in fish and chips, especially with the rise of the pescetarian.”

On keeping startup costs low

“Strip it down, throw some paint at the walls, buy furniture second hand and buy the cheapest tableware possible. Think of all the things you know are important. There are so few of them. A clean restaurant, decent toilets, good food, nice staff. Just strip it right down to the basics. That’s the secret, if you call that a secret. For me it’s just common sense.”

On keeping operating costs low

“The choice of ingredients and the way they’re folded into the menu is key, as are very low staff numbers, both in the kitchen and front-of-house. It’s been incredibly demanding on my chefs to maintain a 70% GP across all the units — especially over the last few years with the euro problems and fuel prices driving costs up. It’s terrifying. Every time we open a new unit, we sit the suppliers down and negotiate on costs. We say, ‘What would you rather have, something that’s selling in three units at a slightly lower profit to you, or nothing at all?’”

On being 100 per cent debt free

“We don’t take our debt-free position for granted, we’re very careful in how we move forward. We’re going through a brief period of consolidation at the moment, but we hope to add five new sites over the next five years.”

On expanding outside Scotland

“I’d kill to have an opportunity to be judged alongside my peers in London, but that’s a big step. I’m open to suggestions but I’m not looking as yet. I operate on the philosophy that if you look too far ahead you’ll trip over what’s in front of you. For my next venture I’d like to do a pub or inn. Instead of food with drink it would be drink with food, with a kitchen with just one chef. It would be robust food done properly.”

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