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The chain's name references both the English figure of the beefeater, as well as its menu's meat (particularly beef) offering. The chain is positioned slightly upmarket of Whitbread's Brewers Fayre chain.
Beefeater was set up by the then Whitbread Brewery in 1974 with the opening of its first restaurant, The Halfway House, in Enfield. The premise was for simple food, such as prawn cocktails and char-grilled steaks, and was seen as a rival to Berni Inns. Beefeater expanded over the next 20 years, before the chain experienced difficulties in the 1990s.
During the 1990s the flagging brand tried a number of strategies to boost sales. A large number of Beefeaters, for example the Ock Mill in Abingdon, and the Crossbush in Arundel, were converted to "Out and Out". This was unsuccessful and they were rebranded back to Beefeater in 2005. Also a few sites became "Grillbars", but these were soon sold. A "Banter" was launched at the Roundabout Beefeater in Reading, which has since been demolished after it failed. Brian Turner was recruited to advise on the remaining Beefeaters, and his signature dishes and face were featured on the menu. As the brand declined further, a number of sites, such as "The Cotton Mill" in Kilmarnock and "Craig House" near Inveresk, were rebranded as Brewers Fayre, while others were sold, like the Carpenters Arms in Botley, Oxford, now a McDonald's.
In the early 2000s, the parent company Whitbread invested millions of pounds refurbishing almost all of its Beefeater outlets in a project known internally as "B2". This involved the complete refurbishment of the restaurants from scratch, retaining nothing of the existing fittings and design.
The refurbished restaurants, described by the parent company as "warm, modern and stylish", have been mostly successful and embraced by customers. Main changes included chargrills in all outlets, and many have open plan grill areas so customers can see their meals being prepared. Due to building shape restrictions, the kitchen remained "back of house" in a few exceptions, such as the Coldra in Newport, Wales.
In 2006 Whitbread sold a majority of the standalone Beefeater sites (along with standalone Brewers Fayres), as they weren't as popular as sites with a neighbouring Premier Inn.
In 2008 all sites had been refurbished, with a few sold to Mitchells & Butlers who re-branded them to their own chains such as Toby Carvery. A few months later Beefeater opened their first new site in Llanelli, "The Pemberton". In April 2008, Beefeater launched a new marketing campaign, focusing on chargrilling.
In 2009/2010 Beefeater implemented a remodelling and retraining programme similar to the 'Brewers Fayre' programme. All sites received a partial refurbishment, which featured a new colour scheme, carpets and furniture. In late 2009, the brand became known as Beefeater Grill.
In September 2013, Beefeater began a partnership with the Gourmet Society, offering their members discounts on production of a Gourmet Society restaurant discount card.
In 2013 a new look and feel was introduced, returning the name to Beefeater, and a new orange cow logo is being rolled out across the brand, during 2015.
- "About us". Beefeater Grill. 2012. Retrieved 19 October 2012.