News Archive

CDG adds to its financial package for employees

Casual Dining Group (CDG), one of the UK’s largest restaurant companies, has rolled out an industry-leading suite of financial services for its employees, including on-demand pay, across all of its brands.

The move clearly demonstrates the company’s commitment to attracting and retaining the best people in the industry, as well as safe guarding its employees against possible mental health issues caused by financial distress due to significant unforeseen expenses, by introducing an innovative range of financial welfare tools.

An on-demand pay function along with real-time financial education, has been rolled out across all its brands with immediate effect, and facilitated through Wagestream in partnership with Fourth, allowing employees to access the money they have earned up until that point ahead of payday for just a £1.75 transaction fee.

Thanks to the integration with Fourth and Wagestream, all payments are deducted from the normal fortnightly or monthly pay cycles, meaning there is no impact to the payroll process. The move gives all CDG employees the flexibility to pay for sudden and unforeseen expenses, such as a broken-down car or unexpected bill, out of their own wages, without needing to borrow money through credit cards.

To further support employees with their financial wellbeing, CDG has also introduced Salary Finance, a service which helps people get out of debt and into savings with a suite of products such as affordable loans, simple savings both directly from salary, and financial education. Salary Finance and CDG working together will provide quick, easy and confidential access to robust financial support when their employees need it.

Claire Clarke, Group HR Director, Casual Dining Group, said: “Attracting and retaining the best employees in the industry is an ongoing battle for all businesses. Despite facing into a number of industry headwinds, we’re focused on continually improving the support, training and services we offer our employees and this latest introduction of Wagestream and Salary Finance is just one extension of that.

“Generationally and culturally, what people demand from the workplace has changed. It’s no longer enough to offer a competitive wage, you need to create a meaningful environment that promotes positivity and progression in order to improve staff retention.

“Through our work with Wagestream and Salary Finance, we are able to promote and provide a suite of financial services and training to our employees, should they need it, which gives them the tools and information they need to confidently tackle a number of financial scenarios.”

Casual Dining Group commits to sourcing higher welfare chicken

Casual Dining Group (CDG), the leading UK restaurant group, has taken steps to improve the welfare of millions of chickens by signing up to the European Chicken Commitment.  The announcement builds on the company’s cage free egg pledge and responsible fish sourcing programme, further demonstrating the company’s progressive and responsible approach and its commitment to animal welfare.

The signing of the commitment follows months of planning, analysis and engagement between CDG and Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) to ensure that every opportunity has been explored in order to successfully achieve and sustain its aims.

The European Chicken Commitment requires companies to commit to a range of key standards by 2026 around slower growing chicken breeds, reduced stocking density, environmental enrichment, natural light, and humane slaughtering processes. All parties involved in the agreement will be audited by an independent body to ensure they are meeting the requirements.

As part of this latest initiative on chicken welfare, CDG is calling out to other likeminded companies with similar supply chains to work with them in order to collectively achieve the aims of the commitment and share best practice across the industry.

As the first step, CDG and CIWF aim to host a working group later this year to develop a five-year action plan supported by annual progress reports prioritising the challenges that will need to be overcome in delivering the standards.

Simon Galkoff, Group Procurement Director, CDG, commented: “This agreement is a very exciting time for us and demonstrates months of hard work across the business. The decision to sign this agreement was not something we took lightly, and we have conducted significant due diligence and research with CIWF to ensure we’re comfortable that plans are in place to meet the requirements of the commitment.

“The key to achieving this will be working together as an industry to share best practice and come together to achieve a common goal. We’re very much looking forward to being part of this industry collaboration and continue our close working relationship with the team at Compassion in World Farming in a continual pursuit of improving practices across our entire supply chain.”

Dr Tracey Jones, Compassion’s Director of Food Business, added: “It’s been a pleasure to work with Casual Dining Group over the last few years. We have seen them tackle confinement in laying hens and are delighted to see them extend their welfare focus to broiler chickens. They have a genuine ambition to make a positive contribution to animal welfare across their business, but also across the wider industry.

“Few companies can achieve these production changes alone and we urge others to join the movement to prioritise broiler welfare. I sincerely congratulate Casual Dining Group on this significant commitment, and we look forward to working with them on its successful implementation in the coming months and years.”

To see more detail about the European Chicken Commitment, please click here

Casual Dining Group announces new senior appointments

Casual Dining Group, the restaurant operator of Bella Italia, Las Iguanas and Café Rouge, has unveiled a clutch of senior people appointments, as the group builds on positive trading momentum in 2019.

Following the appointment of James Spragg as CEO in May 2019, the business has reshaped its senior leadership team, removing the previous MD role for its branded businesses in favour of a flatter structure, with Brand Directors reporting directly to Spragg.

