“We’re still social animals despite these pandemic scars.” Giorgio Riccò, ESCP alumnus, co-founder and board member of La Belle Assiette, shares the strategic vision that has led to more than one successful food business and allowed them to withstand a global pandemic.
In the last year, consumer behaviours have changed drastically across all sectors. However, the restaurant industry was hit particularly hard by the social distancing measures imposed to stop the spreading of Covid-19, bringing structural changes that could last for the foreseeable future.
After more than one year into the pandemic, it is clear that restaurants can’t stay stagnant. The restaurant industry has adapted and for many, it has been a chance to innovate. Giorgio Riccò, co-founder and board member of La Belle Assiette, an international company founded almost 10 years ago by two ESCP alumni with the aim to offer a hassle-free dining experience from the comfort of one’s home, shares his views on the future trends of the Food & Beverage sector, of fine-dining and on how the restaurant industry has been changed for good.
What is La Belle Assiette?
La Belle Assiette is a curated private chef online marketplace, with a strong presence in France and the UK as well as active in Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland. It is an ideal solution for friends or families to gather around lunch or dinner in the comfort of their homes, and we’ve also expanded to professional lunches for executive meetings directly organized within companies’ premises and via a premium contactless delivery format.
How did you come up with the idea to start a business that brings the restaurant experience to customers’ homes?
Our original idea was actually to build a professional, chef-sourced food delivery service, to bring toon the market a quality alternative to the basic options available at the time. After getting to know more chefs and struggling to iron out delivery issues, we decided to bring chefs to the customer, together with their food, aiming for a more complete and premium experience. This new approach came from an unusual customer request who wanted a chef at home for a birthday party!
What is your strategic vision?
It’s all about bringing home entertainment to its fullest, making hosts’ lives easier and more enjoyable, while allowing chefs to unleash their potential outside of the restaurant kitchens where they lack room for creativity and contact with the end customer.
You cofounded your company in 2012. In the last 9 years, the market has changed tremendously; how has your company grown over time, and how have you responded to changes?
True, it’s been a hell of a ride! The main evolution came from the initial push to create a democratized mass market for private chef dining as an everyday alternative to traditional restaurants as a premium dining experience. On the way, we stopped by the creation of a B2B delivery unit which evolved and got spun-off into GoCater, a parallel and successful venture which led to an early exit to ezCater in 2018.
La Belle Assiette’s team grew from 2 to almost 30 people in the first 4 years while we raised funds four times for a total of 4M€. After the spin-off, we found our optimal size at around 12 people. Across the years, we opened offices in London, Hamburg and Berlin before centralizing everything back in Paris. The key is staying close to our best customers and chefs to adapt to their needs over time.
How did the COVID-19 crisis impact the business?
It varied a lot week on week along with governments’ restrictions and confidence levels. We froze completely during the very first hard lockdown, but it allowed the team to build chef deliveries and online cooking classes. Then as soon as fear left the room to uncertainty and lust for normality, we enjoyed a huge growth in the original private chef dining service. And then again, early curfews hit our volumes, taking dinners off the table. As we speak, France is recovering well while the UK is still suffering.
In your opinion, what changes will stick in the restaurant market?
Technology. We may be biased as food tech operators but I believe the comfort that technology brought to end customers and helped thousands of restaurants is here to stay. Strong brands and openness to multi-channel experiences are becoming increasingly important key success factors in the industry.
Is the role restaurants play in the fabric of our lives and cities going to change?
The Restaurant Age is not over; however, they will need to adapt and bring extra value beyond food. The old average offer won’t be enough to survive anymore. We’re still social animals despite these pandemic scars and the real life experiences chefs can build in their restaurants can’t be easily replicated elsewhere so there is an opportunity to bring the game to another level. Flexibility will be paramount for a while as customer volumes won’t return that quickly.
What is your view on the future trends of the F&B sector, in general, and of at home fine-dining in particular?
One of the most radical changes already happening is around corporate canteens switching from physical to contactless, virtual ones based on deliveries and next generation vending machines. Concerning home fine-dining, since the limitations on restaurants’ allowed more and more people to discover this way of enjoying quality meals together with friends or family, we expect a continuous growth for this segment, expanding towards B2B as it represents a perfect tool for impactful business lunches in a safe and discrete environment. On top of that, let’s remember that before the current crisis, spending more quality time at home was naturally trending, especially among younger generations of future potential customers.
What is up next for La Belle Assiette?
There is plenty of news to come. For example, we’re helping top restaurant chefs to export their savoir-faire to their customers’ homes thanks to our tech tools and network of professional chefs. We are also capable of opening premium customers’ homes to luxury brands through valuable custom campaigns and partnerships. Companies are starting to realize how unique this means can be for their message to be delivered effectively.
Giorgio Riccò is co-founder and board member of La Belle Assiette, the leading private chef fine dining marketplace in Europe.
After selling his second food-tech startup GoCater, an innovative online B2B catering marketplace, to the American “unicorn” ezCater in 2018, he picked up the sales director role of his 66-years-old family business producing unsaturated polyester specialty resins in Italy.
In parallel, he enjoys sharing his entrepreneurial experience by investing and advising tech startups across Europe, from fresh pet-food to e-sports but also fintech.
Giorgio is an alumnus of ESCP’s Master in Management, from which he graduated in 2011. During his studies there, he co-founded the Eventures association organizing the Regatta ESCP events among others and revamped Turin’s Junior Enterprise “JET”. Giorgio also graduated from Politecnico di Torino (industrial engineering) and Athlone’s Institute of Technology before joining ESCP.