Tracey Matthews: “Restaurant groups aren’t strategic enough when it comes to HR”

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Former Gaucho COO and restaurant HR Tracey Matthews is overseeing rollout of upmarket home counties steak restaurant brand Prime

Related tags: Steak, Restaurant, Fine dining

The former Gaucho COO and restaurant HR guru is now overseeing the rollout of upmarket home counties steak restaurant brand Prime.

You must really like steak…
I guess I do! I started working with Prime in August last year. The business is on three locations at the moment and my brief as COO is to come in and put the systems and culture in place that are necessary for a high quality rollout. The people behind it also run an eight-strong Italian chain called Zaza, but I'm just involved in the steak side of things.

What's Prime's USP?
The brand has no intention to go to London but we want to give people a London quality experience without the train journey. One of the reasons I joined was the absolute commitment to quality at the group. We use Donald Russell butchers, who also supply the Queen. We’re not a high street brand, people often get dressed up to come to us.  Average spend per head is around £30 at lunch and £70 at dinner. We are a premium brand but we also like to offer value - our out-of-town locations allow us to offer fine wines at lower prices than restaurants in London.

What’s your property strategy?
We're looking closely at former pubs in the countryside. We need big sites and good parking is essential as a high proportion of our customers drive out to us. You'd think people driving would impact on drinks sales, but it doesn’t really. We're looking at a site in Essex at the moment. Given what's gone on in the market over the last few years the plan is to not get too excited. We're self-funded and each site requires an investment of £1.5m to £1.8m. We'll do one or two this year, and continue to grow at that rate for the foreseeable future.

What are the key changes you’ve made since coming onboard?
I worked as an HR director for a decade so my focus is always on people. I spent the first six months working with the management team to get progression plans in place for all of the staff. The only way larger restaurant businesses can operate these days is to progress internal talent up through the ranks and into new locations. The days of having a big pool of people you can pick and choose from are well and truly over. The great restaurant groups at the moment are the ones that look to keep the people they've got and turn them into great ambassadors for the business.

What are the key HR errors restaurant’s make?
People often think that a staff handbook is enough, but there’s so much more to it than that. I actually work the other way round and tackle appraisal, development and retention before I think about putting things in black and white. In general, I think restaurant groups aren't strategic enough when it come to HR. There needs to be a plan. With that said, I think there has been a lot of waking up to the fact that managing and engaging with talent is the key to long-term success.

Related topics: People, Restaurant

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