Subjects: Buffets battle for survival, drinking by numbers and how to create the perfect coffee bar
Authors: Glynn Davis, Paul Chase and Georgia Hall
Buffets battle for survival by Glynn Davis
I’ve always enjoyed a wedding even though the last one left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. This was not because of the food (although the fact I cannot remember what I ate is not a good sign) but because it involved one of the things I have an unnaturally negative opinion of – buffets.
They do not have a place at any wedding in my opinion. The food and drink served at such a special event should fully reflect the characters of both the bride and groom and I’m not really sure how a buffet can reflect positively on anybody.
There was also a period of time when at the end of an evening’s drinking in central London some friends of mine would drop into one of the Mr Wu Chinese buffet restaurants. This was always the signal for me to jump ship and get the tube home.
Asking people to stand up with plate in hand and go in search of food and carry it back to a table is not my idea of a good time. And when it is time for dessert, repeat the exercise. It has far too many connotations of school dinners and cafeterias for me. It’s not that I have had any bad experiences – it’s just I’m an adult now.
I’ll make two exceptions for buffets. Firstly, I like the variety you get on a train because it’s as much an opportunity to stretch your legs as it is to pay £2.50 for a cup of tea and I’m far too impatient to wait for the trolley to traverse the length of the train.
Secondly, I love breakfast buffets in hotels. I find them the perfect way to start the day. You don’t need to communicate with other people if you choose not to. The meal can be undertaken at your own pace, and it seems like there are always lots of individual components you need to try and which you can order your children to fetch for you.
My general aversion to buffets made the growth of the world buffet phenomenon rather interesting. Red Hot World Buffet, Cosmo World Kitchen and World Cuisine Buffet are among the operators that entered this part of the market over the past few years and seemed to enjoy strong growth and expansion. For the aforementioned reasons I have been unwilling to dine in any of these venues so I have merely watched proceedings from afar. I have to admit it has been pretty tasty of late.
For starters, Red Hot World Buffet was founded in 2004 and built into a chain of seven large outlets with talk in 2011 it could grow into a business with as many as 80 venues. Entrepreneur Luke Johnson got a rather surprising taste for world buffets when he took an interest in Red Hot in 2013 when it was valued at £20m. But three years later it went into administration with various units sold off. The Nottingham site became the World Cuisine Buffet but then in September last year planning permission was granted for it to be turned it into a trampoline park!
Meanwhile, at the end of last year Cosmo World Buffet opened in the Manchester site of Red Hot World Buffet after a £1m fit-out, which took the group to 21 outlets. But then only last month two of its units were closed – in Coventry and York, and its Leeds restaurant is “temporarily closed” so that too could be heading the same way. The York unit has recently been reopened by another buffet brand Panda Mami, which also operates a restaurant in Chester.
This level of churn must be partly attributable to the size and scale of these various venues – with up to 400 covers per unit serving as many as 150 different dishes at any one time with a fixed-price, all-you-can-eat model, which suggests they could be precariously balanced entities.
Thin margins and the requirement for high volumes of people constantly passing through the doors and an extremely close eye on both purchasing costs and ensuring waste is kept to an absolute minimum must be a big challenge. Any minor rocking of the economic boat will likely cause some to take water on board. Rather like me it seems these businesses are not designed for too much buffeting.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends
Drinking by numbers by Paul Chase
As the “public health” hysteria over alcohol and the clamour for minimum pricing in England continues, it’s useful to get an overview of the issues by looking at some straight statistics. I increasingly think the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is an oasis of calm objectivity in a sea of opinionated, emotionalised, subjectivity emanating from alcophobic activists. So I’ve been looking at stats published in 2017 by NHS England, which are based mainly on ONS data and some from Public Health England.
What do these numbers tell us about alcohol use and abuse and its consequences? First, the much-vexed question of alcohol-related hospital admissions – there were 339,000 such admissions in England, representing just 2.1% of all hospital admissions, which has changed little in the past ten years. This statistic is a measure of the number of hospital admissions where an alcohol-related disease, injury or condition was the primary reason for the admission, or where it was a secondary diagnosis related to an external cause, for instance an alcohol-fuelled fight. This is known as the “narrow measure” of alcohol-related hospital admissions; it is a record of “admission episodes” – not people admitted, which is a much lower figure.
