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Fri 8th May 2015 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Brand standards, out and about, and the emergence of craft beer in Poland
Authors: Steven Pike, Ann Elliott and Martyn Cornell

Brand standards are still the foundation to a great guest experience, says Steven Pike, and staff do not have to be robots in order to stick to one and then deliver the other

For many operators, “brand standards” has almost become a dirty phrase, as they look to offer customers an individual, unique experience, whether they are an independent restaurant or a chain of 300 venues.

Brands have evolved from Generation Robot, where every site looks the same, all the staff act the same, and so the guest’s experience is the same every time: bland, repetitive and boring. However, smart operators recognise that a robust set of brand standards is what underpins the guest experience – which, in turn, defines the brand standards and how they are differentiated from the competition.

It is a “chicken and egg” scenario – the brand standards are the framework that the experience is wrapped around. You cannot have one without the other. If you have the framework of brand and operational standards in place and your staff know what is expected of them (you want them to almost be able to do the fundamentals of their role in their sleep) then you can leave them to focus on proper engagement with the guest, reading their needs, communicating with them in a personal manner, and all those things that you cannot do if you use a robot.

If there are three steps to heaven, as Showaddywaddy tried to persuade us, there are only two steps to guest experience bliss. Step one: operators need to have the brand standards in place, based on the kind of experience they want guests to have. Step two: the guest experience will follow. It will not work in the opposite direction. We do quite often see businesses who think it can – they say, “We’ll just find out if people are happy at the end of their experience, and if they are, that’s great. If they’re not, we’ll see what we can learn from it.” This is a risky approach: without the right foundations in place, it is difficult to ensure key learnings are applied and the way your team operates changes. There are also some valuable standards that may not be considered if you simply worked backwards from a guest experience but which can both positively impact it and improve your bottom line; suggestive selling is one example.

Measurement is vital here. It is very hard to articulate the link between brand standards and guest experience without a means of measurement. Evaluating the execution of your brand standards, and how this impacts on the guest experience is important, whatever your type of operation. If you are offering a full-service environment, then you are going to have lots of steps of service to manage, so clearly, standards should be robust. But even in a grab ’n’ go environment, businesses will operate within a certain framework and expect certain things from their employees. From established brands such as Pret A Manger to the crop of challengers, such as Leon and Apostrophe, they know that, even if they are the busiest place in town, customers should not have to queue and should always be served with a smile. This does not happen by accident. It is because of the standards the business sets and the efficiency of the operational guidelines functioning behind the scenes.

However, when defining your brand standards, always begin with your expectations of what the guest will remember of their experience. If you went back several years, there were fewer ways of running your operation, no matter how many sites you had. But this has changed.

If your brand standards do not facilitate or motivate teams to be creative, then the experience is not going to be memorable for the customer, it is not going to be talked about and you are not going to get people coming back in. Vice-versa, if you just focus on employing people who are happy and great at engaging with people but not actually efficient behind the scenes, then it will be an uphill struggle to get the experience right in the first place. These two aspects of the business have to work in tandem: it is like a dance. Memorability is what will make you stand out and cause guests to return or recommend. But beware the negative impact of not being dependable, for this will surely get shared too.

Every company is different; what makes one successful is different to what makes another successful and you need to have that balance between both the originality of the guest experience and the efficiency of the brand standards. But both are part of the same continuum, each reinforcing the other. Be sure to measure them, then continually reflect, learn and evolve, for the market will not stand still.
Steven Pike is the managing director of HospitalityGEM, the UK’s leading expert in guest experience management (GEM). The company provides hospitality operators with tools for intelligence gathering, guest engagement and staff learning, working closely with them to help generate revenue growth through effective GEM. Clients include Wagamama, Brasserie Blanc, Spirit Pub Company, Malmaison and Peach Pubs

Out and about by Ann Elliott

I have had some great eating out experiences over the last few weeks both in and out of London. First off, Alan Yau’s Duck and Rice. “The Duck and Rice is everything I have ever wanted from a restaurant or from life itself. Thank you, God, for listening”. So Giles Coren wrote in The Times on 2 May 2 and he is absolutely right. It’s an amazing pub on Berwick Street whose layout defies every principle on space utilisation you know to be right but it just seems to work. The drinks range is quirky (including High Wire brewed in my home town of Huddersfield), exciting and includes genuine and rare unpasteurised lager. The service was so slow though on the day I went (and still is I gather) but the food more than made up for that. I had steamed aubergine with mui choi and Chinese seasonal organic vegetables – just awesome. Can’t wait to go back and eat my way through the rest of the menu (www.theduckandrice.com)

