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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 6th Jun 2014 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: The issues that would make a difference, four outstanding experiences, foodservice in Chicago versus New York and youth unemployment and the sector
Authors: Kate Nicholls, Ann Elliott, Chris Gerard and Alastair Scott
   

The key changes that would make a difference by Kate Nicholls

Elections – they make politicians do the strangest things in a vain attempt to prove that they are just ordinary people, one of us.
In the past it has been about going out and meeting people – kissing babies, John Major’s soapbox, the meet-and-greet. But in today’s fast-moving media world, a picture is worth a thousand handshakes. Hence in 2010 we saw David Cameron and George Osborne continually in Morrisons, why the prices of milk, bread and groceries still crop up in interview and why we had to suffer the sight of Ed Miliband failing abysmally to eat a bacon sarnie.
   
But for this general election, I am willing to bet the totemic sign of authenticity and normality politicians try to align with will be the pub. It is not just the Farage effect – although that does have a lot to do with it. It’s the fact that with political voting lines blurred like never before, pubs capture the zeitgeist: they are small businesses, they are on the high street and they are synonymous with community. More importantly a pub’s customers and team-members are precisely the voters the main parties want to target. Wondering how policies will play down the pub is not a bad test for a politician.
   
But we have to work hard collectively to push that narrative, to bring the photo opportunity to life and translate it into something more meaningful. Nigel Farage may use pubs as venues and always have a pint to hand but have you noticed that the pints politicians pull always remain suspiciously full! And that it is always a very traditional image of a local that they latch onto. Where is the modern, dynamic and vibrant industry delivering cracking jobs, growth and investment in the heart of the community? Where is the food, the experience, the theatre?
   
That is precisely why we have published our Manifesto this week. This is not just a one-stop-shop setting out the views of operators on the main political issues of the day, nor is it simply a list of the things we would like to see changed, although it does both of things as well. It aims to be a shop-window for all that is great about our sector and what it contributes, socially, economically and culturally. It is chock-full of key stats and facts about what we do and how well we do it.
   
But the images are just as important as the words. There are pictures of families enjoying a meal out, friends at breakfast, people grabbing a coffee while they are shopping or having a quiet drink while catching up on emails. There are rural pubs in a bucolic setting, high street and food-led outlets in shopping centres. There are all types of customers, in all types of venue at all times of the day and night. And that is as much a part of the message to politicians, regulators and the media as the “asks”.
   
By giving a different and more positive political image and backdrop we can start to change hearts, minds and political perceptions of the pub: away from saving the last pub in the village or as a magnet for town centre turmoil and towards one which recognises us as providing everyday experiences for ordinary hard-working people: away from being a problem to be managed and towards a trusted partner to be celebrated.
   
We have also identified the key changes which could help us deliver every greater return on investment to UK plc – tax cuts for employing and training young people; a new requirement for local authorities to prioritise economic growth in planning and licensing; parity of treatment with supermarkets whether in promotions, pricing or taxes; and, tackling the property constraints which blight our high street: commercial leases, business rates and planning.
   
So the Manifesto is a tool we can all use to capitalise on the political appeal of the pub over the coming year, to make sure that the next time a politician pops in for a photo op it is with a better, more informed understanding of everything we offer and do.
   
Download your copy from the ALMR website today and invite your local MP to visit your pub, and together let us make sure the next round of pub-friendly policies continues.
Kate Nicholls is strategic affairs director of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers
   

Four outstanding experiences by Ann Elliott

1. Center Parcs: The new Center Parcs in Woburn had a trial opening holiday break last weekend and we went along, together with what seemed like half of the chief executives and investors in our sector. I am an avid Center Parcs fan and have come to the conclusion that those who say they don’t like it have never been. You will have read all the PR in the papers over the weekend and seen the jaw-dropping pictures of the pool and the spa. It is just brilliant
   
Inevitably, there were one or two teething problems but that is what trial weekends are for – and there were “memory-makers” everywhere keen to find out what customers thought about every aspect of the site. All feedback was then analysed at the start of each day and changes put in place pretty much immediately to address the key issues. All of the Center Parcs senior management were there and sincerely interested in hearing guest comments.
   