The so-called “broad measure” records 1.1 million admissions, but includes primary diagnoses plus admissions where an alcohol-related condition was a secondary diagnosis, and not the reason for the admission. The important distinction between the two measures is the narrow measure is a count of actual admissions to hospital for an alcohol-related cause, whereas the broad measure includes that count, but provides further information about alcohol-related conditions that a patient may have had in addition to the reason for their admission. This provides an indication of the health burden alcohol misuse has across the whole population. Newspaper headlines often confuse the two to create alarmist headlines.
So, 2.1% of hospital admissions caused by alcohol misuse isn’t a crisis, it isn’t growing like topsy, and it won’t bankrupt the NHS.
In 2015 there were 6,813 deaths related to the consumption of alcohol, 65% of which were for alcoholic liver disease (4,428). Alcoholic liver disease sufferers drink at the very top end of the harmful drinkers’ spectrum. Harmful drinkers are classified as men drinking more than 50 units a week, or women drinking more than 35 units a week. Most of those dying from alcoholic liver disease drink about 200 units of alcohol a week or more – the equivalent of a bottle of scotch a day. Every one of these deaths is an avoidable tragedy, but little more than 25 million adults in England drink alcohol at least once a week, so harmful drinking and deaths from it arise from the product being abused by a very small minority.
The number of adults in England who report drinking alcohol in the previous week has fallen from 64% in 2006 to 57% in 2016 – a fall of nearly 11%. The UK ranks 19th out of 31 countries in terms of annual alcohol consumption per head at little more than nine litres. This article provides just a snapshot – I will be giving a fuller analysis in the next edition of Propel Quarterly.
Paul Chase is a director of CPL Training and a leading commentator on alcohol and health policy
How to create the perfect coffee bar by Georgia Hall
Allegedly there’ll be more coffee shops than pubs by 2030 and what the best cafe, bar, pub or kiosk consists of will ultimately depend on positive sales and the best customer experience. Here’s how to ensure stand out from the crowd:
1. Confirm the USPs
Your unique selling point, product, name, differentiation; the elements that set it apart from the rest – be it the name, logo, offering or innovation – for instance a roaster on the premises. The brand has to have a unique proposition (even if it’s the maverick founder) and be able to shout confidently and consistently about something amazing. The Starbucks logo (siren temptress mermaid icon) is still as alluring and inviting as the yellow McDonalds “M” in a street filled with signage.
2. Make your exterior shine
Think signage, A-boards, facias, neon lighting, external menus. And apart from the obvious (big, clean windows), plan what the customer will see. Also ensure all eye contact is on the product or the people.
3. Get me inside now
Let me see what I can have. Get it written on the wall, blackboard, ceiling, projected on to the walls – just make sure it’s easy to read.
4. Show the product, be theatrical
If you’ve got a cold coffee siphon, put it on the bar. Position the coffee machine in full front view so the customer can see the barista making the magic. Get the mother of all coffee machines – a “slayer” is a great discussion point.
5. Taste the product
So many pubs, concessions, service stations and retailers are now selling great coffee so make it the best coffee it can be. If possible, also promote the provenance story of the beans and grind to order for theatre. “Cuppings”, which is how the coffee is tested and tasted at source, is a great customer event too.
Show off and display your cups, mugs, coffee bean bags in abundance as well as the exciting ingredients such as sugar, honey, turmeric, cocoa and cinnamon.
7. Serve fantastic food
We all love a croque or cake, make sure it’s under glass, looks Instagram amazing and is simply labelled and price pointed. Use caterers if no chef.
If you’ve got just one big one, make sure there’s actual room to get in and out. Mix up the seating, little poser booths are great, as are banquettes, sofas to chill on or stools at the bar, and if using sitting-down tables they should be square four-by-four for versatility. Leather, wood, steel – all natural. Please don’t use fabric in a coffee shop as it spoils so quickly.
This is probably the most important criteria – the beans, the roast, the oily, dirty, almost tar-like acrid mouth-watering smell of a gorgeous roast coffee bean. I once met Howard Shultz and one of his rules for a successful coffee shop was the food (for instance cheese toasties) never wins over the aroma of the coffee. His other was all staff should like coffee and be brand ambassadors.
10. And finally
My personal rule is a lovely ladies loo is necessary too and if you can make sure it is accessible, even better.
Georgia Hall is former brand director at Café Rouge and founder of independent brand, digital and marketing consultancy GH Brand – www.ghbrand.co.uk