Mark Jones, who joined the business in January 2018, told the Casual Dining Show in London yesterday (28 February) that there was “no other route” possible to save the company.
“The issue that drove the business to CVA was not necessarily week to week sales performance, we had signed a number of lease commitments that required us to open sites, a million pounds a go, and we didn’t have the cash to do that,” he said. “We weren’t running out of cash on a day to day basis, but we would have done.”
“We were opening too many marginal sites. That was using all our cash and we weren’t spending enough on refurbishment, training and keeping the brand fresh. When you’re focusing on opening a restaurant a month that’s a huge distraction from your core business.”
Moving to a more premium offer
He also revealed further details of Carluccio’s £10m Fresca revamp programme, which is being trialled at its Richmond test bed site and will roll out to around seven other restaurants this year.
Jones said Carluccio’s had repositioned itself as “premium casual dining” and moved away from a rigidly Italian menu, introducing French wines and more steaks and fish.
The café-style décor has also been swapped for a more “sumptuous” design, and staff have undergone two weeks’ training in a more formal service style.
“Absolutely everything we served had to be Italian, then we went to Italy and spotted people eating avocados. You can actually serve a smashed avocado on toast in an Italian restaurant,” said Jones.
“Casual dining is now so sophisticated, you can’t just put a candle on the table and turn the lights down and expect to compete with [other operators].
“We get all our ideas from our competitors and our customers, there’s nothing original in casual dining. Your competitors are either doing it or your customers are telling you you should."