All change as garden centres focus hard on catering

Dobbies seeking to take responsibility for customer offer "from fork to plate" as other garden retailers trial table service in their outlets.

Dobbies: group is offering up to three catering outlets in each store and providing table service in its restaurants
Dobbies: group is offering up to three catering outlets in each store and providing table service in its restaurants

Dobbies plans to go local when sourcing food so it can take responsibility for what it offers customers from fork to plate. Chief executive Nicholas Marshall explains that Dobbies is "going to go back to what we did at Wyevale with locally sourced food cooked on the premises, championing really good food. It was a big success at Wyevale." He insists that he will not revert to using "cheap suppliers".

Dobbies is taking up the trend to introduce multiple restaurant offers, with at least three outlets available in each centre as well as "table service for older people, people wanting a special occasion and people who may not want to queue with a tray". There will also be food to go from farm shops. "If customers don't have time to sit down they pick up food from bakeries with coffee or tea. We're launching a whole series of things. The food offer is very important for us."

Marshall says the changes "will be easy to do", adding: "Our people are up for it. Restaurants don't want to serve rubbish food, they want to serve the best they can. People will step up to the plate and we have the team to do it."

Meanwhile, table service is growing at garden centres. Newly opened Rosebourne is offering table service, as is Garsons in Esher, another new garden centre restaurant. Glendoick is deciding whether to go with table or counter service, or a mixture of both options.

Consultant Neville Stein says the advantages of having table service as well as conventional counter service are that customers get "a better and more relaxed experience as long as the waiting staff are customer-friendly and well-trained". Operators should be able to receive a higher average sale because staff can be on hand to upsell, with puddings for instance, without customers having to queue.

There is also reduced waste compared with counter service because there is the opportunity for staff to sell the last portion of a cake as they interact more with the customer. Disadvantages are higher wage costs and training levels required than with counter service and food is not always available in an instant.

Catering conference

At the HTA Catering Conference at The Belfry on 13 June, Horticulture Week deputy editor Matthew Appleby will interview Dobbies' restaurants head Costas Constantinou about plans to develop the restaurant offer, how to source locally, how to develop children's and dietary requirements menus and what services to offer customers.

Constantinou has introduced a new structure to include regional restaurant managers. Alan Waddington, former Wyevale regional manager and Aston Martin group catering manager, will take the lead revamping the beverage offer across the centres. Susan Givens, 2016 Wyevale restaurant manager of the year, will form the core of Dobbies "freshly-baked" strategy. James White, another formerly Wyevale regional manager, will be part of the restaurant regeneration programme.

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