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Fri 15th Nov 2013 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Instagram, transforming local pubs, US trends in 2014 and the monstering of alcohol
Authors: Martyn Cornell, David Singleton, Darren Tristano and Paul Chase

Instagram – the restaurateur’s enemy or the restaurateur’s friend? By Martyn Cornell

Can taking pictures of your food be bad for your appetite? If a recent report in the Journal of Consumer Psychology is to be believed, restaurants should be banning customers from whipping out their cameras as soon as the waiter arrives with their meal, not because it annoys the living bejaysus out of everybody else in the restaurant, but because snapping a dish first for uploading onto Instagram means you won’t enjoy that meal as much as if you had just picked up your cutlery and got on with eating it.

The study was called “Satiation from sensory simulation: Evaluating foods decreases enjoyment of similar foods”, and it involved getting students to look at pictures of food and evaluating how appetising the food looked in the pictures, and then having the students eat some peanuts, and rating how much they enjoyed the peanuts. The more photos of food people looked at, the less they enjoyed the peanuts, but only if they were looking at photos of salty food. People who looked at images of sweets enjoyed the peanuts more.

Of course, the Instagramming-your-food phenomenon is nothing like as big in Britain as it is in other parts of the world. If you go out for a meal with the locals in Hong Kong, be prepared to wait before you can start eating – not for everybody else’s food to arrive, but for everybody to finishing photographing the dishes in front of them. Taking pictures of your food is increasingly ubiquitous in the Far East: it’s done without embarrassment, by people with everything from Nokias to high-end DSLRs.

But if Britons aren’t snap-happy diners like Hong Kongers, a scroll through Instagram reveals some pretty staggering numbers of UK restaurant-brand-related pictures. Look for #nandos, and you’ll be offered almost 900,000 Instagram pictures of peri peri chicken and people who like it: #costa delivers nearly 680,000 uploaded images of caffeinated drinks; #tgifridays brings up just under 190,000 photographs of cocktails, burgers and people having a good time; #pizzaexpress finds nearly 50,000 snaps; #harvester leads to almost 49,000; #yosushi, 35,000; #wetherspoons, 26,000; #jamiesitalian, 20,000; #beefeater, 18,000; #caffenero, 12,000 photos; #frankieandbennies, 8,300-plus; #latasca, 7,700; Even a search for #gourmetburgerkitchen, not the biggest chain on the block, throws up nearly 2,500 photographs so tagged. That’s ten random brands: you’d get similar results for any other eating or drinking-out brand you chose. And – this is the important point – almost every one of those pictures is a free advertisement for the tagged brand.

Nando’s high ranking must, in part, be because it actually has an Instagram button on its Facebook page, while PizzaExpress also has a Facebook Instagram link. Some others do: many others don’t. But can there be a better way for a brand to react with its customers than to say: “Hey – we loved that picture you took of us, look, we’re putting it up on our website/Facebook page.” And the warm glow that engenders spreads to others, both existing customers and potential customers. Everybody prefers a brand with a friendly personality: indeed, in the hospitality industry, if you’re NOT friendly and welcoming, you might as well pull the shutters down now. Potential customers seeing others having a good time with your brand via those customers’ own pictures is publicity beyond price.

Far from restaurants banning people from taking pictures of their food, they should actually be offering tips and hints on how to take BETTER pictures of their food. It’s in restaurants’ interests to get the very best images of what they provide out there on the net: and a free customer picture may not be worth a thousand word-of-mouth recommendations, but it must rank higher than a mere Tweet.

Indeed, if you’re worried that the Journal of Consumer Psychology is right in saying that pictures of food make people enjoy their food less, and by letting people snap their plates you’re giving them a worse food experience, the Journal has some good news. When people concentrated on the technical aspects of the photograph of food they were looking at, they no longer suffered from lower enjoyment. So by all means encourage Instagrammers to click away, and get your servers to offer them lighting and exposure tips and the like, to concentrate their minds on the picture, not the food. Well-exposed pictures of your food are good exposure for you.
Martyn Cornell is managing editor of Propel Info

Why I’m keen to buy my local by David Singleton

If you run the numbers, there are probably a net 20 or so pubs a week closing. But, as I write in Propel’s forthcoming winter magazine, there is so much else going on in our industry that makes modern day inn-keeping so exciting. Sure, there is little purpose in some of these most remote pubs staying open, which is tough for those living in tiny communities, but again, the role of the entrepreneur teaches us so much. They have an eye for detail that those deep in the bowels of corporate inn-keeping somehow miss.

