Subjects: Out of the cold and into the pub, on course for self-care, give yourself the edge when it comes to recruitment, a fresh start for the industry
Authors: Glynn Davis, Ann Elliott, Amber Staynings, Jasper Cuppaidge
Out of the cold and into the pub by Glynn Davis
Cowering under a slightly-too-small umbrella to protect myself from a blackened sky that was gushing out a torrent of rain, while receiving no benefit whatsoever from an outdoor heater that was bereft of gas, was not my idea of how to conduct a business meeting.
When you add in the choice of only two bog-standard beers, dispensed from the temporary outdoor bar, then it was sadly a poor alternative experience to that we’d have enjoyed if we had been inside the sumptuous The Wigmore pub, attached to The Langham hotel. It encapsulates all that is good about a British pub and my experience in its (no doubt lovely in the sun) alfresco terrace encompassed all that can be disappointing about being forced to drink outside.
The Wigmore is a relatively newly reimagined boozer that launched in 2017 and brings together a smart interior that references the Victorian glory days of pub architecture along with a contemporary drinks offer and a top-notch pub food menu devised by renowned chef Michel Roux Jr. I’d be very surprised if The Wigmore is not the model for the work recently carried out on the Blue Boar Pub, which is attached to the Conrad London St James hotel.
The Blue Boar Pub owners suggest it is a modern take on the classic London pub and, as well as the work done on the interior, it has also attracted a top name chef, Sally Abé from the Michelin starred Harwood Arms, who completes the package of what many of us today want from a pub. The chef’s move, and the investment in the infrastructure, reflects some interesting activity in the sector.
Among the exciting developments is the creation of Camden Market’s first pub, which opened earlier this month. The Farrier is another example of a sophisticated take on a boozer with the requisite quality food and smart interior, along with a Camden touch via a vintage hi-fi system and DJs doing their thing at the weekends.
It describes itself as a neighbourhood local, which is much the same path due to be trodden by the exciting partnership of the JKS Restaurants team, pub operator Dominic Jacobs and chef James Knappett. Everything JKS has touched to date has turned into gold so I’m particularly interested to see how they sprinkle their sparkly dust onto pubs. First up will be the Cadogan Arms in Chelsea in July and then it is understood The George on Great Portland Street will push them towards a planned five-pub portfolio by 2024. Also joining the pub party in London is MeatLiquor’s Scott Collins who returns to his roots by taking on the Dartmouth Arms in Forest Hill.
Such activity reflects the enduring appeal of the pub to inspirational people in the hospitality sector and hopefully heralds an exciting time for the industry that has had a particularly tough time over the past year with many closures. The full impact is yet to be felt until there is some visibility on the rent moratorium situation.
This might then unleash the much-discussed wall of money that has supposedly been ready to descend on the pub sector. To date, it has been something of a damp squib. Talk from senior executives at companies such as Shepherd Neame, Greene King and St Austell is more about focusing their efforts and funds on their existing estates rather than embarking on grandiose acquisition sprees for distressed assets. There is a belief that the innovation they’ve had to employ to squeeze revenues out of their assets with one hand tied behind their backs this past year has given them some insights into how they can sweat their assets much more fully when they are free of any trading constraints.
As we all venture out from beneath umbrellas in pub gardens around the country and the clouds begin to lift – metaphorically rather than meteorologically speaking – the glorious British pub looks like it remains a great place to be (inside) regardless of whether you are a drinker, an operator or investor.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends
On course for self-care By Ann Elliott
In January this year I found myself feeling very low – for no apparent reason. From a logical and rational perspective, all was well after a pretty traumatic year from a business point of view.
As a family, we were all healthy, including my 91-year-old dad living on his own in Yorkshire. The children (28 and 29 so hardly youngsters) were fine and I felt exceptionally lucky at being able to spend so much more time with them than normal. I had a number of non-executive roles I really enjoyed, I had lots of project work and was about to launch Luminary to help clients find talented freelancers for their own projects. I had a group of loyal, close and fantastic friends, a happy 33-year-long marriage and a house I love. Oh, and of course, the inevitable, I had bought Nell, a lockdown puppy, who brought much joy and laughter into our home.
There was absolutely no reason not to feel happy. Of course, the third lockdown had just started, our Airbnb was still closed with opening looking quite a way off and I missed the camaraderie of working with my own team but really that wasn’t enough to explain the lethargy, desolation and unhappiness I felt. I gave myself a right royal talking too as I was marching across field after field with Nell running to catch up with me (or away from me, chasing anything that moved).
I wrote lists of what I had to be grateful for. I thanked the universe at night for everything that I should have felt thankful for, adopted Dry January (for the seventh time, having failed to finish it every single year), read lots of articles on lethargy and told myself, rather angrily, to just get over myself and stop being so selfish.
