News Archive

Fall for Bella Italia’s autumn menu

Bella Italia is launching a new menu featuring baked Conchiglione Basilicata, spinach and squash cannelloni, Gnocchi Luganica, and Panettone Bread and Butter Pudding

On the 8th October, Bella Italia is launching its new Autumn Menu, featuring a carefully curated selection of 15 new dishes, and as always, something for everyone!

Bringing heart-warming and delicious dishes to families across the UK, the authentically Italian restaurant will be serving up a series of options bursting with flavour including a new and improved starter range, delicious pastas and pizzas and seasonal desserts.

As the colder weather blows in, enjoy some true comfort food with the delicious, all-new Al Forno dishes, including baked Conchiglione Basilicata, giant shell pasta filled with spicy Basilicata sausage topped with melted mozzarella, Spinach & Squash Cannelloni baked in a four cheese sauce and Gnocchi Luganica, a creamy tomato dish featuring Gnocchi and Luganica sausage ragu – the Italian “sausage and mash”!

Those looking to be a little braver in their quest to try something new need look no further than the re-vamped pizza menu, now featuring spicy and garlic dips and the incredible Katsu Pizza. Putting a Japanese twist on the classic Italian dish, the Katsu pizza boasts lightly breaded chicken pieces on a Katsu base, with fresh green chilli and mozzarella.

The new menu also brings to the table brand new autumnal warmers, including Arancini Pollo, crispy risotto rice balls with chicken, sundried tomatoes, mozzarella and a red pepper dip and Pollo Pizzaiola, lightly breaded chicken topped with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella.

The calzone offering has also been revamped, with new fillings including Calzone Funghi with chestnut mushrooms and leeks, and Calzone Firenze with spinach, chicken, cotto ham, Granello and mozzarella.

Finally, dessert lovers won’t turn their noses up at a Morello Cherry Cheesecake and an Italian twist on a British favourite, Panettone Bread and Butter Pudding, served with vanilla gelato. Bella classics stay on the menu too, including Tiramisu and the award-winning vegan Cookie Dough Al Forno.

To mark the launch and celebrate the brand-new autumn menu, those dining at Bella Italia can take advantage of up to 40% off mains* valid Sunday-Friday, so that everyone can indulge in discovering a new favourite dish this season.

Las Iguanas ‘appy to announce new autumn menu

Las Iguanas are launching their latest menu with 15 new dishes and an extra helping of tech on the side this Autumn. Download the brand new Las Iguanas app from the Apple Store or Google Play and you’ll be able to Pay at Table when you tuck into remarkable dishes cooked from scratch by skilled chefs at one of Las Iguanas’ 55 restaurants. You’ll collect points as you pay, giving you access to Las Iguanas’ new loyalty tiers; hit Bronze, Silver or Gold and open up access to a world of monthly perks and freebies.

Launching alongside the App on the 24th of September, the Autumn menu boasts an array of finger-licking starters & tapas dishes, as well as a selection of flavourful mains from Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Cuba & beyond! Whilst you choose from the main menu, the new Tequeños await; a delicious and popular Venezuelan street snack; cheese filled fried bread sticks served with chipotle butter.

From the tapas menu, diners can expect some true Latin American staples including Pork Pibil Tacos (Pulled roasted pork belly in an achiote, oregano, orange and lime glaze), Pisco Pork Belly with smoked sweet potato and Amarillo puree or plant-based Winter Ceviche (Smoked sweet potato & amarillo purée, Aztec grains, pickled vegetables, avocado aioli, sweet chilli pepper pearls, candied seeds & sweet potato crisps).

Zip over to Brazil for the return of the Peanut and Prawn Maracanã, prawns in a peanut, chilli, lime and coconut sauce served up in a sourdough bread bowl, inspired by the famous Rio stadium. Las Iguanas’ famous Brazilian curries are cooked from scratch and the newest addition is the plant-based Bahian Jackfruit Curry inspired by the regional flavours of North East Brazil; roasted pulled jackfruit and ethically-sourced palm hearts in a spiced coconut and tomato sauce.  Jet over to Cuba and take a bite of the new Fiesta Ensalada; Butternut squash with mixed leaves, carrot curls, pink pickled onions, pickled beetroot slices, oven-dried tomatoes and fresh avocado, tossed in a poppy seed dressing.

It isn’t just the main menu that has received a seasonal makeover! Diners will be delighted to know that Las Iguanas’ sinfully delicious dessert menu also has two new additions. Make sure you leave room for a Pornstar Sundae (a twist on the classic cocktail; mango sorbet & coconut non-dairy ice cream with a passion fruit, prosecco & vanilla purée, crushed meringue, fresh mango & passion fruit, vegan option also available) or Banana Sticky Toffee Pudding (Warm banana sticky toffee pudding with toffee sauce, fried plantain & vanilla ice cream), as they are sure to sweep you off your feet!

Fans of Las Iguanas’ Bottomless Brunch will also be happy to hear that you can now order dishes from the Brunch menu separately on Saturdays and Sundays. Two new arrivals have landed; Breakfast Burritos, your brunch wrapped up in a tasty tortilla, and Huevos Divorciados, a Mexican classic of two eggs served on blue corn tortillas, crushed avocado and red tomato and green tomatillo salsas.

Las Iguanas’ impressive selection of cocktails and mocktails are available 2 for 1 all day, every day!* Sip on one of the award-winning Caipirinhas, the famous Brazilian classic made with Las Iguanas’ own Magnifica Cachaça, or new concoctions like Flamingo-A-Go-Go: Olmeca Altos Blanco 100% Agave Tequila mixed with Malibu, Funkin strawberry, sherbet, lime, coconut water and lemonade served in a kitsch pink flamingo. Our master Cachaça-maker’s favourite cocktail is also on the menu for the first time; Joao Luiz de Faria loves the Shiny Nail made with Magnifica Aged Cachaça, Drambuie and orange, invented especially for him on one of his visits to the UK. Sign up for a Cachaça Masterclass to learn more about the favourite spirit of Brazil.

As always, giving back to the community remains a central theme on Las Iguanas’ agenda, which is why they work with the LATA Foundation to support grass-roots projects throughout Latin America and Mexico. The charity transforms lives, working with social & environmental initiatives. Las Iguanas is actively working to support projects such as ‘Projeto Vidançar’ (Rio de Janeiro) & ‘Kids Saving The Rainforest’ (Costa Rica). Las Iguanas will also be supporting End Youth Homelessness again this year with a contribution for every Christmas party booking. Dining at Las Iguanas not only guarantees you a delicious and tasty meal, but leaves you safe in the knowledge that you are part of something much bigger.

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

Casual Dining Group

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