Casual Dining 2015

Karen Forrester, CEO of T.G.I Friday’s UK, Stephen Holmes, CEO of ASK Italian and Zizzi, and Alasdair Murdoch, CEO of Gourmet Burger Kitchen, are among the big name Keynote speakers now confirmed for Casual Dining 2015.

Catering specifically to the business needs of casual dining operators (including multiple and independent pubs, bars, and restaurants), the free Keynote Theatre programme, running throughout the two day show on 25-26 February at the Business Design Centre in London, will also include sessions by Anthony Pender, the new chairman of the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) and managing director of The Yummy Pub Company, and Kate Nicholls, new CEO of The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR).

Pender, who attended the launch edition, called Casual Dining a “welcome change to the trade show calendar”. “With its diversity of stands and lots of great food and drink producers, I would definitely recommend pub operators visit Casual Dining next year,” he said.

He’ll be outlining his vision for the future of hospitality, discussing how raising standards in licensed retail can benefit the whole casual dining sector. Whilst Nicholls looks ahead to next May’s general election, outlining the likely impact of a change in government – in terms of rents, rates, tax and food – for pub and restaurant operators.

Transforming the ASK Italian business

CEO Stephen Holmes has led ASK Italian through a significant period of change over the last five years. The multi-million pound transformation has touched every aspect of the brand, from the classic Italian dishes to the bold Milanese inspired contemporary design, and the warm, welcoming service. With 109 sites and over 2,000 employees, the business, originally founded in 1993, is now enjoying considerable momentum – and growth. Holmes’ Keynote will outline ASK’s journey to date and illustrate how people – from the front of house team to the chefs – are the key to creating a winning customer experience.

Theories, philosophies, values and traditions

Great customer service is also the focus of Karen Forrester’s Casual Dining Keynote. Voted 'Most People-Focused CEO' at the HR Excellence Awards in 2013, as the CEO of T.G.I Friday’s UK, Forrester is widely credited with the revival of the brand over the last six years (she joined the company as managing director in 2007). By investing heavily in her team members and their training, to ensure guests receive the best possible experience, and embracing new growth opportunities, the number of restaurants in the American-themed chain has grown from 46 to its current 61 (despite the recession). A further 60 outlets are planned by 2020.

“Friday’s is differentiated by offering experiences that connect emotionally with our guests,” says Forrester. “Our theories and philosophies provide teachings to drive decision making and behaviours aimed at strengthening those emotional connections and removing any obstacles. In times of great change or turbulence we call on our theories and philosophies to guide and reassure us.”

Forrester will discuss traditions that have been upheld in T.G.I Friday’s for almost 50 years, and the renewed values that help drive the company to behave with “pride, passion and personality”.

How to stay relevant in a crowded marketplace

Discussing what it means and what it takes to ‘stay relevant’ in the growing £7bn[1] casual dining market is a bold undertaking for any operator. But if anyone’s in a position to give advice, it’s Gourmet Burger Kitchen’s Alasdair Murdoch and his 20+ years’ experience in the restaurant industry. Prior to joining GBK as its CEO three years ago, Murdoch’s CV includes area manager for pub group Taylor Walker, operations director at KFC, MD of the Pizza Hut business in France, CEO of Pizza Hut UK for 3 years, and head of Pizza Express’s international business in Barcelona.

Like Holmes and Forrester, Murdoch has overseen the turnaround of a much-loved brand. By investing significantly in the quality of the food, re-investing in the restaurants, and developing the GBK teams in each restaurant, GBK is now poised for growth with strong like-for-like sales and seven openings in the next six months. Given the competitive explosion within the better burger sector of late, GBK’s strategies couldn’t be more perfectly timed.

The full Keynote programme will be announced in January 2015.

Casual Dining 2015

Busy, vibrant, relevant, innovative, excellent, and essential – these are just some of the words attendees have used to describe the launch of Casual Dining, which attracted 3,655 industry professionals in February 2014.

"Perfectly pitched and delivered, Casual Dining 2014 was a huge success – well targeted, lots of new and exciting products and a great turnout from across the sector. And 2015 is set to be even better!" says Peter Martin.

Casual Dining returns to the Business Design Centre, Islington, London, on Wednesday and Thursday 25-26 February 2015. To register for a free trade pass, please visit and quote priority code CDPR1

[1] Casual Dining – Success in a Crowded Market: Horizons, February 2014