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Fri 30th Aug 2019 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Wine appreciation, improving customer experience from within, delivering effective learning with different approaches, F&B and the Fringe Festival, and catering for more than just millennials
Authors: Glynn Davis, Kylie Mansfield, Martin Hilton, Ann Elliott and Sally Whelan

Wine appreciation by Glynn Davis

My assumption is most people associate Germany much more closely with beer than any other form of alcohol. It conjures up visions of packed trestle tables at Oktoberfest, bierkellers, foaming steins of lager and other stereotypical imagery. This is not really surprising as it is one of the biggest beer consuming nations per capita in the world (take a bow the Czechs who top the table by some way).

But Germany is also a great wine producing country. King among its wine are those made with the majestic Riesling grape, which must rank among the best in the world. It’s just these Riesling wines are also among the most undervalued and underappreciated. As a grape it is multi-dimensional in terms of being able to run from very sweet to dry and its wines can be drunk young (with fresh apple character) but can also be kept for years over which time honeyed stone fruit features will predominate.

This other side of Germany’s drinking culture was evident in all its glory on a recent trip I made down the upper middle Rhine Valley on a stretch of the river with UNESCO world heritage status – between Cologne and Mainz. Along the near-vertiginous riverbank grow grapes that take advantage of the terroir – maximising the hours of daily sunlight, benefiting from the mineral-rich soil, and the microclimates that are uniquely found along major rivers and their surrounding landscapes. 

Along this picturesque 65km stretch of river, the towns are very much focused on the grapes grown locally and the wine they produce. Here the weingut (wine gardens of local vineyards) replace the biergarten (beer gardens) with local lager replaced by myriad locally produced wine. Each weingut showcases its own wine in the same way as a brewpub would its beer. There is not a beer in sight in any of these places that fill the towns of St Goar, Rüdesheim, Boppard, Bingen and many others. 

There is also not a foreign wine to be found – apart from in the most expensive hotels where there is a need to cater to over-travelled individuals who have little appreciation for terroir and of consuming local products. Who would seriously buy champagne instead of Germany’s sparkling Sekt (in the Rhine area it is made from Riesling grapes) especially when it is more than twice the price?

Clearly the locals don’t drink these other wines. And why would they when their own wine is so good and also incredibly cheap. It was tough to pay more than €4.50 for a 200ml glass in any of the many places I visited. 

Such a situation is probably where the English wine industry would ultimately like to find itself. To have a critical mass of producers who have a high-quality product that is consumed by the local populace in sufficient quantities – above other country’s comparative products – that it becomes an affordable go-to product. This scenario is clearly a long way off but the way things are going it is not the sort of wild dream it would have been deemed only a handful of years ago.

Serious investment is being made in vine planting – a further three million vines were planted across England and Wales over the year to May 2019, up from 1.6 million the year before, representing an 83% rise since 2015, according to WineGB. This trajectory is forecast to push up annual output from 15 million bottles in 2018 to 40 million by 2040. 

We are also seeing an influx of experienced individuals into the UK wine industry, prize-winning in respected competitions – which has helped build the profile of producers and has led to increased recognition of these wines by domestic consumers – and climate change that are all having an impact. This is all contributing to a wine industry that is rapidly changing beyond all recognition. 

There is no way any country in the world would regard the UK as anything other than a beer-drinking nation but maybe like the Germans we could over time become something a little more multi-dimensional in terms of our alcoholic drink production, consumption and culture. 
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Improving customer experience from within by Kylie Mansfield 
There’s a common belief the food industry is one that lags behind when it comes to embracing technology. Whether or not this statement is a misconception or a fact depends on which side of the coin you look at it from. If you did a quick Google search for technology disruption in the food industry, you’ll find countless articles about consumer-facing innovation around the world, whether it be the rise of online orders and food delivery, e-wallet payment systems, voice ordering and much more. This is happening everywhere, whether it be in big fast food chains or independent local cafes. In that aspect, it’s hard to argue this industry falls behind at all – in fact, it may be one of the leaders for technology innovation right now. 

But what you’re less likely to hear about is the growth of technology advancement within food organisations themselves, for internal purposes such as enabling staff training, empowering better communications, and digitising HR processes. This is where the food industry still lags behind, with many companies still using bulletin boards for staff announcements, paper-on-clipboards for shift swaps and quick one-day training for an employee’s onboarding.

