Five things Peach Report learned about CAU

The latest issue of Peach Report casts an eye over Gaucho’s casual dining concept CAU. Here are five things we learned from managing director Graham Hall

1 CAU ‘can get to 100’
CAU will be up to 16 restaurants by the end of the year and eight to ten openings a year will be following, with plenty of spare capacity around the country to fill. “There are still a lot of towns that are dramatically under-served—places you can go where you can’t get a decent meal in the casual environment,” thinks Hall. “There’s a lot of scope for us. To say we could get to 100 doesn’t scare us—we think it can; maybe more.”

2 CAU and Gaucho are complementary
On the face of it, CAU might seem to be taking a slice of Gaucho’s market—and in terms of restaurant numbers, it is now the bigger brand. But Hall sees clear water between the two, serving different demographics and occasions while serving the same hero product. “We see it as a group of restaurants that just happen to have two names. We want them to be distinct but to combine that history and the core product.”

3 Drinks are a big deal now
Like many others, CAU has been ramping up its drinks offer lately, now offering around a dozen cocktails and a list of own-label wines. In Liverpool, the cocktail range extends to 25. Hall says CAU’s food to drink ration is about 70 to 30, but is narrowing all the time. “As we evolved the brand it became obvious that the drinks side was getting more and more important… You can’t stand alone as a restaurant without a good drinks offer these days. The consumer demands more… they’re not prepared to go somewhere and spend money on food without good drinks too.”

4 Property and people timebombs are ticking
Two big issues are looming for the casual dining sector: spiralling property costs and forthcoming hikes in pay. CAU has been expanding in London, but notably away from some of the hotspots where prices are out of control—where rents are stretching to 20% of turnover in some cases. “When you think about what the restaurant must be taking, you wonder how it can possibly all add up,” thinks Hall. The pressure will only intensify when the government’s National Living Wage kicks in. “[High rents] are just not sustainable when you suddenly have to go from paying £6.50 an hour to £7.20 to £8 to £9 over the next few years. Something’s going to change—it has to.”

5 Charity work is a win-win
CAU has just adopted Action Against Hunger as its in-house charity, running a ‘CAUnival’ festival of events this summer, with much more to follow. Supporting those less fortunate is vital, Hall thinks. “It’s very important to us—you should give something back, and the staff love it.” But he also knows that the charity is a good fit for CAU’s brand, culture and people. “Their [AAH] mentality and ethos matches ours. Hunger and child malnourishment is a very serious topic, but they and we want to go about doing something about it with a smile.”