Internal succession sees:

  • Lisa Gibbons promoted to Brand Director of Bella Italia
  • Julie McEwan promoted to Brand Director of Las Iguanas
  • Greg Gibbons promoted to Brand Director at Café Rouge

Mark Nelson remains as MD of the Franchise & Concessions business, seeking select opportunities in concession environments, such as travel locations and hotels, and via franchise partnerships in key international territories.  To this end, the business recently launched its third Ale & Coffee House concept – The Shipyard at Elizabeth Terminal, Jersey Port.

A further appointment sees Sarah Pope join as CIO from GLH Hotels and follows the departures of Mos Shamel and Gareth Lock, who recently stepped down from the business.

CDG has delivered like-for-like sales growth of 3% across the group, for the first six months of 2019, to 30th June.

Mos Shamel to leave Casual Dining Group

Casual Dining Group (CDG), the mid-market operator of nearly 300 restaurants across the UK, has announced that Mos Shamel, managing director of Las Iguanas, is to step down from the business.

After 16 years at the leading restaurant-bar brand, Shamel has decided to pursue a fresh challenge outside of the group.

Commenting on the development, James Spragg, CEO of CDG, said: “We would like to place on record our sincere thanks to Mos for his immense contribution to Las Iguanas, which has grown into one of the UK’s leading restaurant-bar businesses, and one that is consistently placed in The Sunday Times’ prestigious Top 100 Companies To Work For.

“He leaves Las Iguanas in great shape, with a really strong and motivated team, and in impressive like-for-like sales growth, and we wish Mos the best for the future.”

On his departure, Shamel said: “I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey with Las Iguanas and CDG, and this was an incredibly difficult decision, as this is a great business with fantastic people, but after 16 years it is time for me embrace a fresh challenge.”

CDG plans to announce a successor to Shamel at the helm of Las Iguanas – which comprises 55 locations, has just launched in Bracknell and is set open in Watford in the summer – in the coming months.

Las Iguanas wins Operator of the Year for Innovative Kitchen Design

This accolade recognises the significance of a well-designed kitchen to achieving a happy team of chefs, impeccable service and outstanding food, and aims to recognise multi-site operators that have invested in new kitchens and spent time identifying the right design and lay-out to ensure operational excellence.

In a change from tradition, this category was decided following a live ‘Dragon’s Den’ style pitching session that took place at the Commercial Kitchen show on 4th June 2019.

The finalists each had five minutes to outline the key innovations that have shaped their kitchen environments over the past 12 months – with an expert judging panel making the final decision.

All the participating finalists delivered a tremendous pitch and were all worthy winners.

Las Iguanas makes no secret of the fact that the structure of its kitchens is very different to your standard operator and that is one of the main reasons it has been able to remove complexity from its set-up while proudly giving chefs the tools to produce more than 30 different sauces and salsas in-house every day.

Carefully-crafted kitchen templates support a philosophy based entirely around efficiency, ensuring teams can build and execute quickly without compromising quality.

A willingness to embrace new cooking platforms and methods of regeneration means its kitchens are not averse to incorporating alternative technology if it means the chain can support its goal of delivering authentic South American cuisine to its customers.

Glenn Evans, head of food development at Las Iguanas said: “This award recognises how we’ve grown and what we’ve done to introduce innovative equipment. We have evolved our kitchens to serve the needs of both our customers and our chefs.”

Bella Italia guarantees choice with biggest ever new menu launch

Bella Italia, the leading Italian-style family restaurant, has further delivered on its commitment to provide guests with a wide and varied choice of quality Italian dishes with the launch of its biggest ever new menu this May.

The menu, which has been developed by Bella Italia’s executive chef, Vittorio Lettieri, showcases the company’s continued focus on innovation, as it launches a range of specialist dishes for those with dietary requirements, boasting over 20 options for vegans, vegetarians, and customers seeking gluten-free and dairy free options.

Reflecting the growing consumer trend for healthier alternatives, a selection of the new dishes will build on Bella Italia’s existing lower calorie range. These include: Gamberoni Spirali, a dish under 300 calories with spiralised carrot, golden beetroot and courgette with king prawns in a spicy garlic and tomato sauce; and three new salads, all under 600 calories, called Giardiniera, di Verona and Parma Bufala, to name a few.

Indicative of its rich Italian heritage, the company has also launched a series of traditional main dishes, such as Cacio E Pepe, a dish dating back to Roman times, featuring Gramigna pasta with chicken and pancetta in a pecorino cheese; and Tagliatelle Capra with pomodoro and pepperonata sauce.

Marc Saunders, Head of Brand at Bella Italia, said: “Ethical and healthy dishes are becoming increasingly important factors in where consumers decide to eat, which has been an important influence in our latest menu innovation. In a highly competitive market, you have to continually move forward and evolve as a brand in order to stand out on the high street. Crucially, we’ll always do this whilst staying true to our identity and brand DNA, which for us is creating genuine Italian dining experiences to enjoy with friends and family.”

