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Fri 14th Feb 2014 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Blackpool’s EMRO, excessive feedback, great experiences from the front-line and opening on Christmas Day
Authors: John Gaunt, David Martin, Ann Elliott and Alastair Scott

Early Morning Restriction Orders – thoughts from Blackpool by John Gaunt

After a hearing that lasted for four days of evidence, followed by a day of deliberation by the licensing committee (comprising eight members) and which involved not insignificant resources on the part of the police (out of public funds), but also trade associations and local operators, the Blackpool Licensing Committee announced last Monday its unanimous decision to recommend that the proposed Early Morning Restriction Order (EMRO) for the centre of Blackpool should not be adopted.

Technically, the final decision remains to be endorsed by the full council, but it is very difficult, if not impossible, to see how the council could overturn this unanimous recommendation after a full hearing and detailed consideration by the licensing committee of all the evidence filed. (It is being reported that the licensing committee’s recommendation against the adoption of the EMRO is to go before the full council on 28 February for ratification.)

As the police would have had it, the practical impact of the proposed EMRO in business terms was very limited, covering an area of only 0.26 sq km, corresponding to just 5% of Blackpool’s central policing area and affecting only 1.6% of the 1,377 alcohol licensed premises in Blackpool (only some 23 outlets). The EMRO, if adopted, would have prevented the supply of alcohol from 3am to 6am by those premises.

The police had been anxious to point out that an EMRO is not a “curfew” as such, in that it would not necessarily curtail the closing hours of any premises affected and would not prohibit any activities other than the sale of alcohol. Perhaps, as it turned out, this in part was the Achilles heel of their whole argument.

My firm was instructed by Funny Girls Limited, which operates six premises in the night-time economy, five of which could have been affected by the EMRO had it been adopted, most notably, its 2,000-capacity Flamingo Nightclub, licensed to 4am Monday to Friday and 5am on Saturdays, closing to the public one hour thereafter.

The main thrust of the police evidence was that there was a problem with violent crime and disorder and noise and disturbance in the early hours of the morning caused by people in the streets who were clearly intoxicated and the majority of their evidence appeared to be focused on establishing the existence of that problem. They called countless witnesses, from within the police, but also others “affected”.

Significantly less attention seemed to be paid to the effect of those premises trading the “EMRO hours” and their responsibility for the behaviour of night time revellers, or whether in fact the proposed EMRO was the right solution or indeed a solution at all.

As the hearing unfolded, it was clear that there is a problem, or indeed are a number of problems, which affect Blackpool, but that these problems, in different guises, appear throughout the day, the evening and the night. It is a 24/7 issue.

The council’s own licensing manager conceded that the EMRO-affected premises were generally well run and did not contribute to those drinking on the streets in the early hours, but, nevertheless, he concluded that, in his opinion, an EMRO was appropriate.

Perhaps an unusual factor was also the fact that of the 23 premises which would be affected by the EMRO, 19 are operated by Blackpool-based local operators, only four being a part of national chains where the possible financial impact of the EMRO might be mitigated elsewhere. The adoption of an EMRO would affect Blackpool’s own – although this, as a factor, did not feature in the published decision.

It was our case (and the case of many of those who also opposed the EMRO) that far from being a solution to the perceived problems, the adoption of an EMRO might aggravate those problems, not least because the earlier “terminal hour” of licensed premises of 3am coincided with the terminal hour of a number of large-capacity existing premises, already closing at 3am, and could have some of the following results or more likely a blend of them:

• A mass exodus from premises at or shortly after 3am.
• Condensed or concentrated drinking in the period up to 3am, as we saw in nightclubs under the old licensing regime.
• The hoarding of alcohol bought just before 3am but consumed whilst premises were entitled to remain open for consumption and other licensable activities, but not sale, thereafter.
• Migration to or in search of other premises trading after 3am outside the EMRO area et cetera. There were other possible scenarios also advanced.

We sought to demonstrate that whereas the overwhelmingly responsible majority might leave quietly, as they do now, and return to their hotel bedrooms or home, an irresponsible minority, who are the cause of existing problems, were more likely to act in a way that would promote one or more of the undesirable outcomes above.

This scenario seems to have been accepted by the licensing committee in its determination.