Had a great time at the opening of Thaikhun (www.thaikhun.co.uk) in Oxford last week having tried it first in Manchester. As they say on the website; “Thaikhun is a fun, funky, authentic, exciting and energetic concept that incorporates the vibrancy of Thai street food”. It takes customer experience to a new level and I can’t imagine ever being bored eating here. It’s colourful, mad and invigorating. The restaurant was fully booked on the Saturday evening after opening and I couldn’t get in this Monday either. The food is absolutely of now- beautiful, tasty and colourful. This is a brand that will go far.

Also worth a look in Oxford is The Jam Factory (www.thejamfactoryoxford.com) – a restaurant, bar and gallery just round the corner from Thaikhun. A great relaxing place for breakfast though it could break the bank if you buy any of the art on the walls. It has lots of light flooding through, with great, attentive service, easy atmosphere – the sort of place you could use all day for all occasions. It’s not a new idea by any means but this is a really nice take on it.

Had lunch with Novus chief executive Toby Smith the other day at Mabel’s (www.mabels-coventgarden.co.uk) in Maiden Lane described on the website as; ‘Mabel’s is a life you share with those you love to be with. Eat with her, raise a glass or two, dance till your heart skips a beat and do it all again tomorrow. Start early and finish late, burn the candle bright, at both ends and back again’. It’s a really sweet, beautifully refurbished venue with an appetising menu and nice service. I liked it a lot and that area is only going to get better and better when it’s pedestrianised.

Travelled to Ipswich yesterday to meet Jo Haslam from TLC inns at her new opening Grand Central, just by the quayside in a great location. This is a big 320-cover restaurant and bar with a vast menu and the sort of plate presentation which gives you food envy as you see it carried through the restaurant. I love what Jo and husband Steve have done, building up from just one pub to having four destination pubs now and four Grand Centrals, with more in the pipeline. Her dedication, hard work, commitment and love for the business just shine through and are reflected in the fact that her team have stayed with her through thick and thin.

I am ashamed to say I only went to Patisserie Valerie for the first time ever last week – mainly because I thought they only sold coffee and cakes. It was heaving, full of young and old, tourists and visitors, workers and sight-seers. It’s the sort of coffee shop you thought had died out when Starbucks and Costa took over the high street but it hasn’t. It’s alive, well and thriving. A bit of surprise to be honest though it shouldn’t have been really.

Tried Tredwells a few days ago in (www.tredwells.com) Covent Garden, the new restaurant from the Marcus Wareing stable. It’s a bit of a funny one. I loved the food and the service is friendly but the music was totally out of kilter with the brand proposition – no wonder people were eating on the street. Too much choice out there to go again and shout my way through a meal.

Have also loved the new All Bar One menu this week – a superb, female-friendly feel. Really enjoyed Honey & Co, too, for breakfast. Apostrophe and POD both filled a niche. Chiltern Firehouse was simply awesome. I’m looking forward to seeing the new-design Wagamama and Bella Italia, both delivering fantastic results and an indication of what the future might look like in terms of design.

In a world where service is generally great and food is appetising, interesting design is now also very much at the forefront. Great to see.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of leading sector public relations and marketing firm Elliotts – www.elliottsagency.com

The recent and remarkable rise of the Polish craft brewing scene by Martyn Cornell

Wandering around the Festival of Good Beer outside the football stadium in Wrocław, southern Poland last weekend with the Welsh beer blogger Simon Martin, it was quickly clear I was in the presence of a genuine superstar. A stream of young Poles – mostly male, but including the occasional female – were rushing up to Simon, greeting him by name, shaking his hand warmly and asking if they could have their picture taken with him. During a break in the flood of fandom, Simon wryly told me that he wished he was half as famous back in the UK as he is in Poland. His YouTube video blog, Real Ale Craft Beer, has just under 10,000 subscribers and gets around a thousand views a day – respectable numbers. But while, clearly, many of those viewers come from the UK – after all, Simon is based in this country, and speaking in English – a surprising number come from Poland. The reason seems to be that in the past four years Poles have developed a growing thirst for craft beer, and an equal thirst for information about the subject, and access to easily digested, enthusiastically delivered knowledge about new craft beers. That is what Simon’s beer reviewing video website brings them, and they love it – and him.

