Sophie's Story

Sophie Johnson

Area Manager, Midlands
Age: 29 years old
Likes: Yoga, running, My cat 'Chubbs'
Dislikes: PPI calls

Lightbulb Moment

"My experience of innovation in hospitality was limited before I joined Bella Italia"

It's a wonderful feeling when an idea starts as a conversation and then becomes reality. It’s even better when you've helped make it happen and seen it succeed above all expectations. I had that feeling for the first time not so long ago. I was out for an early morning run when I got a call from David Hale (General Manager of Bella Italia, Stratford-upon-Avon) to tell me he had a big idea.

I’d been working as an Operations Manager for Bella Italia for one and a half years when I first saw David's proposal. Previous roles in the industry had conditioned me to think that ‘big ideas cost money' and ‘there's no budget available', but I hadn’t been given that impression at Bella Italia so agreed to meet the next day on the basis that if the idea was good, I’d help him make a case.

David had noticed that summer festivals in the area were on the up and he'd spotted an opportunity to introduce the Bella Italia brand (and fresh Italian pasta) to the wider local community (the one beyond the High Street). David wanted to build a mobile kitchen and take Bella Italia on the road.

Green Light

" presented the idea to management and it was met with great enthusiasm"

To make Bella Italia Mobile Kitchen a reality we were going to need three things; Management buy-in, a detailed proposal and some serious commitment from David. I already knew how passionate David was as he'd already been drawing out the plans in his spare time, so my main concern was how open Bella Italia management would be.

I needn't have worried. David put together a detailed business case, had designed every element, and even had costs for the kitchen supplied by a local business. When I presented the idea at our monthly management meeting it was met with great enthusiasm. There were a few questions to answer but within a week we had the green light.

The Stratford River Festival was our first opportunity to test the Mobile Kitchen concept. Trial runs at the restaurant had taught us we needed to keep the menu simple so we concentrated on serving five Bella Italia pasta dishes. David and the team got to site as early as possible, fired up the stoves, and waited for the show to open.

End Results

"David's idea is now being considered for other events around the UK"

The festival couldn't have gone better. It was a beautiful summers day and there were lots of hungry families to feed. Many people commented on how great it was to see a national brand supporting the event and by 7pm we had sold out of all five dishes. David's predictions had all been correct.

The following week I met with David at out annual conference. Revenues from the event had covered the cost of the kitchen build, we'd introduced Bella to lots of new customers, and the team had had a great day. I was so happy for David but even more excited about the future. If we could do it once, hopefully we could do it again.

Management were ecstatic and we have since been given the green lights for additional local events. There are now internal talks being driven by our COO about how the Mobile Kitchen might be spanned out on a national scale. I feel very proud to have played a part in the project.

The Spice of Life

”I genuinely love the variety my job provides”

My time at Bella Italia has changed my perception of what life can be like working in hospitality. On top of fun projects like the Mobile Kitchen I've been invited on trips to Italy to visit the factory chosen to improve the quality of our pasta dough. As an Operations Manager, I never expected my job would lead me there.

Another development has been that Managers are no longer just measured on how much our restaurants turn over; we also receive bonuses based on Trip Advisor reviews, customer satisfaction, and lack of complaints. Being rewarded for creating the best customer experience really brings a team together and creates a real buzz when it comes to totting up the scores at monthly meetings.

My favourite part of the job is being in the restaurants and working with the managers. I look after 12 Bella Italia restaurants and it's like having an extended family. They’re a passionate bunch and keep me on my toes, but I wouldn't have it any other way. The satisfaction I get from
seeing my team top of the board on bonus day makes it all worthwhile.