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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 27th Mar 2015 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Mysteries of cask ale, dual universes and developing staff
Authors: Martyn Cornell, Paul Chase and Chris Cooper


The importance of uncovering the mysteries of cask beer to all bar staff, by Martyn Cornell

I was talking to Pete Brown, author of the annual Cask Report, at the launch of Cask Beer Uncovered, the £2m e-learning initiative for bar staff launched this week. His favourite local, Brown said, had a licensee who was fanatical about his cask ale, and looked after it scrupulously. Unfortunately, the licensee has failed to pass on the skills he has to any of his staff, with the result that if he is off on a busy Saturday evening, there might be a cellar full of different cask beers ripe for the serving, and only one actually available upstairs in the bars, because none of the bar staff knew how to change a cask that had run out.
It can only be hoped that Cask Beer Uncovered, and the other e-learning courses available, such as Greene King's Beer Genius, launched last month, will end this sort of egregious fail, and ensure that all bar staff know as much about the products they serve, and how to ensure they are served in as perfect condition as possible. Cask Matters, the organisation behind Cask Beer Uncovered (and the Cask Report), wants to see 100,000 bar staff put through the Cask Beer Uncovered programme over the next three years. That's scarcely two people per pub, however. If you go through the five modules in the (entirely free) programme, and get right at least 75% of the 15 questions you will be asked, then you can print yourself off a personalised Craft Beer Uncovered certificate. Pub owners should be telling their staff that if they can show one of those certificates, that will be an immediate payrise.
It is a puzzle, nearly 45 years after the Campaign for Real Ale was founded with the specific aim of improving the quality of the beer served in British pubs, that something like Cask Beer Uncovered is still needed. Cask Marque, the sister organisation to Cask Matters, is doing a tremendous job in seeking to ensure quality beer on the bar, with more than 20,000 pub inspections a year. But with the number of pubs signed up to the Cask Marque scheme now approaching 9,500, that still represents only about one outlet in five. Not all of the remaining 40,000 or so pubs will sell cask, of course – only around 60% or so of all pubs do. But that still suggests drinkers could be risking a murky, warm, badly kept pint of cask ale in 40% of all the pubs they visit, as well as not finding cask ale at all in another 40%. As every report on the cask beer market says, if customers are served a poor pint, they are likely not to come back for another.
The surely obvious fact is that a well-kept pint of cask beer is not just a joy, it's the licensee's best weapon in the fight to lure people out of their living rooms and down the pub. You cannot get it as fresh, as perfect, as it is anywhere else outside the bar of a well-run public house. Punch Taverns’ external affairs and central operations director, Andy Slee, who was at the reception at the Morpeth Arms on Millbank in Westminster attended by the community and pubs minister, Kris Hopkins, that launched Cask Beer Uncovered, said Punch was one of the dozen or so companies that have funded the Cask Beer Uncovered initiative because of the importance of cask beer to the company: "We see cask beer as a competitive advantage for our pubs, not just against drinking at home, but also against managed houses, which are often very food-focused," Slee said. "One in five pints sold in Punch pubs is cask beer, as opposed to one in eight nationally. We put a lot of time and effort into working on the quality. We're the biggest pubco in Cask Marque, and to encourage our licensees to be members of the Cask Marque scheme we pay for the first 18 months of their membership. We see it as a critical signpost to the consumer of a quality outlet. That's why we were delighted to be part of the development of Cask Beer Uncovered. It's not just about promoting cask beer to current consumers – it's all around attracting new consumers, the next generation."
I'd encourage you to go through the Cask Beer Uncovered course, which you can register for here it kicks off with a short flag-waving, Elgar-playing section on how wonderful cask ale is which, if you've seen the "I am a Craft Brewer" film made in 2009 for the American Craft Brewers Conference, will look rather familiar (try playing "name those British brewers" as they shoot past – and spot the one whose brewery, whoops, produces far more keg beer than cask …) but the next five sections, which cover the brewing process, ingredients and their impact on beer flavour, beer conditioning in the pub cellar, choosing the right range of cask beers and the importance of throughput and quality, serving the perfect pint of cask beer, promoting cask beer to customers and matching beer with food, put across their messages in a thorough, accurate and non-patronising manner – and give the viewer a test at the end of each section to see what they have absorbed. It then recommends other cellar management courses, including the BII's ABCQ (Award in Beer and Cellar Quality) course, and CPL's Introduction to Cellar Management e-learning course. Take the Cask Beer Uncovered test yourself, see how well you do. I'm delighted (and relieved) to say I got 100% and now have my Cask Beer Uncovered certificate. Can I have a payrise, please, Mr Charity?
Martyn Cornell is managing editor of Propel Info

