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Casual Dining Group

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Casual Dining Ltd.
Founded2014; 7 years ago (2014)
HeadquartersLondon, England, UK
Area served
United Kingdom
Key people
Rooney Anand, non-executive chairman
James Spragg, CEO
Adrian Walker, CFO
ProductsBella Italia, Café Rouge, Belgo, Las Iguanas, Oriel Grande Brasserie, Huxleys, La Salle
Number of employees

Casual Dining Group (CDG), formerly Tragus Group, operated 250 restaurants in the United Kingdom. CDG operated restaurants primarily under the Bella Italia, Café Rouge and Las Iguanas names. It also operates sites under the Belgo, Huxleys, Oriel Grande Brasserie and La Salle brands. The company was backed by investors including KKR and Pemberton Capital Advisors.

In mid-May 2020, CDG warned its chains were at risk of going into administration, but was later in talks with "multiple parties" about a sale of the business.[1] On 2 July 2020, it was announced that the company had been placed into administration, with 91 outlets set to close with the loss of 1,900 jobs..[2]

History[edit source | edit]

Tragus Group[edit source | edit]

Tragus Holdings was formed in 2002[3][4] when Whitbread sold-off 153 failing restaurants from its Pelican and BrightReasons divisions, shortly after writing their value down by £147m.[5] At the time, the two restaurant divisions comprised the Café Rouge, Bella Pasta, Mamma Amalfi, Abbaye, Leadenhall Wine Bar and Oriel brands.

A £25m[6] management buy-in by Tragus Holdings was funded by £11m from venture capitalist speculators ECI Partners.[7] Tragus Holdings was led by chief executive Finlay Scott, formerly head of the Aroma Café chain and Whitecross Dental Care. The team included Gavin Williams, managing director of Bella Pasta, and Harry Morley, former finance director of Whitecross Dental Care.

In January 2005, Tragus' directors sold the company to Legal & General Ventures for £90m-£95m.[8][9] The sale made them around £18m profit. The chairman, discredited former LSE CEO Gavin Casey, received £2m.[5] Legal & General Ventures installed a new management team which included appointing new chief executive Graham Turner (formerly managing director of the Unique Pub Company).[10]

In December 2006, Tragus was bought by Blackstone Group for £267m. By that time, the business had grown to 163 restaurants.[11] In September 2006 it had also announced plans for a new restaurant concept - Huxley's Bar & Kitchen – to open in the new Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 in March 2008.[12]

The group expanded rapidly in 2007 with the purchase of Ma Potters restaurant company in February for £14.15m,[13] and the Strada chain - which included five Belgo and Bierodrome restaurants - in May for £140m.[14] In July, Tragus signed a deal with Center Parcs to operate several Bella Italia and Café Rouge restaurants in the leisure village operator's UK sites.[15]

In April 2012 it was announced that Graham Turner would step down as Tragus chief executive. John Derkach, formerly managing director of the Costa Coffee chain took up the position in August 2012.[16]

In early 2014, Blackstone's stake in Tragus was acquired by US investor Apollo Global Management,[17] and, in June 2014, Apollo sought to shed or restructure some of Tragus Group's rent obligations at Cafe Rouge and Bella Italia, and to sell its Strada chain.[18] In September 2014, Tragus sold Strada to Sun Capital Partners.[19]

Casual Dining Group[edit source | edit]

In March 2015, Tragus Holdings rebranded as Casual Dining Group (CDG).[20] In July 2015, CDG acquired Las Iguanas[21] and later went on to purchase La Tasca.[22][23] CDG also opened concessions including Bella Italia, Café Rouge and Las Iguanas restaurants at Centre Parcs villages,[24] and in UK airports, including Gatwick, Heathrow, Jersey, and Inverness.[25]

However, efforts to close loss-making outlets and stem group losses continued through to 2018.[26][27] Also in 2018, Apollo sold its stake in the group to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Pemberton Capital Advisors (the two had provided loan finance since 2015).[28] Some La Tasca restaurants were converted to other brands, and the remaining four La Tasca restaurants were sold in February 2020.[29]

