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Fri 19th Jul 2019 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Fill me up, leave room for ordering-in, and busman’s holiday
Authors: Glynn Davis, Sally Whelan and Ann Elliott

Fill me up by Glynn Davis

While walking along Upper Street in north London on the way to dinner at vegan restaurant Slaw, my son spotted the golden arches and asked if he could have a McDonald’s afterwards if there was nothing on the menu he liked, including his idea of top vegan food – chips. My wife agreed while I told him to stop being ridiculous.

In contrast, his older sister was looking forward to the vegan experience. She is on the edge of the 10% of children aged eight to 13 who identify themselves as vegetarian or vegan, according to research by Linda McCartney Foods. My daughter eats very little meat but finds the sizzle of sausages from our local independent butcher Baldwin’s too tempting, which holds her back from fully committing to the veggie cause.

While scanning Slaw’s menu I was mightily impressed – in equal measure to my son’s despair – with its placement of the vegetable to the fore rather than listing dishes that focus on meat alternatives. The courses were listed as mushroom, carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, beetroot and tomato accompanied by details of the other ingredients in each dish. At Slaw, the humble vegetable is the star of the show.

We ordered every dish on the menu, alongside a couple of portions of bread, and enjoyed a meal that offered clean distinct flavours and textural variety. I worried such dishes would lack carbohydrates and prove insufficiently filling so I quickly reordered more bread when the first batch of dishes arrived at table.

When dining some years ago at the much-celebrated L’Arpege restaurant in Paris, where chef Alain Passard is “king of the vegetable chefs”, we constantly dipped into the bread basket that traversed the room during the whole multi-course meal. Despite the quality of the three Michelin-starred food, Passard recognised his dishes required complementary carbohydrate but he was unwilling to include such ingredients in his perfectly formed small plates.

Large bread consumption wasn’t required at Slaw because the integration of red quinoa, carrot houmous, puffed quinoa, lentils and chewy black rice provided the required carb components.

The upshot of our meal was my son’s initial despair dissolved, replaced by a healthy dose of experimentation. The subtle inclusion of pulses and rice meant he was sufficiently full after his meal and thankfully we avoided the McDonald’s detour on the way home. It’s pretty much guaranteed if he pops into one of the global chain’s outlets in the near future it will offer vegan burgers. McDonald’s will inevitably follow Burger King in doing so as will KFC, which is trialling a meat-free burger in various UK outlets.

Plant-based burgers are achieving great traction as an alternative to meat in a growing number of quick service restaurant and fast casual chains. Meat alternatives are set to account for three-fifths (60%) of the conventional meat category by 2040, according to global management consultant AT Kearney, which forecasts this will mainly comprise lab-grown meat with the rest made up of plant-based products.  

How things play out in the market segment where pure players such as Slaw operate remains to be seen. It is still early days for restaurants that don’t seek to simply copy meat dishes. I welcome the time when vegetables rightfully take their place as the leading component of dishes and where chefs utilise a new set of skills to maximise flavour; a time when they will intelligently incorporate the carbohydrate components that contribute to making a meal tasty as well as fulfilling and satisfying. That, in a nut(cutlet)shell, is what I require when I eat out – meat or no meat!
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Leave room for ordering-in by Sally Whelan 

With JustEat and Deliveroo’s recent announcements regarding letter-box services and strategic moves into supermarkets, the role of food delivery in the UK is evolving at pace. Gone are the days when takeaways were only delivered to home addresses – the rapid growth of delivery has made it easy to get what we want, when we want it. Lunch delivered to the office? Tick. A hot meal to a wet-led pub? No problem. But what happens when this type of offering becomes the norm? Anything that doesn’t live up to this expectation instantly becomes a disappointment. 

The impact delivery is having on hospitality, specifically hotels, is something my colleagues at HGEM and I have been looking into a lot recently. In the past few months alone we’ve hosted two business forums addressing that very topic – in particular, the theory that delivered-in food could replace hotel room service altogether. As millennials start to snub hotels in favour of ordering favourite brands directly to their room, it’s not only an idea that seems plausible, it’s one that is already building momentum. Our latest research revealed almost two-thirds (66%) of hotel guests had used a delivery service to order food to their room, with this number rising to 71% for those aged between 26 and 35. While it may be assumed these orders typically take place late at night, research by Bespoke Hotels found in the City and east London the majority of orders were placed between 8pm and 9pm. 

With the average delivered-in service taking just 30 minutes and often at a better price than room service, it’s no surprise there’s been a shift in consumer behaviour. Hotel operators can stick with their traditional food offering and risk losing a prevalent customer in the millennial or they can look at the best ways to adapt and drive business through delivery. 

