By Anna Gabriela A. Mogato,

KNOWN FOR BRINGING premium casual dining brands like Italianni’s and TGIFriday’s to the Philippines more than 20 years ago, The Bistro Group is continuously changing its recipes to keep up with the new trends in the food business.

Jean Paul Manuud, The Bistro Group president and chief operating officer, said the company is looking to cater to the “millennial taste” as new generation reaches the age of its traditional core market from early 30s to mid-40s.

“This is my personal opinion: they change the landscape of the restaurant business. Somehow, the trend, the preference, the mood is totally different from how we used to work. What we’ve seen so far, millennials like to explore new tastes. They like beautiful, ‘Instagrammable’, delicious food,” he told BusinessWorld in a recent interview.

However, Mr. Manuud noted the company has to consider the prices of its new dishes, since the millennials have a certain limit on how much they are willing to spend in a restaurant.

“It’s not that they can’t afford. We want to broaden our market that’s why we adjusted our menu to serve from this price point to this price point to make sure that everyone can go to our restaurant,” he added.

With 18 concepts and 70 branches under The Bistro Group, Mr. Manuud said they are finalizing deals to bring two to three more US-based concepts.

The Bistro Group’s executive chef Josh Boutwood is behind two new restaurants “Helm” and “Savage,” which are located at Arya Residences in Bonifacio Global City.

The group continues its expansion in Metro Manila, opening 10-12 branches annually. It is also expanding in untapped markets in the south, particularly Cebu and Iloilo.

Mr. Manuud said the company is also mulling the possibility of a stand-alone restaurant in Makati, after years of focusing on malls.

“You see the economy now is thriving, it’s moving, it’s exploding and we want to be a part of that. Operating there is something that is going to be favorable for us. I always have this principle of having a local partner to operate in their territory. I don’t think we can operate better without them,” he added.

“We can provide them the support, the training, anything that they will need to be successful but operating in a daily basis, to run in a daily basis in a market where we don’t know, I would be more confident to have a partner with a local business or management in that area.”

The Bistro Group is looking for franchising partners for its brands such as Bulgogi Brothers Denny’s, Baker & Cook, Fish & Co., and Ka Tunying’s Café.

While some may be tempted to get a franchise — which could range from P10 million to P75 million for a complete package, Mr. Manuud said the restaurant business is not for everybody.

“It’s not easy to run a restaurant. Today it could be fine, tomorrow, the cook can be in a bad mood and the food will be bad. There are a lot of variables. Another restaurant will open and they will take a lot of your market share. It’s very risky, very difficult, very stressful,” he added.

“When you love engaging the customers, this is for you. A lot of people could be so intelligent and so good but if they engage with a customer, this could not be for them.” Mr. Manuud noted The Bistro Group takes a two-pronged approach to sustain its growth: franchising international brands, as well as developing their own restaurants.

The Bistro Group currently operates all its restaurants, but is building its brand through franchising.

Mr. Manuud said its franchising opportunity comes with a existing customer base for its brands, as well as support for staffing, training, operational management and marketing.

One thing he learned as a franchisee is to be flexible and listen to new ideas.

“This is crucial because success depends on a good relationship with your partners,” he said.