Eat Out With...Revolution

Eat Out With...Revolution
05/05/2017 - 07:50
Revolution Bars Group is a leading operator of premium bars with a strong national presence across the UK. It has a trading portfolio of 66 sites which operate under the Revolution and Revolución de Cuba brands. Maria Bracken caught up with Mark McQuater, chief executive officer, to find out what's next for the brand.

Tell me about Revolution?

At Revolution we have come from being bar operators doing some food, to having a very strong food offering. However, we still retain a vibrant bar operation. We do this over two brands. The first Revolution bar opened in Manchester in 1996. Twenty years later, there are 66 bars across the UK, specialising in premium vodka, food, cocktails and partying. Revolución de Cuba joined the party in 2011 and now has 13 bars across the country. We now have two brands with a strong personality. They are world tested and customers like them.

The unique thing about the group is that it occupies the space between both the restaurant and bar industry. This is a classic example of the two industries becoming closer. There is a real crossover now.

How long have you been with Revolution?

I joined the Group as Chief Executive Officer in March 2013. I studied economics and accountancy at Edinburgh University before qualifying as a Chartered Accountant with Thomson McLintock (now KPMG) in Edinburgh. My first industry role was in the corporate development team at Scottish & Newcastle in 1986. In 1989, I joined NatWest Ventures (now Bridgepoint), becoming local director in its Scottish office. In 1994, I joined the board of pub group JD Wetherspoon plc as its first managing director. In 1996, I moved to The Rank Group as managing director of Tom Cobleigh, Rank’s managed pub company, and then to the Greenall’s Group as managing director of the 850-unit pub and restaurant division, where I stayed until its sale to Scottish & Newcastle in 1999. I then founded the Barracuda Group in July 2000, with backing from venture capital firm PPM Ventures, the private equity arm of Prudential. In 2005, Barracuda was the subject of a £262 million management buy-out financed by Charterhouse Capital Partners.

How is business performing?

Business is going really well. We recently provided an update on the first half of the financial year and it showed that during the five weeks over the Christmas period, group sales were up 16%, so we have seen significant growth and we have created 400 jobs by opening new branches. We have also invested in creating lots of new management positions which is all very positive.

Define your competition

On the restaurant side,  it's any number of casual dining brands who have equally strong personalities and strong menus. In terms of competition with our premium cocktails offering, I would say it's regional groups and independents. Ultimately we lead with our cocktails. It's our number one product. We can give our customers a night out without them having to move around. It's a one -stop shop.

As expectations continue to grow, how does Revolution maintain standards and consistency?

Trends are constantly changing which is why we have appointed a head of food innovation, Mark Rush, who helps us to stay ahead of the game. We are putting in a lot of time and resources into our food and menus. We have made the menus interchangeable, which allows us to manage expectations.

Tell us about your food offering?

For each of the brands we  have food managers and catering directors who are constantly adjusting the menu. We also have a significant team who are involved in the operations of the units who focus on what's on trend, what we should be selling and what can be done to adjust the menu. It's a constant discussion. We used to change the menu twice a year. We now do this a lot more frequently. Our specials also change every week, with 6-8 items on the menu. Food is a very competitve business.

Identify up and coming industry trends

It's all around blending food and drink. Having food with cocktails is really increasing. The demand for more bespoke dishes is also on the rise - more customers are deciding how they want a particular dish to be put together. Clean foods is also another interesting trend. Our superfoods salads have gone down incredibly well and I think this trend will continue.  Sharing plates and grazing are also other areas of interest.

Who is innovating in our sector?

The independents are doing some interesting things  so you have to have a constant look at them. Street food/small chains are also doing some fascinating things at the minute. I do think the industry as a whole is a lot more innovative now than it ever was. It's attracting some amazing entrepreneurs and we are all now getting more excited by innovation.

Does social media play a big part in the business?

Customers are  becoming increasingly savvy. I think Instagram and other social media platforms play a big part in this. If they don't like a restaurant, for example, they can judge you very quickly. Facebook is also important. We have a huge amount of followers. It's a way of reminding our customers about the exciting things we are doing around food, for example.

Any expansion plans on the horizon?

We plan to open a further five sites this year. We recently announced four new Revolución de Cuba venues in Harrogate, Reading, Glasgow and Aberdeen. We are a growth company. We have 66 sites and have big plans to get up to 130.

Anything else on the horizon for Revolution?

We have our hands full in getting our expansion right and keeping our customers interested and keeping our like-for-like growth going. I believe that's how you build a strong business.

What are the opportunities and challenges for the business?

The opportunities are to look for ever more close customer service. We are all about offering a fun, vibrant environment. We want to offer more than the average casual dining restaurant. I think we can play that card harder. On the challenges side, costs are constantly affecting the industry - things like business rate rises, minimum wage increases, the apprenticeship levy, energy taxes, inflation and supplier price hikes. These are all ongoing issues but I don't believe there is anything that we can't handle.

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