It was common ground between the parties that there were levels of violent crime within the town centre in the early hours and that something must be done to address this. The fact that premises would be able to remain open within the “EMRO hours”, and not be forced to close, was noted by the committee in its decision.

Having reviewed all the evidence and considered the proportionality of the proposed EMRO, the committee concluded that while positive action was required for the night-time economy, the EMRO was not appropriate in the circumstances. The committee did not feel that the EMRO would have a positive effect on violent crime in the EMRO hours or more widely. The committee said it was also mindful of the fact that there were only two main operators trading the area after 3am and that there had been limited criticism of those operators overall.

In particular, the committee considered that “the totality of the evidence confirmed that the trouble-makers responsible for crime, disorder and nuisance were fortunately in the clear minority and that the cause of such trouble could not be laid at the feet of alcohol consumption within the so-called EMRO hours”. The committee went on to make a number of recommendations seeking to promote partnership working and also looking to the police to increase levels of policing throughout the night-time economy hours.


This was the first properly and fully contested EMRO application, in that for Hartlepool, where an EMRO was not adopted, the hearing was effectively compromised without a full investigation of the issues. As such, it was a hearing of some critical importance, not only for Blackpool, and I think it fair to say that lessons were learned by all who participated in it. Certainly, it proved to be a very interesting and illuminating experience. I am sure that other authorities, who may have had a possible EMRO in their contemplation, will now pause for further thought following this decision.

John Gaunt is a founding partner of John Gaunt & Partners, a niche licensing practice operating throughout England, Wales and Scotland

Too much feedback can be annoying by David Martin

Feedback: it’s the “breakfast of champions”, according to the American business author Ken Blanchard. And in foodservice we all know breakfast is booming. It is popping up all over the place.

But, and this will sound strange coming from a researcher, I wonder if this breakfast of feedback is getting overcooked.

Consumers are asked for their opinion so often they would be forgiven for deeming feedback the new F-word. Here’s a top-of-mind list of requests I’ve had in recent weeks:

• Upgraded handset with Vodafone: received a text survey
• Car serviced by local Volkswagen dealer: follow-up phone survey
• Bought euros from RBS: advised I might get a follow-up phone call
• Bought new tyres through Blackcircles.com: received online request for feedback
• Browsed Waitrose Wine website: invited to click through to a survey
• Bought groceries from the Co-op: invited to join its “Talkback” panel
• Bought items from Amazon resellers: received email requests for seller feedback
• Read The Telegraph website: pop-up reader survey request
• Bought flights through Expedia: post-purchase email survey request

And that is not counting all the till receipt requests from Tesco, Asda, Boots and the rest. It is getting to the point where a poll-free purchase is as rare as a seafront in Staffordshire.

I am the last person to dismiss the value of consumer feedback, particularly when it now can inform unit management rather than just headquarters. But here are some questions worth asking:

• What is the direction of consumer sentiment towards data collection and privacy?
• Is all this data-gathering all it seems to be?
• Are you effectively using the results?
• And above all, how about some more human interaction amid the rush to technology?

There is plenty to suggest that consumers’ attitudes to data collection, and its subsequent use, is hardening. Here is the view of Trendwatching.com: “The challenge for businesses will be finding a balance between the very real benefits of data collection and utilisation … and earning the trust of increasingly hacked-off consumers.” It even suggests there is a growing opportunity for “Nodata” brands that “simply offer brilliant service, while also loudly and proudly eschewing the collection of personal data.”

In the agency world, OMD UK recently discussed the notion of “digital retreat”, as consumers seek to regain control and reset their privacy boundaries with the virtual world. JWT agrees: in its ten trends for 2014, it asserts that “as anonymity becomes more elusive, expect pushback from consumers and a growing paranoia around technologies and service that affect privacy.”

Yet too often the business-speak of customer experience and “engagement” betrays largely selfish corporate data objectives. Accordingly, the view of the American customer experience expert Bruce Temkin is that “In 2014, we’ll hear more executives talking about the need to build ‘empathy’ for customers, making ‘empathy’ THE CX [customer experience] word for 2014.” But if we were truly empathetic, we would ask whether we are starting to bite the customer’s hand as it feeds back.

