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Fri 7th Feb 2020 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Size is important, maximising untapped talent, home learning, and inside an EHO’s mind
Authors: Glynn Davis, Jill Whittaker, Ann Elliott and Justin Sabastian Strange

Size is important by Glynn Davis 

In the days when large companies operated heavily subsidised staff canteens, I was working for an investment firm whose head office dining room was a ten-minute walk from my satellite building. Such was its exceptional value for money some workers dined there every lunchtime but, alas, I was all too frequently diverted into the East India Arms or White Swan.

The former was so compact and busy it didn’t bother with seats while the latter was a Fuller’s pub with possibly the smallest ground-floor space of any of the company’s properties. Its compact and bijou bar was run by a top-quality manager, who could dispense a round without moving his feet.

The appeal of small pubs remains with me today, probably because you can’t fail to be in the thick of the action wherever you sit or stand. Sadly, not everyone agrees and the small boozer has been an endangered species since the smoking ban was introduced in 2007.

The micro-pub phenomenon has been fighting this trend. These perfectly formed units, typically carved from a former retail site, have become a welcome feature on many high streets. One early micro-pub owner described the economics as workable under the following conditions – earn as much as you would on benefits and keep revenues below VAT level. Clearly this model isn’t going to make anyone rich and micro-pubs are generally run by beer enthusiasts as a lifestyle choice.

In 2019, the number of pubs with fewer than ten employees rose for the first time in 15 years, according to data from the Office for National Statistics, albeit a modest 0.4% increase to 22,925. This contributed to the overall number of pubs increasing in 2019 for the first time in a decade – with a net gain of 315 venues.

This is a welcome reversal from the continuous decline endured between 2007 and 2019, with pub numbers falling from 50,120 to 39,130. While this looks horrendous, the most interesting statistic is total employment grew from 426,000 to 457,000 during the same period. This reflects the changing face of pubs as the share of bar staff has declined from 37.6% in 2007 to 28.6% in 2019, whereas the number of people employed in the kitchen or as waiting staff has leapt from 29.1% to 43.8%.

This suggests the average size of pubs has increased significantly in the past 12 years. Big has become increasingly better – certainly from a financial perspective. The economies of scale when running a large pub are clear and the likes of JD Wetherspoon have shifted their estates out of smaller units while opening increasingly large outlets.

It would be hard to find any pub company that has been doing anything other than targeting larger sites or extending successful properties. When it comes to food-led pubs, size is even more important as it’s paramount to have a critical mass of covers to counter the overheads of operating a kitchen and with the appropriate number of staff front and back of house.

At each end of the spectrum we have micro-pubs and mega-pubs – and both are performing well. Fleurets, in its latest survey of pub prices, states: “The market for smaller, bottom-end properties and larger prime sites has been strong.” In contrast, it suggests the mid-market is subdued as a result of the domination of individual buyers immobilised by economic uncertainty and lack of finance options.

Yet again the middle ground is the loser. Regardless of the sector, anything in the middle seems to be squeezed. It’s a case of go large (or small) or go home, which is pretty much what customers are doing.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Maximising untapped talent by Jill Whittaker

Attitudes towards careers are constantly evolving. New research has revealed perceptions of jobs in hospitality are changing, while there has been a shift away from “traditional” career pathways. These emerging trends are presenting new and exciting recruitment and retention opportunities for hospitality employers.

We all know the sector has battled outdated perceptions and a lack of understanding over what it can offer in terms of career development, satisfaction and reward. As a result, a number of barriers have prevented new talent from entering the industry.

However, change is afoot as these perceptions start to shift. Previously seen as a stopgap, attitudes towards hospitality careers are moving in a positive direction. Recently, HIT Training published a report entitled Don’t Waste – The Future of Hospitality, which found more than three-quarters (76%) of parents who responded and more than half (55%) of teachers believe hospitality offers a long-term career route that can help young people develop lifelong skills.

Parents and teachers alike thought there should be a greater focus on the hospitality sector in schools, with more than four-fifths (86%) of respondents wanting to see food subjects on the curriculum, while almost two-fifths (38%) of teachers believe schools don’t provide enough advice about careers in hospitality to meet employment demand.

