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Sandwich bar invests in on-line food ordering system to deliver professional catering service.

Online catering system

It’s been absolutely brilliant and I would certainly recommend it to any operator, single site or large multiple.”

Online Catering Service

Taking over an existing sandwich bar can involve a steep learning curve for most people, but for someone coming completely fresh to the food business, the curve goes off the chart. So it proved for Ian, who initially wrestled with what format to go for, looking at coffee and juice bar businesses, but finally deciding to take the plunge into the sandwich sector when an existing business came up for sale in October 2008.

“Being frank, it was a bit of a gamble because I had no food background, the first 12 months were a bit rocky – we learned everything from the staff, which in hindsight was probably the wrong way forward. You’re just perpetuating existing problems by doing it that way.

“We also didn’t understand how much work went into the business. I was barely getting a couple of hundred pounds a week at first and I was working all hours that God sent. The margins and turnover weren’t quite what I expected. We were a little bit naive, I suppose. We had a lot to learn about things like cashflow. It’s best really to start as an empty unit from scratch.”lebrunch

Meanwhile, there were other factors to contend with, principally the recession, which started to bite not long after they’d opened. Prices also started to go up – tuna for instance, he notes, is now 35% more than when they moved in four years ago.

Ian, however, remained optimistic. “I could see that lots of independents were closing down in Manchester in 2008 but at the same time Pret and EAT never had an existence in Manchester until four years ago and they’ve got around five each now– that tells you that there’s still a big demand for sandwiches.”

There was obviously a need for some changes and it took one and a half years to figure out. Ian decided to take a dramatic new approach to the business, introducing a new menu and making almost everything fresh.

The sandwich bar now has a fantastic walk in trade and there’s the possibility of getting a café license this year. “We have a real bustling weekend trade as well – particularly with people watching the football and the rugby. We could do with being a café really and that would be the ideal scenario with our next one.”

In spite of Ian’s steep learning curve, the food is fantastic. The top two sandwiches are the Chicken Tikka Delight, marinated overnight in a home made mint yoghurt dressing, and the Holy Cow, roast beef topped with horseradish, cheddar cheese, cherry tomatoes and mixed leaves. They also have a range of house salads and wraps. The biggest wrap seller is the Spanish wrap – chicken breast with Spanish chorizo, chili and cheese. (See the inset panel for the full list of signature sandwiches).

The On-line Food Ordering System

Now comes the really radical part. They tried a delivery round, but it became a logistical nightmare. “Customers wanted a sandwich here and a sandwich there and we just couldn’t do it.” But at the same time they realised there was a fantastic potential pool of customers in the vast business park a few miles down the road just waiting to be tapped.

A visit to the lunch! show and the Mobo Innovations stand and they started to realise that an on-line order and delivery system called Mobo2Go was the answer. “We launched our on-line catering system in September and we have had 20% growth month on month!”

We are based three miles from a business park called Birchwood Park, where there are 10-15,000 people, Monday to Friday. There’s a lot of competition for us up there – some of the buildings have in-house Starbucks. But what we’re doing now is coming into these businesses under the radar. “Everyone has a computer in front of them and the way our delivery system works is that we logistically work out where we can be, at what time. The order comes out at the till point within 10 seconds of pressing proceed and that gives the order a designated time slot.

If I get a lot of orders from, say, Carphone Warehouse, they know what time it’s going to be there and we know what time it’s going to be there.

“The site features a big range of quality products. There’s also a section enabling customers to create their own sandwiches, wraps or salads. That’s the real selling point for the offices. Mobile van operators offer no real choice, but with us we’re offering a large number of options – if they want cherry tomatoes with their sandwich, for instance, they can have it – and we deliver at set times. Another big advantage for customers is that there’s no minimum order - they don’t have to worry about asking the six other people in the office.

 “The advantage for us is that there’s no waste – we know exactly how many to make. When those tickets come through, it’s brilliant from our point of view because there’s no human error, with one person having to give 20 orders. It’s all in black and white and it hasn’t meant having to take any extra staff on.

 “The hardest thing with the on-line business is converting people. But we are constantly marketing to them, dropping menus off and sending emails. To begin with I single-handedly listed every single business with addresses and phone numbers, rang round and offered free samples.

 I know an on-line ordering system isn’t your everyday thing so there’s no way they would order from just seeing a blank email. It’s all about getting to the right person in the business. We had two companies that distributed the menu to staff and we have a minimum of 10 sandwiches a day from them. “It might build slowly but it does build. Our on-line system has so much potential to grow anywhere.”

 “It’s a new way of doing things and it’s a lot better than cruising around in a mobile van looking for business.”

Launching the on-line system also gave them the opportunity to introduce an EPoS system into the sandwich bar, as part of the Mobo package. “It’s been absolutely brilliant and I would certainly recommend it to any operator, single site or large multiple.

 We have a collection of signature sandwiches and we know our triple decker club sandwich is the best seller, because we were able to print out the sales details for the last five months and it has outsold all the others by three. It allows you to streamline your business a little bit more. “I had my first holiday last summer since opening in October 08 for more than two days, and we went away to France. It allowed me to keep on top of the business at a distance. I know it’s also going to be massively beneficial when we expand as well, which I’m certain we will do soon.”


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3rd January 2014, 16:53
Page updated 17th Jan 2014, 10:36

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