It is my hunch that online surveys are viewed with suspicion by the consumers furthest along that digital road of retreat. It may not be an extreme minority, either. Ipsos-MORI’s recent review of 2013 said that nearly 70% of people are concerned about how information collected about them when they go online is being used by companies, and talked of “consumers demanding more control of their data.”

Then there is the simple irritation factor of surveys, at a time when customers increasingly want you to be easy (and enjoyable) to do business with. To amplify the point, here’s a reported interaction between French Connection and an online shopper that turned up on Twitter last year:

FC “We value your opinion: What do you like about our site and what we can improve on.”

Shopper: “Literally no one in the world, anywhere, ever, likes these bloody pop-up boxes that get in your way when you’re trying to browse. I’ve been on your site for all of five seconds and already you’re turning the lights out and demanding my opinion.”

There is no missing the lesson of respecting your customers. Heavy-handed, over-frequent, over-intrusive, over-lengthy questioning is at least as big an issue online as it was in the hands of a pushy old-school interviewer.

The explosion in feedback has, of course, been technology-led, but how about using the power of that technology to moderate the intensity with which individual customers are approached for opinions?

And here is a radical thought: how about encouraging real team members to talk to real customers? The appliance of science is all very good but if we now need a tablet in a restaurant to tell the manager we are unhappy, we may be doing things simply because we now can, rather than because they make sense. If empathy really is the customer experience buzzword of the year, then human interaction should surely be our Route One.

To return to JWT’s trend report, it says that “thanks to the rise of brain-computer interfaces and emotion recognition technology, brands are getting more adept at understanding consumers’ minds and moods.” That is all very clever, but ours is a people business, and we are perhaps uniquely well placed in an era when JWT says: “We’ll put a higher value on all things that feel essentially human.”

The rush to online feedback is well-intentioned, and it can deliver a significant step-change in your customer understanding, but it has also become something of an arms race. If our competitors are doing it, we had better get on board. But collecting the data is only the start. Making good use of it is the artform. That, however, is a whole other subject.

So, while listening to customers is essential, do it with a gentle and human touch, because too much feedback can be painful for your customers. To finish on a musical note, so to speak, Neil Young once produced an album of 35 minutes of feedback: he himself is said to have described it as a good way to get rid of unwanted guests …
David Martin is managing director of Red Circle Insight, a market and customer insight resource

Great experiences on the front-line of hospitality by Ann Elliott

I am sat in the Delaunay this morning and what a great experience it has been. My 8am meeting couldn’t get here in time because of a tree down on her road and my 11am isn’t here yet as her train line is flooded. Good job I had a 9am to fill the gap. The staff here have been wonderful and have just let me work while carrying on around me. They have been diligent in keeping me topped up with water and they have served me tea, two hot chocolates (the best I have ever had), grapefruit juice and a great fruit salad – not quite the last of the big spenders but they have served me efficiently and with grace. I haven’t once felt as though they want me to move on.

The team here epitomise how service is an absolutely fundamental contributor to the delivery of a restaurant brand. Everyone has the same look and feel and they all look smart. They are the Delaunay. I love it.

I had another great experience last week at the French Horn and Green Man in St Martins Lane in central London (www.greenmanfrenchhorn.co). It is owned by the same people who run Terroir, Brawn and Soif, I think, and it was a magical discovery. They say: “The food is influenced by seasonal market produce, recipes and specialities of the Loire river, from the hills in the Ardèche to the oyster beds on the coast of Saint Nazaire – a gentle style of cooking, celebrating this great river.” The food was just wonderful and my artichoke soup was a delight. Here, again, the service was so in line with the brand. Our waiter was just right and knew all his wines and what went with what – he spoke with passion and enthusiasm so, despite my resolve not to drink, I had to try a glass (or two). It’s a super place.

The Botanist in Trinity, Leeds last Sunday was also fantastic (it also helps if you mention you know Tim Bacon and Jeremy Robert, I have to say). It is just the most imaginatively themed pub, with the best combination of bar area and restaurant that I have seen for some time. Their drinks menu is awesome (if a little challenging to read) and beautifully presented. My plate of chicken Sunday roast was a bit “brown” (if I really had to be critical) but the portion sizes were huge and we all ended up leaving quite a bit on our plates. The service style is relaxed, friendly and confident with multiple check-backs: totally appropriate for the concept. Worth visiting if you are up in Leeds.

