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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 13th Aug 2021 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: LGA calls for public health licensing objective, right place right time, Generation Z is assessing you for suitability
Authors: Paul Chase, Glynn Davis, Nick Bish

LGA calls for public health licensing objective by Paul Chase

As we come to end of the acute stage of the covid-19 pandemic, it was entirely predictable there would be calls for a public health licensing objective. This is in place in Scotland already, but not in England and Wales. So, in a recent press release the Local Government Association (LGA) stated: “Licensing laws need to be updated to require operators to take public health into account in running their premises, alongside wider safety and crime issues.” Local authorities have had responsibility for “health and well-being” since April 2013 and there is no doubt they are disappointed that promoting public health hasn’t yet been made a licensing objective. 

This issue was also a major area of concern for the all-party House of Lords committee that reported, in April 2017, how the Licensing Act 2003 was working in practice. It is worth noting its report did not recommend introducing a public health licensing objective. Giving evidence to that committee, Alison Hernandez, police and crime commissioner (PCC) for Devon and Cornwall, suggested there was a “responsibility on licensees to make people aware of the health dangers of alcohol or be denied a licence.” She went on to say publicans should make a greater effort to publish the health risks associated with alcohol: “Just like we have on cigarette packets that show exactly what happens if you choose to smoke, it should say what happens if you choose to drink – and if you choose to drink a certain amount, what impact that might have.” And then this: “It might be calories. It might be ‘this is the amount of calories you are taking in’.”

It is hard to know where to start when dealing with this level of crass stupidity and confusion. But while a PPC isn’t a public health practitioner, it is clear this particular PCC thinks publicans should be. And that inevitably happens if “public health” becomes a licensing objective. Not only licensing authorities, individual licence holders would have to promote it. 

But the bigger agenda here is that a public health objective would give public health zealots more influence on the outcome of premises licence applications. Now that public health authorities are “responsible authorities” under the Licensing Act, and therefore must be informed of any new premises licence application, then in the absence of a public health licensing objective they usually seek to smuggle in a health objection, thinly disguised as an objection based on concerns about public safety, or even crime and disorder, which are existing licensing objectives under the Licensing Act 2003. In a sense it is understandable, from their point of view, that they want their own licensing objective to hang their hat on. Their difficulty is that while they can, and often do, quote either national or local alcohol-related health statistics, it is almost impossible to relate these to a particular licence application, which must be judged on its own merits.

The LGA press release further stated: “However, despite the established link between consumption and the availability of alcohol, councils find it challenging to ask for modifications to licences on health grounds.” In fact, the notion that availability drives consumption is an old temperance trope and, far from being an established fact, it is actually a widely held misapprehension. It has proved hugely difficult to persuade the public health community to accept some very basic economic concepts, like consumption drives availability, not the other way round. If all operators had to do to grow sales was open more licensed premises then commercial success would be guaranteed. In fact, the on-trade and off-trade are two sides of a large retail distribution system that expands or contracts as the demand for beverage alcohol expands or contracts; demand begets supply, and not the other way around.

But if the starting point for public health is the false narrative that it’s the availability of alcohol that makes people drink it; and that increasing availability inevitably leads to more drinking and more alcohol-related health problems, then it is hard to see why they would not object to any and all applications for new premises licences – citing local A&E stats as “evidence”. And lingering public fear about the covid pandemic provides further opportunity to grind this particular axe. If new licence applications were increasingly likely to be rejected based on the “availability” argument, this would lead to a distortion of the market, the misallocation of resources and have serious consequences for the future development of the licensed retail sector. If a kind of “new localism” were to develop in such a way as to create a de facto “one out, one in” licensing policy, like Northern Ireland’s, then this is a recipe for a stagnating licensed retail sector.

It is difficult not to conclude the LGA’s renewed call for a public health licensing objective arises from a certain mindset: that alcohol use is essentially a vice and the main task of regulation is suppression. This is a deeply regressive attitude and one that, if heeded, will heap yet more damage on a sector that has suffered so grievously during the covid-19 pandemic. One can only hope that more enlightened attitudes prevail.
Paul Chase is director of Chase Consultancy and a leading industry commentator on alcohol and health

Right place right time by Glynn Davis

Some of my earliest memories of eating out are of birthday meals in Doncaster town centre with my parents in the late 1970s. What is particularly memorable from the dinners at The Indus is not just the tandoori chicken and mutton tikka but also the joy of being able to bag one of the booths on a raised area of the restaurant. 

This slight element of privacy apart from the bulk of the diners while still enjoying the full-on dining experience remains the sweet spot whenever eating out. There are restaurants like the Highland Angus Steak House in north London that I’ll only book if they can guarantee me one of their booths that line one side of the dining room. I’m just about to book a family birthday dinner at Locanda Locatelli in the West End and my fingers will be crossed that we get one of the centrally located circular booths.

I cannot be alone in also finding some of the new covid-19-driven additions within many pub gardens particularly appealing. While I’ve never been a fan of those generic wooden picnic tables, I’m more than happy to shove people out of the way to sneak into one of those igloos, pods or mini summer houses that have sprung up around the country. I’m guessing they house the tables that will be booked up first in many pubs and restaurants, regardless of the pandemic. If they have heating then they are a sure-fire first choice for when the weather turns more wintry (yes, it’s possible).

The ability to enjoy an evening drinking and eating in a bar or restaurant while having your own space has absolutely risen up the list of requirements for a growing number of people. In fact, this idea of being slightly apart from other patrons has not just been a preference during covid-19 for some people but an absolute essential. 

