A real showcase

28/02/2013 - 08:43
Business is booming at Bluewater’s Wintergarden after it reopened a few months ago following a multi million development plan. Maria Bracken speaks to Russell Loveland, senior asset manager at Lend Lease, owner of Bluewater, to find out what makes the lunchtime outlet such a success

Bluewater houses three distinct food areas. The Plaza, which was part of a £60 million development plan just over a year a go, offers ‘casual dining’, The Village represents Bluewater’s fine dining area and The Wintergarden offers food on the go.

A total of 11 new food concepts opened at Wintergarden in October 2012, with six of these choosing Bluewater for their first outlet outside of London. Offering a grand total of 17 eateries, this space now plays host to some of the biggest names in food to go including Wasabi, Tortilla, Lola’s Cupcakes and Indigo, not to mention the big fast food chains KFC and McDonald’s.

And business has never been better, says Loveland. Since the redevelopment, catering sales have increased by 10%, covers have risen by 50% to over 1,000, and the footfall over the past month has been “beyond belief”.

The focus of The Wintergarden is social dining where people can meet and eat. It has been created with families in mind and also helps parents to encourage their children to try different types of food.

 “We always used to get labelled as a food court, and I hated that word,” explains Loveland. “We wanted to offer an environment more like a restaurant, and this is exactly what we have achieved. We refer to Wintergarden as a social dining experience. You can come with friends and family, you can choose different things and order off different menus, and you can sit there and feel like you are in a restaurant.”

It’s also about blending restaurant and fast food, he says. “The food offering used to be based on a much more traditional model. Dining used to be about restaurants and fast food. What we have tried to do is blend the two. Fast food has changed massively and there is no reason why the quality of fast food shouldn’t be as good as in a restaurant.”

With over 10 million people a year passing through the Wintergarden area, Loveland says it is crucial that food operators tap into shopping centres. “Bluewater is a day out, people don’t just come to Bluewater to pop out, they come here to eat, shop, go to the cinema, for example.

“You want to go somewhere you have everything all under the one roof, and this is where people are flooding.”

He raises his concerns for high streets. “They are going to have to reinvent themselves. They are never going to be able to replicate the retail and food offer that we can provide.”

Bluewater as a ‘destination’ also offers many benefits in comparison to the high street. “We have got full control with Bluewater,” he says. “On a high street there is no common ownership. You could have a KFC sitting next to a bank, next to a high end restaurant – it’s crazy!”

He believes Bluewater is “worlds apart” when compared to other shopping centres. “We are the only shopping centre which has differentiated three distinct eating areas and created a different feel and ambience to all of them.

“This allows us to work the mix. We’re not just trying to maximise rent from that one unit, it’s about how do we drive the best turnover through the best offers in that whole area?”

Since the relaunch, Loveland says Tortilla is showing a very strong performance, followed by Wasabi and Lola’s Cupcakes.

“We always find in Bluewater that it’s the strong brands that seem to work better. If you have a real point of difference and you can show what you’re about, it tends to work better,” he says.

Aside from the Wintergarden, Bluewater has also recently announced its first standalone café – Caffe Nero, situated on the upper Rose Gallery. Designed to look like it is part of a traditional high street, Ben Price, finance director at Caffe Nero, says the new design represents a new direction for the brand. “Our preference is usually for traditional town and city centre high streets, but Bluewater is a rare exception to the rule.  It offers us everything we look for; great architecture, good service, and very large numbers of coffee lovers.”

Guy Thomas, head of retail leasing at Lend Lease, adds: “A key element of the Bluewater’s success is providing guests with a varied experience, of which leisure is a vital component.  Caffè Nero’s location in the upper Rose Gallery, Bluewater’s equivalent of a traditional high street, is therefore perfect.  That they have used this as an opportunity to introduce a great new concept is just as important, however, and reflects the strong desire amongst brands to make the most of the unique opportunity that Bluewater represents.”

Caffè Nero joins Byron and Pinkberry, both of which opened their first flagships outside central London at Bluewater in May last year.

Costa Coffee’s Bluewater outlet has also been busy with its new fit out, which took place in November 2012. “There’s no missing it’s Costa,” jokes Loveland.

This space used to have the traditional Costa look, with pictures of baristas and coffee beans dotted around, but they have done away with all of that. “Costa wanted to get back to its roots to show they are about coffee. Everyone is getting a lot more educated these days about coffee, therefore you have to do something different and show you are authentic.”

Loveland says going forward, it’s all about consolidation. “We did so much last year that it’s really important that see how it’s all going to settle down.

“Watch this space!” he says.

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