On 18 May 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, CDG announced that it was working with advisors on next steps for the business as a prudent measure to protect the company whilst planning for the future.[30] Media reports suggested the group was preparing to place one of its three core brands into administration as part of a financial restructuring of the business.[31][28] On 29 May, CDG was reportedly in talks with "multiple parties", including other restaurant groups and private equity firms, over a sale of the business, potentially saving 6,000 jobs.[32]

On 2 July 2020, it was announced that the company had been placed into administration, with 91 outlets set to close, with the loss of 1,900 jobs, leaving the group with 159 operational restaurants.[2] They appointed AlixPartners to deal with the administration and said that the 91 outlets would be permanently shut as no buyers were offering to acquire them.[33]

Brands[edit source | edit]

CDG operates restaurants under the Bella Italia (100+ restaurants in the UK),[34] Café Rouge (60+)[35] and Las Iguanas names. It also operates sites under the Belgo (4, London and Nottingham), Huxleys (1, airport),[36] Oriel Grande Brasserie (3, airports), DUBL (1, airport) and La Salle brands.

Social responsibility[edit source | edit]

CDG claimed to emphasise corporate social responsibility practices.[37] It reduced its energy consumption by 17% from 2012 to 2016,[38] and had a partnership with The Prince's Trust charity.[39]

Some CDG brands ranked highly for seafood sustainability (within their class).[40] All whole eggs sourced by the company for its kitchens were free-range together with eggs used as ingredients for sauces and pasta. In 2016, in partnership with Compassion in World Farming, CDG said it aimed to use solely free-range eggs as ingredients by 2025.[41] In 2019, CDG signed up to the European Chicken Commitment to improve chicken welfare.[42]

CDG had a partnership with UK charity FareShare to redistribute food that would go to waste to people in need instead.[43]

Controversy[edit source | edit]

Tragus Group: tipping and minimum wage[edit source | edit]

In 2009 Tragus was the subject of newspaper reports highlighting the practice of several UK restaurant chains using customer tips to meet minimum wage laws for waiters/waitresses. The company's business model was said to depend on paying servers as little as £2.50 an hour, with the rest coming as tips.[44] The company reportedly instructed restaurant managers to pressure servers to avoid encouraging customers to give tips in cash, which would not count as part of wages, and was threatening to sack employees who failed to produce a sufficient volume of card-based gratuities. They were discovered (via "mystery diners") informing customers of the company's policy.[45] When the practice became unlawful on 1 October 2009, Tragus reviewed and updated its policies to ensure that all tips, after a 10% deduction for administrative and other costs paid by credit or debit card, were distributed through the payroll system to restaurant staff via a Tronc system. In 2020, Casual Dining Group policy was that all customer cash tips and service charges were kept by restaurant employees in full.[46][lower-alpha 1]

Notes and references[edit source | edit]

