Saturday, January 2, 2016

A slice of late night trade

In the cafe bakery arena, Patisserie Valerie is not alone in its quest for a larger share of the dinner trade. Apostrophe, the London-based patisserie cafe chain, is this month introducing a new menu that will reflect the brand's central London heritage. "It is quite a significant overhaul of our food offering," says chief executive Amir Chen.

"The current plan is to roll it out in a few stores. We're not going at it with a gun to our heads, we want to do it properly and in the right way. Apostrophe is perceived as being a very London-centric brand and we want the menu to reflect the fact we're in the middle of this incredibly innovative, diverse food environment."

London-based Le Pain Quotidien, meanwhile, is one of the few cafe bakery operators to hold an alcohol license at most of its sites, and serves a good range of wines  as well as beers and cider  as a result. It also has a comprehensive range of hot and cold food that extends into the night. Dishes on the evening menu, which is available from 5pm, include risotto; steak and ale stew; confit de canard; and Lyonnaise salad, while lunch features savory tarts, tartines and pot pies.

Paul UK also holds an alcohol license at a number of its sites and CEO Jean-Michel Orieux says the boulangerie brand is working to boost its restaurant credentials. Although the majority of its UK sites have a takeaway centered offer, the company is making moves to follow in the footsteps of many of its international sites and provide a more extensive bistro-style operation.

"Paul worldwide has had table service in many operations for years, from breakfast all the way to dinner," says Orieux. "Last year we refocused on the basics in the UK, which we have been doing well, but things are not perfect. We are reviewing our catering offer to make it more substantial."

Paul operates two table service restaurants in London  in Covent Garden and Marylebone  as well as 30 takeaway shops with limited seating. It is currently refurbishing its Covent Garden site to give it a fresher look  although it will retain the Parisian feel  and bolster its evening food service, even if Orieux is tight lipped about the exact menu changes. The company plans to expand outside the capital for the first time later in the year, with the southeast a prime target, and this bistro approach will be used as a blueprint for the rollout.

"Until now our focus has been on developing the brand in London. The retail element evolved as a response to the market, but outside London we need to satisfy take away demand, as well as appeal to a more destination led, eat in clientele.

"Over the past 10 years customer expectations have changed. Some of the Pret A Mangers and Caffe Nero's today are nothing like the small cafes of old as a response to changes in consumer habits, and we need to do the same."

With the proposed changes to Covent Garden, Paul will become a viable alternative to nearby restaurant chains such as Brasserie Blanc, Bill's and Cafe Rouge, although Orieux believes the competitive set is broader still. "It depends on the time available for the customer  and the occasion   as to where they now eat. Twenty years ago, when we were looking at competitors, we considered brands with the same market positioning as us, but now it is much wider. The same consumer will visit us as well as Itsu, Brasserie Blanc and even Hawksmoor. Success is down to developing loyalty and ensuring value for money."

Euphorium Bakery, the artisan chain in which Tesco has an interest, is yet another cafe bakery determined to serve more than just coffee and pastries. The brand has introduced a carvery offer at its flagship site in Threadneedle Street, City of London, and gives customers the choice of ordering food from its counter or the dining area. The menu includes hot breakfast sandwiches with bacon carved straight from the joint  as well as 28 day matured Scottish roast beef rib.

The potential to take a slice of the evening trade and introduce alcohol isn't limited to places with a strong food offer. Coffee chain Harris+Hoole, in which Tesco also has a stake (see The Hoole story, right), recently secured alcohol licenses for its sites in Sunbury on Thames and Walton on Thames, both in Surrey; and North Finchley, London. They don't as yet serve it, but chief executive Nick Tolley believes it will add a further "string to our bow of services". Indeed, Tolley says the company hit upon the idea after being told by customers that the cafes would be a nice location for an after work drink.

"We are  and always will be  a coffee led operation, but in some sites we feel that having the option of opening later and serving a nice wine or selected craft beer is worth exploring," he says. "We want to have lots of community events in the shops and would keep them open late to do that. Having a coffee at seven or eight in the evening is the last thing people want to do, as opposed to having a glass of wine or a nice beer."

Alongside this approach, the company is starting to look beyond coffee and pastries and has added pizzas and burgers to the menu at its Sunbury site.

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