“The pressure is starting to build, it’s true.” New director of operations for the Courtepaille chain, Marlène Vélé does not hide her stress on the eve of the weekend. The brand, taken over in June by the La Boucherie group, is launching its new menu this Friday in nearly 80 restaurants. Andouillette, pork ribs, pieces of beef... The chain has chosen the path of continuity to reconnect with its historic clientele.
“It’s a return to basics,” proudly recognizes Marlène Vélé. As predicted by the takeover project presented a few months earlier by the Angevin group, the new restaurant's offering is refocused around meat. “It seemed essential to us to reconnect with what made the strength of the first Courtepaille, namely cooking on the grill in front of customers,” explains the manager. The brand's managers also saw fit to resurrect certain classics, too quickly eclipsed in recent years. “The welcome salad, for example. This may seem anecdotal, but it plays a big role for the most loyal customers..."
By saving the legendary chain from bankruptcy at the last minute, the La Boucherie group took care not to repeat the errors of its predecessors. Those of Napaqaro (Buffalo Grill), in particular. Owner of the chain from 2020 to 2023, the group had alienated some of its historic customers by removing certain fundamentals from the menu and cutting back on the quality of the dishes. “We have taken care to offer quality products, in direct contact with the producers,” maintains Marlène Vélé. From now on, the famous cuts of Courtepaille beef - much appreciated by the President of the Republic - will be "sourced" from a historic supplier of the group, in Brive-la-Gaillarde.
“Even if we do not order the same products for all the group's restaurants, we are fortunate to be able to consolidate orders,” recognizes the operations director. These economies of scale, achieved with other Butchery brands, have enabled the group to offer a more than competitive pricing policy. “The prices of the new menu are lower than those charged by Courtepaille in recent years,” maintains Marlène Vélé. For those in a hurry, the brand is offering a formula at 12.50 euros, and for those who are less in a hurry, a complete formula at 24.90 euros. A “teenager’s menu” has appeared, in addition to the traditional children’s menu. “These formulas should allow Courtepaille to reconnect with families, including those who have a limited budget.” Gone, however, are the aggressive promotions that Napaqaro specialized in. “It is better to retain customers over the long term with attractive prices,” believes the manager.
To achieve this, La Boucherie did not hesitate to slightly cut back on its margins. The group also lowered royalties for franchised restaurants to 3.5% for 18 months. “Time to breathe some new life into the restaurants…”, underlines the management. Because the first challenge remains the return of customers to the conical inns. The group has set itself the objective of returning to pre-Covid attendance levels, knowing that at the time of the sale by Napakaro, restaurant attendance was still down 25% compared to 2020. In addition its new menu, La Boucherie is counting on a refresh of the restaurants (planned for next year) and a redesigned service to win its bet.
Some observers, however, find it difficult to hide their skepticism. “Offering quality products, in direct contact with producers, is very good, but at these prices, who will believe it?” asks Bernard Boutboul, catering consultant and founder of Gira Conseil. For this market connoisseur, La Boucherie would have done better to transform Courtepaille into a “high-end steak house” and assume its premiumization, including on prices. “Contrary to popular belief, customers do not want prices to be driven down, even in times of inflation. The restaurant budget is one of those that best resists household purchasing power decisions,” he believes.
In good shape, will the La Boucherie group (180 million turnover expected in 2023) manage to wring the critics' necks? It's up to customers to decide. If everything goes smoothly, the group hopes to expand the Courtepaille network in the coming years. “The opening of additional restaurants is already on the agenda. The long-term perspective is to redeploy the brand,” assures Marlène Vélé. Like in the days when thatched-roof inns flourished along the French highways...