Let’s take a look at KFC. Only last year did the global fast food giant decide to significantly transform the way it works internally by investing in top-quality digital employee tools. One part of that was technology that enabled staff to communicate better within and across teams. Workers from dispersed branches could now share ideas on how to execute promotions, trade low-running stock from one location to another, and even run friendly cross-branch competitions. KFC saw employee engagement and team spirit soar as a result, which translated to happier front-line staff serving customers with top effort. 

It also invested in a built-in knowledge centre, where staff could easily watch training videos straight from their phone and learn things such as how to operate machines and how to properly close shop. As a leader in an industry that faces extremely high turnover, KFC used these technologies to tackle the issue by enabling better learning opportunities and making room for long-term career growth. Even better, it did it using tools that are familiar to its millennial-heavy front-line. Again, this resulted in better experiences for customers thanks to consistently well-trained staff across all branches. 

To think such a global brand only just realised the importance of digitising its workforce management strategy doesn’t bode well for the rest of the industry. But it’s a key example from an industry leader that the way to achieve the best customer experience is by empowering the workforce. There are many potential benefits that can be unlocked if only restaurants invested as much money and time into their employees as they do their customers.

So why is this not happening on a larger scale? In a recent discussion with hospitality expert Ian Daly, I learned the main problem here is not actually the existence or availability of these employee tools, but rather the willingness of business owners to adopt them. Digital employee tools today are becoming much more readily available and affordable. But, as part of the service industry, it’s common for restauranteurs to still maintain the deeply ingrained philosophy that “the customer must come first”. 

When service is the product, it’s easy to fall into the trap of investing solely on customer-facing aspects of the restaurant – redesigning the dining space, buying fancy kitchen gadgets to cook better meals, offering discounts and promotions. While this can undeniably bring in a surge of demand, companies will still struggle to deliver good experiences if staff continue to leave, teams don’t talk to each other, and workers are not fully equipped to do their job. The real key to unlocking better customer experience is to invest in the people who directly interact with your customers – your front-line staff. As Ian said to me: “Paying attention to the development of your people alongside the development of your product is how you’ll really achieve success.”

Customer satisfaction is the goal of any restaurant – but it seems the way we’ve been working towards that goal may not be as effective as we once thought. As restaurants invest in consumer-facing technology, they must not forget to match that with investment in internal employee technology if they want to achieve the best results. It’s time to readjust the mindset of achieving success from purely looking outward to also looking inward. 
Kylie Mansfield is vice-president, head of customer operations at Eko, a customisable and bespoke mobile-first platform that drives employee engagement, enables effective training, and strengthens operational efficiency 

Delivering effective learning with different approaches by Martin Hilton

Having first graduated in hospitality and then spending my career to date in the industry, fulfilling firstly an executive, largely operational career in pub retailing – an entrepreneurial spell co-founding Pure Craft Bars – and more latterly working in the world of learning development and academia; it almost feels inevitable I would end up working with one the leading companies in the world of hospitality training and development, and I am loving it.

Present day leadership
I find the hospitality industry exciting and hugely rewarding. The speed of movement in the market place is unlike many others and the opportunity to learn as individuals and as organisations is huge. I sense with more modern leadership techniques now prevailing and replacing some of the traditional and deep-seated cultures of management I have experienced, we will see the industry really grasp the opportunities it is presented. I genuinely believe more organisations are seeing learning as the opportunity to drive and develop the business. Training tended to be the last stage of a brand development, the final action of a menu launch and something where budget was discretionary (ie pulled two-thirds of the way through the year). 

The learning environment 
Nowadays, thankfully, organisational and personal learning is playing a much more advanced role. Smart leaders are understanding learning is a continuous pathway of improvement and teams as well as individuals should be constantly reviewing practice and performance. Compliance training goes without saying, but the hospitality industry is making an important and necessary step forward with learning, reinforcing the message that rewarding and fulfilling careers are possible, thus tackling issues such as the retention of valuable members of the team. 

We can take lessons from all around us. The world of sport throws up great stories of continuous improvement, marginal gains or “100 things 1% better”. Car manufacturing and the learnings from kaizen teach us the same, and the world of aviation and its continual development of “corrective action/preventative action” to develop its operations to an almost faultless quality of delivery – the lessons are clear.

