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Empty Plates

The SME Productivity & Innovation Centre (PIC) at Edge Hill University delivers impact through an intensive fully-funded programme that helps established SMEs, with the vision and potential for growth, build a coherent business model strategy to scale-up.

Empty Plates case study

Empty plates catering service logo

Chef agency and event catering

Anne Lambelin, Director – Empty Plates

“The Innovation Sprint Programme has been a fabulous support, eye opener and thought provoking process to put our new venture on its tracks. It was effectively the first time we were pitching it to outside. This is constructive criticism at its absolute best, helping us to put a plan in place that will drive our vision into the future. Knowing that we have been the 100th company they have helped does not surprise us at all: the quality of the people, the structure and the advice mean that there will be many more hundreds, without a doubt.”

Anne Lambelin, Director – Empty Plates

On completing the programme a new software product launched:

  • A defined business strategy for Toque Info Ltd.
  • A distinct tiered service model.
  • Clarification of routes to market and roll-out strategy.

Starting point

With over 30 years’ experience in the hospitality sector, Anne Lambelin and Gary McDonnell launched their own catering business, Empty Plates in 2000. Ten years later, using their expertise and industry knowledge, they pivoted the business towards a recruitment agency, specific for the catering sector.

The fast-paced catering and hospitality sector often requires contingency recruitment to fill unplanned staff changes in hotels and busy restaurants. Many vacancies often require specific culinary skills and proficiency. Empty Plates had invested and created a prototype of a new software tool that captured their wealth of experience, to support and simplify the specific recruitment and administrative requirements of the catering industry.

The opportunity

The prototype, named Toque Info Limited, required some development before its official launch. At the off-set of the programme, Anne and Gary wanted to build a product launch strategy and it was soon recognised that the new opportunity required some market feasibility analysis. A plan was also required to complete the development of the app and a commercialisation strategy including sales and service processes, pricing policy and support levels.

The journey

Throughout the programme, there were key changes in Empty Plates initial business strategy. The first key change was in mindset, moving the focus of the business from a chef agency to a software provider. This shift in approach will allow the company to select and target new customers more effectively once the software is ready for full roll-out.

A second key objective was for the company to complete the development of the prototype. The software can then be released and be offered to established customers to trial, before a more comprehensive market launch.

The solution and outcomes

As a software provider, it is crucial to have a clear offer to interest target customers. During the programme, Edge Hill and Empty Plates designed a tiered offer to target new customers and for them to easily understand the pricing structure and the level of service they would receive for their monthly subscription fee.

Empty Plates developed a clear plan including financial projections and clarity of target customer numbers along with an evolving organisational structure which will help to manage a larger customer base as the business grows.

The team described the digitally facilitated programme as “life-changing”. All their hard work and investment in developing a software solution for a sector they are extremely passionate about, for the first time, visually, became a reality for them both. They found the online workshop tool easy to use and interactive.

Empty Plates are now looking forward to turning their new plans into reality. We look forward to catching up with the ambitious team next year to review their progress.

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