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Jamie Oliver’s Group CEO Admits the Company Was Complacent

The 12 key statements from Jon Knight’s candid speech at the Casual Dining Show in London

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Jamie Oliver’s restaurant group has been forced to close 13 restaurants so far this year
Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Jamie Oliver’s restaurant group has had a difficult twelve months. The company has been forced to close 12 Jamie’s Italian restaurants and endure both of its Barbecoa steak restaurants in London entering administration this week. Although one Barbecoa has been bought back by a subsidiary company of Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group Ltd., the group, even more so than the struggling burger chain Byron, has become a symbol of the so-called ‘casual dining downturn’; given Oliver’s profile, its fate has served as an ominous reminder of the industry’s volatility.

Whilst pointing to the successes of the company in its early years — “a great start” with “five years of growth,” — CEO Jon Knight was candid about where the business went wrong. Although Knight used “we” throughout and implicitly assumes a responsibility, his criticisms of the company relate to decisions made by his predecessors. Knight’s responsibilities extended to the restaurant side of the business, when he was appointed group CEO, replacing Simon Blagden, only as of last year. It was with his appointment that the group initiated its “restructuring” programme at the start of 2018.

Here are the 12 key statements from his speech and additional comments with The Caterer in London yesterday:

  1. In short, he said, the company “rested on its laurels.”
  2. Other brands innovated; Jamie’s Italian “didn’t take notice of the competition or how it was developing.”
  3. Jamie Oliver restaurants celebrated its “victory” in reinventing the casual dining sector.
  4. The competition “started doing what we were doing with a more affordable price and with the benefit of being the ‘new thing’. Smaller restaurants [not just Italian brands] started to overtake us.”
  5. On mis-selecting locations: “We stared to move into towns where there wasn’t large footfall and new sites were chosen which didn’t work for us.”
  6. Above all: “Most importantly we lost touch with Jamie, there was a growing disconnect between what Jamie was doing on TV and in his books, and people weren’t experiencing that in the restaurants.”
  7. The critical moment was between 2016 and 2017, when the business “lost its way.” “As we moved into 2017 signs were showing that the UK business was in trouble” — problems with “in terms of covers and sales” — and the international business [which was growing, successfully] was “a real risk of contagion” if change didn’t take place.
  8. On the last 12 months: ”We almost become besieged — the competition had encircled us.”
  9. The company did not act as it should have: “We can now see that change wasn’t actioned quick enough by us. We lost a bit of confidence and forgot who we were. We didn’t know who the competitors were or who we were.”
  10. On the restructuring: “We are trying to make things right, things that should have been fixed long ago. Those 12 restaurants [closing] are only part of the reason of why we weren’t making money, we have now looked into the rest of the business.”
  11. He said the hard decisions have been made for the greater good: “We had to make these decisions for the future success of the business going forward. Overall, we have saved 1,900 jobs. If we hadn’t have done anything...then the business would have folded.”
  12. About the future: “We know these challenging times will pass. We are positive and have a strong brand people have come to love with a collection of busy and profitable sites. We believe there’s still a lot of love out there for Jamie so what we have to do now is join the dots. He’s the one we were representing and we are bringing him back in a big way.”