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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 27th Sep 2013 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Personal licences, cask ale threat and the latest social media thinking
Authors: Tim Hulme, Martyn Cornell and Ann Elliott

The personal licence is the cornerstone of responsible retailing by Tim Hulme

The licensed trade must answer two critical questions: Is there a need for the personal licence? And if there isn’t what does the alternative look like?

A government consultation threatens the very existence of the personal licence. Under the auspices of cutting red tape, we face the prospect of there being no requirement for an individual to hold a licence in order to sell alcohol in this country – a situation not seen, I am told, since before the Alehouse Act of 1552 over 450 years ago. Imagine the reaction to a government proposal that did the same for the medical profession, the teaching profession or for heating engineers. It is unthinkable. We should, as an industry, and as a society, attach the same import and prestige to those charged with overseeing the sale of alcohol. 

I would urge every Propel reader to consider the commercial cost to the industry of allowing this potentially damaging deregulation. Such a move would remove a national, co-ordinated system that, having emerged from the chaotic introduction of the Licensing Act 2003, is coherent, effective and ultimately fit for purpose and, crucially, sets a minimum standard of professionalism recognised across England and Wales. This national benchmark would disappear if these proposals become law. 

This will be a particular issue for the multiple-site operators, whether in retail or hospitality, who potentially face dealing with differing policies and requirements of the 400 local authorities in England and Wales who will, in the absence of the personal licence, be able to set various conditions against a ‘beefed up’ premises licence. 

This could include the requirement for any qualification or training requirements for staff or Designated Premises Supervisors that each authority may choose to put in place. The rules will not just vary by postcode, but potentially by street. It will herald a multi-tiered system in which high-volume outlets are required to spend more on training and qualifications for their staff, with less busy premises not having to meet the same requirements: the result will be a mishmash of differing levels of staff training and attainment varying from premises to premises. 

What is being proposed risks undermining the reputation of our industry at a time when we firmly believe society should be increasing its demands upon us, requiring the industry to: promote even higher standards; plot a pathway to better compliance and greater standards of regulation; and enhance the qualification-led system to improve responsible alcohol retailing. Advocating the removal of the personal licence as a cost-saving measure clearly does not chime with the general idea of raising standards, not lowering them.

From the feedback I have received on these proposals there is widespread consensus in the industry that they are not in any way desired, and I am therefore mindful of preaching to the converted. It is not each other that we need to convince, but our friends and colleagues in government and in Whitehall. This is why as many individuals and organisations as possible must respond to the consultation. Otherwise the industry will sleepwalk into a new regime of increased cost and complexity. While it is clear to me that this move is not wanted, we must recognise that the government is trying to help (or thinks it is trying to help) both the public bodies that administer licensing and also the industry. Therefore we must make sure we are heard, otherwise these proposals will become reality. That would represent a wholly regressive step for our industry. 

There are three ways to respond to the consultation:


2.  Respond to the consultation via email: personallicenceconsultation@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

3.  A written response that answers the questions contained in the consultation response document and post it to: Alcohol Team, Drugs and Alcohol Unit, Home Office, 4th Floor Fry Buildings, 2 Marsham street, London SW1P 4DF.

The closing date for the consultation is the 7 November 2013.
Tim Hulme is chief executive of the British Institute of Innkeeping

The cask ale threat by Martyn Cornell

Among the many cherries in the latest Cask Ale report, unveiled yesterday, is one that most will have tasted before: a quote from a cask ale-selling publican in Bristol that “there is no future for a pub without cask ales. It’s the only thing in the pub not being taken by the supermarket trade.” To which I have to respond: don’t bet on that. Because if anyone thinks cask ale will always remain the pub’s great usp, another think has already driven into your car park.

Despite the Cask Ale Report proclaiming (p5, column 2) that cask “is only available in pubs”, cask ale is in the British supermarket right now, albeit in the distinctively top-end Whole Foods Market, which is to Asda or Aldi what the American Bar at the Savoy is to a corner boozer in Balham. A number of the chain’s outlets in Britain sell draught beers and ciders to take away in “flagons” with resealable porcelain lids. The chain has even entered the UK on-trade: three months ago, the big Whole Foods Market in Kensington High Street was home to a week-long pop-up pub organised by Craft Beer Rising, which featured beers from Hogs Back and Otley Brewing, among others.

Whole Foods Market’s American origins made it open to the idea of a pop-up pub, since at least some of its stores in the US already have bars inside where you can settle down for a glass of draught beer. I first came across the idea of an off-licence (to use a British term) with a bar inside serving draught beers in Sonoma, California, nearly 20 years ago, and thought it an excellent idea. Try a brewer’s beers, and if you like them, buy a few bottles to take home.