Showcasing opportunities
It’s encouraging to see such positive perceptions of the hospitality industry but work remains to convince more than one-third (35%) of parents who believe hospitality careers have antisocial working hours and more than one-quarter (26%) who say it’s a stopgap between school and university. 

We know parents and teachers have a big influence on young peoples’ career choices. Our research also shows pupils are deciding their chosen career paths at a younger age. To attract the next generation to a career in hospitality, we need to reach pupils and parents earlier. This presents a huge opportunity for employers to shine a spotlight on the industry and showcase the roles and progression opportunities available to change any negative perceptions. 

Key ways to achieve this include creating meaningful work experience placements and forging stronger relationships with primary schools to offer first-hand hospitality experiences. Another option is to provide more sector-specific information to schools and parents instead of grouping it with advice from other sectors.

Capitalise on a shift in career routes
Another key career trend is a shift from “traditional” career pathways. A few decades ago career paths were more linear, with people likely to stay at one company for longer. Society has moved away from the “job for life” mentality, with people increasingly looking to have more than one career and learn new skills along the way. Job-hopping is the new normal, especially for millennials, with three-quarters of them believing constantly changing jobs has advanced their career.

To tap into this changing work pattern the industry should view part-time workers and the gig economy differently. Employee benefits such as flexible hours and training could harness and nurture this talent pool and convert them into full-time staff. It’s also important to maintain contact and communication with part-time staff who leave the business or sector – you never know when they might return or recommend a workplace to others.

It has never been more important to take action
Now is the time for hospitality employers to nurture these changing attitudes towards careers for the greater good of hospitality – especially as the growing labour shortage threatens the future of this vibrant industry. In fact, at any one time there are 100,000 hospitality vacancies and, as a sector, it has the highest proportion of “hard to fill” positions.

To download our report, Don’t Waste – The Future of Hospitality, click here
Jill Whittaker is managing director of HIT Training

Home learning by Ann Elliott

Last month we started welcoming guests to our house having put it on Airbnb in October. It’s the whole house – we move out when guests move in – and we have left everything as it is except personal photographs, while we lock our wardrobe and office.

It has been an interesting experience to say the least and a huge learning curve but, to date, thoroughly enjoyable. Women have made the vast majority of bookings – for family reunions, get-togethers with friends and hen parties. Earlier this week we hosted an overnight sales meeting, while next week we will house a two-day business brainstorm. We are booked for weekends until the end of September, with two bookings for 2021 next year already. Here’s what we have we learned so far.

Anticipate guests’ needs: We gave a three-year-old guest an activity pack, while business guests received pads, pens and flipcharts. Vinyl left by the record player has been tailored to guests and you can often spot clues to things they would prefer when they book and in follow-up communications.

Provide clear and fast communication: Guests want to book immediately. They have made a decision where and when they want to stay and want to get on with their lives. If they have a question, they want it answered quickly and succinctly – certainly within an hour. Everything has to be instant.

Give guests detailed information: Guests may not need every bit of information in the house pack but they definitely want taxi numbers, takeaway menus and local pubs. We have added something to the house guide every week, usually linked to guests’ questions.

Add value without spending money: A “welcome” note was incredibly well received, as has the ability to extend leaving times by an hour. It has been easy to think of areas where we can exceed guest expectations.

Add value without regard to cost: A homemade cake, freshly baked loaf, tea and coffee all add up. As do free slippers, an emergency box, logs for the fire, hot water bottles, nice shower gel, and flip-flops for the hot tub. It has been easy to think of areas to spend money to exceed guest expectations. Our first PNL may suggest stricter control is required – but I hope not.

Trust your guests: This is still a family home, not an anonymous hotel room or second home with furniture that should have gone to the tip. There’s always a spot of trepidation returning “home” but every guest has shown respect – sometimes it has been hard to tell anyone has been there. However, we removed anything of major value – and fingers remain firmly crossed.

Pay huge attention to detail: I didn’t know I could be so uptight about toilet paper – how much, its position, how it looks, how straight it is. It has been remarkably easy to become obsessed about the way towels are folded, body-wash bottles are labelled, plates stacked, mirrors cleaned. I write checklist after checklist – usually at 2am.

