Is there a "right" amount of catering for a garden centre?

Most garden centres would agree that investment in catering is a must in today's market. But how much? As the figures from a selection of leading players below illustrate, expectations vary significantly.

Image: Green Pastures Garden Centre
Image: Green Pastures Garden Centre

Klondyke

Managing director David Yardley says catering makes up 22% of turnover - and he is not bothered if that percentage does not grow, expressing a preference for the business growing as a whole. Potential could be 30% of sales.

Green Pastures

Food take is 60% of the business, including the farm shop. Potential is to reach 70%. Co-owner James Debbage says he is happy to make revenue through food, particularly as much is homegrown and from the farm, including dishes such as game.

Hillview Group

CEO Boyd Douglas Davies says catering ranges from 40% at Scotland Nurseries to 22% at his more established centres. The potential is to be at 30% and "more than that we'd wonder what we're doing wrong in retail", he adds.

Perrywood

Simon Bourne says catering was 19 per cent and has the potential to reach 25%, but a satellite facility is needed to extend sales.

Tong Garden Centre

Mark Farnsworth says catering is 15% of turnover and will reach 17% by the end of the year. The potential is 20% — to be £1.5m+ out of £9m turnover.

Rosebourne

The restaurant takes £1.3m with 41 staff and will take more than £3m when the new centre is mature, says the centre's Sajid Salim. Food is 60 per cent of turnover, horticulture is 20% and margin is 50%. Overall turnover is £4.4m. Sister centre Beckworth turns over £5.5m, with £2.6m from food. Wages to sales is 38% and the average transaction is £26. It is £20 at Rosebourne, which opend in October 2016 and marked a new type of food-led centre.

Haskins

Catering is a steady 22-25%, depending on the store, while Planters now takes 30% from catering. A survey of smaller centres shows catering at eight to 26% of turnover, with an average of 15%.

Dobbies

Head of restaurants Costas Constantinou points out that being the first garden centre group to open from 7am selling takeaway coffee and offering table service into the evening will extend catering sales when the rest of the garden centre is not active. Adding children's cafés with rainforest butterfly themes will also add sales at slower times in restaurants and spread catering spend around centres to at least three outlets each, he says. All this should add to the proportion of sales gained through food, with farm shops integral to the catering offer too.

Chief executive Nicholas Marshall had a one-third-each horticulture/restaurants/concessions ratio at Wyevale when he ran that group, although he has now added online to the mix at Dobbies since taking over this year and teaming up with Ocado to fulfil online sales.

The National Trust

Food and beverage sales have grown by more than 10% since 2013, which is faster than visitor numbers to National Trust properties, says Matt Drew.  Having core ranges of 45% of sales, such as scones, with seasonal offers decided by head office at 35% and leaving 20% of menu choices to each of the trust's 342 sites is the ratio that works.

National average

The HTA says catering is 15-20% of average garden centre sales and rising. Year-to-date overall garden centre sales were up 12% by the end of April and up 10% by the end of May, with May 6% down on 2016.

Food, wage, profit ratio

Consultant Neville Stein says wages versus food costs is a crucial factor. He suggests that centres must decide whether to make food fresh and deal with the staffing required — a plan preferred by managers such as Coolings' Dwayne Ross — or buy-in more ready-made food and not need so many hands in the kitchen, which few garden centres advocate.  Stein suggests 21% food cost, 37% wage cost and 40% net profit as ideal.


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