We are of course in a technologically-driven world and this applies as much to learning as it does to any other activity. Interestingly it may be that along the way learning has been blinded by the headlights of technology. Much of our understanding of learning styles and theories stems from the academic world where the science of teaching and learning has been and remains predominantly based upon face-to-face learning. As we moved into a “new world” of digital learning, perhaps in some cases we have overlooked that a learning environment is still a learning environment whether is it online or face-to-face and our understanding and knowledge of learning itself is not redundant in a digital world but needs thoughtful application. It is this I am finding a fantastic and enjoyable challenge.

Yes, clever tricks and gamification may engage to a greater extent, and that is to be encouraged, but without clear learning objectives, focused content and a variety of learning styles, appropriate assessment and effective feedback, we may just end up with learning that ticks but doesn’t necessarily stick. 

At CPL we recognise the huge opportunities ahead in an ever-changing environment and are continually seeking to improve our e-learning activities through both pedagogic and technologic improvements. We are committed to taking the best of principles from face-to-face training, including qualifications, and seeking to replicate them in the digital world, providing the opportunity to access learning materials and online courses anytime, anywhere and on any device.

Blended learning
Equally, CPL continues to further progress its blended learning opportunities. Blended learning, as the name suggests, is a mixed approach where part of the learning, often the knowledge-led elements, can be delivered online through an assortment of media approaches such as e-learning courses, webinars, videos and reading and is followed up by shorter face-to-face sessions focused upon connectiveness, application, skill development and assessment. This approach can deliver synergised benefits of both and has the potential to shorten face-to-face programmes at the same time as increasing the effectiveness of e-learning – a genuine more for less situation. 

At present there is less written about blended training but there are examples all around us every day. Learning to drive a car – indeed learning to drive just about anything these days – is a blended approach of face-to-face experiential learning coupled with digital activities and simulations. Medical training, sports training, even the use of YouTube to learn and teach yourself how to fix your boiler or any manner of day to day problems, are all examples of using blended approaches. 

Our exciting challenge is to provide these blended opportunities on learning and training to our clients and to think of blended training as not just being a blend of digital and face-to-face training but indeed an opportunity to blend different technology media such as video conferences, podcasts, webinars, online references, gamification, simulation and even artificial intelligence with traditional e-learning – and to do so in a way that best solves both our clients’ objectives and maximises learning for our learners.
Martin Hilton is director of learning and education at CPL Online

F&B and the Fringe Festival by Ann Elliott

Edinburgh – the Fringe Festival, a bank holiday weekend. 24 degrees Celsius and not a cloud in the sky. There’s four hours of comedy shows ahead of us and we’re sat on the grass with the Ashes test cricket on the radio (we seemed to be the only ones cheering for some reason when we won). I’ve a gin ‘n’ tonic in hand and there’s an amazing, buzzy, happy, relaxed atmosphere. Silent disco participants are dancing and weaving their way through the city entertaining everyone in their path. The perfect day – the Fringe Festival at its best.

When I told people I was going to the Fringe Festival for five days, most responded with: “Oh, I have always wanted to go there but I never managed to get my act together.” Of course, my response is always: “Just go.” I know though it’s a bit of an intimidating prospect and difficult to get your head around. How do you decide what to see? How far ahead should you book? How much should you try and do in a day?

It sells 2.7 million tickets, making it the third most booked event behind the Olympics and the Fifa World Cup. There are more than 350 performers, 317 venues, 3,548 shows and 55,000 performances. It’s experiential on an extremely large scale.

Booking shows is the relatively easy bit (but time consuming and needs to be treated like a military operation) albeit the website is not as intuitive as it could be (though that could be me). We book acts we like well ahead of the festival and then book others once the reviews start to appear. We also buy tickets day by day based on the gossip in the queues about the shows to see and find lots of free (but often very questionable) stuff. 

It’s easy to watch eight hours of comedy a day, every day. Perhaps there is an opportunity for an aggregator to set up, ask you what sort of comedy you like, recommend shows to you and then book tickets on your behalf but until that day comes it’s just about girding your loins and getting on with it. There is quite a sense of achievement when the schedule comes together. Favourite shows this year included Rhod Gilbert, Henning Wehn, Ivo Graham, Sarah Keyworth and Reuben Kaye (only for the very brave or foolhardy however). We should have given Eddie Izzard reading “Great Expectations” a very wide berth though. 

