Pierre Constantinou is the founder of Panini Internazionale. For nearly 30 years, the restaurant has served high-quality food and maintained a strong brand identity. The business consists of 26 lunch shops and many products are being prepared on site. We talked to Pierre about maintaining a strong restaurant concept across multiple units.
How has training helped maintain a consistent food and brand concept across multiple locations? And what is the key to success?
To maintain a consistently high quality while expanding and adding new units is a pitfall to many companies in our industry. Comprehensive manuals, an enthusiastic team, education and quality control are essential tools to us. We always bear in mind that we are never better than our “poorest” meal on that exact day. That attitude keeps us and our team members keen to always do our best. The strong link between education and high-quality products may not come as a surprise. But what many fail to realize is the importance of a consistent learning experience. Having site managers delivering different information in different ways make the whole idea pointless - even though the various styles would work fine on their own. Brand recognition is essential to successful restaurant chains. You should be able to walk in with the same expectations in every branch. That is how we build brand loyalty and gain regular customers. In our latest survey we found that 960 out of our 1000 customers had shopped with us before in the previous month. In other words, we have 96% regular customers.
Your business concept is built on a passion for good food, natural ingredients, wellness and sustainability. How do you motivate and inspire everyone in the organization - including new, temporary and rotating employees?
We believe motivation comes from pride, knowledge, consciousness and responsibility. We know that we are not the cheapest on the market, nor are we the most expensive. However, I believe that we provide the best value for money. We never compromise on quality, which is why we choose additive-free products before cheaper options with artificial ingredients such as conservatives, colorants or other artificial substances (E-numbers). That is how we build credibility.
Using a well-suited education platform is essential in order to provide new and routined employees alike with knowledge about our food, ingredients, business philosophy and how to respond to customer inquiries.
How do you motivate your employees to develop skills and share knowledge with each other?
We try to motivate our employees to tune into each other’s ideas. Our store employees often find creative ways to prepare ingredients (mise en place) or store foods to keep the freshness. Once we have seen an improvement, we add the new routine to our education programme. In addition, we have a forum where store staff can share customer requirements and opinions.
2020 was a tough year for the restaurant industry. What were the key take-aways?
A "tough year” is quite an understatement. If it has been tough on the restaurant industry, it has been a disaster to us as a lunch shop. Our business is built on city workers who wish to have breakfast or lunch primarily to go. What was previously our strength has turned into a weakness with a 70-80% revenue drop compared to last year. In times of home office and remote work, most people sort out breakfast and lunch at home. It is mostly dinners and evening meals that get replaced by restaurant deliveries and unfortunately our food is not top of mind to families with small children.
Our list of lessons learned and outcomes continue. We expect the re-hiring of staff post-corona to be quite costly. As such, an education platform is essential to quickly get new starters up and running. We might also re-evaluate shop size and make each unit more mobile. It should be relatively easy to move or store units and later re-open them on a new address.
Many of us look forward to a normal everyday life. How do you recharge for a brighter future?
Right now our focus is to cut costs to survive and “hibernate” the pandemic. Once life and society get back to normal and people start to work from offices again, we believe there are huge marketing- and competitive advantages for those who survived the crisis.
We plan to open new units as soon as the market has stabilized. We will start (re-)hiring people, go back to normal opening hours, update our menu and continue to develop our digital platform to ensure a strong position for the future.