Delivery and digital innovation are big opportunities for businesses as well as threats, outgoing Casual Dining Group CEO Steve Richards told CGA’s Peter Martin in a head to head interview at the recent Casual Dining Show.

Delivery was a big theme of the industry event, and CDG has responded with ‘virtual’ online-based delivery brands, like Las Iguanas spin-off Blazing Bird, as well as delivery from its established brands. All the food is prepared in Casual Dining Group kitchens and supplied via platforms like Deliveroo. “We’re not just sitting back and relying on walk-in—we’re diversifying our revenue streams,” Richards said.

In the digital space meanwhile, the group has been working on branded apps, but was still in “exploring mode,” he said: “It’s very difficult to get space on people’s phones.”

Operators need to respond positively to structural changes like these, he said. “If you embrace the change you can make it work. Delivery and digital aren’t going away, so you have to embrace them—but you’re retuning the engine as you drive along.”

Deep in conversation at Casual Dining 2019

From opening nearly 30 restaurants in 2016, Casual Dining Group will launch around eight this year—a reflection of tough trading conditions and intense pressure on margins at the moment. “Brands have to fight harder and harder—it’s never been more competitive,” Richards told Martin. “We’re being very cautious about opening new restaurants… [instead] it’s about concentrating on what you own, and doing what you do as well as you can.” CDG’s Café Rouge brand is especially vulnerable to challenges on the high street, but Las Iguanas is “absolutely shooting the lights out,” he said.

Richards is also an active board member at UKHospitality, which currently represents around 700 companies employing some two million employees. He urged restaurants, pubs and bars to speak up about the need for government backing on big issues like business rates, tax, employment regulations and minimum pay—not to mention Brexit. “There’s a real need to talk with one voice as an industry, and to get our messages across to parliament.”

And businesses need to pull together to promote hospitality as a place to work. “The sector is often perceived to be low pay and long hours… we have a job to do to remind people that you can earn good money in restaurants.”

     

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