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Fri 30th Nov 2018 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Queues leave me cold, positivity around pubs and keeping ‘low’ behind the bar
Authors: Glynn Davis, Martin Dinkele and Liam Newton

Queues leave me cold by Glynn Davis 

Cuisine coming out of the kitchen at the recently opened Berenjak restaurant in central London is described as “Iranian home-style cooking”. What’s most interesting to those people happily trapped in the capital’s restaurant bubble is JKS Restaurants is backing the venture.

Berenjak is run by a chef who formerly worked in the kitchens of two of JKS Restaurants’ numerous successes, Gymkhana and Brigadiers. However, this new place has more similarities with another JKS operation – the first Hoppers in Soho. It serves Sri Lankan-style food and, with its modest prices, small number of covers, extremely tasty dishes and no-booking policy, regularly has queues out the door. With the same sort of characteristics it looks as if Berenjak has the potential to see similar perennial queues.

I have been reliably informed queuing is all part of the experience with such venues, while some form of camaraderie can be enjoyed while waiting in line with like-minded individuals in much the same way people seem to joyously camp out overnight for the latest Apple products, fashion “drops” and Wimbledon tickets.

Thankfully for Berenjak, the mobile phone has eliminated the need to physically stand outside the joint so leaving your number with them results in being summoned when a table in the compact 35-cover walk in-only dining room becomes available. There are also some mobile technology solutions in the market place from companies such as Qudini that provide wait-list apps.

While having a queue down the street doesn’t harm the reputation of a venue among younger consumers, it isn’t ideal for all restaurant-goers. Another queue-rich restaurant is Italian pasta specialist Padella in Borough Market, which I’ve never seen without a trail of people around the block. A senior executive at a property developer recently told me he visited Padella on one of his regular research evenings out with younger members of his team, who take him to some of the more interesting venues in the capital. He insisted on popping for a drink nearby while they joined the queue and called him when they had reached the front.

My take here is such a move was not down to arrogance on his part but a result of his advancing age. Life’s too short. I have some sympathy because I’d say I have gone well beyond the point when I’m willing to queue for a meal – or anything else for that matter! The situation becomes more acute when babysitters come into the equation because you need some sort of certainty time-wise when dining out.

It was interesting to note when a second Hoppers restaurant opened you were able to book a table. It was a similar story with Italian small-plates restaurant Polpo. When this innovative no-booking place hit the market the idea was people would drop in and quickly move on in the same way they do in its city of inspiration, Venice. This didn’t happen as British customers lingered far too long – once they’d finally made it through the door.

A booking policy was rapidly brought in for busier nights of the week and every subsequent Polpo has allowed diners to book tables. The reality is it makes sense to do so because I’d argue the diners who are unwilling to queue are probably those people willing to splash a bit more cash on margin-juicing alcohol.

However, don’t think queuing is the preserve of the younger, less impatient, less affluent consumer because luxury bag and travel accessories brand Goyard’s store in flashy Mayfair always has a queue stretching down the road despite the rarified prices inside. What drives this phenomenon is the policy of a member of staff giving each customer their full attention. The employee-to-customer ratio is always 1:1.

While this ensures great service once you get through the door, I remain less than convinced about queuing in the cold, even if it ultimately delivers the world’s best service. The reality for me is I’ll wait for the second branch of Berenjak before I get to sample Kian Samyani’s Iranian home cooking.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Positivity around pubs by Martin Dinkele

The recent Office of National Statistics (ONS) report on pub closures – the bizarrely named “Economics of Ale” – makes for sober reading. The headline is as follows: “Since 2008, nearly a quarter of pubs in the UK have closed – but the turnover of the pub industry is holding up and employment is on the rise”.

The second part of this sentence is important because much of the news about the state of the market tends to be pessimistic. The negative news focuses on the number of pub closures – the first part of the sentence – and makes for easy headlines for journalists less interested in the bigger picture. These articles invariably include a picture of a boarded-up pub. Of course, it is absolutely right to report on the number of pubs closing – 18 per week (source: CAMRA, August 2018) and 11,000 in the past decade, according to the ONS report – and it helps UKHospitality, the British Beer and Pub Association and others lobby the government about VAT reform, business rates and beer duty.

