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Fri 25th Oct 2019 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: On the market, first impressions, and magic moments
Authors: Glynn Davis, Jamie Campbell and Sally Whelan

On the market by Glynn Davis

Like many towns up and down the country, Doncaster in South Yorkshire has a long relationship with markets, which have been the focal point of the town since its creation. There’s the Corn Exchange indoor market alongside an outdoor equivalent, and a covered food market with fishmongers and butchers well represented. 

There’s also the Wool Market, which became a backwater as trade continued to fall over the years. Despite its size and central location, it seemed to drop off the radar and became merely a memory from my childhood, a time when it thronged with people on market day.

With people largely gone from the Wool Market and other parts of the town centre, the council tried to address the issue by introducing a raft of measures including a complete overhaul of the market itself. Its Victorian riveted beams are now striking, while new glass sides and chrome ventilation and extractor systems accommodate the market’s crucial component – independent food and drink operators.  

Under the guidance of former Doncaster Council chief executive Jo Miller, the town is one of seven UK authorities to have invested a combined £37m in 2017-18 to revive food markets as a way of boosting high streets and town centres. Councils are using foodservice to create destinations that bring people together and regenerate the community spirit towns have, to some extent, lost.

A healthy level of trade was building noticeably when I visited the Wool Market recently one late Saturday afternoon. Although food markets and food halls – selling goods for consumption on the premises – are becoming a feature in major cities around the UK, they are undoubtedly more of a novelty in smaller towns. However, there’s little question they are an attractive addition to any town centre.

This year’s relaunch of the Wool Market followed another catalyst for change in the town – the opening of Clam & Cork in the fish market two years ago. Self-trained chef Michael Price had travelled the world eating in Michelin-starred restaurants and believed Doncaster town centre could support a high quality but informal food proposition. He took a wet fish stand, placed stools around the counter, installed cooking equipment and started offering ultra-fresh seafood dishes.
 
Although Price has since left to run the well-respected Gourmet Kitchen supper club on the edge of town, this year Clam & Cork became the town’s first entry in the Good Food Guide. Passing by the stand on my visit, I spotted all the stools had gone but a tent housing tables had been erected next door, with diners enjoying quality food and a relaxed vibe.

Price told me there’s a ridiculous misconception that people in towns outside London have “limited disposable income”. He said the fact Clam & Cork sold “loads of lobsters at £25 for a half” suggested that view was misguided, while prices in Doncaster were “such good value compared with the capital, people can feel rich with only a modest amount of cash to spend”. 

Value prices also relate to rent and rates and Price said business models that wouldn’t stack up in London could be economically viable in other places. He said: “Lots of restaurants are open only four days a week and turn the tables on a Friday and Saturday night. You don’t need to be packed all the time for it to work.” 
 
With food markets leading the way, let’s hope we’re seeing a renaissance in those UK town centres that have lost their community feel – and we all know food and drink is the best antidote.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

First impressions by Jamie Campbell

Picture the scene, a freshly refurbished Victorian building with new signs, beautifully upholstered furniture, swish lighting and an incredible range of wine and beer. The sort of place someone might choose for their first job in hospitality, perhaps a career for life. It’s certainly somewhere I’d go for a drink.

It’s our lucky day as the venue is advertising for jobs. However, the “staff wanted” sign is printed in comic sans on a crumpled sheet of A4 and directly below a similar sheet of paper informing passers-by the toilets are for “patrons only”.

Is this how jobs should be advertised in the 21st century? Does it show our industry respects job-seekers or someone looking for a career change? Do the majority of industries with as much influence on the UK economy as ours behave in this way? The answer to all these questions is “no”.

This may be a personal bugbear but this scenario is not uncommon in the hospitality industry and isn’t isolated to pubs, I’ve seen it in managed restaurants, hotels and cafes. So how can we change the dynamic and show the potential this industry has to offer? We need to make people understand their job might start as only a few hours a week on hourly pay but it can translate into something far more different and exciting. 

Of course we need to help people advertise their jobs more effectively. The challenge starts by showing newcomers to hospitality, bar and waiting staff, for example, how they can progress to the level of those reading this opinion piece today. As an industry it’s our responsibility to advertise those opportunities to progress efficiently and consistently. 

Earlier this year our colleagues at CGA conducted research into business leaders and how they manage their workplaces. Despite many believing they are offering or showcasing career pathways, one-quarter have yet to define “career prospects”. 

This raises another problem. If we aren’t consistently and effectively sharing the opportunities for people to join us, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot by not empowering our teams with the clarity and information they need to see the open road in front of them.

As a business, we are working hard with many of our clients to create career pathways so team members clearly know their opportunities from day one, from the basics of compliance and business through to promotion and leadership. Those that have adopted this mindset are already reaping the benefits of improved retention, engagement and, returning to that crumpled job advert, perception of their business. After all, that change in perception is what we all strive for. 
Jamie Campbell is chief commercial officer of CPL Online

Magic moments by Sally Whelan 

I heard a fascinating story the other day from one of our clients that made me question whether the human touch matters as much in an increasingly tech-focused world that promises – and possibly delivers – great results for operators? Our client told me a football club had installed facial recognition software at its stadium to get people through the doors quicker and, ever since, patrons were spending an average £8 more on food and drink inside – presumably because they had more time to kill before the game. 

I thought it would be interesting to give diners an opportunity to share what experiences – human or technology-led – would make them spend more during a pub or casual dining visit. For operators constantly having to adapt and stand out in increasingly challenging times, we provided insights to help them invest as wisely as possible in strategies to boost consumer spend and drive profitability. 

We asked consumers opposing questions regarding an ordering scenario. First, we asked if they would be more likely to spend extra if a touchscreen device or app helped them swerve the queue at the bar. Almost one-third (30%) said they would spend more – between £2.50 and £12.50. One-nil to technology. 

We then asked customers if they would pay more if waiting staff recommended food or drink or suggested additions to enhance their dining experience – more than four-fifths (84%) said they would. An equaliser for the human touch. 

As an operator, training and developing staff to go above and beyond the norm when taking orders could add up to a sizeable portion of additional income, increasing profitability while providing customers with value-added service. I know this is sometimes easier said than done with high staff turnover and looming labour uncertainty, but the rewards outweigh the effort. 

The ubiquitous smartphone means diners are literally bringing technology to the table and often feel the need to capture dining-out moments to share on social media. Savvy operators that want to up the ante against rivals can add “showstopper” moments to delight customers and boost social media traffic, increasing footfall and incremental spend. 

In a world that celebrates Instagram-worthy moments, it shouldn’t be surprising more than two-thirds (70%) of customers that experience a sense of theatre and excitement at their table – for example a fantastically presented food or drink item that becomes a talking point – would spend more while dining out. More than one-quarter (28%) of diners would spend up to £5.00 more, while the same percentage would spend anything between £7.50 and £12.50 extra. In this scenario I’ll call a tie between technology and the human drive for sharing extraordinary moments in life. 

The final verdict? While technology can no doubt play a role, this research makes the case for adding Instagrammable experiences at the table, providing customers with greater choice and options to personalise their meal, and giving great service through expert and enthusiastic suggestions from a human server. Operators might be doing a great job of engaging customers generally but adding moments that delight and surprise will help drive loyalty and profitability.

With diners increasingly choosing to order takeaways, operators must make the most of what has kept this industry going for centuries – service with a smile that makes people feel valued while creating magic food and drink moments that help people connect. 
Sally Whelan is founding director of guest experience management expert HGEM

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