The parallel universe by Paul Chase

I thought that my sense that reality consists of a number of parallel universes was something of a blurred memory consigned to my youth as a hippy student, but not a bit of it! Over the past two weeks I have again experienced that sense of duality and disconnect. It has arisen from encounters with a group of people whose dystopian world-view is so emotionally entrenched that nothing you can say will cause them to think again. The difficulty of trying to overcome emotional objections with rational arguments; of distortions with factual information; of bias with balance is simply insurmountable.
What am I talking about? Well, consider my diary of recent events: On 16 March I attended the Publican’s Awards dinner in London and met some amazing people who were creating value; generating jobs for young people and tax income for the government; championing innovation and entrepreneurial flair; and raising millions for charity, as well as bringing pleasure to millions of customers.
Then on 19 March I attended the SIBA (Society of Independent Brewers) exhibition and conference in Sheffield. I gave a 40-minute speech on ‘Alcohol Policy and Moral Panic’ in which I expounded the view that it was moral panic that had driven alcohol policy in the UK, not a proportionate, balanced view of alcohol-related problems. I was immensely impressed by the variety of craft beers that were on show; of the erudite learning of those who spoke to the conference about the brewing process; of the vibrant craft brewing scene in the UK and the United States. I met, saw and heard great people who spoke with passion and commitment about what they do. I felt buoyed up by the enthusiasm and optimism of the people there. Those who think that beer is on a downward trajectory that cannot be reversed are quite simply wrong.
In between these two inspiring events, on 17 March, I attended a keynote Westminster Policy Forum about ‘Future Alcohol Policy and Minimum Unit Pricing’ (MUP). Here the picture begins to flicker somewhat, my reality paradigm shifted and the sense of unreality kicked-in.
At this seminar there were a number of speakers and members of the audience from the health community. Jackie Ballard from Alcohol Concern; a civil servant from Scotland whose name escapes me who was meant to talk about MUP, but simply lamented that it hadn’t happened; and Chief Constable Adrian Lee, the ACPO lead on licensing and alcohol – all were there. From the sector we had David Frost, the chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, whose ten-minute slot opposing MUP was split with a chap from Tennents who was in favour of it! There was Henry Ashworth, the chief executive of the Portman Group, and the libertarian and lifestyle economist Christopher Snowdon. The inherent bias of the whole conference was apparent from the fact that healthist ideologues were allotted twice as much time as people from the sector who might oppose their viewpoint! I suspect that the industry viewpoint was only allowed any hearing in this particular corner of the public square in order to avoid the impression that this was an exercise in preaching to the choir.
The semi-Chatham House rules that operate at these sessions prevents me from giving you a verbatim account of the nonsense spouted by the healthists, but suffice it to say that it was the usual turgid recitation of false facts, outdated statistics and deliberate problem-inflation. The 18% fall in alcohol consumption per head since 2004 was just a blip, not a long-term trend; alcohol “directly causes at least six cancers”, one speaker said, when in fact it is alcohol abuse that may do that – the conflation of alcohol use and alcohol abuse was deliberate and misleading. Alcohol-related crime "is getting worse" – when in fact it has fallen by 47% since 1997. And so it went on.
Henry Ashworth lamented the (very obvious) fact that the debate around alcohol is now highly polarised. He is right, it IS polarised, and that is lamentable. But for it not to be polarised there has to be willingness for dialogue and an appetite for compromise on both sides. The plain fact is that the drinks industry has shown that willingness, but the health lobby has not. How can there be dialogue and compromise when it is the clear and settled view of the health lobby here in the UK and internationally that the drinks industry should not be included in the formation of alcohol policy; that healthists should monopolise the ear of government, and that the role of the industry is to discuss how to implement policies that are inimical to their interests?
To healthists that is a perfectly reasonable proposition; to our sector it simply beggars belief that people can think that way. Listening to these two positions being played out in this forum is what gave me the sense of parallel universes referred to above. And there is no end in sight.
Paul Chase is a director of CPL Training and a leading commentator on on-trade health and alcohol policy

A people-centred approach that delivers by Chris Cooper

A retiring sales director once told me: "Chris, if there is one lesson from my career that I would like to leave you with it is this – people are everything. I also recently heard a vice-president of Ritz Carlton sum it up this way: "Happy people equal happy customers, which equals lots of money." So how do we ensure we help people to be happy so that they are continuously creating happy customers? I would like to share a route I have fine-tuned over five years. This has been used extensively with clients, including an award-winning multi-site operator that enjoys low staff turnover, high people engagement and competitive advantage.

