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Bill's trials café bar concept with £10 evening dish

Casual dining chain Bill's has begun trialling a café bar concept that could be rolled out nationwide if successful. Bill's Café Bar Newbury opened on 1 April and a St Albans location will launch on 22 April.

The test locations, which are both existing Bill's sites in commuter towns, offer part of the group's core menu as well as sharing plates, cakes, pastries, beers and hot drinks.

A selection of dishes will be available in the evening between Sunday and Thursday for £10, and customers will be able to order and pay at the bar or their table. If the cafés are a hit, more will be opened across the country.

The launch comes off the back of strong trading at Bill's, which saw like-for-like sales rise 4.6% to £92.6m across its 45 restaurants in 2023. Group earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation jumped from £5.5m to over £8m, an increase of 45%.

Bill's said the results were driven by a 'forensic approach to cost control' under a new management team appointed in 2022. Menu price increases were held at under 1% during the year.

Bill's was founded by Bill Collison as a greengrocer in Lewes, East Sussex, in 2001 and was acquired by the Ivy restaurateur Richard Caring in 2008. Caring grew the business into a nationwide chain of more than 80 restaurants but later admitted it had become 'tired' and needed a turnaround.

The group closed over 20 underperforming sites off the back off the pandemic and has invested in refurbishments across its estate.

Caring said: 'The strong financial performance proves that Bill's remains a tremendously popular dining location, offering a best-in-class food and drink offer in stylish and unique locations.

'We are converting both the Newbury and St Albans sites into Café Bars. We believe they will be well received by the public and will open the opportunity to explore future conversions and growth for the brand.'

Tom James, managing director at Bill's, said the Café Bar launch was 'an exciting time for the business and our teams'.

'After our collective efforts over the last couple of years to strengthen our operation, we are now at a stage where we can put our energy into new opportunities such as this,' said James.

'While continually improving and innovating our core offer, we welcome this updated version of Bill's to develop in line with current industry trends and guest demands.'