At our most recent forum we were told conversations were taking place in the sector that could see delivery aggregators create their own kitchen space within a hotel. While this wouldn’t happen overnight, the dark kitchen concept could create a massive point of differentiation for the sector and act as a huge draw for millennials. 

Despite pressure on hotel operators to offer delivery themselves, it’s also worth considering the smaller changes that can be made to capitalise on delivery. We were also told hotels are adapting bars to incorporate delivery menus to increase bar spend and dwell time alongside a small fee for those customers ordering food in. 

Having worked in hospitality for many years, a few things have always struck me:

– If you’re not giving your customers what they want, they won’t stay 
– If your offer doesn’t compete with what’s available elsewhere, you won’t keep up
– If the overall experience doesn’t exceed expectations, it’s hard to build loyalty 

As a consumer myself and someone who regularly stays in hotels while travelling, I’m not always up for eating in the restaurant and would prefer to order-in exactly what I want. However, on the majority of occasions this means having to leave the hotel to get it. If my choice comes down to two hotels with only one offering an order-in option, I know which one I’m booking. 

While there will always be a role for hotels in a more traditional sense, our debates and surveys have shown operators risk losing customers if they don’t modernise their offering. The consumer is in control these days and if they want something, they should be able to get it one way or another. 
Sally Whelan is founding director of guest experience management expert HGEM

Busman’s holiday by Ann Elliott

We have been travelling around France for the past ten days staying in a variety of B&Bs and visiting a range of wonderful gardens including Versailles, Giverny, Chaumont and, best of all, Prieure d’Orsan, which was the inspiration for the best garden in the world, in my humble opinion, Babylonstoren in South Africa.

The holiday has served a number of purposes. Firstly, we wanted to take my 89-year-old father to visit his favourite country while he is still reasonably mobile, although his brother died while we were out there, which wasn’t great. Secondly, we are opening our house as a B&B for garden-lovers in January and wanted to learn how to do it well from the off. One key lesson has probably been not to open in January but, hey ho, the house looks nice in snow.

Any marketing skills I may possess have been learned at the desks of those who, on the whole, have run multi-site businesses. Running a four-bedroom B&B, no matter how I try to upsell it, can’t be defined as a multi-site business. I’m going to have to learn how to market a business on a different sort of scale and it should be a lovely challenge. Working with my husband (any hints and tips on that are most welcome) and leaving him to it while I’m chief executive of Elliotts will be another.

Lessons on this holiday have included: 

We have to love people: They will be living in our house, walking around our garden, reading our books and generally behaving, well, like real guests. They will all have their own wants, needs and expectations so we have to find out what those are and personalise what we do for them. This whole thing won’t work if we want them out of our house and on their travels as quickly as possible – once they’ve paid, of course.

It’s time-consuming: Everyone has told us it will be a case of get up early, get breakfast, clean rooms, make beds – I don’t think I will be doing much of that, although I have a feeling the marketing might be slightly more time-consuming than I’m currently allowing for.

Use as many aggregators as possible but be aware of how much they cost: All owners have told us they use Airbnb and/or Booking.com alongside other relevant or local options. They don’t like the charges but recognise the benefits and work hard to ensure their “brand” looks as lovely as possible on the websites. It appears inaccurate photographs really irritate guests so getting this right is a priority.

Get the basics right: Clean sheets and towels, a wonderful bed, Wi-Fi, a hairdryer. I have an unhealthy obsession with television show Three In A Bed, where it seems doing this alone isn’t as easy as it sounds. We’ll need to live by operational standards. Each host has at least one story of guests complaining on social media about something relatively minor rather than face to face. They found just one negative comment amid a mass of positive ones really upsetting. It can ruin their year and, once it’s on social, it’s there forever.

Add value: We enjoyed homemade bread and jam, daily changing breakfast specials, free cold beer served in shaded gardens, “help yourself” wine coolers, fridges stocked with fruit, yogurt and cheese, local guides and magazines, and hosts who booked restaurants and called cabs for us. Our hosts told us the thoughtfulness of adding value means a lot to guests and ensures they return and recommend you to others.

Make a difference and make your ‘brand’ different: We bought thank you gifts for all our hosts because they cared about our experience and whether we had a good time or not. They were thoughtful, kind, considerate and generous to a fault. It’s the reason we use Airbnb and we have to make it the reason why guests stay with us.

It has been a bit of busman’s holiday but a really good reminder of what hospitality means at grass-roots level. I don’t suppose it’s much different to everything we try to do in our everyday working lives, is it?
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliotts, the leading integrated marketing agency in the hospitality and leisure sector – www.elliottsagency.com

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