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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 12th Mar 2021 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: The power of neighbourhood restaurants, the decision makers, who strives for ‘normal’? 
Authors: Glynn Davis, Ann Elliott, Prask Sutton

The power of neighbourhood restaurants by Glynn Davis

Before I headed off to King’s Cross station to board a train to Timothy Taylor’s Brewery in Yorkshire for my stag do, and before my fiancée went off to do her hen things, we both did the sensible thing and prepared ourselves by popping into a local café for a full fry-up.
Fast forward more years than I care to remember and that cafe above Turnpike Lane tube station in north London is moving up in the world because on 17 May it will become home to Turul Project – a destination restaurant for contemporary Hungarian cuisine. 
Istvan Ruska, founder of Turul Project, had been operating the concept as a pop-up across various parts of London for a couple of years before covid-19 hit and had been achieving his aim of “making high-end Hungarian gastronomy accessible” to London diners. He made the decision to open a permanent unit in early 2020 and although covid-19 slowed down his search, he acknowledges he has had the fortune to benefit in some ways from the current difficulties.
The site became available because of the problems of the previous occupiers and he has also bagged a space that gives him more square footage than he would have previously expected to pick up. It will accommodate both a 40-cover restaurant/wine bar along with a sizeable deli area. He is also benefiting from the site being in prime territory for a neighbourhood London restaurant. This had always been his preference but covid-19 has given a shot in the arm to local shopping and eating/drinking, which will be very welcome when he opens the doors to his first guests.
The recently published Harper Dennis Hobbs Vitality Ranking 2021 starkly highlighted how city centre locations have fallen like a stone in the table of the UK’s most vibrant retail and leisure locations. The likes of Manchester, Liverpool and London’s Knightsbridge, Chelsea and West End have dropped hundreds of places from their top positions last year. They have been replaced by locations including Beaconsfield, Henley-on-Thames, Tenterden and London’s Wimbledon Village, Hampstead and Muswell Hill areas. 
Up the road from Ruska, in Crouch End, is Anthony Lyon who was certainly ahead of the game when he opened Lyon’s Seafood & Wine Bar in September 2019. Having spent some years in central London managing venues for the likes of Corbin & King, Roka and Hix Restaurants, he recognised the appeal of the neighbourhood restaurant compared with the aggressively priced and ultra-competitive environments in the city centres.
When I met him a few months after opening, he predicted more chefs and restaurant managers would be looking to do their own thing in neighbourhoods to a clientele of locals with whom they could build relationships and become part of the community. “Talented individuals are moving out. They won’t even consider the West End [city centre]. They are instead branching out and it’s good for the people who live in those areas,” he suggested.
Lyon has been somewhat prophetic because there is no doubt he, and operators like Ruska too, will benefit greatly from the changed dynamics in their local areas. We have yet to see the long-lasting impact of covid-19 on city centres as a result of the rise of working from home and the resistance to commuting and using public transport but there seems little doubt the neighbourhood restaurant is in a powerful position. When they open their doors in May, they will have an opportunity to build on the goodwill they’ve accrued within their local communities from any box delivery schemes, click and collect, NHS donations and other initiatives they might have cooked up this past year.
Even if their doors have been firmly closed or the restaurant is new to an area like Turul Project, residents will undoubtedly find a new appreciation and love for their neighbourhood restaurants that have had a tough time over recent years. Even before covid-19, the market was saturated with well-funded restaurant brands. Times have changed and many of these bloated brands have gone. Regardless of whether it is a humble greasy spoon or has turned into a high-end Hungarian establishment, I’m looking forward to supporting these local hospitality businesses.
Glynn Davis is a leader commentator on retail trends

