Loungers has for some time been heralded as a real ‘one to watch’ on the casual dining scene, so when Arena announced that Alex Reilley, MD and co-Founder, would be speaking at its summer lunch, preceded by Peter Martin from CGA Peach with his top ten trends in eating and drink out of home, we made sure we were there.
As the leading foodservice agency you may not be surprised that we had in fact already seen Peter’s presentation, which was previewed at the CGA Peach Marketing and Insight Conference back in March, but I can testify that it certainly stands a second viewing. And if you have been unlucky enough to have missed both of these events you can catch the edited highlights on my previous blog here.
Peter’s top ten trends were followed by the obligatory drinks and networking, which Arena is of course famed for (the networking, not the drinks as such – but this was a Friday so the bubbles seems to disappear at quite a rate). Then a superb meal awaited us, prepared by the team at the Jumeriah Carlton Tower and then it was onto the main event as Alex from Loungers shared with us the journey from start-up independent to successful casual dining chain.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Loungers concept they are a growing chain of informal ‘lounges’ set up to be whatever you want them to be really. Offering an all-day-dining café/pub/restaurant, they can serve as a handy place to meet for coffee, brunch, lunch or dinner and have a relaxed feel that others often strive for but rarely manage to deliver.
They see them as gents club, meets village hall, meets cricket pavilion – an oddly engaging mix it would seem. Located predominately in the West and South Coast of England, deliberately positioned on suburban high streets, they sport what they term eccentric ‘Granny Chic’ interiors and attract a wide range of customers, especially women it would seem (who make up 65% of customers).
Now a successful chain, Loungers was set-up by Alex and two friends, Jack Bishop and Dave Reed, back in 2002 with a small bank loan and a big leap into the unknown. Having cut their teeth working for the Glad Boat Company (a restaurant group in Bristol) the three, inspired by the Australian café scene, decided to set up their own place in the suburbs of Bristol. Initially they were keen to avoid having to deal with chefs (I can’t imagine why?) so didn’t want to serve food , but a twist of fate saw them ‘lumbered’ with a kitchen in their second site (a disused optician’s) and so started their blackboard menu which proved incredibly popular and they never looked back.
To this day they still remember the buzz of serving their first cappuccino and despite the ups and downs of bank loans and private equity investment, it seems Alex has never lost that passion for the business. From the choice of interesting buildings to their décor and the concept itself, they do things a little differently at Loungers. The original three founders are now no longer, as Dave exited in 2013, but Jake and Alex continue to build the business with a vision to open 25 new sites this year and to have 90 live sites by 2017! Ambitious you may think, but considering they have opened 25 new sites this year, it may yet be a reality. Currently they employ 1,300 staff, have 56 sites and growing – it would seem the world is their oyster!
The secret to their success? Great local staff, an independent feel (essential to retain as they scale up), value for money pricing (crucial in recession), female friendly brand (driving usage throughout the day and bringing in the blokes) and a concept that is all things to all people!
An inspiring story indeed, and one that got the room talking and many a supplier working out how they could be part of this growing chain, which has been heralded as ‘the pub of the future’. Then it was off to the bar (and then to the Botanist for the Arena hard core) after another great event from the team at Arena – well done to Lorraine and co. – we look forward to seeing you at the next event. In the meantime we’re off to lobby for a Loungers in Leatherhead!
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