The View from Without® 'Chain Reaction' - Highlights

How successful brands are bucking the casual dining crunch. Featuring Wahaca, Rosa’s Thai and Caravan Restaurants

On the 8th November 2018 we gathered a room of entrepreneurial industry peers at Tredwells Restaurant to hear our client panel including Mark Selby and Thomasina Miers of Wahaca, Alex Moore of Rosa’s Thai and Laura Harper-Hinton of Caravan Restaurants share their views on the ‘casual dining crunch’, behind the scenes insight into their businesses and the why’s and how’s to building some of the UK’s most successful restaurant groups.

Over the coming weeks we will be sharing some of these insights with you. In the meantime, check out the highlights film from the breakfast event plus the below Q&A with our Creative Director Roly Grant, discussing his take on the on the successes of high street chains.


Which chains have you worked with?
It’s perhaps the biggest testament to our work that many of the chains we work with weren’t chains when we started. Of all the clients we’ve helped grow from concept to multi-site groups, three or our favourites are:

Wahaca – Brand identity
Mexican market food from MasterChef-winner Thomasina Miers. Launched 2006. We’ve helped take them from concept to 25+ stores across the UK. In the 2015 Big Restaurant Survey (top 40 UK fast-casual restaurants) Wahaca was voted best-loved brand”.

Rosa’s Thai – Brand identity
Thai café concept, blending Thai and English cafe culture. Rosa’s recently sold a stake in the business to Trispan private equity.

Darwin & Wallace – Brand identity
Mel Marriott set out to refresh the London pub scene with independent design and links with local suppliers and communities. Our branding, grounded in a common ‘home-not-highstreet” philosophy, treats each venue individually. Operations, however, are centralised, giving customer the consistency of a chain with the feel of an independent.

What were the key aspects of Without’s work with Wahaca that you feel has created a standout high street brand?
Wahaca set out to show the UK that real Mexican food wasn’t the stodgy stuff served up in Tex Mex joints. Because Wahaca were trying to challenge preconceptions, the most important part of our work was the proposition: Mexican Market Eating. Whilst most ethnic offerings try and homogenise cultures, Wahaca always felt authentic because it went beyond clichés of sombreros and chillis, to a particular type of food and environment. Once you have a focus, identity design becomes strategic rather than purely aesthetic. In our research, the clash of vivid magenta and turquoise kept popping up – from architecture to the hand-painted signs of street traders. If you look at the competitors who have followed in Wahaca’s wake, this colour combination arguably became a new category language during London’s streetfood boom.

“Without have been with us since day one and have helped us create, develop and grow our brand and business almost as partners.  We have loved working with them and being challenged by them – they have enabled us to stand apart from other restaurants in a very crowded market offering a fresh look and feel that is both bold yet accessible”Mark Selby, Co-Founder of Wahaca

What factors contribute to the success of a high street chain?
Let’s assume well-trained, motivated staff, sensible locations and a popular product with good margins. Beyond this…

The only reason for a chain to exist, long-term (as opposed to piquing interest with the first few outlets) is reliability. We want relatively few of our meals to be a Michelin-starred adventure. Consistently good-quality, comforting food – a Pret BLT, A Leon salad – is reassuring.

A more nuanced factor is the nature of branded spaces. Overly branded venues are a headache. Our clients who are succeeding in this sector have very generous spaces: contemporary design, unique furniture and artworks, relaxed excellence. They feel more like private addresses than typical chain venues. Chains need to remember that, even if they’re effective, people don’t really want marketing messages. Space, light, good music and friendly, happy staff are powerful brand cues.

What’s the biggest threat to high street chains?
In London, current threats seem to be intense competition/over-saturation, high costs – especially rent – and difficulty attracting quality staff. But the real threat is how these factors affect customers. It’s incredibly tough, but chains that maintain investment in passion and standards, over those who focus solely on immediate numbers, stand the best chance.

How can chains stand their ground against independent/boutiques?
Chains have capital and track record, indies have creativity. It’s going to be interesting.

If you would like to learn more about Without and how we have helped in the success of some of the UK’s most popular hospitality groups, check out our online case studies or drop us a line to arrange a date to meet and here about our work first hand.

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