There is much to be learnt from culture. In Portugal the traditional male lunchtime has been to take a break from work, meet up with friends over a traditionally-inspired meal, to drink cognac, talk and smoke large cigars – all of which seems a million miles from industry.
However, it was this approach that first inspired Louis Ferreira to open his Johannesburg house to friends and family over lunch and ultimately laid the foundations for his award-winning chain of Adega Restaurants across South Africa.
Today the company has turned into a SA 150 million Rand operation with franchises extending beyond South Africa’s borders. Upon entering the franchise market in 2005, Ferreira recruited Craig Flanagan as Group Operations Manager. Since then the business has flourished as Flanagan explains:
“My role encompasses all aspects of looking after our franchisees from their selection, through to their training and monitoring quality. At store level we live by one standard: looking after the customer is essential and everything else will take care of itself.
“Our customers visit Adega Restaurants not just looking for a meal, but a whole package of great, authentic food with friends and family in a pleasant atmosphere, with good ambience, music and decor, all served in a friendly, professional manner. We have worked hard to maintain Luis’ original aim of the Portuguese lunch,” Flanagan continues.
“Luis set out to create his lunchtime experience thirteen years ago and its popularity demanded that he began opening up every Wednesday and Friday. Quickly he discovered that he needed to start charging guests and opened every lunch time; and so he became the owner of a restaurant.
“The success stems from Adega’s origins – the owner was inside his house every day overseeing every dish that left his kitchen and we have always stuck to the same values. The operations team maintain strict standards on our meals and believe in creating authentic Portuguese dishes that have been adapted to suit the African palate.”
By March 2005, largely through word of mouth, public demand for Ferreira’s restaurant had reached such a level that he decided to embrace the franchise concept opening his first store in Johannesburg. Shortly afterwards Flanagan came onboard;
“The next four years we saw the chain (of stores) grow throughout Gauteng and in 2007 the brand went national opening stores in Cape Town and Durban. My remit has been to oversee the entire set up as a franchise company and my team has created training manuals, operation manuals, site selection criteria, the recruitment of project managers and procurement. In my first three years with Adega I trained roughly 1,000 staff.
“Around the same time we also opened our first halaal eatery – this concept is fairly unique in South Africa and came about almost by accident really when some regular customers approached us saying they would like to open a halaal store for Muslim customers but with the experience of our Portuguese restaurants.
“It was initially quite a challenge to devise recipes that met their strict criteria but has proven highly successful and the Portuguese style of cooking lends itself well to the halaal market.”
Adega Restuarants now operates four halaal stores as part of its 18 store business and employs approximately 800 workers. Flanagan says that from the outset the company has adopted a policy of recruiting disadvantaged individuals and investing in their development:
“I have been involved in the franchise restaurant business for 25 years and believe that one can never spend too much on training,” he asserts, “our greatest focus is on our front of house training to ensure that our customers are looked after in the best way possible.
“It costs us between 4,000 and 6,000 Rand to train a single staff member and most of our new staff are non-experienced and unemployed. We take a lot of pride in taking people off the streets and training them from scratch – it can be challenging but is always hugely rewarding.”
Regardless of where a new franchise is opening, all staff will pay a visit to Johannesburg and one of Adega’s two flagship training centres. Much of the training takes place on the job but the centres of excellence include classrooms where both new and old staff members learn how to deliver the best service.
“We train not only new members of staff but will also provide training at all levels including for franchise owners and re-training occurs whenever standards have fallen in an outlet,” Flanagan says.
Those standards are closely monitored by Flanagan’s operational team who work closely with each franchise. As a result of the nation’s current economic challenges Adega has had to review processes in an attempt to downsize without compromising on the customer experience or quality:
“The economy has affected business dramatically in South Africa and there is less funding available now which is partly why we have started to look at franchise opportunities elsewhere in the sub-Sahara region,” Flanagan comments.
“But raw product costs have increased significantly in the last three years and we have had to look elsewhere in the world for supplies as local availability has declined. When you factor in rising electric, gas, fuel and wage costs and fluctuating currency and local inflation, we have to monitor operations closely and cut costs wherever possible.
“For new developments we look to run units more efficiently by downsizing the kitchen area or changing equipment from electric to cheaper gas. Downsizing does put extra challenges on the team and there has been a need for more frequent check-ups on the franchises and more emphasis on training staff to multi-skill,” he adds.
Despite the prevailing climate, Flanagan says Adega has continued to grow; “The only way to build a brand is through word of mouth and our most successful marketing has come at grass roots level through handing out pamphlets on street corners and through local radio. Mediocre restaurants tend to fall by the wayside in the current economy and we have grown our market share.
“Our restaurants have always had a community focus and we want to maintain the perception of a local eatery for family and friends. We have introduced a series of successful customer loyalty programmes such as a Wine Club and Birthday Club and we are seeing a growth in mobile phone marketing on a local level.”
It appears the message is embraced by a loyal customer base for Adega Restaurants, having won the publicly-judged Best of Johannesburg Restaurant Award for the past six years, which gives Flanagan real optimism for the future:
“Adega’s future remains incredibly bright. Expansion has already taken us into Zambia and we are currently exploring franchise opportunities in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. We are also excited by possible new ventures in Dubai and London although we will have to set up infrastructure for our overseas projects.
“We have also been looking at new concepts like Adega Express which would be a small operational unit, aimed at the takeaway consumer, thereby opening up standard Adega products to new markets,” Flanagan concludes. All of which emphasises the virtues of a working lunch.