This week we asked a few questions to Aileen Galvin from wagamama about their five highly successful Irish locations. We weren’t just there for their lovely ramen – scout’s honour, Aileen. Mmmmmm, lovely Ramen.
Hi Aileen, can you give us a bit of background about wagamama in general. Also, why do the Irish love noodles so much?
wagamama is a worldwide pan-Asian inspired noodle bar that began with one restaurant in London in 1992 and has since grown to 116 outlets in 17 countries across the world. wagamama (meaning naughty child in Japanese!) is known for offering fresh and tasty fast food in a contemporary and relaxed atmosphere. Here in Ireland, there are five wagamama restaurants – South King Street, Dundrum Shopping Centre and Blanchardstown Shopping Centre in Dublin, as well as South Main Street in Cork and Victoria Shopping in Belfast. The South King Street branch was opened in 1998, the very first wagamama franchise in the world.
The Irish have really embraced the noodle dining experience and thankfully our offering is as fresh and exciting as it was 16 years ago. We also develop our own dishes and we often tend to be the first franchise to trial new ideas, new menus and new ways of cooking, which means we are always evolving and can consistently bring new offerings to our customers. Just recently we started a lunchtime Bento Box offer and delighted to say it’s been a great success for us and we will be keeping it on our menus.
Tell us a bit about your staff.
We currently have a team of 168 across all our branches as well as our head office. We are a significant employer in the restaurant trade. They are a wonderful, eclectic bunch of people, hardworking, smart and warm, they have embraced the values of wagamama, to provide our customers with a fuss free, quick, quality service, in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. It’s so important to us that the customer is king.
How would you describe your customers?
Thankfully, we have a very broad customer base and we work hard to appeal to many different people. Lots of customers have been with us for years, they are more friends than customers at this stage – many have been coming to wagamama on a regular basis since the day we opened on South King Street!
We get a lot of students in, we work hard at grass roots level on campus and with societies to ensure great student engagement. We offer them brain food to get them through their studies! We get many young professionals who enjoy having a fresh and quick option for lunch or dinner. They want to feel they’ve had a nourishing meal which doesn’t leave them in that after eating slump and with our mix of ingredients and generous portion sizes, you leave satisfied and full.
We get a lot of fitness trainers and enthusiasts as well as pro-athletes through the doors for this reason. wagamama is a great after workout choice, as nourishing food is vital for sports people and those who train a lot. Many of the Irish rugby teams and GAA footballers and hurlers are regulars at wagamama as many of our dishes would be on their permitted foods lists. We are also always happy to substitute items for our guests, so those on low carb diets can choose brown rice instead of white or have the noodles removed from the ramen dishes and replaced with extra spinach and fresh veggies, along with many other options, without sacrificing taste. It’s never a problem and we are delighted to tailor our meals for those who ask.
Families are very important for us and we get a lot of family trade at the weekends. More and more parents demand proper food for their kids, adult meals in small people’s portions and that’s what we offer at wagamama. Our kids menu is very competitively priced and young people enjoy the challenge of the chopsticks and the fun of slurping their noodles. The food is freshly prepared and made to order, so it’s a real stand out offering.
Most challenging factor on a daily basis in your business?
I would say the most challenging factor on a daily basis is being proactive in planning activities, to capitalise on opportunities and to maintain excellent communication and flow of information across all departments. You just have to be constantly on top of what is going on outside of the restaurants as much as inside the restaurants and not allow yourself to get caught up in your own bubble, which can be easy to slip into at times. After this many years, it’s surprising how au fait you get with days of the week, months of the year, holiday periods, the weather, the news, events that are on, road closures, a myriad of things can add to and take from your business, so you have to be prepared at all times.
If you are to stay relevant in a this hugely competitive market, you have to constantly strive for perfection and continuously improve your offering in order to provide great value, freshly prepared and cooked food in a positive environment. Dietary requirements are also constantly changing and we aim to stay ahead of these at all times to maintain customer satisfaction within our operation. It’s hard work and usually calls for one or two of those Asian inspired cocktails at the end of a long day!