The decision makers by Ann Elliott

International Women’s Day prompted me to consider the role of women in our sector – not only within our businesses but within our customer bases.
I have worked with numerous food-led hospitality companies that have been surprised when we have conducted analysis of their databases, at the high percentage of females in there. A figure of 65% isn’t too unusual. That’s sometimes blamed on what the client perceives as the propensity of women to want to complete surveys versus the perceived lack of enthusiasm of men to do the same. So any brand insight from these databases is often questioned because the client thinks the results will be female-biased and that’s just not how they see their brand.
Then the brand analysis often progresses to who (ie. which sex) suggests going out in the first place and who proposes the location (and then goes on to make the booking). Client expectation often is that these figures will be more balanced in terms of male/female but, most of the time, this is simply not the case. Generally, women suggest going out for something to eat, decide where to go and go ahead and book it. They do this on behalf of their friends and their family. Some work I have done on delivery and click and collect suggests the role of women in these routes to market is very similar to their role in choosing when and where to eat out.
Mentally, women who are choosing where to go on behalf of their male family or friends often do consider if their chosen destination will suit them, particularly from a food and drink perspective. If they think it does then job done and they book. Of course this isn’t always the case and men do choose and book dining occasions but, more often than not, this is down to women.
This can often be a surprise to senior management teams but actually when they look at what happens in their own family and friendship groups, they realise these findings just reflect the reality of their own lives.
The most important point in this is to remember most women do things differently to (not better than) men. They think, organise and socialise in a different way, and to build a brand that appeals to them, it is critical to understand these differences. Everything has to be seen from their perspective. Every step of the customer journey has to appeal and work for them.
And, of course, not all women are the same nor are their motivations for eating out. A woman earning £26,000 with a family and working full time will not necessarily approach eating out in the same way as a 55-year-old retired woman who has never worked. There are nuances.
It does mean a 55-year-old male leading a team of investors in, or indeed running, a food-led business, has to be able to appreciate and understand the behaviour of his female customers because they are so critical to his business’s success. Their own personal views on portion size, pricing, wine lists, music, etc. patently have to be listened to but only if they reflect what they understand about their target market rather than reflecting their own beliefs.
This female bias has huge impact on everything to do with a brand, from site choice through to the number of peas on a plate. 
It stands to reason that men have to be prepared to accept they need to know more about the role of women in their brand’s performance and they have to be open-minded enough to accept challenge to their own beliefs. They have to take time to listen to the women in their business.
That pre-supposes they have enough women in their business in key roles in the first place. It is really heartening to see more and more women appointed as non-executives within our sector. It’s great news. I would like to see more women in investment and board teams with real executive power and strength – in roles men have to listen to and respect.
I really shouldn’t, in this day and age, be presenting analysis and insight on the behaviour of female customers to largely male audiences. In this International Women’s Week, I choose to challenge this scenario and hope it changes sooner rather than later.
Ann Elliott is a hospitality strategist, connector and adviser

Who strives for ‘normal’? by Prask Sutton

While the road to recovery has been longer and more winding than anyone in the industry would have liked, we’re now seeing a glimmer of hope. Schools returning at the start of this week marked the beginning of restrictions finally lifting and, as vaccine rollouts continue apace, there’s now a palpable air of optimism that hasn’t been felt in a long time. Our industry received positive news that councils can (and hopefully will) extend pavement licences for a further 12 months, making it that much easier for pubs, restaurants and cafes to continue offering alfresco drinking and dining, which will come into its own as the weather warms up.
Consumers are gearing up for hospitality’s return, too. UKHospitality has reported pubs are seeing a deluge of bookings for 12 April onwards, with one pub having received more than 700 bookings in just a matter of hours. This marries well with our own research, which found consumers are eager to return to hospitality venues as soon as they reopen their doors. Compared with last summer’s reopening, any apprehension to return seems to have dwindled with customers absolutely desperate to get back to doing what they love. 
I firmly believe this has a lot to do with the measures put in place last summer to ensure restrictions were adhered to, which went a long way to making customers feel safe and reassured. In fact, this was carried out so well by our industry that those who participated in our research said they felt far safer in pubs and restaurants than they did in shopping centres or department stores. This sentiment – a vote of confidence from the general public – alongside the recently released target reopening dates means that for the first time in a long while, we, as an industry, can confidently plot our big comeback. And that’s something to get excited about.
However, one thing that’s never sat right is the narrative around things not returning to the way they once were — not going back to “normal”. But who wants their business to be “normal”? Who strives to be average? Normal isn’t progressive. Normal doesn’t disrupt. Normal doesn’t excite. I’ve yet to see the pitch deck of a company professing to be “the most normal business in the world”.
I get that, for many, “normal” refers to business as usual. But simply being open and trading shouldn’t set the bar – especially when the majority of well-established businesses were wrestling with single-digit profit margins with no improvement to the balance sheet insight.
Last year, writing about the situation the hospitality industry has found itself in, I quoted the renowned research professor, Brené Brown, who once said “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change”. There’s never been a time when the industry has been so vulnerable. Speaking to, and working with, such a large number of hospitality operators, I have been blown away by their sheer grit, determination and positivity. It’s this resilience and passion – which is consistently displayed by the leaders of our industry – that makes me so very optimistic about what the coming months hold. 
We’re all in agreement the innovation we’ve already witnessed within our sector is something to be incredibly proud of and continue to build upon. It’s great to see pubs opening as grocers, selling essential household items to local communities. And I’m a big fan of restaurants’ meal kits (award for Portmanteau of the Year 2020 has to be “makeaway”) as well as pick-up services, which many of our own operators plan to continue evolving as an additional revenue stream way into the future. That being said, when it comes to dine-in, there are tremendous, untapped opportunities here too; unrivalled potential to rethink the antiquated methodologies and processes of the past – to redefine business as usual.
Cooped up in our homes for months on end has highlighted how ingrained our social impulses are and how detrimental it is to our wellbeing when those cravings for human interaction and experiences go unfulfilled. I can’t think of an industry better placed than the hospitality sector to deliver on this. And with customers keen to get back to hospitality venues, it’s going to be one epic comeback.
In the meantime, please use this time wisely to plan what mundane activities – all those boring, transactional aspects of the job that you didn’t get into hospitality to do – should be streamlined through digital solutions. That way, you can free up your teams to concentrate on service and on delivering the best possible experiences for your customers. Above and beyond “normal”. Business better than usual.
Prask Sutton is chief executive and founder of Wi5
Wi5 is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

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