There is a talented diaspora forming in our industry of individuals that once worked in huddles for the finest big corporates. I was one of those, but one of the lucky ones, as I was able to express my personality in my employer’s pubs and (perhaps more importantly) the people that ran them. Our team was empowered to select the pubs we felt would succeed where previous brands had not.

One of my early-day graduates recently opened her own pub, having escaped the corporate life in the summer. She has done what lots want to do. Every village, I think, has an underperforming pub that either needs a crutch, defibrillator, euthanasia or simply the eye of experience and a few quid. And I enjoyed meeting up with those at the last Propel conference who have been brave and put their vitals on the bar top and opened some of the best and award-winning locals in the UK – like the latest award-winning inductees, David and Becky Salisbury and Peter Borg-Neal.

Re-opening a pub is probably one of the most rewarding things in life. I saw this last week, when Sheila King, who is married to the former Mitchells & Butlers executive Simon King, and left her job at SSP in the summer, took one of the five pubs in her village and made it great again. It would seem that the brewery had given up hope on it, too, with one of the lowest rents I’ve come across in recent years. Like the consultant doing the post-op rounds, the brewery chairman declared that he had never seen such a turn-around and had many questions, mostly around how it was done. 

It’s (relatively) simple: Sheila spotted a pub and instinctively knew that this was for her. It wasn’t some fantastical dream – she knew she could create something that the other pubs in the village didn’t have. She knew she had to offer something better than the others to cause her guests to drive the extra mile, off the beaten track, down a dark road, in the dead of the night. 

Is there an opportunity in this market for other similar £4,000-a-week pubs where brewery owners can incentivise smart operators with a keen deal to double, treble and even quadruple revenues? I’m sure there has to be, and with it so many more winners would emerge. It will take brave hearts and a break from traditional ways of working, though.

In the December issue of Propel Quarterly, I will reflect on the seemingly never-ending growth of fabulous and stylish bars and restaurants here, and overseas, but also how simply “being different” is so important. Some of these bars in London, New York and even Moscow have enjoyed significant budgetary investment, but on the other hand, what Sheila has done makes just as much difference. It’s no couture catwalk or even boutique, just a simple pub done really well with very little budget. It’s about an instinctive landlord (or lady in this case) who knows what her market needs and craves: a colour palate that is easy on the eye, a team that smiles for free, food that we’d love to cook at home, and a place that we crave to go back to. It’s like going back home from university, or in my case, overseas: it has that familiar and warm embrace. I can’t wait to buy my local.
David Singleton, of Jungle Media Group, is a consultant in the UK and currently Moscow developing brands for the hospitality industry. He was instrumental in the innovation for Mitchells & Butlers Premium Country Dining Group and the rebranding for Il Patio in Russia and Eastern Europe

Key trends in the US for 2014 by Darren Tristano

What will be the key trends shaping the US restaurant industry in 2014? The key trends set out below bring together the best judgments of our consultants and editors to peer ahead into 2014, identifying trends that may significantly impact the restaurant industry. These expert insights are based on site visits evaluating the restaurant scene in cities across the country, as well as interviews and surveys of operators, chefs and consumers, backed up by qualitative data from our extensive digital resource library and quantitative data from its vast MenuMonitor database.

Some of these developments reflect larger societal trends while others point to specific, emerging food preferences that may or may not take hold in restaurants across the United States.

Convince me it’s real: Consumers want assurances that what they’re eating is real, in every sense of the word. Today’s menus describe items far more thoroughly, listing not only the ingredients but also where they came from and how they were prepared. Local sourcing is more important than ever, but beyond that is the idea of being true to place; if the restaurant positions itself as authentically Italian, for instance, it must use ingredients sourced from Italy and/or prepared using authentic Italian methods.

