Vision Commercial Kitchens: Fail to plan; plan to fail

Vision Commercial Kitchens talk to Garden Centre Retail about what businesses will need to initially consider when thinking about adding catering to their establishments.

The old adage ?fail to plan then plan to fail? is true in all aspects of business but none more so than when making an investment in something as critical as your first food and beverage retail offering.

We all know how valuable catering is to the garden retail industry. In 2007/08 the approximate annual spend in garden centre caf?s and restaurants was ?130m and this has grown to a whopping ?200m and can often account for anywhere between 15-20 percent of a garden centre?s annual turnover.

The ability to add value to a customer?s shopping experience with a food and beverage offer whilst introducing new revenue streams to your business has meant that in recent years the audience has come to expect a sophisticated offering and a high level of service from garden centres.

So evident are these rising expectations that the whole process, from a starting position, could be a little overwhelming to say the least.

At this point engaging specialist advice is vital. It is true there is much to consider but the attention to detail necessary to ensure that all considerations are met should fall on the shoulders of your team of designers whose job it is to translate your individual requirements.

It is worth noting also at this point that, as when buying any commodity, it?s important to know you are buying from a trusted supplier who holds all the right credentials.

The Catering Equipment Distributors Association (CEDA) is a good source on this matter and their website ( lists their members who all promise to follow a strict code of practice.

Taking the time in the early stages of your project to come up with a great design that has the potential to transform your restaurant into a destination.

This will lead to increased revenue, profit, footfall and spend per heard as well as developing a loyal customer base. So what do you need to consider in the early stages of your project?

Choose the right space within your garden centre

This could be an existing space, or you may decide to create an extension to house your new coffee shop or restaurant. Selecting a space towards the rear of your garden centre is always a good idea as this makes sure customers walk through your retail area first. If you are lucky enough to be situated in a beautiful part of the world, make sure you capitalise on this and give your customers lovely views to enjoy.

Ensure you have enough power on site

Introducing a large amount of new catering equipment to your garden centre will have an impact on your current power requirements. Ensuring you have the correct services for water, gas and electric is essential at the start of a project and your design team should be able to assist you at this stage.

Make sure you know who you are you trying to attract

Think about your existing customer base but also new audiences you may want to bring in to your garden centre. Do you have a local school or college close by? Are you on a busy road that could mean you are able to attract folk in who are on a long journey and require a comfort break? Perhaps you enjoy spectacular views and could begin to attract coach trips and offer hot food deals. Also consider which customers want what and when. For example, older customers often start their day earlier and are therefore looking for a light lunchtime option late morning. On top of this, if you get the ambiance right, factors such as cross-selling and increased spend can occur.

Take some time to think about what you like in other food and beverage outlets

Your caf? or restaurant should be a reflection of you and should tell a story whether that is one of the local area, your family or your love of food and gardening combined. The opportunities are endless but take time to settle on your unique story. Take inspiration from the high street and food trends and make sure your story is reflected in every part of your offering as you begin to develop your project.

Choose the right type of service for you

In the old debate of counter versus table, waitress service will always rumble on but the answer is that you must choose what is right for you. Just remember this is an important decision in your planning process as it has significant bearing on other areas of your operation such as menu and staffing, not to mention your overall design.


Consider what food and drink you would like to offer your customers. You could start small with just a coffee and cake style of operation. Perhaps serving a small selection of hot snacks would be more appropriate or it could be that you know there is demand for a larger operation offering a menu of cake through to hot meals and traditional afternoon teas.

What next?

Now that some of these important initial decisions are at least in the process of being developed it is time to turn your mind to what to build on these solid foundations. The design process begins and every aspect, from considering colour ways, materials, lighting, footfall, service points and equipment positioning amongst many others, is resolved at this stage. Again, time should be taken? and expert advice sought to avoid costly changes needing to be made in one, three or five years? time.

Future proofing

Undoubtedly your operation will be a success so make sure you ask your designers what steps they are taking to ensure your operation is future proofed. Share with them your three to five year plan. You should be left with a kitchen and front of house that can grow with you and your business plans.

Don?t neglect the kitchen

Front of house will be the most exciting and interesting part of planning your new offering and it is crucial, because after all this is what will entice those customers in. However don?t let this be at the expense of your kitchen. Staff welfare is paramount so consider the journey between front and back of house. Make sure you select the right equipment for your menu to ensure ultimate client satisfaction and finally if you have the space, bring some theatre to your operation and develop ways to bring your kitchen front of house.

Counters are key

The quality and design of a bespoke, shopfit counter can make or break the success of your catering operation. Consideration of delivery of service is the first important point. Will you be serving hot food straight from the counter or from the kitchen? Your counter design can also assist with the flow of customers around your coffee shop and enhance customer experience by reducing queuing times. Materials and finishes can add to the overall aesthetic and help to tell your story. Ask your designers for elevations and 3D visuals so you can really get to grips with your counter

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