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Fri 4th Oct 2019 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Prime seats, tackling loneliness, post-truth world, and start the conversation
Authors: Glynn Davis, Brigid Simmonds, Paul Chase and Angela Malik

Prime seats by Glynn Davis

Taking a short cruise down the Rhine in Germany this summer involved a rush to grab waterside seats on the open-air upper deck. A similar scenario was played out below, where those eating in the dining room sought tables next to the windows. Nobody wanted to be seated on the inside of the boat.

It was the same story when we ate or had a coffee in the castles dotted along the steep-sided river valley. At the upmarket Romantik Hotel Schloss Rheinfels in St Gore, tables lining the edge of the sleek, glass-sided roof terrace were booked day and night.

The views along the river – whether on it or above it –were spectacular so it’s no surprise prime seats and tables commanded the most interest. What they didn’t command, however, was a greater price. Even though everybody wanted to sit in them and, in many cases, the ‘in-land’ tables were found unacceptable, with people moving on to another establishment, the prices for eating and drinking at all tables was the same.

It’s the same in all foodservice environments. There are premium and preferred tables in every dining room – whether they command views across the room, have greater privacy or are in the window – and the majority of people choose them if they have the option. There’s one particular table next to the bar in the atmospheric Andrew Edmonds in London that I always request – and luckily it has usually been available.

In reality the majority of my requests for specific tables – and it’s the same when asking for a particular hotel room – have been met by the same response: “We have made a note and will do our best, sir, but we can’t guarantee it.” Perhaps my requests are rarely met with approval because I’m not a regular at any specific venue – or famous.

The big question is whether I would pay a premium for securing a specific table? The answer is probably yes. However, whether I’d want to pay more than 10% of the total bill for the privilege, I’m not so sure. It would depend to some extent on the occasion. At present I don’t know any restaurant or bar that implements premium pricing for superior tables and seats.

This is definitely out of kilter with many other areas of the leisure industry because we are charged an array of prices for seats on aircraft, at sporting events and at the theatre – and I’m fine with such an arrangement. This has yet to feed through into the foodservice industry but perhaps we are on the cusp of change because our relationship with pricing and how we attribute value is evolving.

Part of this involves dynamic pricing, which is being tentatively introduced in various areas of the food and beverage industry. The Good Food Guide recently reported a number of restaurants employing such practices and cited The Man Behind The Curtain in Leeds, which charges £75 for its dinner menu from Tuesday to Thursday but raises it by £15 to £25 on peak days later in the week. At Bob Bob Ricard in Soho, diners enjoy a 20% reduction on their bill on Sundays and Mondays.

Just Eat is also experimenting with dynamic delivery fees based on volumes, weather, events and delivery distances but care has to be taken because any perception the customer is being ripped off is met with an angry response. Remember when Uber introduced “surge” pricing in New York to massive public outcry? So for now, if you want a good view on a short river cruise, I recommend sharpening your elbows and showing no mercy to anybody in between you and that waterside seat.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Tackling loneliness by Brigid Simmonds

With the main three party conferences over I thought it would be interesting to reflect on the different atmospheres at each that might not have come across in media coverage.

The Liberal Democrat conference may not have been well attended by trade associations but it had plenty of young supporters upbeat about the new MPs the party had attracted.

The Labour conference had plenty of worthy charitable stands, although it was noticeable there were fewer stands from commercial organisations this year.

The Conservative conference was missing many MPs who remained in Westminster but despite that almost all cabinet members were present. As ever, from speaking to MPs about pubs and brewing to catching up with other attendees from the industry, they were all worth attending. There was also a strong showing at each of the Long Live The Local campaigns.

Each conference had a number of fringe meetings and one of my highlights was a discussion on loneliness at the Conservative conference sponsored by think-tank Bright Blue and Anchor Hanover, the largest not-for-profit provider of care and housing for older people.

Former first minister Damian Green began the talk with a stark statistic – 200,000 older people in the UK never speak to anyone. He went on to say changes to housing policy were required to change the situation. At present, retirement housing is 0.5% of all dwellings built in the UK but in countries such as the US and New Zealand it’s 5%. The government has spent many years trying to encourage older people to move out of large family homes they now live in alone but Green’s key point was we need to be better at building smaller, top of the range flats for older generations to move into.