Set values: These were decided early doors and have been useful when it comes to decisions. The house and everything in it has to be useful and beautiful. To paraphrase William Morris: “Have nothing in your house you don’t know to be useful or believe to be beautiful and create lovely memories for guests.” So far we’ve no regrets and lots of joy.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliotts, the leading integrated marketing agency in the hospitality and leisure sector – www.elliottsagency.com

Inside an EHO’s mind by Justin Sabastian Strange 

The saying “if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail” has never rang more true than when the environmental health officer (EHO) comes calling – sometimes unannounced. However, here are some insights into how they think and operate.

I say this with experience from both sides of the fence having been an EHO as well as a chef and manager. It can be tough, and so it should be, but knowing how to achieve and retain top marks is all about sound business practice – not just for the EHO visit – and means compliance will become second nature while fostering consistently good operational habits.

For starters, it’s a good idea to have your safety policies displayed showing what’s expected of your team, including juniors, when the EHO attends. It may also seem obvious but ensure staff are aware the EHO is on-site so everyone acts and behaves accordingly. It’s also worth having a quick run through your checklist beforehand to avoid glaring errors.

Make sure managers and staff know how to act when an enforcement officer attends your premises. Ask to see formal identification and details of any authorisation notifications, while the EHO should wait until a senior member of staff is available to meet them.

On a personal level, be professional at all times, attentive and helpful – and keep smiling no matter how nervous you feel. Accompany the EHO as appropriate but allow them to work as best they can. Assist where possible, give clear answers to questions without over-volunteering information, and seek clarification (without fear) if you don’t understand the question.

If possible, provide a working area away from guests so you can review what’s requested and ensure key front and back-of-house staff are available on demand without an impact on service. Don’t overcrowd during the visit as this can restrict staff movement and make it even longer – restrict it to essential people.

Information requested by the EHO should be provided during the visit where available as failing to give sufficient reasons for compliance is an offence and can result in a lower “confidence in management” score or legal action for obstruction.

Additional information can also be sought after the visit via formal written requests so make notes and action points and be clear on what the next steps are and what’s expected from you regarding follow-up letters and reports.

The main items required during the visit are the Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan and temperature logs, pest management records, training record summaries, and maintenance and cleaning records. A regularly updated HACCP is vital as “confidence in management” accounts for about one-third of your food hygiene rating. The plan needs to be clear, simple and understood by all food-handlers, not just senior chefs. Quite simply, food safety and record management is everyone’s business and responsibility.

Visible standards, meanwhile, give clues to likely hygiene levels at your premises so the EHO will check every aspect of your business – from whether walls, ceilings, floors, doors and windows are clean and easy to maintain to whether you’re fit to produce safe food. For example, do you have separate facilities for hand washing, food preparation, cleaning and disinfection? The waste area must be tidy and hot water must be available at all times or you can be temporarily closed down.

While there’s always a structural aspect to an inspection, where there are limitations on the building such as conversions and listed status EHOs tend to be more lenient if you comply well in areas such as hygiene, records and equipment management. That’s not to say structural items such as equipment damage will be overlooked. Broken Victorian tiles may be taken into account but fridge seals and the like must always be in good condition. The basic rule is keep it clean, fix what you can and show evidence of the items you can’t.

Kitchen hygiene is obviously important but even more so is time spent quizzing staff and inspecting records as education and accredited training is crucial to running a compliant business. Having policies and procedures in place isn’t enough. The inspector will request documented evidence that all staff have received appropriate training and fully understand it.

Insufficient training can dramatically affect hygiene scores so apart from training staff on how to answer or redirect questions during the EHO visit, all staff should have Level 1 in food safety and health and safety – and demonstrate proper allergen management competence – with managers ideally at Level 2 and supervisors Level 3. Food-handler training and certificates should also be renewed at least every three years.

Managing all relevant training from one digital platform also makes commercial sense as, apart from saving valuable time and money, the fact all compliance information and policy documentation can be easily accessed from multiple locations makes an EHO’s life much easier too.
Justin Sabastian Strange is principal consultant at food and health and safety consultancy Food Alert

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