That never caught on in the UK, for a range of reasons: licensing laws, drink-driving laws, the nature of British pub culture, the lack of space in most off-licences to install a bar and the other necessary facilities, and the conservatism of the British drinks trade. But today on the Venn diagram showing the drinks retailing market, the circles showing the on and off-licence sectors are slowly beginning to overlap. Many craft beer bars now have tall fridges on the customers’ side where they can take out bottles to drink there or go home with. Where I live in leafy West London, there are two off-licences nearby, Noble Wines in Hampton Hill and the Real Ale Shop in Twickenham, that each sell beer straight from the cask for customers to take home, an idea that has been around for decades, but which finally seems to be flying. I’m not aware yet of an off-licence with a bar, either regular or pop-up, in Britain yet. But it can only be a short while before they start to appear.

Meanwhile, if you’re calling in to your local offie to buy four pints of draught ale to take away, of course, you’re likely to pick up a bottle or six of beers for later in the week as well, and some wine, too, while you’re there. Don’t think Sainsbury’s and Tesco and even Waitrose haven’t noticed that phenomenon, don’t worry about people having a reason not to visit their own off-licence sections and aren’t wondering whether they can capture some of that take-away draught market themselves. We could, in what would be a hugely ironic move, see some of the pubs that have been converted into supermarkets selling cask ale again, albeit to take-away customers, rather than ones who hang around drinking.

Of course, the argument will still be that cask ale you take away even in a sealed container is not going to be as good as a pint freshly poured in a pub. The take-home beer loses carbonation, and starts to stale – though not, in my experience, as quickly as you might think. And it can still be a much better pint than is found in too many pubs. This is both a threat and, like all threats, an opportunity for pubs and brewers alike. Brewers, if they aren’t already, need to consider how they will cope with the inevitable request from supermarket chains for assistance in setting up take-away draught beer operations. Pubs need to consider how they are going to compete with an increase in the number of off-licences selling cask ale, by offering an easy take-home option themselves and/or by pushing hard on the superiority of the pub pint. And the authors of the Cask Ale Report need to include a look at the take-away cask ale scene in the next report.
Martyn Cornell is managing editor of Propel Info

Latest social media thinking by Ann Elliott

The much-fabled Social Media Week is back once again and dominating our Twitter feed in the process. Taking place in London, the event is a series of seminars, lectures and interviews with leading figures in the ever-expanding field of social media.
 
A lot of the sessions have been available to view online, while the event’s content stream has been excellent to check up on the messages coming out of London.
 
A few of the tweets coming through have been a bit obvious (my personal favourite was “Technology did not create communities. They have always existed” with “Brands are not as important as the people in our lives” not far behind). But a lot of the insight I’ve picked up has been eye-opening.
 
Here are some absolute gems that did emerge though:
 
1.  Keep it tight
There’s a series of useful links on the Social Media Week website here. What really struck me was the power of keeping tweets even shorter than the 144-character limit. You’ll experience more engagement by keeping a tweet below 100 characters. I think that’s because shorter tweets are easier to ‘quote’.
 
2.  Tweeting at the weekend works
It’s difficult for companies to make this happen, I know, but all the facts point towards weekend tweeting being a massive opportunity. There are three reasons for this: firstly, more users are online during the weekend, secondly, there are less tweets over the weekend, meaning your tweets will stay high up on a feed for longer, and finally, with less brands tweeting on a Saturday/Sunday, you’ve really got an opportunity to stand out.
 
3.  Chefs are great at using social media
The first real item of discussion from Karen Fewell (@DigitalBlonde)’s first session on Monday was the #foodporn hashtag. Michelin star chef Tom Aikens said: “There are a lot of young chefs today and it’s quite amazing as all of them have Instagram. The way they communicate with each other, they will post pictures of dishes using that hashtag. I’m quite amazed at how brilliant they are at using social media.” It seems to me that chefs are embracing social media to forge a community, bringing the best out of one another. The knock-on effect of this is that in 10-15 years’ time, the UK’s top chefs will all be social media-savvy, making the industry very competitive online.
 
4.  The definition of ‘foodie’ has changed
I’ll let Aikens take this one too: “Ten years ago a foodie was someone who ate at two and three Michelin star restaurants all the time and drank champagne. But now a student can be a foodie who cooks from scratch and takes time and effort on his food. It is someone who recognises good quality ingredients and who is passionate about what they do. We are all foodies on different levels.”
 
It probably doesn’t need to be said, but social media is a driving force behind this. More and more students are tweeting about, posting on Facebook about and blogging about the food they cook. You don’t have to eat at the poshest restaurants to be a foodie anymore, you just need to have built up great food knowledge and be able to engage the community.
 
In turn, more and more consumers are visiting restaurants with higher expectations.
 
5.  Make your content ‘shareable’
I know this is an obvious one, but journalist James Wallman reinforced this during Karen’s session: “You need to put the share-worthy factor at the heart of everything you do.” That means keeping your tweets to an optimum length, crediting sources, including pictures and using hashtags. This article is great, filled with stats on what exactly increases the chances that content will be shared… and that’s what it’s all about.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliots, the leading foodservice public relations and marketing business – www.elliottsagency.com
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