There was exciting news last week as the iconic roadside restaurant brand announced it would be battling back into the market with a careful combination of fry-up breakfasts and franchisee opportunities.
Little Chef is the latest forward-thinking business to engage with the franchise model in a bid to revitalise its brand and trigger an expansion programme across the nation, only months after it was saved from administration.
Graham Sims, the Little Chef CEO, is leading the ambitious turnaround plan and has announced that his first franchise operator is about to be signed up. The first franchised outlet is believed to be planned for East Anglia, with a launch date in the autumn.
Sims explained his enthusiasm for the franchising model, saying that there was huge opportunity for the Little Chef brand within the current food and travel market. The franchise model would allow them to extend their reach and bring in a number of franchisees with the help of European and government funds and their own investments. Sims stated that the Little Chef team were hugely enthused about the project and ready to offer comprehensive support and training to their new franchisee network.
Sims said that further franchising deals would be following shortly, as part of a master franchisor strategy, with key representatives in major locations managing multiple franchised Little Chef sites.
Along with the new business strategy, the brand will also be revitalising its product offering, with the ever-popular Olympic breakfast likely to remain a key element for its travelling customers. Little Chef has also started a refit of its existing 90 sites, with 15 restaurants already completed.
Sims shared his vision of Little Chef, explaining that the brand was ready to go 'back to basics' because it was known for its great value and great food. The Little Chef customer wants classic British food and a traditional diner experience, where quality and service are consistently high. This demand is shown in the brand's sales figures, as 1000 servings of egg, chips and ham are sold from a Little Chef outlet every day and a million of the popular Olympic fry-up breakfasts are being sold ever year.
The company has also stated that it's keen to regain its focus, to re-establish its position as the road's 'darling', with the customer at the heart of the Little Chef experience and business strategy once again. The recent partnership with legendary chef Heston Blumenthal has been a huge change catalyst, but Little Chef has also realised that customers didn't want fine dining as part of the brand. The partnership raised its profile and helped consolidate the board's strategic thinking, but the new menu represented less than 5% of sales.
Now Little Chef is offering services such as free Wi-Fi for customers and a takeaway service through the Little Chef Express service brand. The chain is serving around seven million customers every year with a strongly British menu. The brand is also committed to buying Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance food and will shortly be displaying calorie counts on its menus, in line with government good practice.
Sims is also considering offering customers a free meal if they have a bad dining experience and is looking into tie-ups with brands such as Heinz and Cadbury's, while also considering a children's party hosting service.
It's clear that the Little Chef brand is becoming truly revitalised and it offers an interesting proposition to would-be franchisees – a well-known brand and a business that has learned from its past mistakes and successes alike. This could be an attractive proposition for franchisees looking to set up their own business in the restaurant sector and build a successful future for themselves.
At Franchise Expo, we'd recommend that interested potential franchisees follow the usual good-practice steps to assess and analyse a potential opportunity, such as carrying out plenty of planning and research and speaking in-depth with the franchise support team to find out how much training, central advertising, ongoing support and other services are being put in place for the future franchise network.