Here’s the Food Futures Insights’ take following today's visit to wagamama’s new food-to-go concept in London.
mamago opened on 26 November, on London’s Fenchurch Street, very much within what is a food-to-go hotbed in the City of London. It’s not short of competition, with an adjacent Itsu, Pizza Express’ Za concept just around the corner, and a raft of London food-to-go specialists within a 2 minute walk. These include a Pret, which will shortly be joined by a dedicated veggie Pret, currently in the process of conversion from its previous incarnation as EAT.
But the mamago concept impresses from the start. As you’d expect from an operator that knows what it’s doing when it comes to creating welcoming and informal store environments, the internals are done very well. And while the branding and feel have similarities to the core wagamama concept, importantly, it feels very much like a distinct entity. A smaller sibling perhaps, but one very capable of standing on its own two feet.
This could be the most significant wagamama opening for a considerable time. The business has gone from strength to strength in recent years, and like-for-like sales growth continues to impress. And this could add several new elements to its growth strategy, if it can prove the concept. It’s well suited to airports, railway stations, and could fit into food halls and even workplaces. The combination of travel and alternative locations, plus food-to-go, fits neatly with key current growth trends, bringing different perceptions of growth potential compared with those associated with "high streets" and "restaurants" right now.
wagamama has a tradition of innovation, and that’s certainly in evidence in this format, with a menu developed to be distinct from that on offer in its restaurants. There’s a healthy, fresh focus in the offer, underpinned by the promise of meals freshly prepared within four minutes. An open kitchen design enables customers to see the freshness of preparation for themselves.
There’s also focus to the menu, with a limited range of choices aiding operational efficiency in-store. Meals fall into one of four categories, rice based, noodles and laksas, wraps and salads, and sit alongside a range of innovative Asian inspired sides and juices. Recognising the core focus and missions it is targeting, the main menu is served from 10.30am.
Technology is used to good effect in facilitating the ordering process. The touchscreen ordering feeds through to an order number which appears on a screen to show preparation of your food is under way - there are clear similarities with both McDonald’s and Dominos in the ordering functionality. But there is also the chance to order in person, and a key difference here was how the team in-store supported and helped customers with the use of the technology, on my visit from the excellent Nadia.
The location in the heart of the City means many will look to take away rather than eat in, but due consideration has been given to this seating area, nicely laid out with a focus on prominent charging points and plugs. At the time of my visit this felt to be largely taken up by visiting head office Wagamama staff, plus visitors from other food-to-go chains, and was made up of seated tables plus perch bars, with stools. Overall this is a format that impressed in many ways, delivering a great combination of healthy, fresh, tasty and differentiated food in a welcoming store environment at reasonable prices.
Overall summary: an excellent first move into food-to-go from wagamama.
Watchouts: managing the queue at peak times when all orders are cooked to order. Customer communication around this, and why there is a delay in getting orders to customers, will be key in what is an attractive but fiercely competitive food-to-go market.
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