I know those who scoff at the food offering but it’s so much better than it was even five years ago. Woburn has all the usual Center Parcs brands, a couple of Tragus brands (Cafe Rouge and Strada), the Shearing House run by SSP, which is a great cross between a restaurant and gastro pub, plus a great Starbucks. Enough choice, quite frankly.
   
Highlights for me included a personalised tour around the pool, the new payment band (so easy to use), the Spa saunas, the line dancing class (!) and the general sense of tranquillity, all helped by genuinely happy and friendly team members.
   
As experiences go, Center Parcs is up there for me – a three-day break felt like a week’s holiday. I can’t wait go to back.
   
2. David Bruce: Being out with David Bruce for a day is an experience in itself and I needed the Center Parcs break to recover having spent just five hours with him.
   
I met him at the West Berkshire Brewery, where he had been brewing Dogbolter bitter since 5am. He has unbridled enthusiasm for this new venture, which is nearly at capacity after having had him at the helm for only a few months. He is just in love with producing brilliant craft beer and is endlessly creative and inspiring with his young and enthusiastic team.
   
After a whirlwind tour, I went with him to see Cobbs, one of the eight Farm Shops he has. It incorporates a butcher, a fresh fish shop, a flower shop, a vineyard, its own asparagus fields and a cafe. David knew everyone who worked there, chatted with them and knew the detail of what was going on. I can imagine the team feeling totally inspired by his visit. It is a great enterprise and a fantastic example of entrepreneurialism at its best. It was a joy just being with him and seeing him in action.
   
David has also invested both time and effort into refitting canal barges to provide holidays for disabled people, which is where we went next. He has just as much commitment and passion for this charity enterprise as he has to his commercial ventures, and it is a huge success. Those who know him will know what an enormous personality he is – a real force majeure. What a great way to spend a day!
   
3. Aurora: I love Aurora in Soho. It has real simplicity, super friendly staff and a menu that always has something interesting on it. The real joy of this place is the garden. A proper garden in the middle of Soho! I ate here in the middle of March and again last week. It is a really special place.
   
4. Cliveden: Having never been to Cliveden, I couldn’t wait to eat here last Saturday. It’s a Relais and Chateaux hotel set in a National Trust property so it is a bit weird seeing all types of people walking past your window while you are ordering off a £65 set menu but then I suppose that happens in Soho too ( there was a £28 three-course lunch menu, which was fabulous). The property, of course, is immensely historic and you can rent the house used by Stephen Ward for his allegedly nefarious purposes for £2k a night (on average)
   
The team here were brilliant – unstuffy, friendly and welcoming. They were attentive without being over the top (and it must be very easy to go over the top in somewhere like this). Just a great way to spend a Saturday
   
Worth mentioning too – getting porridge at Somerstown Coffee House, the apple and ginger tea at Foxcroft and Ginger, superb tapas at Bistro Blanchette, lovely food at the Orrery (which I last went to 20 years ago) and a fabulous ambiance at Workshop Coffee in Clerkenwell.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliotts, the leading sector public relations and marketing business – www.elliottsagency.com
   

Is New York or Chicago best for foodservice by Chris Gerard

One of the criticisms of the United States, for those who travel its roads, is that wherever you are, America is, from a retail perspective, cloned. Car lot follows shopping mall follows quick service restaurant. Little imagination spread over astonishing scenery – a block-constructed, flat-roofed retail environment that is helping drive a huge economy.
   
But fly from one City to another and that is simply not true. Leave Chicago’s state of the art O’Hara terminal and land at JFK’s “third world” Terminal Two (it’s under construction) and it feels like you have flown from Florida to Belize.
   
Walk the streets of Chicago and it’s so “first-world” that the shine and style hurts. Walk the streets of New York, or visit a subway station and you think you are treading, the pavements and broken ex-colonial infrastructure of Central America.
   