While in Leeds, do go to Trinity Kitchen. I was totally blown away by the whole place, which was teeming with people and queues at every concept. I have put some pictures on our website (www.elliottsagency.com) which aim to capture the buzz and atmosphere of the place. I love the interactive white board and the living wall, as well as some of the more way-out concepts. It’s how we all might be eating out in the future.

The Tap (www.tapcoffee.co.uk) on Wardour Street in Soho, London is a fresh and new take on the old coffee-and-cake concept. Order at the counter on the right as you go in rather than hanging around the baristas (who don’t look up or point you in the right direction). Great coffee, fantastic cakes and super hot chocolate (must give it up).

Bill’s in Oxford was as good as usual, with very friendly and accommodating service and a waiter who apologised for the late arrival of our food. I really liked the “Bill’s super green smoothie” and managed to have two in quick succession. Their chicken pie was OK but not a patch on the steak and ale pie at The Ape and Bird in Covent Garden (www.apeandbird.com), Russell Norman’s new pub/ restaurant. He says: “The Ape & Bird Public House is the sort of pub we always wanted to go to but could never find. It feels folksy and friendly, warm and welcoming. It might legitimately be described as ‘a pub for people who don’t like pubs’.” It really is. £12 is quite a lot for a pie with no vegetables but it was the best pie I have ever had apart from those I buy from my Uncle Charlie’s farm shop. Quite stunning and worth every penny. Visit now before the place becomes a legend – which is, I suppose, how you would describe Russell himself!
Ann Elliott is chief executive of leading sector marketing and PR firm Elliotts – www.elliottsagency.com

Opening on Christmas Day by Alastair Scott

My family and I all worked on Christmas Day last year. Of my three children, one was pot-wash, another waitress, and the youngest was food-running. My other half did Prosecco on arrival and I had intended just to chat to the guests, which I feel is my most useful activity (as normally I get in the way at everything else). But the pub in the next village had decided to close on Christmas Day, so, as well as all the restaurant guests, the bar filled up very fast, and between 12.30pm and 2.30pm the place was the busiest I have ever seen it.

The diners coming in from 1.30pm onwards were struggling to get into the building, let alone grasp their glass of free Prosecco, so I was forced to do real work – replenishing the bar, delivering plates and resetting tables. The atmosphere was great and the place buzzed. We took over £11,000 on the day, which is no shabby amount either (for the record, we charged £65 for lunch). We did 1 1/3 turns, so we sat the last tables at 3pm. Of course, we will think about whether we should extend that, and try to balance what is a very special and important day with our wish to maximise income. I was pleasantly surprised that all the 12 o’clock guests were seated at table before 12pm. We do need to reconsider how we handle the guests who arrived at 1.30pm for their table at 2pm and couldn’t get in.

So why do pubs close on Christmas Day when trade could be so good? Is it because they earn enough to afford not to bother? Is it because there is no demand? Is it because they can’t find the staff, or simply because they want to have the day with their families? All are valid reasons, but we could afford virtually to close for a week in January on the profits of the day. Is Christmas Day worth that much, when in any event we still were home by 6pm and had a lovely Christmas dinner.

Christmas Day has become bigger and bigger in the pub trade. As with Sunday lunch, the pub is a better place to be than a restaurant. We all need to open on Christmas Day if we serve residential communities. I know some of the large managed house chains are opening more and more of their town centre pubs as there becomes enough of a community to create a decent Christmas Day trade. Often those people don’t have large enough homes to accommodate their guests, so going out is the only choice. There is clearly a great deal of understandable reluctance to open on Christmas Day, but most of our staff enjoy it and do not need a great deal of encouragement, particularly if you pay them extra. We have to recognise we are in the service industry, and unsociable hours are what we are about, without exception.

As our industry polarises and quiet weeks and quiet days cluster tougher, we have to take the money when the fish are biting. I am still incredibly grateful for the pub in the next village being closed. Not only did we add sales but I am sure new people came and may have changed their allegiance to us.
Alastair Scott is managing director of Catton Hospitality, which specialises in helping improve hospitality operations. He also runs two Punch Taverns pubs in his Malvern Inns business. He can be reached at alastair@cattonhospitality.com

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