The discussion also covered using postmen and women to identify those most at risk of being lonely. David Simmonds, deputy chairman of the Local Government Association, talked about “local, local authorities”, which would introduce people who live in the same block of flats to each other.

Alex Smith, chief executive of London Cares, which provides places for older people to meet younger citizens, told the story of Lily, who used to book a taxi to take her around London so she could connect with the world around her. Living alone, she also went to the fish and chip shop and sat there all evening watching everyone else who came in through the door. Now she attends sessions with London Cares that bring inter-generational groups together to reduce loneliness.

Crucially, the discussion also identified loneliness isn’t confined to the older generation, it’s a problem among younger people too.

At the end of the day, there’s clearly a fundamental need for public, private and voluntary sectors to work together to tackle loneliness. My contribution to this session was inevitably about the role the pub plays in doing this.

A pub’s key role is to be the heart of the community and integral to that is helping those who feel lonely interact with others.

Many pubs up and down the UK are already doing just that – from Meet-up Mondays, the programme in which pubs provide free tea, coffee and sandwiches to people looking to meet others – to pubs working with local charities to bring lonely people together.

I’m sure loneliness is something all of us in the pub and hospitality trades recognise but it’s certainly something we can do more to counter. Are there people in our communities who might be lonely and are they aware of your pub? Can the local authority, which uses so much of its budget on social care, help you make a difference? Without doubt, it’s food for thought.
Brigid Simmonds is chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association

Post-truth world by Paul Chase

In Propel Opinion last week I pointed out a study in Scotland that purported to show minimum unit pricing (MUP) had reduced alcohol-related deaths was based on blatant cherry picking of statistics from Glasgow. These stats showed a 21.5% reduction in such deaths when in fact there were numerous areas in Scotland where alcohol-related deaths rose as much as 76% and they had, in fact, increased 1.3% across Scotland overall. 

Hot on the heels of this blatant attempt to misrepresent the truth comes a new piece of research, published by The BMJ, that purports to show alcohol consumption in Scotland per head of the adult population has fallen 7.6% since the introduction of MUP in May 2018. The research was authored by Professor Peter Anderson et al. Anderson is credited as the man who invented the term “passive drinking” – a term calculated to persuade us that those indirectly affected by alcohol abuse are like victims of passive smoking. I mention this so you know this research couldn’t possibly be motivated by a desire to vindicate a set of conclusions that were arrived at before it was conducted!

You may recall the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group predicted in its modelling that alcohol consumption per head would fall 3.5% in the first year after MUP was introduced at 50p per unit. A piece of research showing it fell by more than twice this amount is therefore music to the ears of the public health alcophobes.

How was this figure arrived at? Firstly there are 2.45 million households in Scotland but surveying all of them between 2015 and 2018 to measure self-reported changes to alcohol purchasing wasn’t a practical proposition. Instead, 5,325 households were selected – 0.2% of the total – with their purchases compared year-on-year before and after MUP was introduced in May 2018. Researchers also used more than 54,000 English households as a control group and 10,040 households in northern England to control for potential cross-border effects. They then made numerous other adjustments to the data but we only have a rough idea of what they were or what effect they had on outcomes. And here’s a crucial point – no reference was made in the study to actual alcohol purchases in Scotland. These can be easily ascertained by looking at the IRI data, which shows alcohol consumption rose by 25.2 million units in the first nine months following the introduction of MUP compared with the same period in 2017. That’s right – they didn’t fall, they rose.

So in the absence of an actual decline in alcohol purchases, the researchers conjured one up through modelling. The reality is overall alcohol purchases increased by more than 1% in Scotland during this period.

If you’re trying to weigh up whether or not a piece of research is junk science there are two things to look out for – what assumptions or inferences do the researchers start off with, and do the conclusions support a policy you know the researchers favoured before they embarked on the research. Here’s what the researchers said about what they inferred: “We inferred MUP would result in a significant reduction in total grams of alcohol purchased in Scotland following implementation.” And guess what? After they’d tortured the numbers to tell them what they wanted to hear their inference turned out to be justified!

