John Metcalf of Strada on challenging customer perceptions of the chain

By Sophie Witts contact

- Last updated on GMT

John Metcalf says that there has been 'a step up in quality' at Strada
John Metcalf says that there has been 'a step up in quality' at Strada

Related tags: Change

Following its sale by Tragus Group to Sun Capital Partners in 2014 for £37m, the Strada restaurant group is looking to considerably up its game. John Metcalf, the brand’s new commercial director, spoke to BigHospitality about overhauling the menu and challenging customer perceptions of the brand.

Tell us about the new menu changes at Strada.

A key change for us was moving towards much fresher and higher quality products. We’ve had an overhaul of our supply chain that gives us much more flexibility and allows us to be more selective, dealing in a more direct way with both the suppliers and producers.

Customers want greater transparency in the supply chain – which is great! People are much more knowledgeable about products and the staff needs to have the knowledge to answer those difficult questions.

The recent changes have been quite small, but there will be another much larger shift for the Autumn/Winter menu - with more fresh pasta dishes and salads using seasonal produce. We will also move towards developing the skills of the kitchen staff to allow them to express themselves much more in the products.

How challenging has it been to raise the quality of dishes while keeping the prices down?

That’s always a challenge. We haven’t changed the price points but have bought very well. We are able to work with suppliers who see us a new and potentially very important customer going forward. This is not a short term opportunity but a long term development of a restaurant business.Customers are constantly striving to get better value, that isn’t just around the price point but around the whole experience that they have in a restaurant.

Are there any plans to redesign the restaurants as well as the menu?

There will be some effort in redecorating restaurants; some will need more than others. It’s something you’ve got to do because it’s an overall product people look at, and it’s got to be inviting.

How are you going to challenge people’s existing perceptions of Strada?

That’s what we’re working on at the moment, to reawaken people’s view of the brand. You talk to people and they say ‘we used to go to Strada’ and they have good memories of it, so it’s really trying to reawaken those memories by making subtle changes.

In the past the products may not have stood out as much as they should have against anybody else’s, but we want people to recognise that there has been a step up in quality that will continue in all the work we are doing.

How have the changes impacted on sales so far?

We’ve introduced a lunchtime set menu which runs until seven o’clock in the evening, and that’s had very positive impact in terms of customer feedback and the sales we’ve generated from that.

It’s a very simple offering but demonstrates that Strada is doing something that it hasn’t done before. It’s early days but at the moment we are very happy with it.

Will you be keeping the Strada name with the re-brand?

The Strada name will continue for the foreseeable future but we are looking at developing other concepts. That may be creating a more all-day offering but in an environment that suits it, which not all the Strada sites do at the moment - either because of the location or the layout of the property.

Can you tell us about the plans for a new concept?

It would be something that would be reviewed and changed. We are always trying to push the boundaries, and that’s what’s needed as the customer has experienced so many different styles of cuisines and products now.

Where do you see the brand five to ten years in the future?

At some point in the future we will be opening new restaurants, but our first step is to get everything right in the sites we currently have. Our owners have a very strong grounding in the idea that you get it right before you go out and shout about it!

Once everything is where we want it to be there may be a greater push to say ‘we have arrived and we have changed’.

We see ourselves as continuing to grow, whether there are many more Strada’s or new concepts within the group. Hugh Osmond (Strada chaiman) has said that this is not a typical venture capital funded operation where there is a three to five year window – this is ten years' plus.

Related topics: People, Restaurants, Small Talk

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