“Just Stunning”: Garsons sets new standard in Garden Centre Catering

Ifse plays integral role in realising high end concept

The new Restaurant at Garsons Garden Centre designed and installed by IfseThe new restaurant at Garsons Garden Centre in Esher is in an octagonal glass atrium built on a steel frame.  It’s a striking concept, designed to draw in the customer.  In such a space, expectations will be high, so the catering has to deliver.  It does – and not only in terms of customer delight: Compass Instore, which runs the catering at Garsons, expects the restaurant to turnover in excess of £1.5million per year.

Part of a £4.3million investment in Garsons’ retail areas, the restaurant has up to 450 covers – 300 inside and 150 on the outside terrace, overlooking the fields.  “With the design, whilst looking ahead, we also aimed to reflect on our history, when trading at London’s Borough Market,” says Ben Thompson, director at Garsons.  “This is echoed in the steelwork and timber cladding.  The business’s origins are also featured pictorially on the internal low-height walls.” 

The kitchen and restaurant design and install was completed by International Food Service Equipment (Ifse), the Croydon-based company specialising in design and build for the foodservice sector.  Ifse was brought in after the original design had been drawn up: “Space planning in a scheme like this is paramount,” says Anne Peacock, project manager at Ifse.  “Our redesign provided an additional 30 seats for Garsons, giving them very significant potential for extra revenue.”

“Garsons’ aim was to set the bar very high,” says Helen Cotter, regional manager for Compass Instore, who was in charge of getting the new restaurant up and running.  “This is as good as any instore retail catering offering, anywhere in the UK.  Garsons has established a new benchmark in garden centre restaurants.”

Anne describes the kitchen as ‘a chef’s dream.’  Head chef Melvyn Redding agrees.  “It’s a really good size and works well,” he says.  “It’s been ergonomically designed and, critically, it’s future-proofed.”

In fact, future-proofing was a key factor in the project.  Increasing demand at the old restaurant led to the new build, and that demand looks set to continue to rise.  “Both the kitchen and the servery area are set up for expansion,” says Anne.  “For example, there are services in the kitchen for an extra three combi steamers and a pot washer, and in the servery area for an extra multideck food display counter.”

The restaurant and kitchen are built around the concept of seasonality, linking the menu directly to produce from Garsons’ fields – the garden centre is at the heart of the largest PYO farm in the UK, with over forty crops on 150 acres.  Along with Garsons’ vegetables, meat is sourced from the on-site butcher.  The menu will feature specials using these locally sourced ingredients – such as Cumberland curl with kale mash & rich onion gravy, and chicken supreme with Brie, bacon and creamed savoy cabbage.

The kitchen features segregated prep areas for raw meat, cooked meat and vegetables.  “One of Garsons’ signature dishes is triple-cooked chips, so there’s also a dedicated spud peeling and chipping area,” says Anne.  The kitchen has prime cooking equipment and refrigeration from Electrolux as well as three Rational combi steamers.

Both Garsons and Compass Instore put a major focus on the customer journey, with extensive staff training aimed at giving customers the best possible experience.  “We call it ‘give them the pickle,’ meaning going the extra mile,” says Helen.  The restaurant design reflects this, by letting the customer choose the type of eating experience they want.  Closer to the kitchen pass the seating is relatively formal, gradually becoming more and more informal towards the outside terrace.  The furniture at Garsons restaurant was supplied by Abbey Leisure Furnishings, who played an important role in realising the design concept.

In fact, this customer focus is evident in every detail.  For example, to ensure that tableware is always perfect, the kitchen has Winterhalter warewashers, including a reverse osmosis water treatment unit that guarantees glasses and crockery are sparkly clean.

Technology is also helping enhance the customer journey at Garsons.  “With such a large restaurant, getting the food from the kitchen to the table quickly is critical,” says Helen.  “The old restaurant at Garsons, like many other garden centres, used numbered wooden spoons.  We’re using Ifse’s Table Tracker, which is a hi-tech alternative.”

Customers are given a Table Tracker tile at the checkout, which they place on their chosen table.  The tile links to screens in the kitchen and at the pass that show the table location and the order – so waiters can go straight to the right table as soon as the food is ready.  If the customer moves table, the tile automatically updates the location.  What’s more, the screens show how long customers have been waiting for their food – going from green to yellow to amber if the wait is too long, warning staff if they need to deal with an issue.

“By telling waiting staff exactly where to go, Table Tracker enables Garsons to be efficient and effective delivering orders to table,” says Helen.

Another theme of the restaurant is the abundance of the offer, hence the displays of produce that are a feature of the servery area: “This resonates with the farm,” says Anne.  “It’s especially reflected in the wide range of baked goods and cakes available.”  Again, the design underlines this with a dedicated crème patisserie room in the kitchen, which has a viewing window so customers can watch the patisseries being made.

The kitchen pass is open, too, so that customers can see the chefs in action.  “Garsons wanted to underline the connection to the kitchen.  The open pass also adds to the theatre of the customer experience plus, of course, they get great confidence from being able to see what’s happening in the kitchen,” Anne adds.

“The restaurant was full on its first weekend,” says Ben.  “In the first week we traded over £30,000. Ifse played an integral role in developing the project – especially in terms of pushing to expand covers and ensure future-proofing.  Having a single point of contact in Anne Peacock was a real advantage in a project of this size.”

“The end result is a stunning testament to Garsons’ vision,” says Helen.

For more information on Garsons visit www.garsons.co.uk

For information on Compass Instore visit www.weareinstore.co.uk

For information on Abbey Leisure Furnishings visit www.abbeyleisurefurnishings.com

The architect and planning consultant on the Garsons Garden Centre project was Malcom Scott Consultants Limited, www.malcolmscottcons.co.uk.  The main contractor was Geo Hodges & Son Limited, www.hodges.co.uk.

Ifse is a leading foodservice design and build company.  It specialises in all aspects of catering fit out, from supplying a new refrigerator to a complete restaurant design and build project. For more information see www.ifse.co.uk, call 020 8667 1167 or email sales@ifse.co.uk



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