Little Chef does less talking

pophamI’ve just caught up with my Sky+ recordings of Channel 4’s Big Chef Takes on Little Chef, where Heston Blumenthal worked on a revamp of the Little Chef restaurants (I know it finished weeks ago, but I’ve been busy, OK).

The project finished successfully with the flagship Popham restaurant being rolled out nationwide, but the classic, and avoidable, failure was in communication. It became an example of how not to introduce change into a business.

These two aren’t natural bedfellows: Heston’s not a chef, he’s more of a food scientist, and Little Chef isn’t known for its quality of late. What did the two sides want out of the project? What was their motivation? What was the bigger picture for both?

The management rhetoric flowed from LC’s managing director, Ian Pegler, “I want blue sky thinking,” “show us the wow factor…” All of course are completely subjective and make it very easy to dismiss results as falling short. I appreciate he didn’t want to stifle Heston’s creativity, but he seemed desperate to avoid clarity at all costs – no aims, no objectives. This put them at loggerheads several times with Heston very nearly withdrawing.

I think they could’ve made life easier for all involved by targeting ‘Mondeo man.’ He (to continue the sexist noun) travels the country from meeting to meeting and despises the overpriced junk in Motorway stops. He spends £6 on coffee and a croissant rather than eat the drivel they serve in the café.

When Mr and Mrs Mondeo are too shattered to cook, where does the family go to eat? Harvester, Taybarns, McDonalds? Possibly. Little chef? Certainly not.

That’s where I’d have calibrated our positioning and targeting efforts from the beginning: business travellers for breakfast and lunch, families for dinner (remembering that breakfast is the cash cow for this chain).

They should’ve spent more time talking to each other, not the cameras. They operate at polar opposites of the food industry: one in a pub where dinner costs £250 per head, the other behind the desk of 400 Little Chefs. Change like this demands both parties really understand all view points of the project.

Photo credit: Wolfiewolf

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