Manhattan is not Chicago, from many perspectives. It is grimy and its residential architecture is smeared with both fire escapes and graffiti. Downtown is another country; in fact, a number of neighbouring countries and, unlike Chicago, no one lives above the “Wall street” shop.
   
I left Manhattan with a potential doctorate thesis. Property becomes shockingly expensive, when it is in nil supply. Therefore everyone rents. When everyone rents, you can just up and go, you don’t clean up your neighbourhood nor do you vote for the mayor that will improve where you live. The consequence: you live in a place that looks like no one gives a toss. The other thesis could be: Hurricane Sandy knocked the stuffing out of Manhattan and it has yet to recover. Personally I think it’s the former.
   
Central Manhattan is, however, completely wonderful. It is young, energetic, vibrant, entrepreneurial and exciting. After the cataclysm of 2008, for those that kept, or got themselves a job, post Lehman brothers, the working day became 8am to 8pm and stayed that way. Those that lost their jobs and or wanted quality of life moved out or opened a restaurant or a laundry. In downtown Manhattan, you don’t cook nor do you press your shirts, the work ethic is such that you don’t have time.
   
In terms of energy and activity New York feels like it has now recovered from both Sandy and Lehman Brothers. Both events, natural or not, were clearly temporary. Sandy’s legacy? There are still one or two lifts that still don’t work while, incredibly, all Lehman Brothers creditors got paid out dollar for dollar! Cranes and the continuous noise of piling sing out the recovery.
   
The centre of Chicago is big, bold, stylish and organised; the centre of Manhattan is neighbourhood, gritty, pop up and chaotic. I much preferred Manhattan. Nolitan, Soho, Little Italy, all offer literally hundreds of great examples of individual, solo-operated, community restaurants with offers that fill every day-part brilliantly. If you operate in the UK, in an affluent city environment, go see!
   
If you have the inclination to take a break from great food, walk the highline on the west side. This is a sensational solution to a redundant raised railway track and has transformed the future of the buildings around its one-mile length.
   
The Manhattan food variety, the small niche operators, the plethora of experimentation, the vibrancy of immigration and diversity is wonderful model for us all to recognise and celebrate. UKIP would have hysterics! Everybody is an immigrant, and the city is all the better for it!
   
So to my take-outs from my four-day stay? Bud, Miller and Coors, all gone, in place are; craft beers and a Belgian-brewed beer called Stella Artois. The parks are populated with laptops feeding from well-signed and sponsored neighbourhood restaurants. Shabby equals Fresh. Exteriors are smartly presented but cast iron pillars that are original are left patinated by age and history.
   
Where are the funkiest offices in town? Not in the new Tower One of the financial centre reaching 542 metres into the sky, but in an 1890s meat packing factory called Chelsea Market with its ground floor converted to 90 entrepreneurial food businesses. These offices are fed from their own 1930s lifts in the centre of the market, just next to a queue for the fresh steamed lobster, ten-deep, at $40 a pop.
   
Burgers are big in every sense and you can have them stuffed, made from brisket or rib or fillet and, by the way, how would you like it cooked? Medium rare?
   
Use too many serviettes? Get the team to hand stamp every one with your restaurants name or logo and save money. How? Because suddenly they are valued by the team which has applied sweat and toil and are no longer used for mopping up with.
   
Spruce up your salad garnish, add a honey and mustard vinaigrette and lace it with just a little fresh mint leaf.
   
Starbucks on Wall Street was full, but the quietest and loneliest place on earth. Everyone connected but not to those around them! And why not use your roof top for retail?
   
A trio of really notable businesses:
Balthazar: A really brilliant Grand café in Parisian style, stalked by a Gallic-suited Frenchman driving standards and care. You don’t have to go to New York, try Russell Square WC2, but I can’t promise the same Gallic style nor attention to detail. The good news, however: the Eggs Benedict are £7 in London, $26 in Manhattan!
   
