Café Rouge was founded by Roger Myers and Karen Jones as a small restaurant chain in 1989. As the brand grew, Myers and Jones incorporated the chain into a larger restaurant group: the Pelican Group. In July 1996, Whitbread purchased Pelican Group - comprising 110 restaurants under the Dôme, Mamma Amalfi and, primarily, Café Rouge brands - for £133m.
The restaurant chain gained much exposure after frequently being mentioned in the 1996 novel Bridget Jones's Diary, with the main character Bridget Jones (and her friends) visiting her local branch of the restaurant regularly throughout the novel.
In 2009, Cafe Rouge began a partnership with the Gourmet Society, offering their members discounts on production of a Gourmet Society restaurant discount card.
In February 2011, Café Rouge introduced a new fast-service format to the brand. Café Rouge Express at London Euston railway station and Southampton's WestQuay shopping centre, aims to reduce customer waiting time and the reduced menu range is available to eat in or take away.
In 2012, it was reported that Café Rouge intended investing in excess of £20m refurbishing its restaurants over the next few years, starting with the Hampstead branch. Created by Afroditi Krassa, the new design is inspired by classic but urban Parisian bistros, whilst remaining sensitive to the essence of the original Café Rouge. The design will be rolled out across 125 restaurants within three years, with interiors tailored to each site.
In 2013, Café Rouge were official partners of Comic Relief, the British charity founded in 1985 that aims to "bring about positive and lasting change in the lives of poor and disadvantaged people."
The menu at Café Rouge covers a range of French classics, from croques and baguettes to more substantial meals such as steak frites and bœuf bourguignon. Likewise the wines are all French, many from lesser known regional producers.
Café Rouge was awarded winner in the Mediterranean Casual Dining category at the 2012 MIDAS (Menu Innovation and Development Awards). They also picked up the Peach Network Hero and Icon Consumer Choice award in 2008.
Tipping and minimum wage
In 2008 the company was reported as paying staff less than the legal minimum wage, relying on tips to make up the difference. This led to a campaign in Parliament to make this practice illegal.
In 2009 the company was found to be threatening to dismiss wait staff who do not get customers to pay tips on credit cards rather than in cash. Credit card tips were used by the company to subsidise wages (which are usually the legal minimum) whereas cash tips go directly to wait staff. In line with changes to tipping legislation, which came into effect on 1 October 2009, Café Rouge reviewed and updated its policies to ensure that all tips, after a 10% deduction for administrative and other costs paid by credit or debit card, are now distributed through the payroll system to restaurant staff. This is done via a TRONC system. Employees retain any tips in addition to their pay at the rate of the National Minimum Wage.
In November 2015 the chain was one of seven restaurants surveyed that failed to meet a basic level of sustainability in its seafood.
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