Zen restarts chain expansion

Zen restarts chain expansion

Eateries get a makeover as consumers start to return

The new image of On the Table displayed at Mega Bangna mall.
The new image of On the Table displayed at Mega Bangna mall.

After seeing a rapid recovery in the food industry at the end of last year, Zen Corporation Plc, the operator of restaurant chains Zen, On the Table and Aka, has decided to resume expansion of its business this year.

Boonyong Tansakul, chief executive of Zen, said the company believes the worst is behind it.

"Chains endured a rough patch during the pandemic, but the industry has recovered faster than other sectors such as tourism," said Mr Boonyong.

"With better sentiment, we are ready to reinvest this year."

He said the company wants to resume opening new branches of the Aka Japanese restaurant this year after delaying expansion for two years during the pandemic.

The new branches of Aka are mostly going to be located in hypermarkets over the next three years to reduce risk, instead of opting for Central malls as in the past, said Mr Boonyong.

The company plans to open an Aka restaurant at a Big C hypermarket for the first time in Nakhon Pathom in April this year.

Roughly 10-15 new Aka restaurants are planned for hypermarkets and Robinson Lifestyle Malls this year, with more scheduled for the next few years, boosting the total number of Aka eateries to 100 branches by 2025, up from 28 now.

On the Table, a Tokyo café brand, was less affected by the pandemic, he said. The company plans to rebrand it this year to make it more modern, becoming a destination restaurant for younger customers.

Restaurants are going to be redesigned to fit various customer lifestyles, said Mr Boonyong. Two branches in Lat Phrao and Bang Na have already been reworked, with a Rama IX Road branch next on the list.

He said the company wants to open three new On the Table restaurants this year. One branch was opened at Silom Complex earlier this year, with new branches planned for The Mall Thapra and Samyan Mitrtown in the third and fourth quarters of this year, said Mr Boonyong.

He said to overcome the pandemic, the company adjusted its business model to a hybrid restaurant, providing both a la carte and premium Japanese buffet under the same roof.

There are a total of 44 Zen restaurants in Thailand, 29 branches of which have changed to the hybrid concept, with the remaining 15 still a la carte.

After reworking its restaurant concept, the company wants to open more Zen hybrid restaurants at retail outlets of Central, The Mall and Robinson. It plans to open a Zen flagship restaurant at Queen Sirikit National Convention Center and a Zen Grab & Go at Muang Thong Thani in the third quarter of this year, said Mr Boonyong.

A new Zen restaurant model will be launched this year to reach customers in office buildings, he said.

"As consumer behaviour and spending power changes because of the pandemic, the landscape for restaurant chains has to drastically adapt in terms restaurant model, design and new facilities for pet lovers. These venues have to be reimagined to become lifestyle venues to encourage longer visits," said Mr Boonyong.

"More robots may be needed to serve customers who need an experience beyond just food."

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