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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 8th Dec 2017 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Small is beautiful, energising and enthusing service providers, and defining quality 
Authors: Glynn Davis, Chris Edger and Tony Hughes, and Ann Elliott

Small is beautiful by Glynn Davis

Andrew Edmunds is a long established restaurant in central London that always features highly on top restaurant lists including that of Harden's, which currently has it placed as the fifth best within its price category, and it is also deemed the city’s third most romantic restaurant by the guide’s readers.

I admit to venturing there a few times with my wife (before we were married so I guess the romantic thing works) but what I remember most vividly from my various visits was squeezing between the tables during one dinner sitting to visit the toilets and knocking over a bottle of red wine. 

This was not because I’d consumed too much vino – although I might well have done so – but because the tables were placed so closely together. This is not because the owners are money-grabbers – quite the contrary in fact as they have one of the best-value wine lists in town – it’s down to the tiny size of the dining room. 

This cosy space – helped by the romantic candlelight – is one of the big appeals of Andrew Edmunds in my view. Lots of people clearly have the same opinion as me because it has been around many years and remains a firm favourite of many Londoners. This desire for perfectly formed compact restaurants has been supported by a recent survey from OpenTable that found 87% of people in the UK prefer the atmosphere of a small, intimate restaurant as opposed to a big bustling joint.

This is yet another small piece of evidence that adds to the case that the enormous cavernous places that typically open during boom times are not exactly well positioned in the market to counter the headwinds the restaurant industry now faces. Small is now undeniably beautiful – not just for diners but also for operators judging by some of the recent announcements.

Burrito brand Tortilla has just launched its first mini version of its restaurant that covers only 800 square feet and encompasses a mere 20 covers, which is half the size of one of its regular outlets. The rationale behind this move is partly down to the onerous rents now being demanded for locations on high streets.

By moving to residential and office-based sites the rentals become viable for a smaller base of customers being served from a mini site. But what makes this diversion in its strategy worthwhile is overall sales will be boosted by the expected higher percentage of revenue derived from takeaway and delivery, which will likely equal the levels achieved at the larger high-street sites.

This recognition of the growing impact of home delivery is also part of the reason burger chain Five Guys is going down the small restaurant route. It has secured two sites that are some way more compact than its regular units. The predicted greater takeaway element means less seating is required.

For both companies finding suitable – potentially profitable – sites is proving sufficiently difficult that they have to think outside the (big) box and take the smaller box route. And it is home delivery and takeaway that is seemingly coming to the rescue and ensuring these new business models stack up financially. This is quite refreshing because to date my pieces seem to have focused more on the pressures delivery is bringing to the foodservice sector.

The small is beautiful trend is being replicated across sectors. Only recently Whitbread announced it would double capacity at its Cardiff Premier Inn site by expanding from 70 regular-sized rooms to 140 smaller, compact versions.

This is not being carried out by building an extension but by effectively cutting each room in half, which will create some rooms without windows. I’m not sure I like the sound of this and it would be a sure fire way to get me straight down to the hotel’s bar. It’s just as well therefore the restaurant and bar spaces will increase at the site. It certainly seems a rather cunning plan to drive more food and beverage sales.

While it will be interesting to see if this experiment results in more Premier Inn properties going through the same cut-and-splice process, I hope Andrew Edmunds does not get tempted to squeeze in any more tables. Otherwise, no bottles of wine will be safe.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Energising and enthusing service providers by Chris Edger and Tony Hughes

Having hired, onboarded and trained talent – generating feelings of desire, awe and confidence – inspirational leaders can now turn their attention to winning all-important “shift battles”. It is this moment of truth – where multiple customer “touches” are applied by frontline service providers – that will determine the success or failure of the enterprise. 

The question at this moment is how well equipped are frontline leaders to energise and enthuse their people to deliver memorable and uplifting service experiences? The answer, alas, for many organisations is poorly or not at all! Why? Generally, senior managers have a lack of understanding – brought about through excessive distance and detachment from “the front” – as to what qualities and actions are required to lead in the heat of the shift battle. For that is how we would describe it – a battle, which in military terms is a theatre of war in which aligned, motivated and well-resourced personnel vigorously achieve clear pre-defined goals. Inspirational leaders understand this. They understand the need for shift leaders to generate enthusiasm and passion for the task at hand – a verve, zeal and fervour to delight customers. How? 

– Set it up for success: The first thing effective line managers do – something that is an essential pre-requisite to successful trading sessions – is “set up for success”. What do we mean by this? Way before the shift battle commences, line managers plan and organise what will be required based on their intelligence about what the customer requirements will be in any given session. They will then make sure these plans are briefed out effectively (either in sessional huddles or in “daily order of the day” notes). The point we are making is this. Very often business books stress “leadership philosophies” such as “servant leadership” and/or “values-based leadership” are the lodestones of business excellence, but we would argue a good dose of basic managerial practice (ie capacity to plan, organise, communicate and measure) is required to ensure the “fundamental elements” are in place for success.
 
– Energetic modelling: The second thing they do – in order to execute the plan – is energise staff by personally modelling the required behaviours. Great line managers in service businesses set the dynamic tone through their deportment, disposition and aura. They are psychologically “close” to the action rather than distant – interested rather than detached, inquisitive rather than ignorant, energetic rather than apathetic. It is not just their words that create a positive vibe; it is their presence and body language that fizzes and crackles with energy that models the required behaviours, enthusing others to imitate them! 
 
