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Q&A with Jonathan Dockrell

Catering Today sits down with Jonathan Dockerell, the UK general manager of Camile Thai who explains what the new Canary Wharf cloud kitchen means for the company as a whole

What difficulties were there in opening the shop in Canary Wharf, especially during the pandemic?

I suppose that the initial pain was getting people to fit the new kitchen in as you normally would. Usually you go in with relatively large teams and very quickly sort it so we’ve had to do it on a little bit more of a measured basis with less people.

We also had to make sure that the guys were from a fairly reputable company and that they were all clear of coronavirus and that nobody was in any kind of danger. We had a questionnaire for them to make sure that they were all clear of coronavirus symptoms, the same way we would do with our waitresses when they come into the business.

The other difficulty was not being able to meet any of our suppliers properly on-site. We could meet some of them, but some didn’t want to meet, so we had to do some meetings remotely and take videos and pictures of where things should go.

For example, we would discuss where they need to leave fridges and similar issues to that, which is a little different. In normal times you actually walk around with the supplier ensuring they knew exactly what to do.

How many staff are there currently in Canary Wharf and the company as a whole?

I think we franchise about 500 staff in total so in London probably about 100. Of the staff in Canary Wharf, three of them are team members from our existing units that we brought together for the team, and then two are newly hired. We didn’t furloughed anyone – we’ve actually got to hire people, which is good.

You’ve been very fortunate during the pandemic, why do you think that is?

I think there’s a couple of reasons why. We’ve generally focused on kind of suburban locations, for example. In general we’ve only gone suburban and we’ve got neighbourhood restaurants in villages.

The brand itself, with its packaging and healthy, sustainable guilt-free dinner or lunch, is really helpful. Our delivery focused business has always existed, so when this happened we were kind of prepared for it.

Some people who were less focused on delivery have had to scramble quite quickly to try and make it work. Delivery is a tough business so I’m glad we had 10 years of experience to try and get us to this stage.

You previously spoke about your strategy. Can you tell me a little bit more about it?

A big part of what we are trying to do is to make sure that our technology powers what we do in our business, and that it is really solid. When we open any branch we want to make sure that it is possible from day one and a lot of that goes into the tech side. Part of our tech strategy is to try and tighten that up, and make it as efficient as possible to do that.

What challenges do you think you’re expecting to arise in the next couple of months and leading on into 2021?

Other brands will start looking at the villages so there is going to be competition. I think the increasing aggregators and their continued growth and strength is a challenge because that does affect us quite considerably.

We run our own driver fleets as well, so we have to balance the aggregators against what we do in order to make sure that we’re profitable. That’s definitely a challenge to get that right and I also think that there’s a lot of competition coming in from things such as virtual brands, which add competition and supply into the market.

Has Deliveroo helped with your brand awareness?

I think the partnership we have with Deliveroo is going to be a huge part of brand awareness. In London, we’re still small to be honest, despite being big in Ireland, so in order to prepare, we’re looking to just increase our brand awareness through marketing.

Deliveroo has a stronghold in London, there’s no two ways about it. They have a stronghold and there is no point fighting against the status. If we continue to go suburban it’s much better because they are less strong in those regions.

How do you think the hospitality industry as a whole is changing?

Delivery is on everyone’s lips it’s what everyone’s doing so I think as an industry hugely moving into that. I think if you’re not in that game you’re missing the big trick and I think delivery is a very sticky business. People have been in it for six months.

I think new ways of serving customers through delivery is going to be a big one. I think also collection and pick up in suburban areas is going to become larger than it has been in the past.

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