In a very imaginative move, the Little Chef chain has continued its image-changing work by installing traditional espresso machines in all its 90 sites, sending hundreds of its staff to Lavazza for barista training, and saying that it will bring great coffee to the one part of Britain where it is still missing – the A-road motorists’ cafes. In addition, Little Chef will introduce the flat white in a setting which many would assume to be the province of push-button coffee machines.
The move is being led by Little Chef’s chairman Graham Sims, who was the man who introduced the Wild Bean Café concept to BP roadside sites.
“I worked at Little Chef in the seventies for 25p an hour” Sims recalled. “I will always remember the burgers and onion rings, but can’t remember the coffee.
“Later, I introduced Wild Bean Café for BP, and that was an industry breakthrough at the time. Today, too many people are turning to fully-automatic because they won’t invest in doing coffee properly, and this is the opportunity for us to do it properly at the roadside. I look around, and I don’t see anyone else who can offer this. I’m not a great fan of bringing in the big three chains, and the only one of them who I think could develop it seems to be concentrating on other things. We chose Lavazza because we know their work, and I saw Illy as being too specialist.”
A major advantage for Lavazza, was the brand’s recent work in training staff throughout the entire JD Wetherspoon pub chain, which had provided experience in launching coffee across a multi-site business. In that project, Lavazza trained virtually everybody, including the main board, with the exception of the chief executive.
“I am a CEO who has been trained!” Graham Sims told us. “We did our training in layers – we have nine ‘cluster’ managers, who are trained to train, and they had deep training across several days at Lavazza. This was followed by a second phase immediately when we installed the machines – we got down to it the minute they were in. We didn’t wait for Lavazza to get on site before we began serving some very good coffee.
“Then ninety more people went for intense training at Lavazza, and we have committed to continuing with half-day sessions from Lavazza, and sending them new staff.”
All Little Chef’s coffee drinks are priced at £1.99 or £2.29. The inclusion of flat white in their menu is a very ambitious move for a ‘good food on the go’ roadside café… and certainly an unexpected one.
“Historically, we had too bad a coffee offer,” Graham Sims acknowledged. “Our cafetiere offer was scooped badly, and at one point we went to soluble coffee, which was sacrilege.
“We tried to decide where to draw the line in our new offer, and we felt for the sake of credibility, we couldn’t ‘not do’ the flat white. So, for our launch of Lavazza, we already have one ‘flat white person’ ready at each site, and OK, at the beginning some of our staff may not get it perfect, but we’re on a journey.
“What we do know is that we can already do the core coffee menu well, and as we begin this, our attitude towards our coffee is feeling good!”