Pushing the parameters of proteins: Rising commodity costs for beef mean (of course) that chicken will be big again in 2014. However, the latest protein star is pork, appearing in regional barbecue items, in Hispanic and other ethnic fare, in charcuterie and as pulled-pork sandwiches. Lamb and game meats, from duck to bison, are also getting time in the spotlight. Beyond meat, look for creative centre-of-the-plate egg dishes as well as vegetarian alternatives, from mushrooms to beans to soy-based products like Gardein and Chipotle’s Sofritas.

Return of the carbs: Starches are staging a comeback, from ramen to buckwheat noodles to pasta made with unusual ingredients. Rice bowls (and jasmine rice, basmati rice, brown rice) will be big, in part because of continued fascination with Asian fare and in part because of an association with healthfulness. Look for more in the way of flatbreads, wraps and all kinds of artisan breads, including healthy whole-grain varieties. Waffles as a base or side make traditional savoury items like chicken seem edgy.

Creamy, cheesy, high-fat goodness: The demand for healthier eating is real, but so is the backlash. We’ll see even more cheese melts, pasta with creamy sauces, fried appetisers and sides, and oddities like doughnut-based sandwiches. Don’t take super-indulgent items too seriously, though; outrageous LTOs like Wendy’s nine-patty burger are crafted more for social-media buzz than for eating.

Pucker up: Forays into less-familiar ethnic cuisines, from Korean to Scandinavian, are partly responsible for growing interest in pickled, fermented and sour foods. Korean kimchi as well as pickled onion, jalapeño, ginger, radish and more are showing up everywhere from ethnic eateries to burger joints. On the beverage menu, the trend is seen in sour cocktails as well as new flavour combinations with sour notes, a reaction to last year’s sugar-sweet drinks.

Day for night: Consumers are less likely to eat according to a three-square-meals schedule; they nosh, skip meals, eat breakfast for dinner and vice versa. More restaurants are introducing innovative breakfast items like chicken, turkey or steak breakfast sandwiches or super-spicy wraps with chipotle or Sriracha, often available all day. And while breakfast-and-lunch-only concepts are building a niche, other operators are promoting late-night breakfast menus, often in conjunction with 24-hour drive-thru service.

Every daypart is a snack daypart: As the snacking lifestyle goes mainstream, diners are paradoxically less interested in snack menus per se. Millennials see dollar and dollar-plus menus as the snack menu. LSRs are paying more attention to snack-size handhelds and car-friendly packaging; they are also stepping up their game with grab-and-go or market-style offerings. As FSR customers move away from meat-and-potatoes meals, operators are catering to the snacking-and-sharing ethos with pairings, trios and flights from all parts of the menu—from soup trios to beer samplers to retro popsicle-flight desserts.

On tap: Tap technology is revolutionising the beverage world: barrel-stored cold-brewed coffee that can be sent through repurposed beer taps, facilitating a new kind of coffee bar; soda-water taps that allow chefs to create their own fruity soft drinks; wine-on-tap tasting stations in high-end supermarkets; keg-wine bar concepts and retrofits; RFID-card-controlled self-serve beer-tap walls at high-tech pubs.

For fast service, bring your own device: The fast-casual service model has hit a hiccup: customers specifying every ingredient in their burrito or sandwich make for a slow service line. Operators in every segment are finding new ways to use technology for faster, more accurate ordering. iPad orders placed tableside will be a point of differentiation for a few tech leaders, but we will primarily see a bring-your-own-device system of advance and inside-the-restaurant ordering, as well as more customer feedback and interactive conversations. In the back of the house, increased use of iPad communication will make new menu items easier to roll out.

