“It’s all about the duck!”

Julian Metcalfe, the co-founder of Pret and current CEO of itsu, delivered a captivating speech that emphasized the role of technology in enhancing restaurant operations. Discover the specifics, and the unexpected connection to a duck.

The crux of Metcalfe’s speech centered on the substantial innovation prospects associated with itsu. The fast-casual Asian concept recently opened its 100th unit, and Metcalfe described the company’s mission as follows: “We aim to bring nutritious, affordable food to people.” With end-consumer prices at around 8 euros per dish, the need for efficiency is paramount, according to the CEO.

“The more tech you integrate into a company, the more you have to envelop the whole thing in warmth and humanity.”


This cannot be achieved without technology, Metcalfe underlined while at the same time admitting that tech isn’t his favorite topic. “The more tech you integrate into a company, the more you have to envelop the whole thing in warmth and humanity, as I once told one of our tech executives. He wasn’t thrilled.”

Nevertheless, itsu benefits from a high degree of digitization. As an example, Metcalfe mentioned a Nigiri robot that rolls 10,000 rice balls per day in each unit. “It’s about getting rid of these mundane tasks,” said Metcalfe. Not only for increased efficiency but also for greater satisfaction among employees. Here’s a brief overview of itsu’s major digital tools:

The 8 digital pillars of itsu

  1. kiosk: More than 600 connected self-order terminals speed up orders in the 100 units.
  2. app: The itsu smartphone app, including features like Click-and-Collect, personalization options, and the “Butterfly loyalty scheme” loyalty program. Tens of thousands of downloads in the UK.
  3. itsu os: The proprietary operating system for the units, bringing together pricing, allergen labeling, and promotions. Locally adaptable but centrally managed in the itsu Academy.
  4. itsu data management platform: Own platform for data analysis to enhance operational efficiency in marketing, sales, and operations.
  5. digital totems: Large screen totems in the restaurants for offers and brand storytelling.
  6. digital overheads: Digital menu boards above the cash registers.
  7. itsu.com: The official website where, among other things, the brand’s core values are explained.
  8. SEO & SEM: itsu places great emphasis on search engine optimization and marketing to convert digital into real-world traffic.

Small moments of happiness, or: the duck

Metcalfe is convinced that “the essence of a brand lies in its people.” To the delight of the audience, the Pret founder explained the importance of small moments of happiness every day for guests and employees in a spontaneous anecdote: On the first day in his hotel room, there was a little rubber duck sitting by the side of his tub. “On the second day, there were suddenly two ducks: one in front of the shower and one by the sink.”

At first, he wondered, who decides to have those ducks? And why do shareholders pay for the ducks? But then he realized, “I guarantee you, the moment when someone placed the ducks was the happiest moment during the entire room cleaning. The duck has something warm and wonderful. It also brightened my morning. Eventually, people in middle management said, ‘We need the duck.’ And they were right.”

“We have no staff shortages”

At the same time, Metcalfe used this example to remind the audience of 220 high-level Summit participants that as a CEO or manager, it’s crucial to create a good working environment. Sometimes, this may comprise the necessity to stand up to your shareholders.

One of itsu’s core values, also printed on all takeaway bags, is: “Our hardworking, proud, professional staff are paid as much as we can afford, not just enough to get by.” With this, Metcalfe sees itsu on the right path – and provided evidence: “We have no staff shortages.”

In summary, as Metcalfe puts it, “Vision and purpose are the foundation of success.” And sometimes, you have to push them through with determination.