1 Flow from the top: Positive change comes from the top ,and the more self-aware and balanced an executive team is the better they will be able to positively influence people in the organisation. A decade ago, I had a role that spanned Punch Pub Company and the Spirit Group covering logistics, quality and forecasting for 5,500 pubs. As a leader I was not a detail person, and to do that role I needed the right team around me: a team of people happy in their flow, doing things that they loved doing that I didn’t! At that point in history we were mostly using educated guesswork to determine what that flow might be, whereas today, with the help of the right diagnostics, we can more scientifically ensure people match role profiles better and teams are designed to work more effectively.

2 Who do you need? Let us assume you are opening a new pub or restaurant and need a great team in place. Who do you need? First, who is the likely customer and what types of people will make that audience feel special? What are the unexpressed wishes of those customers and what do you need to do to fulfil them?

If it is fresh ideas you require, you will need an innovator at the helm who will look to creatively improve with you. Be warned, they will get frustrated if you are not prepared to also support their ideas. Once the innovation potential has stopped, they may also want to move on to a new challenge.

For a buzzing customer interface, high people interaction is needed, and you will need gregarious people and possibly a gregarious leader who loves engaging with people. How often do you get served somewhere and wonder if the server would be happier if you were not there?
You are likely to also need grounded operators who operate to your rules and love routine – opening up on time, health and safety, ordering and managing supplies, keeping the place clean. The challenge with these profiles, of course is that the outlet can run clinically well, but too many of this sort and it will lack customer attraction.
You may also need at least one person with a systems and financial bias. However, put them front-of house and you are asking for trouble. One pub manager, when I asked him about his interests out of work, said: "Getting away from people! I have to put up with people when I am working!" This was a man best in the back office, managing processes, or cooking food I think.

Taking my local village pub as an example, a change of ownership means it has gone from a wonderful buzzing and happy environment to an empty and sad place. Engaging bar staff were fired, a less engaging team more like the manager was brought in, food portions and quality were cut down. Wrong leader, unhappy staff, unhappy customers – bad results.
3 Diagnostics: Using an on-line diagnostic can help you seek the truth beyond interview questions. This must be positioned intelligently so recipients can see the benefit for themselves. A diagnostic should also enable you to gain an entire team picture. Then you can see how an individual will impact any existing team. I use an on-line diagnostic that does this extremely well. The great benefit of this map is that you can screen recipients in advance so you know what you are dealing with, link to the right opportunity and have a sensible conversation with them about their flow. With this information you also understand the triggers that you can pull to help them feel more happy and fulfilled.  One chief executive recently said to me: "I have a difficult problem. I brought my son into the business and he has been in two roles and failed in both." Looking at the diagnostic, I said: "Have you tried him in marketing?" No –  operations and finance. No wonder he had been fed up. Oh my word!

4 Complimentary skills: To run a successful small business requires a blend of skills that very few people have in isolation. Where there are two people jointly running a hospitality outlet, for example, be it a husband and wife or two partners it is important that their skills compliment. Running a small business needs innovation, marketing, sales, customer and employee engagement, routine operational delivery, great customer service, systems, finance and legal skills to name a few. An interest in the same activities can compound the problem, as efforts become polarised and the big picture lost.

One approach we have found very helpful is to then match up the right head office support team. If an outlet has specific blind spots, ensure that head office is supporting those gaps by bringing in the people who are in their flow in the areas where help is needed.

5 Openness: Be open. This should not be a system that you do to others, rather one that you use to build great relationships. Bringing the outlet together with the head office support team and openly facilitating a sharing profiles on both sides as a basis to build a joint plan can be very powerful: "Ah – so now I see why we need to work together!"

6 Enjoy the benefits: Better, more engaging relationships, more balanced teams, greater efficiency, lower staff turnover, higher performance: with the right, happy people and the right, tailored support, this approach leads to happier customers which in turn means better results (more money!).
Chris Cooper helps business leaders to elevate their businesses, there people and themselves. He is a business elevation consultant, facilitator, coach, keynote speaker and broadcaster. He works with major brands and SMEs and has held senior roles at Mars, United Biscuits and Punch. His book The Power to Get Things Done (Whether Your Feel Like It Or Not) will be published by Penguin Random House USA in December 2015. He has hosted a weekly on-line business radio show since 2011 which has been accessed up to 100,000 times in a month. Chris is based in Leicestershire. To contact him, email or visit

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