5Qs with Simon Wilkinson
CEO of La Tasca Restaurant Group
Simon Wilkinson took over as CEO of La Tasca Restaurants in March 2011 during a time when the company had experienced four years of sales decline. Three years later the company is making profits and even considering expansion. Previously with Kout Food Group and Paramount Restaurants, Simon has been instrumental in La Tascas turnaround in the casual-dining sector.
What are some of the changes you have taken La Tasca through this year?
2014 has been a good year for the business as we are starting with a fresher perspective. We have refurbished every site, and have added a new look and image to the restaurants. Our menu and food offering has been revamped for the better and this shows with our improved reviews. We are starting to acquire new sites so far we have purchased two this year and have another two in the pipeline.
As a restaurant group we continue innovating and developing the brand. For example, we have just opened the first Rioja bar in the UK in Leadenhall Market. This follows the success of the first UK Cava bar that we opened last year. We are looking to grow our existing business organically and have started on a good foot this year. I also have plans to expand the business in the UK and internationally.
With the market generally feeling more positive, do you feel a difference in the casual-dining sector that La Tasca operates in?
There is definitely a difference in the casual-dining sector as it has become more compressed and competitive. There are a lot more restaurants opening and many more brands in the market place. This is happening during a time where consumers are also feeling more confident in the economy so restaurants are trading better.
After the changes that we have made to the business, I think we are more in line with customers expectations on fresh food and a growing trend on the restaurant providing entertainment while people dine out. A number of our restaurants have live music, cooking demonstrations, and offer group catering to parties the differentiating factor in the casual dining sector is not only the food but offering a great experience.
What are some of the trends you see most impacting your business?
There is a heavy focus on nutrition in the casual dining sector these days. We have begun menu labelling through specific and popular categories such as low-calorie or gluten-free.
The world of technology in hospitality is forever evolving and we are investing quite heavily in technology to be able to respond to that changing landscape. Lastly, the channels to get to customers are expanding so we see that our brands are more active on different social media avenues.
What are your pet peeves?
Ignorance and rude people.
What do people most often criticize about you?
There are two common criticisms I get from others. The first is that I have a low boredom threshold I would agree with this statement. The second is that I am hard to get to know or at least to get to know well. I dont think this is necessarily the case but Ive had people argue adamantly otherwise.
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