Rice to Riches: A bonkers rice pudding concept with attitude, every flavour cold rice pudding you can think of served with extra sprinkles. $7.50 for a regular, so it is not cheap. What gave it stand-out was its sparky and sparkly presentation. I assumed I had found something new, for it felt like it had opened yesterday. So I asked when did you open? 12 years ago, the reply! Let that be a lesson to all of us - do we all look like we opened yesterday?
   
Rubys: A 20-cover pop-up restaurant in Nolitan serving a delicious burger with pickled beetroot, pineapple a fried egg and John Boags beer from Tasmania, cash only. I left America with two words in my mind that, if delivered, would help build any and all hospitality businesses and were repeatedly delivered both in Chicago and New York – delicious and charming (and you have to be both).
   
Maybe Propel should do Manhattan as an alternate? I have lots of notes on both my visits to New York and Chicago if anyone wants a copy, drop me a shout at: chrismgerard@aol.com.
Chris Gerard is the founder of gastro-pub operator Innventure and rolled out Vintage Inns at Mitchells & Butlers
   

Youth unemployment and the sector by Alastair Scott

Youth unemployment was steadily increasing year-by-year from 2002 until 2013. This was bad for those whose businesses rely on young consumers for income but good for those who recruit from this population, having a larger pool of qualified people.
   
Over the past year, though, we have seen a massive change – youth unemployment has fallen by 15%, with some 90,000 people finding jobs over the last year. This perhaps is the most challenging statistic for a sector such as ours – how do we find the people? For those who don’t recognise the figures I have quoted, the sad statistic is that there are still a further 1.65m who are classified as economically inactive (ie not in work and not looking for work)! But there are only 580,000 16 to 24 year-olds now available for our sector (I could not find how many of those were 16 and 17).
   
I do not think that we should be expecting these figures to reverse. As the economy grows young people should find it easier to get work and so our position will only get harder. Of course, migration from the EU will dampen this somewhat but it is still not to be ignored. Here are my thoughts as to what we might do over the next few years to help:
   
Things we can do on a micro level:
Look at how we pay. We are sometimes in danger of thinking of ourselves as minimum wage payers when we are not. As food grows and the sector generates more tips, the earnings rise and all experiments with commission pay prove it to be both commercially viable and profit-boosting. I am now looking at how I can combine these in my own pubs to pay above the minimum wage without blowing the economic model.
   
Create better career plans. The work the sector is doing on apprenticeships is excellent. However, there is much more to be done on giving people the skills to climb all the way up the ladder from potwash to licensee.

Productivity. The key challenge in an economy where you have to pay more and good people are a scarce resource is to make them as productive as possible. We have a massive way to go in this area: first with effective people deployment; second with systems and processes that can reduce staffing levels by making the business operate more efficiently.
   
Things we can do on a macro level:
Work harder on our industry reputation. I am still astonished at the number of people who think I am mad to own pubs, because they are all closing! We must move our industry message to a more positive one about the growth in casual dining and eating out, as well as the pub being the fabric of the community.
   
Revisit our policy on employing 16 and 17-year-olds. I am by no means a legal expert and am constantly confused by the definition of when someone can serve alcohol. In Scotland, they can serve alcohol with a meal if it is authorised, therefore the only job they cannot do is behind the bar. Presumably any alcohol ordered through the 17-year-old can be authorised when it is collected from the bar from a person who by definition must be over 18. Or perhaps we could challenge where this restricts the opportunities of 17-yea-olds to work!
   
In my own pubs, I am giving pay, deployment and system a real focus at the moment. For those who know me I will wax lyrical (OK, just wax) about the industry, its opportunities and how well good people can do. I am having a real go at how to increase pay and, in particular, how to make it clear how much can be earned in tips. As both my pubs are in affluent areas we have a good returning student population to boost our numbers in the holidays. But May is a particularly difficult month as A-levels and university exams happen at the same time.
Alastair Scott is a leading industry consultant and owns S4 labour, the industry productivity and deployment tool used by many award-winning operators. He also operates Malvern Inns and oversaw All Bar One during his career at Mitchells & Butlers

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