Getting Off on the Right Foot with Direct Line Group

The first few weeks of a new contract can be daunting, especially for  the clients who are opening their doors to a brand new caterer, with a new way of doing things! We know that our clients have made a big investment in us, so we put our all into making the transition easy, with open and honest communication throughout the process.

We took over the 11 Direct Line Group (DLG) sites from Restaurant Associates at the beginning of October 2013. The team, led by Paul Honey and Compliance Manager Meggan Edwards had 12 weeks to mobilise all the sites to open on 30 September.

Each site was allocated a senior manager and a lead chef from the established Charlton House business to help them through the process. These experts helped us to quickly form strong relationships with the transferring teams and local clients, while tying together all the loose strings of a contract spread across a number of sites.

Inductions for the transferring senior team were managed over a fun weekend in Leeds. On the Friday night, all the managers and head chefs got together with Paul, Nicola Mayer and other members of the CH team over dinner. Then on the Saturday, newcomers received a full day of our Passport to Success training at DLG The Wharf. This was a great way to welcome new employees, get to know them a little and immerse them into our company culture.

A four-week menu, common to all sites and created centrally by Senior Executive Chef Dean Drewe was a simple way to align all the teams, with each other and with us. We also brought in a strong promotional campaign to attract more customers and a higher spend throughout the DLG estate. This included a reward scheme, which ran throughout October, giving customers a loyalty card and a stamp each time they spent over £2.50 per transaction. Customers who filled their card were entered into a Grand Draw, held in mid-November.   First prize of £1000 of high street vouchers went to one of our customers from the Doncaster site, with a second prize of £500 and two third prizes of £250 making three other customers very happy, just in time for Christmas!

It was important that we made some visual changes to the sites to echo the changes in food offer and bring in the Charlton House atmosphere. Now crates and chalkboards soften the serving areas and give a more homey impression. The overall feel is more rustic and reminiscent of a food market. Red Tractor and WellbeingbeingWell were introduced to convey our focus on excellent ingredients.

Brand new coffee was also an important part of the change. We brought in our much-loved Paddy & Scott’s brand to replace Starbucks and dropped the price to attract more business throughout the day. Chef Manager at DLG The Wharf, Steve Broadhurst reports that customers were at first disappointed by the change, as they did not recognise the brand, but the lower price helped soften the blow. Once they’d tasted the coffee, the majority of his customers actually preferred it, with the lower price a happy bonus.

So, what was the result of all this effort? Well, the 8000 employees of DLG seem very happy with the combination of new aspects to the service, and sales have increased by a dizzying 12% on previous figures. Our teams are still targeting a higher volume but it’s a gradual process, building the confidence of our new customers to ensure that their staff restaurants will be their first choice more often. Our clients from the DLG Property Team are delighted with how things have gone, and are very supportive of us in creating the ideal catering for DLG.

At DLG The Wharf, Steve feels that “this has been a great, positive change” and that, with no cut corners and a choice of fabulous suppliers, he has more freedom in the kitchen.

“I’ve got my passion back, I’m proud of my food now, I don’t mind coming out of the kitchen!”

Steve says Charlton House feels like a family that has welcomed him and he feels that he has strong support behind him. The little touches go a long way; the staff all received a present of chocolates from head office, the first time anybody had received such a gift in Steve’s 12 years at DLG.

We’ve finally had a moment to catch our breath, but things certainly aren’t standing still. We are now gearing up to give the Bristol site a much-needed refurbishment, helping the restaurant to meet the demands of the young customer profile, who are spoilt for choice at lunchtime in central Bristol.

Thanks to all the DLG catering teams for working hard with us to make a success of the first six months, and here’s to the rest of the contract!