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Prompting change

Simplifying the menu and adopting some tried and tested design techniques is changing purchasing habits and improving profits at Oliver's in Redcar, North Yorkshire



Michael and Helen Roberts have made a host of changes since taking over Russell’s Fish & Chips seven years ago.


Not only did they rename the 68-seater,two-storey business after their son, Oliver, but they took the decision to purchase a struggling chip shop directly across the road, relocate the takeaway into there and double the size of the kitchen at the restaurant. Introducing longer opening hours, sourcing branded packaging and serving fish and chip shop staples like fishcakes and spam fritters alongside options such as lasagna, sandwiches and paninis have made it a popular destination for locals and holidaymakers.


“With our brand and our reputation, we’ve increased trade massively,” says Michael. “And we’ve been able to grow both the restaurant and takeaway, we’ve probably doubled our business in that time.”


Sandwiched between Redcar high street and the seafront, Oliver’s is a family-run business. And although trade has grown, Michael noticed when it came to what people were choosing to eat there was an over-reliance on specials. This was leaving little variation in what people were ordering, resulting is other items not moving at all. The menu was no longer working for the business.


“We needed to do something,” says Michael. “The previous menu was geared more towards specials, so people were automatically ordering the cod, chips, bread butter and a cup of tea. I know it saves the customer money, but we’re in business to make money.”

The answer has been to strip the menu right back, making it much simpler while at the time still giving the sense of offering plenty of choices. For example, instead of bundling fish and chips together with a side and a drink, Oliver’s now offers a cod and chips - or haddock and chips - combo but charges an extra £1 for add-on items like peas, curry or gravy.


What’s more, on the printed menu items that Michael wants to push are boxed off and pound signs have been done away with so that customers aren’t automatically thinking about price when ordering.


The new menu has only been live for a month, but even in the first week Micheal could see a difference. “When I look at what we’ve sold, some items wouldn’t naturally have sold before but people are looking at the menu better. Things like mushy peas and gravy, they were all there before but people didn’t really notice them. Customers were automatically going for a cup and tea and not buying anything else. Now they are having a glass of wine or a bottle of Black Sheep ale.”


A lighter option has also made it onto the menu while fish sizes have been reduced from six options down to three, as Micheal explains: “Before, we had an over 60s, small, regular, large, extra large and jumbo. We really didn’t sell many of the extra large and jumbo so they didn’t warrant being on the menu.”


To help customers understand the new portion sizes, the menu asks how hungry people are and suggests a size based on appetite.


“It was an easy thing to communicate,” explains Michael. “After all, no one really knows what size a small, medium or large is or understand how big a 6oz or 8oz portion is. This gives the customer something they can relate to and that is fun, too.”


There’s also upgrades to sweet potato fries and, with the addition of a couple of tabletop fryers filled with vegetable oil, a handful of vegetarian options too.


“We used to serve a vegetarian lasagna, but it wasn’t a big seller,” says Michael. “We’ve dropped that in place for a spicy bean burger which is more in keeping with the fish and chip shop offering. The paninis we’ve stripped down to the two best sellers - ham and cheese, and tuna - and if customers don’t want these as a toastie, they are available as sandwiches, too.”

Not only is the new menu more concise but it’s also easier for the staff with fewer ingredients and less prep required. Michael adds: “We don’t have fully trained chefs, so this is easy for them to do plus we’re still giving customers what they want.”


Happy with the new menu, Michael wishes he’d had the confidence to make the changes earlier, adding: “It was definitely the right decision to make and it’s one of those you look back at and go “we should have done that earlier”. It’s taking that step to do it and we had to accept that, yes, we may lose a few people but we will attract others.”


Having embraced technology, adding a loyalty scheme and a collection service through JustEat, Michael is confident that the business is in good shape, adding: “I’ve always grown up in that realm where you have to reinvest back into your business. Sometimes we maybe put a little too much into it, but we’re at the point now where the big outlays are all done. We’ve got the main core of the business now so it’s just tweaks we need to make.”


Air conditioning is one thing on the list when the next big refurb is due on the building - but that won’t be for a good five years. Not that Micheal is complaining. Located by the coast, the recent bout of hot weather has been good for business.


Micheal adds: “The weather is always going to help our trade, I know it’s not like that for everyone. But we had atrocious weather at the beginning of the year as we had snow twice. It’s a bit of a welcome relief that  we’re now having a good summer.”

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