Name: The Coconut Tree
Founded in: 2016
Tip: “Do your research and understand where your brand fits into a city.”
When Sri Lankan restaurant The Coconut Tree started looking at expansion, it found itself at the mercy of an expensive and competitive property market. After opening restaurants in Oxford and Cheltenham, the team had set their sights on a Bristol branch.
They spent a year applying for – and losing – potential locations. It was demoralising, so the team decided to bid on as many properties as possible. But when two of their bids succeeded, the team were torn between letting a viable property go or suddenly opening two new restaurants at the same time. Though it was a huge risk, they decided to go for it.
Doubling the size of the chain overnight meant The Coconut Tree team had to quickly work out how to keep the brand consistent across different locations. With two sites, it was fairly easy for one of the managers to check in on the food, drinks and service. With four, they needed systems in place.
The first step was making sure that new locations would embrace the values of their original locations. The team recognised that growth can be detrimental to a brand, so brand consistency would be vital. As a result, the brand team tries to vet every aspect of their public-facing business, from new cocktail menus to staff training.
“We concentrate heavily on the brand,” Anna Garrod, brand director of The Coconut Tree, explained. “The Coconut Tree is really stripped back – Sri Lankan hospitality is very relaxed. So when you’re opening up somewhere new, you need to get the brand across straight away. We don’t want people expecting us to be super posh.”
To keep a check on public perception at the restaurants, they included reviews on sites like Google, TripAdvisor and OpenTable in management KPIs. Someone checks the sites every day, to allow the team to listen and adapt to customer feedback in near real-time.
Nine months after successfully opening two branches in Bristol, The Coconut Tree has followed up by launching a restaurant in Cardiff. It’s the fifth location in less than three years. The restaurant now has 150 employees, recently recruiting more people to help manage HR and operations. While they’re planning to open new locations in the future, the main focus continues to be on maintaining brand consistency and the standards across the restaurants.
“When you’re moving into a new city, be sure that’s where your customer is. Take the time to trawl websites and visit properties. A lot of people overlook good properties because they have some weird quirks. It all takes time, but it becomes easier as you grow.”