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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 1st Mar 2024 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Kids ain’t what they used to be, beyond the bucket: KFC’s commitment to improving nutrition, pricing pressures: navigating the minimum wage hike in hospitality leadership
Authors: Phil Mellows, Jo Tivers, Karen Turton

Kids ain’t what they used to be by Phil Mellows

Remember Binge Britain? Cast your mind back 20 years and we were lurching into a moral panic caused by the psycho-chemical reaction of the 2003 Licensing Act hitting the expansion of city centre drinking circuits.

The flexible opening hours promised by the new law weren’t due to come into effect until 2005 but the prospect attracted the attention of a mainstream media that had largely ignored its progress through parliament.

Photographers and TV crews had only to step out of their offices on a Friday or Saturday night to find the evidence that it would be a bad thing. The streets were teeming with young people in various states of inebriation and undress, and the disgraceful scenes were lasciviously lapped up by the cameras.

Binge-drinking had been around a long time, but here were the graphic results thrust into your face, and now the Labour government was going to present our errant youth with even more opportunity to slurp themselves silly.

It was all largely a media event, but by 2006, with Martin and Moira Plant’s book Binge Britain, it had gained an academic weight that would bolster arguments against alcohol as public order concerns fused with public health in what someone called a “discourse coalition”.

Fast-forward to today, and it’s hard to believe that back then it was young people’s drinking that was the biggest worry. Now it seems they aren’t drinking enough. Or, rather, they’ve stopped drinking, and we don’t really know why.

For public health that’s a worry, because it’s happened without any kind of deliberate intervention – unless you count the industry’s undoubted success at cracking down on underage drinking. But public health isn’t inclined to give the industry much credit for that, and in any case, the people who have stopped drinking aren’t all underage.

The Sheffield University research group that’s looking into the puzzle recently published a piece for The Conversation that began by setting out the stark stats: the proportion of 16 to 24-year-olds who reported drinking in the previous week fell from 67% in 2002 to 37% in 2021. 

Their explanation for this is quite complex, to do with the younger generation being more risk averse than they were, more concerned about the world and their future. They feel less secure and there is more pressure on them to succeed. Not drinking becomes part of a responsible identity, which includes looking after your health, and it becomes more acceptable to stay dry.

It doesn’t sound much fun to us older generations, and it’s probably not altogether a good thing. Those pressures are causing mental health issues to soar among young people. Perhaps our youth wasn’t quite as footloose and fancy-free as we remember it, but the fact is life has got a lot tougher.

It’s also a worry for licensed hospitality, of course. There was a time when the sector used to rely on that new cohort of thirsty youngsters coming through when the previous lot went off to have families. Now what?

It’s helpful to look behind the top-line stats. Young people haven’t stopped drinking altogether, but their behaviour patterns have changed. They may go out for a drink less frequently (and that’s happening across the population), but surveys suggest there’s still a place for the big night out.

Socialising is still very important. It’s a myth that youth spend all their time behind a screen. They are, believe it or not, human beings like you and me. More of that is happening without resorting to alcohol as a social lubricant. But there are occasions when the all-embracing welcome of a pub or bar comes into its own. 

The rise of competitive socialising is significant here too. Shuffleboards have appeared at trade shows for as long as I can remember, but they were rarely seen in the wild. Operators made the calculation that they couldn’t spare the space. But now they’re taking off, along with all manner of games that provide a focus for a night out that isn’t purely around alcohol. Quiet pints are out.

Craft beer is another interesting example. If you want to see young people drinking, then a craft beer bar is the place to go. But again, it’s not just the alcohol they’re there for. The dizzying array of styles and trendy brewers, and smaller measures, provide an opportunity to explore, discover and discuss what you’re drinking. There also tends to be a wider choice of alcohol-free. 

So there is still a market among young people, but you’ve got to be imaginative and work a little harder at it. Just like everything else.
Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist

Beyond the bucket: KFC’s commitment to improving nutrition by Jo Tivers

Growing up, my parents would always take me to KFC as a treat (KFC Cheriton, if you are interested). Not because my dad loved Colonel Sanders, but because they wouldn’t take me anywhere else. They trusted that at KFC, we would eat real, wholesome chicken – what they called “proper food”.
Fast-forward 30 years and I am lucky enough to be working as KFC’s head of food and quality. We’re a brand universally known for selling fried chicken, but what many people don’t know is we’ve been improving the nutrition of our menu for years.
The fact is that people are finding it harder than ever to maintain a balanced diet. The ongoing cost-of-living squeeze is putting pressure on families’ household budgets, and businesses like KFC have a responsibility to offer food that is great quality, balanced and sustaining, at a fair price.
So, it’s my job to make sure every hot wing or piece of popcorn chicken has that same finger lickin’ taste, but also to prioritise nutritional balance on our menu while continuing to offer choice to our customers.
Today, I’m pleased to be able to share some of this work in our first KFC Nutrition Update. To create this report, we worked with nutritional experts and agreed four areas to focus our work: menu innovation, reformulation of current menu items, partnerships and nutritional information.
Over the last ten years, we’ve reformulated our fries, removing roughly 13 billion calories a year from our menu. We’ve scrapped full sugar Pepsi in every UK KFC restaurant. We’ve built out our popular 500 kcal or less range, which includes our twister wraps, rice boxes and a range of flavoursome sides.
We know we need to be bringing the right partners on board to help guide our work. Last year, we started working with youth activist group Bite Back to find new ways to put healthier food in the spotlight, launching a number of trials exploring ways to encourage healthier choices at lunch. I can't wait to start working with our teams to incorporate the results into life at KFC.
All in all, we’ve made a good start on our journey, but there’s still more work that needs to be done. That’s why we are publishing our first Nutrition Update. Because we want to be open and honest about the progress we’ve made, but crucially, where we want to get to.
We've set ourselves targets and ambitions to guide our next steps. These include increasing the items on our menu that are not high in fat, salt and sugar (non-HFSS) by reviewing the ingredients that go into these items and adding even more choice to our menus. To make sure we are meeting this target, we will be developing a sales-based target to track the amount of healthy versus non-healthy products we are selling.
We’re also upping items on our menu that meet official government nutritional guidelines by 10%. However, these targets aren’t just about what we do in restaurants, but also how we contribute to our local communities, and we have plans to provide food education programmes to 500 young people in five cities through the KFC Youth Foundation.
Things are moving and we’re committed to making all this happen. The bad news is we’re not going to be sharing the secret of our 11 herbs and spices. But for the rest of your KFC meal, we will be open about exactly what you’re eating, and hope others will join us in this approach.
So, hold us to our commitments and please tell us how you think we’re doing, and rest assured that we’ll keep providing the delicious fried chicken that you know and love.
Jo Tivers is head of food and quality at KFC UK & Ireland

Pricing pressures: navigating the minimum wage hike in hospitality leadership by Karen Turton

In 2002, two visionary academics warned that if leadership and management within the hospitality sector failed to innovate, staff turnover would become a widespread issue. Fast-forward more than two decades, and their cautionary words still echo loudly in our industry corridors.
It’s high time we confronted this ever-present challenge head-on, rewrite the narrative on employee retention in hospitality once and for all, and address the all-too-familiar discourse surrounding turnover with the urgency it demands.
Adding a new layer to this age-old dilemma is the unprecedented spike in human capital costs, with projections by S4Labour indicating a potential increase in average pub labour expenses of approximately £15,000.
This stark reality has been a focal point in our recent series of workshops aimed at demystifying the art of driving sales, developed in collaboration with Mark Bentley and Hospitality Data Insights (HDI).
A critical question we posed to our attendees was whether they could quantify the financial impact of the national minimum wage hike on their operations and strategise accordingly to offset this burden through increased sales. Alarmingly, the number of those who could was low, underlining a concerning gap in proactive commercial management among our managers.
The prevailing mindset of awaiting directives from above is a relic of the past. Today’s dynamic business environment demands that managers not only anticipate change, but also spearhead strategic initiatives to mitigate its impact.
At Purple Story, we’ve devised a pragmatic five-point action plan designed to empower managers to proactively enhance sales performance without waiting for the proverbial baton to be passed.
Break down daunting sales targets into manageable milestones. Transform a seemingly insurmountable £6,000 goal into bite-sized, achievable objectives, making success not just possible, but expected. Most team members will never have had £6,000 in their bank, therefore they cannot connect with delivering that number.
Evaluate and enhance speed of service. Managers must adopt a no-excuses approach to streamlining operations, recognising that efficiency drives profitability, and the sooner the food comes off the pass, the more food can come out.
Leverage tech solutions to elevate efficiency. The underutilisation of features like “pay at the table” options not only hampers service speed, but also squanders opportunities to boost transaction volumes.
In the wake of the pandemic, delivery services have woven themselves into the fabric of our society. Managers must capitalise on this trend, maximising both in-house and external delivery capabilities. The conversation now is just as much about how much food is sold outside of the restaurant as is sold inside!
Personal development plans (PDPs)
Invest in your team’s growth. Simple, yet transformative, our “Purple Hack” to PDPs, revealed in our webinar, exemplifies how incremental skill enhancements, such as improving a team member’s ability to carry an additional plate, can significantly impact operational efficiency.
These strategies are not ground-breaking, but they are revolutionary when actioned. The real challenge lies in their consistent, deliberate implementation. The pay-off to this investment is to not only alleviate financial pressures, but also create an engaged team less likely to leave.
Imagine a future where managers proactively present their solutions, transforming the traditional dynamic into a collaborative, forward-thinking partnership. This is not just an aspiration, but a necessary evolution for our industry.
Let’s lead this charge as architects of change, shaping a more resilient, innovative and sustainable hospitality sector where managers are empowered to truly grow their business through the tools they already have.
Karen Turton is founder and chief executive of entrepreneurial performance consultancy Purple Story 

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