What the ONS report also highlights, however, is employment in pubs is 6% higher in 2018 than 2008, with the increase more pronounced in rural pubs. This is positive news. The “average” pub now employs eight people in 2018, compared with five in 2008. As many of us know, this reflects the changing structure of the pub market. The number of small pubs has slumped from 38,830 to 22,840, while the number of medium and large ones has risen from 13,670 to 15,975. Although the growth of micro-pubs and the recent good performance of the wet-led pub sector are beacons of good news, this overall change is driven by the rise of eating out. People used to eat at home and go out to drink, now they drink at home and go out to eat.

There are fewer pubs now but the ONS reports the total turnover of pubs and bars has held up, remaining flat since 2008 once inflation is taken into account. The remaining pubs and bars appear to have soaked up the custom from those pubs that have closed.

The pub market is reinventing itself and adapting to changing consumer behaviour and needs. The modern community pub – brilliantly expressed by Oakman Inns and Restaurants, for example – welcomes women and children, young and old, book clubs and beer festivals. Pubs are where some of the best food in the country is served. It’s the only place you can drink cask ale. It’s where you get the best gin and tonic served and have cocktails made in front of your eyes. It’s a growth sector with vitality, not a smokestack industry in terminal decline. The statistics don’t lie.

This is the positive message we need to send to young people looking for a career in hospitality. The industry needs young talented people like never before. Companies such as Mitchells & Butlers, Greene King, Marston’s and Stonegate are doing their very best to promote apprenticeships, yet recent research conducted by Morar HPI highlighted half of all 18 to 30-year-olds don’t know the industry offers such opportunities. Too many are put off by an image of long hours, low pay and rude customers. These are well-known challenges for the sector but what doesn’t help is any kind of perception pubs and bars are “dying out”.
 
What would be welcome is for journalists, commentators and pressure groups to report the whole story, not just the negative part.
Martin Dinkele is deputy managing director of Morar HPI

Keeping ‘low’ behind the bar by Liam Newton

A lot of talk in the past year or two has surrounded the rise in popularity of low and no-alcoholic drinks, and clearly it is part of a wider lifestyle shift the industry is responding to. Many are quick to credit the millennial market as the fundamental driver of the trend. However, in a nation known for its love of beer we have seen a considerable step-change across the board, with greater importance placed on balance in all aspects of life across multiple demographics.

Our latest research has revealed some interesting changes in perception towards low and no-alcohol options. Here are a few key takeaways:
– More than half of respondents (52%) agree drinking a low or no-alcohol beer had become more socially acceptable in the past year or two

– More than one-quarter (28%) would consider drinking a 0% beer as an alternative to alcohol, while 26% would consider it rather than an alternative soft drink

– Men are more likely to consume low or no-alcohol beer at home, while women are more likely to try one on a night out. Women are also more likely than men to enjoy the taste of low or no alcohol

– Millennials, the consumer group most identified as consuming less alcohol than previous generations, is the group most likely to enjoy the taste (70%) and the most likely to try an alcohol-free beer (24%)

Our research also found more than 40% of respondents are trying to reduce their alcohol intake. We are always listening to what the end-consumer wants, which means shining the spotlight on our 0% beers and making sure we’re giving operators and retailers the tools to respond to that demand. 

There is a level of responsibility we all have, not only in promoting responsible drinking behaviour but in creating and offering good-quality products that expand consumer choice and enable our customers to stay relevant. When approaching a low and no-alcohol range, operators need to treat it with the same care and consideration as any other category selection. Operators should ensure staff are fully briefed on each drink listed and have the confidence to give tailored advice to consumers. 0% beer shouldn’t be hidden away either – it should be visible in fridges or behind the bar and celebrated on the menu.

Today there is much more acceptance towards teetotalism and an openness to try new experiences. The decision to enjoy a low or no-alcohol beer should never mean compromising on quality or taste. We are working towards being able to always offer an alcohol-free brew where our beers are found by 2020. This forms part of our wider sustainability programme, Together Towards Zero, which includes zero carbon footprint, zero water waste, zero irresponsible drinking and zero accidents.
Liam Newton is vice-president marketing of Carlsberg UK

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