If a new piece of foodservice equipment has been installed in a kitchen operated by La Tasca, James Picton knows about it. The Spanish tapas chain’s group operations director is the man who gives the final sign-off on all catering equipment purchases and he therefore boasts an encyclopaedic knowledge of kitchen inventory throughout La Tasca’s 45-strong UK estate.
Over the past four years the chain’s back-of-house operations have been re-engineered and organised as part of a strategy to invest on a long-term basis into its kitchens. The last 18 months have been especially significant, with La Tasca — which was recently bought by the Casual Dining Group — working with supplier partner Lockhart to painstakingly identify a list of core inventory that works across the group. It is now seeing the benefits of investing in equipment that works for its menu and developing a maintenance structure that can support the kitchen operation throughout its estate.
“We spent a huge amount of time working our way through lots of different options and lots of brands to see what each one could do for us,” acknowledges James. “We’re clearly still as price sensitive as anyone else, but we wanted to make sure that we didn’t just put the cheapest items in. We need equipment that is really going to deliver an effective, consistent menu so that when we cook bravas in one restaurant, it is exactly the same as it is in another, rather than what we were getting, which were two slightly different products just because of the equipment they were using.”
Nothing illustrates the evolution that has taken place at La Tasca better than a statistic that has become a favourite for the management team to regale: when they took over the company it was an 85% frozen business; today it is 85% fresh. “We were walking into freezer-loads of stock,” remembers James. “I’d find rooms full of chest freezers and that was a real challenge. Bit-by-bit we have been plugging away, making the changes, and it has now reached the point where that has swung round completely and we are at 85% fresh now,” he comments.
“We spent a huge amount of time working our way through lots of different options and lots of brands to see what each one could do for us”