In the past, whenever I had felt like this, telling myself to think about others rather than being obsessed with how I felt, had worked. Focusing on helping others feel better really had made a positive difference to my mental attitude. It did not work this time. I didn’t talk to others about it. I have friends who do have real mental health issues whereas, I argued, I just felt fed up and sorry for myself. I just had to pull myself together and not load other people with negativity. Who wants friends who are depressed and always bleating on about themselves?
The breakthrough came on a UKHospitality call that Tea Colaianni, founder and chair of WiHTL (Women in Hospitality, Travel and Tourism) was also on. She mentioned a course called Selfless Self-Care, which had made a huge difference to her. It seems Tea had experienced some of the same feelings as me and this course had helped her regain energy and sparkle – she said she felt great to be herself again.
I signed up for the three weeks of self-care. I didn’t resume drinking at the end of Dry January. I gave up sugar, dairy and gluten, exercised more and slept better. For goodness sake, I read these things all the time. I know what to do and I could write the book. I could have done all the elements of this on my own and really didn’t need someone to advise me what to do. It seems that I did.
I suppose what this (and I am sure there are many other similar courses like this out there) gave me back was a sense of control over my life. I couldn’t make one of the course’s Zoom calls because I allowed another call to overrun. I told the coach I couldn’t make it. “Every decision is yours to make,” she said in response. That has had a profound impact on how I now choose what to do and what not to do. On what to think and what not to think.
If I am honest there are still days that aren’t great but when I really think about them it’s because I have failed to care for myself. Just as you are meant to do in an airplane disaster, I haven’t put my own breathing mask on first. How I start the day is how usually how I end the day. If I can’t be bothered to exercise or eat well to start with, the rest of the day goes to hell. There’s much I cannot control or change – the only thing I can change is how I think and how I react. I’m still a work in progress I would say.
Ann Elliott is a hospitality strategist, connector and adviser
Give yourself the edge when it comes to recruitment by Amber Staynings
Everything ready for Monday? Staff recruited and trained? Brilliant. Or perhaps not, given the difficulties many venues are having in recruiting reliable, well-motivated staff. Then there is the difficulty of hanging on to your best ones. Why is this exactly?
The truth is, many of our operators – even those with long and successful track records – still fail to understand what motivates an employee to work in one of the busiest and demanding sectors we have: hospitality. I hear it all the time: “I’ve just lost another team member.” “I know my staff are happy, and high turnover is common in this business, so it’s not me.” “My best waiter left and I am devastated.” “If they were unhappy, why didn’t they say so? Now I have to recruit and train someone new but we are just too busy.”
Attracting and keeping good (and loyal) staff is actually much easier than it seems. All it needs is some investment in your time and a few additional resources. Putting this into place will more than pay for itself – several times over. Think about the advantages of potential new staff beating a way to your door as your reputation grows. Fewer absences. Better trained staff. Substantially reduced turnover. And staff members who are fully motivated to go that extra mile, which is essential if you want to place your brand or product ahead of the competition.
OK, let’s say you’re willing to learn a little more. What exactly do you have to do? To start with, set out to create your own family. All your existing employees should feel part of your unique brand, seeing it as a way of life rather than just a job. Here are a few tips and ideas that we have found invaluable here at Bums on Seats. They really do work.
How to create your new ‘family’
1. Set out your values. Have you really thought about them? They should include staff well-being, for instance. What about honesty, loyalty, openness, and supporting and caring for one another? Have you asked them to be part of this family of values? Will you lead by example?
2. Be ambitious. Aim to be the best. Your staff will love this. As you improve and succeed, your family of staff will feel proud and want to belong. Ask them to contribute ideas and changes. They are at the coalface. They know what your customers are thinking. Make sure that they also know they are the reason for your success.
3. Listen to your family. Do they feel valued, listened to or cared about? Do they believe they have a future with you and can share in your values? Listening – rather than talking – is sometimes the most difficult part of being a truly great boss.
4. What about training and recognition? I’m not talking about the half hour you give someone behind the bar or in the kitchen, but proper industry-approved training to give them something truly valuable, and will make them feel really good about themselves and what they have achieved (see the Bums on Seats industry-approved M.I.R.A.C.L.E. training programme). And what about recognition for the work they do, often late hours, dealing with awkward customers, smiling and being an ambassador for your business in spite of everything thrown at them? Do you praise them in front of others? Offer them opportunities to progress or earn further reward for outstanding and consistent effort in your venue.
5. Upskill all members of your “family”. Do you know what they really need in terms of skills or experience to improve their performance and stay loyal, motivated and enjoy coming to work for you? Ask them what would make their life better while they are with you. Help them to learn new skills such as dealing confidently with customers, managing both their time and tasks more efficiently, or vary their normal roles to keep their working life interesting and motivated.