Everything is political: Deliberately or inadvertently, restaurant operators got caught up in political controversy as never before in 2013. Some suffered customer backlash after expressing views related to Obamacare, “family values” or other topics, but others saw increased traffic. Consumers are increasingly aware that the personal is political, that their choices and those of the restaurants they patronise regarding food, treatment of employees and suppliers, sustainability and the environment have real consequences. Consciously or unconsciously, they will gravitate to concepts that share their worldview, and some restaurants will promote this cultural identification.
Darren Tristano is executive vice-president of the research and insights consultancy Technomic

The monstering of alcohol by Paul Chase

It has become fashionable to bash the internet, and online social media in particular, for many of the ills of modern society. A recent study from Bath University found that alcohol marketing is pervasive across online social media in a variety of ways, and often disguised as “information” so that (you guessed it!) young drinkers in particular don’t realise it is marketing.

According to the researchers, “Big Alcohol” is using online social media – Facebook, Twitter et cetera – to target and encourage “teenage binge drinkers”, and new controls are needed to prevent this “abuse”. The researchers in Bath teamed up with colleagues in New Zealand to produce research into how this group responded to online social media advertising and marketing of alcohol. The findings are that it contributes to “pro-alcohol environments” and creates “intoxigenic digital spaces”. Wow! Wouldn’t want to inhabit one of them.

The subjects of this research were 157 New Zealanders aged 18 to 25 – so a global problem then! It seems to me to be perfectly legitimate for a legal product to be advertised and marketed to a group of adults who are legally entitled to buy and consume it. A non-story then? But wait a minute … it appears online sites and digital marketing “reinforce the idea that drinking is about fun, pleasure, socialising and bonding.” OMG! An advert that tells the truth – now that IS a story, albeit not the one the researchers want to tell.

So, who are these guys? Well, it turns out that the Bath researchers are a group calling themselves the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, which has morphed out of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies – a strategy of diversification to ensure they keep the whole show on the road. I can’t help wondering how long it will be before “wrong foods” and fizzy drinks are added to the title and to the list of what these people want to stop us doing.

It seems to me that those engaged in the monstering of alcohol inhabit an increasingly crowded space these days. Remember Don Shenker? He was formerly the chief executive of Drink Aware, the website set up by the sector to encourage responsible drinking. Don, who is no doubt a very sincere man, always struck me when he was in post as someone who had “gone native”, and been intellectually colonised by the medical temperance lobby that he was hired to appease. He popped up the other day as the director and founder of the Alcohol Health Network, a social enterprise company that aims to reduce alcohol-related ill-health.

That seems a worthy aim, but in an article published in the British Medical Journal, Don declares that our workplace culture results in employees who are in danger of being sacked if their drinking gets out of control. He asks whether employees or their employers are ultimately responsible. Don would like all employers to screen their employees for alcohol misuse using a tool called AUDIT – the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. Such tests would be voluntary and confidential of course, but if an employee was asked and refused to agree to such a test, what then? It seems to me that the answer to the question of who is ultimately responsible for employees’ out-of control drinking, the employees, or me, as their employer, deserves an answer: it’s the drinkers’ responsibility. I’m their employer not their dad! Sorry Don, I know you mean well, but you need to take a diagnostic test for Intrusive Paternalism, I’m sure a troubled person’s professional somewhere will have developed one.

And talking of intrusive paternalism leads me on to Alcohol Awareness Week. This is an annual campaign run by Alcohol Concern and is linked to its close cousin Dry January. Alcohol Awareness Week runs from the 18th to the 24th November, so the two campaigns neatly straddle Christmas. Cheerful, aren’t they? Here’s my contribution to Alcohol Awareness Week:

The public should be made aware that:
● People have been drinking less and less since 2002. Some 17% less
● Drinking by 16 to 24-year-olds has reduced from an average of 26 units a week in 1999 to 15 units a week in 2009
● There has been a major drop in binge drinking – down by around 30%

I don’t deny that there are problem drinkers or alcohol-related health harms. But there is increasing evidence of a decoupling of alcohol consumption across the whole population (down), and alcohol-related health harms (up). Policy and anti-alcohol propagandists need to keep up with this change.
Paul Chase is a director of CPL Training and a leading commentator on on-trade alcohol and health policy

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