What of their conclusions? Under the heading “conclusions and policy implications” they wrote: “Our study is an empirical assessment of the immediate impact of MUP on the price and purchases of off-trade alcohol in Scotland. Our analyses indicate MUP is an effective policy to reduce alcohol purchases, particularly affecting higher purchasers, and with no evidence of a significant differential negative impact on expenditure by lower-income groups. Our data supports the introduction of MUP as an effective policy option in other jurisdictions.”

In other words, the research happens to support what the advocates of MUP have said from the outset – it will reduce consumption by heavy drinkers but won’t hurt the poor. It’s almost as though the research was designed to arrive at that conclusion!

As real-world evidence continues to show MUP is ineffective in curbing consumption or alcohol-related deaths, we should expect more of these attempts to conjure a parallel universe that peddles fake news. This is the reality of the post-truth world in which we live.
Paul Chase is director of Chase Consultancy and a leading industry commentator on alcohol and health

Start the conversation by Angela Malik

National Inclusion Week, which ran from 23 to 29 September, was one of many national events to take place last month. It was a good opportunity to stand back and assess how far we have – or haven’t – come regarding the diversity and inclusion (D&I) conversation in our industry. 

D&I has become an increasingly important part of corporate strategy. An evolved set of values leads to better-performing people, resulting in better-performing companies and higher share prices – “profit with purpose” as Black Rock chief executive Larry Fink describes it. He says it’s crucial businesses make a “positive contribution to society” – and he plans to hold them to account.

Accountability is taking front seat in our sector too. In early September, I led a business panel of senior sustainability executives from Greggs, Sodexo and Tesco, hosted by impact investor Hermes Investment Management, to take part in Plating Up Progress, a two-part collaborative project from the Food Foundation and the Food Climate Research Network. The aim was to scope a set of metrics that could help businesses and their investors assess food companies’ progress in transitioning to sustainable and healthy food. Disclosure is no longer enough and organisations must create measures of their success and societal impact. It’s what we are going to be measured against by the next generation.

After much activism such as #metoo, great strides have been taken to bring gender to the forefront of organisational consciousness and we have become comfortable with gender equality as a key metric of corporate diversity. Since changes to the Equality Act came into force in April 2017, companies with more than 250 employees have been legally required to report annual gender pay gap figures and the Hampton-Alexander Review has committed, through its annual disclosure report, to achieving the 33% target for women on boards and in leadership teams of FTSE 350 companies by 2020.

A glimpse through the 2018 Hampton report reveals the travel and leisure sector still lags woefully behind. We do have some worthy mentions, however, with Whitbread ranked tenth and Intercontinental Hotels Group 24th. Racial diversity, however, is even further behind and sits in a similar spot to where LGBT was 20 years ago, with no-one knowing how or where to start the conversation. 

As Women in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure 2020 (WiH2020) advisory board member on race and ethnicity, I was invited to present a session on “being BAME in hospitality, travel and leisure” to an audience of C-suite and HR leaders.

The aim of the session was to share experience of being a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) person working in our industry, sharing the challenges experienced every day and discussing why it’s important to shift unconscious biases. We are still at the beginning of building truly racially inclusive organisations and my top three “must dos” are:

Understand the definition of BAME – appreciate intersectionality: Break down BAME into which minorities it covers. Ensure understanding of the racial backgrounds and differences in religion, ethnicity etc.

Radical recruitment: Have clear targets for the percentage of BAME candidates, for example 10% of a shortlist. Expand into a broader search pool and partner with networks and firms who can help.

Relationships and role models: Raise the profile of key BAME professionals in your organisation. Encourage role models to tell their stories through different mediums such as videos, lunch and learns, and podcasts. Consider reverse mentoring, BAME on BAME mentoring, and BAME on non-BAME mentoring across the organisation.
Angela Malik is strategy director at Think Hospitality, which works with multi-site brands, investors and developers globally as consultants and venture partners

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