6. Please do not pay lip service to the important area of individual wellness and mental mealth. You can make a real and lasting difference to your staff (and yourself) if you get this right. There is plenty of advice (and help) out there, much of which is already freely available, but the initial responsibility lies with you. Are you tuned into your staff members’ personal background, needs and expectations? With encouragement, staff will let you know when something might be affecting their health. Giving them an opportunity to discuss it or seek help from elsewhere is critical to the success of your business. At Bums on Seats, we have encouraged staff to become individually trained in providing first-level support for issues connected with low-level mental health. Every one of my Bums team is given access to confidential advice and support, and time off if they need it. Why wait until things get so bad your staff simply go sick or leave? Taking a lead on this, and getting it right, will prevent problems such as sudden labour shortages and difficulties planning ahead.
7. Think too about mentoring your employees properly. Set out key goals and expectations to be monitored regularly as progress is achieved. Ask other staff members to mentor new staff, for example, and take responsibility for their training and up-skilling. Staff members who are fully engaged in your working team from the outset will remain motivated and involved.
If all of this begins to feel a little overwhelming, simply take a step back and discuss it with the whole team. Tell them you want them to become part of your family. You will be surprised how receptive they become, and how each one will pull together for the sake of others around them. Above all they will feel valued and loved.
Finally, look after yourself too. Where do you get love, support and advice? From me for a start. I am delighted when I can freely help someone set off on this road, so please do not hesitate to ring me for help or further advice on the next steps. You can bring in professional paid support, but this is not necessary if you are willing to invest a little time yourself. Looking after your staff along the lines I have suggested will more than reap rewards over time – and quickly too.
Amber Staynings is chief executive of Bums on Seats
Bums on Seats is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member
A fresh start for the industry by Jasper Cuppaidge
It’s been incredible to see the resilience, positivity and humour that have been maintained across hospitality in the past year but it’s even better now to see the atmosphere among all our peers. Even opening back up under significant restrictions, everyone is just as engaged as they were pre-covid, if not even more excited. They’re just as ready to get going, even without the pathway ahead having total clarity – and the same goes for us, we’re ready to get going on our customers’ behalf and the opening of our own shiny, new Beer Hall venue, due to open next month, a year later than planned. We can’t wait for everyone to see it.
We’ve been planning the Beer Hall for two years now – it was due to open last summer but we had to stop all work on it due to the pandemic, which gave us the time to really think about how we could open something really special that beer lovers would love.
It will take a while for people to get confidence in whether we’re moving to a post-covid world forever but, once all restrictions have lifted, I’d like to think we’ll see a huge amount of investment going back into the hospitality industry, which is so valuable to the UK on so many levels. The past year has been an opportunity to consider what your offer is in full, have a deeper look at it, make sure it’s great and make sure it’s all working – be that for beer, wine, food or ways of service.
How could we do service differently? What can we do to create a really engaging offer? How should a drinks-led operation be run in the future? Covid has reminded us about how important service and atmosphere is – I’ve certainly missed it – so now, more than ever, we’ve got to be doing a great job of it for all of our customers. It’s also forced us to adopt things we’d never considered before, such as QR codes, which are now the status quo when it comes to visiting a bar or restaurant.
We’ve had plenty of time on our hands to really consider and reconsider what’s going to go into this venue. There were never enough tables before at our previous brewery bar and I am looking forward to finally being able to get a seat. We never had room for a kitchen either – and while that gave us the chance to host the most incredible street food traders, from Texas Joe to Bao, this time around we’ve had the opportunity to work with a fantastic friend and one of our heroes in food, Theo Randall. I’m really excited about not only being able to drink great beer but get a seat and eat something fantastic too.
When we were able to start construction again, we simplified the design and stripped it right back. Some choices have been made with covid in mind, such as loose furniture instead of booths so we can respond easily to changes in recommendations for distancing or group numbers, and plenty of outdoor seating – if the past few weeks have taught us anything it’s that people will sit outside no matter what the weather. Others are about being true to our original vision for the venue – being able to serve fresh, never pasteurised, beer in a way we’ve always hoped in a proper, atmospheric beer hall.
We spend so much time making sure nothing gets in the way of beer being fresh, and never pasteurising is a way of really caring for our beer so it gets to market with as little intervention as possible. But for us, freshness is also an atmosphere within our business of trying new things and the Beer Hall is where we’ll be doing just that.
It’s a great way of keeping the business on its toes because if no one’s drinking a particular beer, you know there’s no point taking it somewhere else, so we will be trialling things that might just be available in the Beer Hall and nowhere else. Having a community of people who come in, day in day out, and enjoy what you’re making is very rewarding and a great way to hear from your customer right in front of you and have an open communication about what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong and look after them with great fresh beer. It’s something we’ve really missed.
The on-trade is always our inspiration and the Beer Hall is, in essence, for our customers. To come and learn about beer but also to come in, relax and let us look after them for once. I was a bartender for many years and when I was off duty, I always loved being looked after by the people I bought things from. The Beer Hall is our way of giving our on-trade customers a bit of a home away from home so on their day off they can come and enjoy our beer in a venue that has, ultimately, been built by them. I know after the past year – and the busy few weeks to come – they deserve it.
Jasper Cuppaidge is founder of Camden Town Brewery