– Adaptive leadership style: But while emphasising the importance of positive behavioural modelling, it is important to recognise at certain times and in certain situations, managers will have to adopt different styles in order to get things done. In times of crisis or in circumstances requiring courageous leadership, managers will have to adopt a “task-driven” approach in order to drive things through. If people are unable to transition out of “don’t know or don’t care” states of mind, the line manager’s only option is “get rid” as soon as is practically possible. Such actions – in themselves – will result in unbelievable “energy dividends” from the remaining team members who feel “liberated” from having to carry free riding, “energy sapping” passengers. 
 
– Rapid decision-making: In the heat of the shift battle, staff who are desperately engaged in satisfying customer demands either require the autonomy to make instant decisions or – where they have to refer to a higher authority – get rapid answers to maintain their credibility and momentum. To do this line managers require a high degree of courage. Why? Because often, many issues are not covered by the “rule book” and they certainly can’t take their “operational manuals out on to the floor”. Either way – calling it right or wrong – line managers will gain respect from their people that they are prepared to take decisions, easing the burden and “lightening the load of responsibility” their people feel at times. 

– Get people’s backs: But the one factor that will really generate followership and teamship for the line manager is a willingness to “stand behind staff” in difficult circumstances. We recently asked the chief executive of a major casual dining brand in the UK – during the course of our investigation – what the “single most important thing he did for his people was” and he said: “In this age of instant gratification, people want it perfect, they want it now and they won’t tolerate any genuine mistakes. My job is to differentiate between genuine complaints and emotive outpourings. Very often I’ve stood up on their behalf to hideously biased criticism, which is often expressed in quite rude terms – swearing, bad language, personal attacks – I won’t stand for this. This means my people know I’ve ‘got their backs’ and I know they respect me for it.” 

As we have discussed elsewhere in the book, customer expectations – among all segments of the market – are increasing at a rapid rate, with reactions to perceptions they have been “let down” becoming more public and aggressive. This means line managers must discriminate between merited criticism and venal outpourings to establish the true facts and – where their staff have been the victims of unjustified attacks – back them up accordingly. 

So, in addition to all the other moments of truth in this book – critical “employment cycle” stages where inspirational leaders generate positive feelings among their people – organisations must pay attention to how service providers are energised and enthused by face-to-face management practices. Teaching line managers how to manage and lead before, during and after the “heat of the shift battle” will pay dividends not only in terms of staff morale but also in the sustainability of the business. The organisation will be able to absorb shocks due to the fact it has a highly resilient, well-led frontline. Giving line managers a solid grounding and insight into how to organise resources, model positive behaviours, adapt their styles appropriately to different situations, make rapid decisions and “stand behind” their people will ensure the pivotal shift battles are won! 
This article was extracted from Chris Edger and Tony Hughes’ book “Inspirational Leadership – How to Mobilise Super-performance through eMOTION”. Professor Chris Edger is a multiple author on retail leadership and Tony Hughes is a luminary of the European foodservice scene

Defining quality by Ann Elliott

Quality. That’s the word that’s been repeated to me a few times in the past few weeks. Unsurprisingly, no operator ever tells me they consciously serve poor-quality products or offer poor value for money. 

It’s quite the reverse. They generally say they deliver great quality, good food and great value for money. These, I believe, are real motherhood statements – a motherhood statement is defined as “a vague, feel-good platitude, especially one made by a politician, that few people would disagree with”. For example: “Our country must contribute to world peace." Yet these words appear in strategy documents time and time again. They are rarely defined in detail.

Often people tell me they serve great quality food when I know, and they know, they don’t. We all know they don’t or they can’t because they haven’t employed those sort of back-of-house teams. Their economic model would not work if they had to employ people who could produce great quality food. This is not a criticism. There is real role in the market place for ordinary, everyday food that tastes ok, can be produced quickly, demands a low skill base in terms of production and produces a decent margin.

Perhaps there are different definitions of quality?

This came home to me the other day when I met up with a brilliant operator Carlos Mistry, of The Good Eating Company, who runs the in-house catering for 23 large and prestigious companies in London. This isn’t a market that high-street operators really ever look at but when it’s done well it’s a massive competitor for them. Why would anyone working for a highly successful law firm (for instance) eat out at lunch if their in-house offering is quite brilliant?

Quality is the consistent theme for Mistry. By this he means all his food, every single product (apart from croissants I think), is prepared and cooked on-site. His team makes the muffins, makes the lasagne, and makes the sauces daily from fresh ingredients. If it runs out, it runs out. It can’t magic up any more. It’s all about fresh food made from scratch by a team that cares about taste and flavour. 

This drive for quality informs everything it does and it’s genuine. There is no compromise any step of the way – onions aren’t fried in margarine for instance, but butter – always.

Innovation does not come from amending the quality of the food it serves. It comes from new ingredients or from presentation. The argument is, when all your food is of the highest quality, pricing becomes less of an issue – £4.50 for a great-tasting sandwich represents better value than £3.65 for one that doesn’t taste that great. What a wonderful place to be in. 

This week I have been to Grind and Ole & Steen, both of which seem to have the same obsession with quality. I have no idea what I spent but I know the food was just great and I want to go back. Their teams were proud to serve the food they did. 

Perhaps this is one definition of quality – are both the back and front-of house teams proud to make and serve the food they do? And are customers proud to say they eat there? It sounds simple but it isn’t. It’s about hearts and minds, culture and philosophy, a belief system and a way of doing things that is part of the air these operators breathe.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliotts, the leading integrated marketing agency in the hospitality and leisure sector – www.elliottsagency.com. Follow her on Twitter: @elliottsagency

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