The shows are exceptionally well organised. They all start and finish on time and there are lots of team members ready to guide people to their seats, so the venues fill up in an orderly fashion with no running away from the front row for the drag act – a nightmare place to be.

This year I made a concerted effort to eat and drink from food stalls – fish and chips, filled flatbread, organic pizza, burrito and toasted cheese sandwiches. Without exception the food was fantastic but what it wasn’t, was speedy. It just seems to be accepted that customers have to wait up to 20 minutes to collect their food. I do get it. The food stalls are small, equipment is limited and its often a challenge to have three to four team members working there at once. It’s hot and its frequently beyond busy. 

There must be a way, perhaps via technology – ie ordering and paying in advance – to sort this out. The food stalls must be losing a lot of potential business. Time and time again, I saw customers walk up to a food stall, look at the queue and then walk away because they know that often, a 15-minute promised wait time can morph into 25 increasingly frustrating minute. This just wouldn’t be tolerated on the high street and should be sorted here.

Food waiting times apart, the Fringe Festival is the most amazing experience and one everyone in the sector could take year-long learnings from.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliotts, the leading integrated marketing agency in the hospitality and leisure sector – www.elliottsagency.com

Catering for more than just millennials by Sally Whelan 

When I did a search on Google for “millennials” and “Generation Z”, these were just a few of the headlines that appeared – “How Millennials are changing the food industry’s taste buds”, “Doritos drops logo appealing to Gen Z taste” and “4 ways to make your brand 'lit' to Gen Z”.

If we must break up the population by age labels, where does that leave Generation X and Baby Boomers? Anti-ageing and finance – that’s what appears in my Google searches. I haven’t spotted one headline that talks about how companies can attract these generations. Instead, the focus is on millennials and Generation Z only. But are brands – particularly in the hospitality industry – missing a trick by targeting only the younger population? 

Millennials and Generation Z account for about 29 million people in the UK, while Generation X and Baby Boomers equate for 28 million. Broadly speaking, the stats are almost even, yet we are all transfixed on impressing the former. But why? We’ve all seen it documented both millennials and Generation Z are becoming more restrained in their spending, turning away from alcohol and choosing nights in front of the television over a night out. So is this really the right route for businesses to pursue? Yes, millennials and Generation Z are the most active online – which now forms a huge part of brands’ marketing campaigns – but not by much. Research has shown Baby Boomers, in particular, spend an average of 27 hours a week online – only two hours fewer than those aged 16 to 34. 

With this in mind, should brands be focusing so hard on attracting those that are reluctant to go out, or should they be focusing their attention towards those with more time and most importantly, more money? Currently, almost a third of consumers aged 55-plus feel ignored by brands. However they are actually fast becoming the most valuable for hospitality. According to NPD Group, over-50s are already the biggest spenders when it comes to eating out, spending an average of £13.41 more than other age groups when dining at full-service restaurants. This is closely followed by the over-65s category, at £13.10. What’s more, with over-50s currently accounting for 14% of all delivery visits (with this figure expected to increase to 17% by 2022), we shouldn’t be ruling the older generations out of any target market just yet, even ones we think are typically dominated by millennials and Generation Z. 

As a consumer that likes to dine out relatively frequently, while also sitting outside the millennial band, I can appreciate the need for venues to be focusing on their “Instagramability”. However, they must be careful not to alienate other social groups in the process. Am I likely to visit a venue that is attracting customers solely for photo purposes? Probably not. Yes, I will take the décor of a venue into consideration when choosing where to eat or drink out, but for me personally, and I would imagine many others of my age, it’s about being able to experience three things – quality, value and genuine hospitality. For operators, it’s about finding that right balance in order to create a concept that can either appeal to all or know who it’s targeting and stick with it. 

While this may sound like a call for operators to move away from millennial and Generation Z marketing, it’s not. They are the current trendsetters of the industry and without them, I imagine many brands would be in an even worse position; plus, I do enjoy a lot of the new concepts that have been developed as a result of the latest consumer trends. This is more about reminding operators the younger generation make up only half of the population and there is still a whole lot of opportunity elsewhere if brands allow. 
Sally Whelan is founding director of guest experience management expert HGEM

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