During a recent visit to the glorious Hand & Shears pub near Smithfield Market, the landlord informed me the small private booth facing directly onto part of his circular bar has become incredibly popular, with certain people now demanding this space when visiting.

Up the road in Marylebone, the unique drinking boxes attached to the bar at the Barley Mow can accommodate four or five people at a squeeze and are proving particularly appealing during this time of covid-19. Other such pubs exist with segregated areas in London, including, most notably, the Prince Alfred in Maida Vale, with five separate compartments, and The Argyll Arms off Oxford Circus. Interestingly, over the past decade, Sam Smith’s has been reintroducing small, bar-facing, screened off areas into a number of its pubs including The Princess Louise and Fitzroy Tavern. Proof again how it has the uncanny ability to be ahead of the curve. 

These Sam Smith’s pubs were a victim, along with the overwhelming majority of other London boozers, to have had their screenwork swept away on the wave of changing fashions in the 1970s and 1980s that demanded single-room, open-plan spaces. There is no doubt we are, today, still demanding light and airy interiors but could we be about to see a renaissance in screenwork in pubs and also their introduction in more restaurants. 

As a result of covid-19, we are currently drowning in a sea of unattractive Perspex screens in pubs and restaurants up and down the country and we’re probably all expecting them to be removed at some point. But maybe these eyesores could actually be replaced with more stylish fixtures. We are certainly at a point whereby the design of interiors is being looked at particularly closely. A number of restaurants have found operating fewer tables in their dining rooms has been something of a revelation as it has not in fact lost them customers but instead spread the level of business more evenly across the week. 

While The Indus and its booths are sadly long gone, my appetite for these eating areas remains undimmed and although it looks like covid-19 has made the battle to bag one in my favourite restaurants all that much harder, we might just be on the cusp of the rise of semi-private drinking and dining spaces.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Generation Z is assessing you for suitability by Nick Bish

Where have our people gone? Actually it’s not all people, it’s just a lot of them that have gone missing. Restaurants and bars now have to limit their hours and some pubs have not opened at all. There has been some amazement that the people tap cannot just be turned on again to get teams back and “business as usual”. But we shouldn’t be surprised. Furlough was a fiscal phenomenon that was necessary for national cash flow during the darkest days of the pandemic but the unwelcome revelation is that some people rather like other ways of working and don’t necessarily want to return to the pre-pandemic routines and structures.
As we slowly put covid-19 behind us, it’s vital to accept businesses operate in a world where retention is far more important than recruitment. The end of hierarchical management is here and the need for adaptive, collaborative leadership is revealed. Understanding the “generations” is crucial insight for leaders to know their teams and propel the business forward. Generation X (aged 40 to 55) is in charge now and pretty comfortable in its competence as trained by the Baby Boomers (aged 55 to 75), with some of them still around. They need to understand, really understand, the younger members of their organisations who are very different, especially Generation Z (aged below 25) to which the balance of power is shifting. Generation Z likes to be involved, respected, informed and actually to enjoy the job – they interview you for suitability as an organisation and as employer.
Older generations saw the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers on 9 September 2001 on TV as it happened. Generation Z only learned about 9/11 in history lessons at school. This is an age group that experiences differently, thinks differently, behaves differently and expects to be treated differently. 
At the Tokyo Olympics, there were those of us – I confess to a Baby Boomer view – who were startled when the outstanding gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from competition citing the priority of her mental health. We were perplexed and then impressed that Bethany Shriever wouldn’t accept the lack of sports funding for BMX and so she crowdfunded her own way to medal success. And Sky Brown is a medal winner at age 13, for goodness sake, in the brand new Olympic skateboarding discipline. In all these sports we can’t have failed to notice the mutual support and applause that each young participant gave to their otherwise competitors. How strange. How significant. 
Generation Z was at the Olympics in strength and, setting aside its sporting prowess, it is demonstrably able to engage, contribute and succeed. These are characteristics to be harnessed and cherished by organisations. This should be done now before disengagement and cynicism sets in – an unnecessary pitfall for each succeeding generation.
All this is clearly true for Generation Z but the same insights are needed back up the generations. The leader’s job is to make sure that everyone is playing to their potential and feeling their individual contribution is valued. Individuals will surely be more productive if they actually get enjoyment from their work well done, and feel they are treated by organisations with that objective in mind.
Failure to understand and adapt to the mindset of the successive generations is a cardinal mistake for leaders who must now lead rather than manage their people because the balance of power has tilted substantially. This is not an employment thing nor just about relationships. This a behavioural sea change that we earlier observed as an amusing observation of social behaviour failing to appreciate the upside of seeing the fresh new capability and insight that each generation brings. Generation Z is here now, valuable and very distinctive. Oh, and Generation Alpha is coming down the track, not far behind.
Even during business curtailment, Transition was running leadership programmes with leading companies such as Red Engine and Parkdean Resorts. One of these programmes was over four modules, totalling 12 days’ residential for heads of department. The age range, as well as the personalities, covered the full spectrum from new young graduate to hardened supervisor who had been round the block many times. The leadership insights and models they received worked towards their individual presentation to their peers, overcoming stage fright and with some, hitherto, unrevealed personal truths about work and life experiences. They all blossomed with the attention they received and very many said the experience was work-enhancing and, some said, life-changing. This is very gratifying for us but we proved a leadership truth that close and continued attention to understanding the differences in the generations results in the differences actually being celebrated, and thus helping the total organisation to thrive.
Nick Bish is the founder and a director of Transition AMP

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