When Peter Van Praet lived and worked in London, he saw one trendy food concept emerge after another. Traditional cuisine had been replaced with dishes bringing together ingredients from different corners of the world. Later, when he moved back to Ghent, the business developer started to get itchy feet. “I’d been taking notes in London and wanted to start my own business in the hospitality sector,” says Van Praet. “Just a little while later, we’d found a location with the help of the early business angels who had bought into our story from the start.”
“We opened a restaurant opposite the Sunset, a legendary café among Ghent students. With Bavet, I wanted to make pasta that isn’t typically Italian but has a trendy create-your-own touch. People can choose their sauce as well as varying the toppings. Things like chicken, meatballs, halloumi, rocket…”
The spreadsheet as a benchmark
A second, third, fourth… and seventeenth location soon followed. “We have a business-driven plan of action. On one hand, it’s rock ‘n’ roll; on the other hand, it all starts with our spreadsheets,” says Van Praet. “External investors came on board fairly quickly, so things sometimes go faster than you can handle. The only way I survived was by having a structure and a strong team alongside me.”
The spreadsheet Van Praet is referring to has become the holy grail in Bavet’s expansion plans. “We look at everything at the restaurant level, so that we can easily compare them. Bavet’s concept has a number of advantages and disadvantages. In terms of food cost, we’re doing well with pasta, and the beverage cost is optimal but not comparable to the US or UK. On one hand, we have the sugar tax in Belgium, and on the other, we sell less alcohol than traditional restaurants. Staff are expensive here anyway, but because we can limit the number of employees per shop, we can keep it very scalable."
“The arrival of external investors resulted in many additional KPIs, including productivity, cash-on-cash returns, how quickly we would break even… When we saw that we broke even after only four weeks with our first location, we completely abandoned our original sales forecast. We thought we would have a turnover of €500,000, but it quickly exceeded €1 million. Not bad for a 90-square-metre box. Of our 17 current locations, 75% are doing really well and none are EBITDA-negative. The reviews we receive are automatically converted into an NPS score that we monitor for each location. We can also find out when they were posted, so we can pass on the compliments to the chef who was on duty at the time.”
Gut feeling plus data
Perhaps the most important factor in the success of a Bavet is its location. When Van Praet opens a new place, he starts with a healthy combination of gut feeling and data. “I like to study locations. You can take that literally: I wander through the streets and talk to people so that I can really discover the city. I now know Belgium really well. Wherever I am, I know where the hipsters and the authentic people are.”
Thanks to having open discussions with his competitors, Van Praet also knows which places are worth visiting, but that’s not all. Data plays a very important role when opening a new location. “On one hand, there are platforms like LocatUs, which makes forecasts at street level. This is followed by a breakdown that we draw up ourselves. How much tourism is there? How many schools are there in the area? How many people will be passing by? This allows us to quickly calculate how much turnover a restaurant could make. If the rent is less than 8 per cent of that forecast, it’s a “go” for that property.”
Van Praet looks with healthy curiosity at how other food concepts such as Otomat and Ellis are doing. “They’re not entirely comparable. The average ticket price is higher and people spend more time there, but on the other hand, they also have a higher food cost.”
Besides Bavet, Van Praet is also focused on other businesses. For example, he is involved in Oats Day Long, which aims to expand to ten locations in the near future. He is also co-founder of Casper, a chain of dark kitchens. “Making these businesses even more data-driven than Bavet will be difficult, because industry experts are already falling over backwards when they see how we work with our team.”
So, according to Van Praet, data-driven business is the way to go. With Bizzy, you can easily track your competition or similar companies and discover new business opportunities. More info about all the data Bizzy offers can be found here.
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