Poland, you may be surprised to learn, is the third largest brewing nation in the EU, and looking to soon overtake the UK and move into second place. It produced around 40 million hectolitres in 2013, from 155 breweries, 96 hectolitres per head per year, up 10.4% in four years, against 42 million hectolitres a year in the UK from 1,490 breweries, 66 litres per head per year, down 7.1% in four years, and 94.3 million hectolitres a year in Germany, 107 litres per head per year, down 3.8% in four years, from 1,350 or so breweries.

From those figures you would be guessing that the Polish brewing scene is dominated by big concerns, and it is: SABMiller has around 38% of the market through Kompania Piwowarska, including the Tyskie and Lech brands, Heineken has another 35% through Grupa Żywiec, and Carlsberg has 14% through its Polish subsidiary, which includes Okocim, leaving just 13% for the independent sector. But that independent sector is thriving: Tomasz Kopyra, the Polish beer blogger who invited me to the Wrocław festival (and who is even more of a superstar among Polish craft beer fans than Simon Martin – Tomasz could not walk two yards across the festival grounds without being mobbed by people wanting selfies with him) told me that there were 500 new beers launched on the Polish market last year, a number that will certainly be exceeded by a considerable margin in 2015, when 100 new beers were launched in April this year alone.

Poland now has some 30 new craft breweries, and around 30 or 40 other craft brewer concerns contract-brewing their beers on the plant of older-established concerns. The beers they are brewing, just like the beers made by craft brewers elsewhere, largely reflect what is happening in the United States, with big, hugely hoppy IPAs and thumping stouts (though Poland has had a long tradition of very strong porters dating from the 18th and early 19th centuries, when London brewers such as Barclay Perkins exported porter and stout to the Baltic region and local brewers were forced to compete with their own versions). However, the Polish market for really hoppy beers only started in 2011, when a new concern, Pinta, launched a brew called Atak Chmielu – “Hop Attack”. It was the first beer in Poland made with American hops, and it absolutely revolutionised the then still small Polish craft beer market, spurring all the other craft brewers in Poland to produce their own American IPAs. Pinta was, and is, a contract brewery, and Tomasz Kopyra told me the success of concerns such as Pinta has persuaded the old-school brewers whose kit they use to start making their own craft-style beers, instead of continuing solely to imitate the bland euro-lagers made by the multinational concerns that dominate Poland’s beer scene.

While the Polish craft beer scene is still tiny – Tomasz estimated craft beer sales at only around 1% of total beer sales in the country – it seems clear craft beer will get bigger, if only because of the rush of new entrants into the market. Thanks to Tomasz, I got to see three new small breweries in and around Wrocław last Saturday morning. One, in a restaurant in a small village, was a couple of years old, but of the other two, one, Browar Stu Mostów, started only last November, and the other, Browar Profesja, opened its doors just two months ago. Each is already producing excellent, impressive beers. The kit at Profesja, which must be the only brewery based in a former Nazi parachute factory (for the high ceilings) was made and put together by the founder, Michał Gref, and his head brewer, Przemysław Leszczyński. Stu Mostów (which means “hundred bridges” – Wrocław sits on the Oder, and the river’s braidings and channels mean there are indeed around a hundred bridges in the city) was founded by a banker, Gregorz Ziemian, with backing from former banking colleagues, and has a beautiful new 20-hectolitre set-up from the German company BrauKon, erected in a former cinema (high ceilings again) which looks as if it cost a great deal of money.

Perhaps the most surprising brewery I came across, though, was Browar Twigg, from Kraców, which occupied one of the 50 or so stalls at the Wrocław beer festival. If that name doesn’t look Polish, it’s not – Browar Twigg was founded by David Twigg, from Lincolnshire via Cambridge, where he gained a PhD in physics, practised his home-brewing skills, picked up enough Polish to get by, and came out to Poland 18 months ago to open a craft brewery. Social media had been very important in promoting the growth of his brewery, David told me – not for the usual reasons, but because Poles found the “twi” sound as hard to pronounce as English speakers find “szczy”, until the rise of Twitter, when suddenly they got it.

Wrocław is due to be the European City of Culture next year, and its Festival of Good Beer, the biggest in Poland, will be in its seventh year – and doubtless bigger than ever. I can thoroughly recommend a visit.
Martyn Cornell is managing editor of Propel Info

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