James Spragg appointed Casual Dining Group Chief Executive Officer

Casual Dining Group (“CDG”), the operator of c.280 mid‐market restaurant brands including Bella Italia, Las Iguanas and Cafe Rouge, is pleased to announce the appointment of James Spragg, currently Chief Operating Officer, to the position of Chief Executive Officer, effective from 29th April.

Rooney Anand, Chairman, commented: “I am delighted to announce this appointment and to welcome James to the Board. We
conducted an extensive search and selection process that left us in no doubt that James is the right leader for this company. He has an intimate understanding of the business, having most recently served as Chief Operating Officer, and will bring fresh ideas and energy to the role of  CEO. Our industry continues to face challenges, however we see a host of exciting opportunities that we believe CDG can capitalise on under James’ seasoned leadership.”

James Spragg said: “CDG is at an exciting time in its journey. We have great restaurant brands, a talented team including a highly experienced new Chairman, and high quality and supportive shareholders. I am delighted to accept this new role and to push forward with a series of new initiatives and growth opportunities.”

Casual Dining Group announces positive current trading and prior year results for 2017/18

Casual Dining Group (“CDG”), the operator of c.280 mid-market restaurant brands including Las Iguanas, Bella Italia and Café Rouge, reports its annual results for the prior year (year ended 28 May 2018), and provides an update on current trading. The group also announces 7 new UK openings and a further 7 franchises openings in Ireland and the Middle-East in 2019 and is embarking on a major refurbishment of the core estate which will cover 30 sites.

Steve Richards, CEO of Casual Dining Group, commented:

“Over the past 18 months we have taken proactive steps to underpin the company’s future growth potential, at a time when the sector has faced unprecedented challenges. We successfully refinanced with our existing shareholder and lender group, reached positive agreements with our property partners, and invested and diversified across our brands. Despite the ongoing market challenges, Casual Dining Group has outperformed the market over the past 11 months, recording like for like sales increase of 2.6% with an improving trend of a 4.2% increase in like for like sales for the 13 weeks since the New Year.

The historic performance in the prior year, reflects the difficulties the wider sector faced but we are confident that our proactive measures, the support of our shareholders, and our diversification by brand, channel and geography mean CDG is strongly positioned.”

Current Trading highlights

  • Stable like for like trading of 2.6% for the 11 months since June 2018 – with a particularly encouraging start of the 2019 calendar year with like for like sales increase of 4.2% for the 13 weeks since the start of the year
  • Successfully negotiated new terms with landlords following refinancing
  • 7 new franchise openings in Ireland and the Middle East
  • Significant investment in UK estate planned with 30 major refurbishments

Operational highlights

  • Increased diversification by channel;
    • Double digit delivery growth: dedicated brands e.g. Blazing Bird via partnerships with Deliveroo, Just Eat and UberEats
    • Partnerships with Tesco, Three Mobile and Cineworld delivering double digit growth
  • Digital-first approach and strong brands continue to drive bookings and growth
  • Significant external cost increases partly mitigated by procurement savings, productivity improvements and cost efficiencies
  • Continued investment in menu development, food and drink quality, and innovation

Prior Year Financial Summary 2017/18 

  • Revenue of £327.4m down 0.5% (2017 £329.0m)
  • Un-invested like for like decline[1] of 0.6%,
  • Adjusted[2] EBITDA down £4m, from £29.9m to £25.9m

Prior year balance sheet and capital structure overview

  • Restructured balance sheet to position the business for growth with low gearing and access to funding from existing shareholders, as required
  • £30m cash injection to fund future growth projects
  • Following a mark to market revaluation by the lender group, the balance sheet was restructured resulting in a non-cash, goodwill write-down of £209.6m
  • Concluded successful discussions with landlords to optimise estate for profitable growth.

[1] Uninvested with no excluded sites

[2] Adjusted for non-recurring and one-off items

CDG supports refugees with innovative training programme

Casual Dining Group (CDG), one of the UK’s largest independent restaurant companies, has completed an industry leading pilot programme that aims to support Syrian refugees in gaining the necessary skills and experience to transition into the world of work.

The programme, run in partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), World Jewish Relief, and SPS Training Solutions, saw nine refugees spend three weeks during March training to work in the hospitality industry.

The first and second weeks focused on theory, giving the course members the necessary skills to prepare them for work, such as interview training. This theory was then put into practice over the third week, where they gained first-hand industry experience working at a Bella Italia and Café Rouge site in Coventry.

Following the successful programme, CDG has offered employment to three of the course participants; while a further three members have been given provisional offers for when vacancies arise. Building on the success of the pilot programme, the respective parties are now in talks about replicating the programme on a wider scale.