  1. When tips or service charge are paid for by a credit card or debit card, the company makes a 2.5% administration charge to cover bank fees, before distributing the remainder in full to employees. Tips and service charges are paid in full in addition to the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage. Any tips paid in cash are retained by the individual waiter. It is the responsibility of those receiving cash tips to declare the income for tax purposes to HM Revenue & Customs.[46]
  1. Butler, Sarah (18 May 2020). "Bella Italia owner set to bring in administrators, 6,000 jobs at risk" – via www.theguardian.com.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Café Rouge and Bella Italia owner falls into administration". BBC News. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  3. "Tragus Holdings - Company Profile". Caterer and Hotelkeeper. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  4. Chassany, Anne-Sylvaine (14 March 2014). "Apollo-led group set to take control of Tragus from Blackstone". The Financial Times. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Osborne, Alistair. "Cafe Rouge buy-in team nets £18m". The Telegraph. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  6. "Whitbread sells restaurant groups". Evening Standard. 31 May 2002. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
  7. Smiddy, Oliver. "Case study: Tragus satisfies hunger for returns". eFinancial News. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  8. "LGV buys Tragus for more than £90m". The Caterer. 18 January 2005. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
  9. "LGV buys Tragus for more than £90m". Caterer and Hotelkeeper. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  10. "Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Graham Turner, Tragus". Caterer and Hotelkeeper. Retrieved 26 November 2012.
  11. Druce, Chris (15 December 2006). "Café Rouge owner Tragus bought by Blackstone Group". The Caterer. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
  12. "Huxley's Bar & Kitchen – which opened in the new Heathrow Terminal 5". Big Hospitality. 16 September 2006. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  13. "Tragus buys Ma Potters restaurant company". Big Hospitality. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  14. Jones, Marc. "Cafe Rouge owner Tragus swallows Strada". Reuters. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  15. Walton, Christopher (17 July 2007). "Bella Italia and Café Rouge owner Tragus signs deal with Center Parcs". The Caterer. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
  16. "Costa boss Derkach moves to head up Tragus". Peach Report. Retrieved 26 November 2012.
  17. Chassany, Anne-Silvaine; Robinson, Duncan (14 March 2014). "Apollo-led group set to take control of Tragus from Blackstone". Financial Times. Retrieved 8 June 2020.
  18. Kleinman, Mark (3 June 2014). "Cafe Rouge Owner To Offload Loss-Making Sites". Sky News. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  19. Michel, Melodie. "Strada sold to Sun Capital Partners for £37m". Big Hospitality. Willam Reed. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  20. Gerrard, Neil (3 March 2015). "Tragus Group renamed Casual Dining Group". The Caterer. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  21. Wallin, James. "Casual Dining Group acquires Las Iguanas". Big Hospitality. William Reed.
  22. Armstrong, Ashley (18 July 2015). "Café Rouge owner seals La Tasca takeover just days after Las Iguanas deal". The Telegraph. Retrieved 8 August 2017.
  23. Deirdre Hipwell (29 August 2015). "Dining out at La Tasca costs group tasty £25m | The Times & The Sunday Times". Thetimes.co.uk. Retrieved 9 December 2017.
  24. Seymour, Andrew (12 September 2016). "Las Iguanas and Center Parcs venture into restaurant agreement". Foodservice Equipment Journal. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  25. Pigden, Katey (17 August 2016). "Casual Dining Group to open Rapide at Inverness Airport". The Caterer. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  26. Gerrard, Bradley (12 March 2018). "Cost hike leads to deeper losses at Cafe Rouge and Bella Italia owner". The Telegraph. Retrieved 3 June 2019 – via www.telegraph.co.uk.
  27. Wilson, Bill (12 March 2018). "Cafe Rouge owner reports £60m loss". BBC News. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  28. 28.0 28.1 "KKR-backed Casual Dining Group prepares to appoint administrators". Deep Investing. 19 May 2020. Retrieved 8 June 2020.
  29. "Casual Dining Group sells off final four La Tasca sites". bighospitality.co.uk.
  30. "Notice of Intention". Casual Dining Group.
  31. McAllister, James (18 May 2020). "Casual Dining Group in talks with creditors about restructuring". Big Hospitality. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  32. Gill, Oliver (29 May 2020). "Cafe Rouge and Bella Italia owner in sale talks". Telegraph. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  33. Wood, Zoe (2 July 2020). "Bella Italia owner falls into administration, with loss of 1,900 jobs". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  34. "Bella Italia". www.bellaitalia.co.uk. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  35. "Café Rouge". www.caferouge.com. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  36. "Find Us". Huxley's Bar Kitchen. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  37. "Casual Dining Group - Operator of some of the UK's favourite restaurant brands". www.casualdininggroup.com. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  38. Carol, Millet (17 March 2016). "Casual Dining Group cuts restaurant energy waste". The Caterer. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  39. Mellor, Charlotte. "Casual Dining Group partners with Princes Trust". Casual Dining Magazine. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  40. "Lack of clarity on the menu leaves diners in the dark when making a seafood choice". Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  41. "Data". www.caterlyst.com. Retrieved 5 February 2020.
  42. "Casual Dining Group commits to improved chicken welfare (12 August 2019)". Foodspark. Retrieved 30 May 2020.
  43. "Our Work With Casual Dining Group". FareShare. Retrieved 12 July 2019.
  44. Jamie Elliott, "Tip off: waiters still paid minimum wage out of your service charge", Guardian 7 June 2009
  45. Jamie Elliott, "Cafe waiters fear the axe over cash tips", Guardian, 28 June 2009
  46. 46.0 46.1 "People". Casual Dining Group. Retrieved 2 June 2020.

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