The restaurateur is also adamant that the success of the Ivy Collection has not impacted the 82-strong chain in any way.
Caring acquired a controlling stake in the then two-strong Bill’s in 2008 and it has since grown to over 80 sites in the UK.
However, the last 12-18 months has been a period of management changes and consolidation for the company with Duncan Garrood, the former head of Punch Taverns, replacing Mark Fox as its chief executive in January.
In an interview with BigHospitality's sister publication MCA, Caring admits that Bill's wasn't in the right place for a sale. “We had approaches for Bill’s, but at that point I wasn’t close enough to the business and we went through a situation with the business of it getting tired," he says.
"We had approaches at that time but I didn’t think it was dressed well enough to be sold, I think it needed help. That’s why we have got behind it and that’s part of the reason why David (Campbell) has joined us." [the ex Wagamama chief joined The Ivy Collection as its first chief executive in July].
"I think Bill’s has a great future, it needs a bit of love as it got left behind a bit. We have a new management team in place, and I think we have a clear strategy in place to make it work properly."
On the relationship between Bill’s and the 34-strong Ivy Collection, Caring says: “I don’t believe that the one has anything to do with the other, they serve two different types of clientele and we have worked very hard to make sure they don’t bang into each other."
"We are going through a refurbishment programme at Bill’s. We have completed four, there are 82 sites across the country, the menus are very different, the price point is very different and the image is very different. I think The Ivy is very much a premium proposition, whereas Bill’s is much more casual, almost borrowing a bit of Soho House in its imagery.”
Last year saw a false start with the company carrying out three refurbishments, which Caring admits he didn’t spend enough attention on and that they were too close to The Ivy Collection in look and feel.
“When I saw what they had done I had a nervous breakdown and they were ripped out immediately and changed," he says. "Bill’s is trading around the market level, and the market is probably down around 3-4%. Where we have the sites refurbed they are doing extremely well, much, much better than that.
"I am confident we can lift this business hugely over the next 18 months or so. That means taking our foot of the expansion pedal and concentrating on improving the existing estate.”
You can read the full interview with Richard Caring in this month’s edition of MCA. Click here to subscribe to its daily news feed.