Claire Clarke, Group HR Director, Casual Dining Group, added: “The hospitality industry is a phenomenal place to work that’s inundated with opportunities for driven people, regardless of background. We were delighted to work closely with the DWP, SBS, and World Jewish Relief to pass on our operational expertise and support this worthwhile and progressive initiative.

“As a business, we have created a sophisticated and robust series of training and development programmes to support with the progression of our employees. This programme is a great example of how we can utilise this experience as we look to support people with the necessary skillset to enter the industry.”

The initiative, which is the first of its kind for the hospitality industry, forms part of the Specialist Training and Employment Programme (STEP) run by World Jewish Relief. The programme supports those who have come to Britain as part of the Home Office’s schemes for vulnerable resettled refugees.

It operates in Coventry and across Yorkshire, and all programmes are tailored to each refugee individually, helping them to develop the skills and identify the opportunities they need to secure sustainable employment, thereby enabling them to integrate fully into British society.

Janice Lopatkin, Programme Director UK for World Jewish Relief said: “This cohort of refugees can provide the hospitality industry with a highly skilled, extremely driven and talented group of new recruits. We’re proud that this programme is boosting British business by supplying such a high calibre of candidates whilst also supporting the refugees to become self-reliant, contributing and valued members of British society.”

Paul Scott from the DWP’s National Employer and Partnership Team, added: “I’m delighted that this initiative has been so successful”

CDG grows its industry leading learning and development programme

Casual Dining Group (CDG), one of the UK’s largest independent restaurant companies, has further developed its industry leading learning and development programme by adding a range of new courses in partnership with UK universities, following the promotion of Claire Clarke to Group HR Director.

Previously the People Director – Concessions, Franchising & Central at CDG, Clarke is now responsible for overseeing all strategic HR decisions across CDG. This senior appointment is a direct result of the implementation of the new learning and development programmes.

The additions to the programme demonstrate the company’s ongoing commitment to investing in its people and attracting quality talent into the hospitality industry and across all areas of its business, with a particular focus on marketing, strategy and finance.

The first of the new programmes, a BA (Hons) Business Management Degree run in partnership with Leeds Beckett University, enables operations managers and support centre leaders to complete a fully funded degree alongside their day job.

This 30-month course, which is open to all qualifying employees, has 12 spaces and combines an honour’s degree and apprenticeship levels 5 and 6, with both practical and classroom learning to give candidates the skill set they need to progress within the business.

Alongside the Business Management programme, CDG has also introduced a chef programme at University College Birmingham, targeting students completing level 2 and above and providing them with a gateway to work at CDG’s core brands.

Finally, CDG has also introduced an Elevate programme, targeted at high-performing general managers within the business that are looking to progress to multi-site leaders. The course, which has 12 spaces, upskills employees over a year long programme split into four modules, that provide insights into areas of the business they may not get exposure to.  Each applicant will be assigned a personal tutor for the duration of the course.

All of these programmes have been designed to complement CDG’s Leadership Academy programme that was initially launched at Bella Italia before being rolled out across the business. The academy consists of three programmes; Stepping up, Emerging Leader and Future leader, aimed at all levels within the business looking to progress to the next level.

Steve Richards, CEO, Casual Dining Group, said: “Our employees are the beating heart of our business and we’re dedicated to investing in them and providing them with the courses and tools they need to progress. Equally important is attracting quality talent into the hospitality industry and demonstrating the range and wealth of opportunities available in our vibrant sector. I firmly believe these courses will help us with these focuses.

“There is a real appetite in the business to offer more training and development programmes, and build on the excellent work of our HR teams. Working with universities allows us to share knowledge and best practice and put together industry leading programmes that attract and retain the best employees.”

Claire Clarke, Group HR Director, Casual Dining Group, added: “We truly care about our people and their progression within the business, and wanted to positively promote a career in hospitality, demonstrating that it’s possible to progress from entry level to management at ease.

“With these programmes in place, we’re able to offer a clear career path and clarity for each individual. The onus is on the individual and every course participant will be the driving force behind their own progression, we simply provide the tools, structure and advice they need to take the next step in their career. I’m thrilled to be leading these industry-leading programmes and look forward to working closely with each individual during the course.”

Other existing training programmes CDG offer include bespoke apprenticeship schemes, in partnership with Remit Training, that support the career development for existing staff and new recruits in kitchen, front of house and management roles.  It also offers a programme in partnership with Heathrow Employment & Skills Academy, providing recruitment, apprenticeships and training for employers who operate at Heathrow Airport – the courses provide a number of modules, from customer service training to learning a foreign language.

Casual Dining Group

Welcome to Casual Dining Group, operator of some of the UK’s favourite restaurant brands including Café Rouge and Bella Italia.