Arena Summer Event - Foodservice AgencyAs the leading foodservice agency we can always be found at Arena events and the Arena Summer Event last Friday was no exception. Held at the Jumeirah Carlton Tower the day offered not one but two attractions on the bill, with Technomic running us through their observations and predictions for the UK casual dining market, followed by words of wisdom from Andrew Guy, CEO of Ed’s Easy Diner (a good pairing). As ever with Arena events it’s not just about the speakers, it’s also very much about the networking and we were lucky enough to catch-up with old contacts and meet some interesting new ones.

Technomic kicked off the day and shared their facts and stats on the market as well as their observations and here are my top five take outs…

1) Bills, Byron, Loungers, Ed’s Easy Diner and Côte are the fastest growing full service restaurant chains – all offer a defined concept which consumers buy into.
2) Top performing sectors – coffee/café sector is growing at 11.6% followed by Sandwich at 9.1%. Overall the top 100 UK FSR growth rate is 5.9%.
3) Fastest growing LRS’s are Papa Johns, Costa, Domino’s, Itsu and Subway.
4) There are 10 F’s of Fast Casual – food quality, fine ingredients, fitter wholesome food, fresh, first-rate décor, fair price, fast service, friendly employees, flexible offering and full view preparation.
5) Finally, the big trends are, wait for it…Fast Casual, Healthy (in its broadest terms), Odd Couples (mash-ups), The Heat is On (with spice and hot sauces creeping onto menus), It’s all About the Pig (with Pork making a real come-back) and Around the World (as menus converge and trends become global).

Then it was on to enjoy a delicious lunch from the team at Jumeirah Carlton Tower, followed by a talk from Andrew Guy of Ed’s Easy Diner. With decades of experience in the casual dining sector he knows a thing or two about how to run a successful concept and he had these pearls of wisdom to impart…

Firstly Andrew made it clear how dedicated he is to developing the people in his organisation. As a Trustee of both Hospitality Action and Springboard his commitment to supporting the industry is unquestionable, indeed every new Ed’s (of which there are currently 41, with 17 new sites planned and a target to hit 80 by the end of next year) is recruited for via Springboard. The only criteria being that they ‘hire smiles’ – no experience is required, just the right attitude and a willingness to learn and a determination to get ahead. Their ethos, driven by Andrew, is very much focused on home-grown talent and he was at pains to stress that talent is all around you and that if an internal candidate is 50% right then they are a far better bet than an external one who is generally an unknown quantity. Andrew made the valid point that ‘talent hits the target that others don’t hit and genius hits the target others don’t see’ with the kicker that really you don’t often need geniuses you mainly need just talent.

At Ed’s they train up their new site staff by creating teams from existing sites and empowering them with the responsibility of developing the new recruits over a two week training programme which starts with a meal out at an existing site so they can get a real feel for the Ed’s way. Then if all goes well employees who have a ‘good year’ can apply to the management development academy and are guaranteed a junior management role when they graduate. Reuben, their Opps Manager, who I have been lucky enough to meet, is a great example of how the business progresses talented people as he himself worked his way up through the ranks to the top of the tree – surely a very inspirational story to drive those ambitious new recruits. With so much focus on the ‘cast’ its little wonder their customer service comes out as second only to their ‘Americana’ theming as one of their top three consumer drivers and beats their delicious milkshakes into third place! Not only that, in the recent CGA Peach Consumer Research they came fourth out of forty brands for customer service – so their approach is a definite winner.

But with a possible sale on the horizon what will this mean for the culture of Ed’s and its commitment to people development? Well Andrew put it this way. He asked staff if they could name their current board and backers, funnily enough they couldn’t, so in essence the change of ownership is really just from one group of people they can’t name to another and he is confident it will not impact on the culture of what is one of the fastest growing casual dining brands around. Surely when so much of their success to date rests on its people any new owner would have to be mad to rock the boat! So with a final hint at possible expansion into the USA with us Brits exporting Americana to the US (who would have thought it) it was time to end the day and say our farewells to friends old and new.

Congratulations must as ever go to Lorraine and her team on a great event and one which managed to raise £970 for Hospitality Action and Springboard. If you didn’t make it along you can catch-up #ArenaSummerEvent on Twitter or simply visit their website Arena Website.

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