We hear from the Phil Sermon, managing director of Italian dining chain Vapiano, as he talks about consistency within the business and the key to staying relevant.
What’s your background and how did you get into the restaurant industry?
I got into the industry working as a waiter aged 14 in my uncle’s hotel in Guernsey. Following university, I joined the Grand Met graduate training programme and have worked in a variety of operations, marketing and acquisitions roles in companies like Allied Domecq, Hilton Hotels, Sodexho and JD Wetherspoon. I became MD of Vapiano UK just over 6 years ago.
How has the Vapiano business changed since it opened its first site?
The main elements to the business have remained consistent with day one. We still make all our own pasta every day on site, same for the pizza dough, sauces, dressings and dolci. Now, with an additional five restaurants and three due to open within the next few months, it’s obviously busier and the awareness of the brand is much greater across the UK, which helps with recruitment for example.
Why have you chosen to open restaurants in the current locations so far? And what has determined where subsequent restaurants have been established?
At Vapiano, we open large, spacious restaurants so we look for high footfall locations. We are fortunate to have such incredible sites in the West End with Great Portland Street and Soho and the next, by Tottenham Court Road at Centre Point will complement these sites by reaching a new area of the West End for us. Bankside is perfectly placed for local workers, residents and tourists, as is Tower Bridge which will be our second opening of the year.
How are the international restaurants doing overall? Which countries are the most successful, which the least?
Vapiano has nailed the simple concept of fresh, handmade food cooked to order exactly as the guest wants it, in a laid back, buzzing restaurant. This simplicity travels well to all countries including Columbia, Denmark, China, Switzerland, Brazil, Australia and Austria where we have restaurants and of course Germany where the restaurant first opened.
What are your overall expansion plans?
We want to continue to choose excellent locations in high footfall areas, mainly in London but not exclusively. We will open a minimum of three new restaurants in 2018 and hope to announce additional signings in due course.
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How do you stand out from your competition?
Our whole style is different – from the restaurant design, to the quality and freshness of the food, the simplicity in customising dishes whether for intolerances or preferences and our appeal to a very cool, demographic of young people while remaining attractive to other generations.
How does Vapiano stay relevant in the marketplace?
They key is never to be complacent. We are very switched on socially which has a positive impact on business and if you have great teams and keep an eye on what people want and respond to that, it enables you to continue to be successful.
What are the opportunities and challenges for your business?
Expansion obviously is our key opportunity, reaching new audiences who may have heard of Vapiano but never been in. As with all growing businesses, particularly in this industry, challenges include maintaining our high standards of recruitment as this is very much a people business and we’re fortunate to be growing which offers more opportunities to our teams and is attractive to people looking for new challenges who may be working elsewhere.