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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 19th Apr 2024 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Getting the bug for sustainable eating, a tale of two Guinnesses, plus one management, fuelling a workforce for success
Authors: Glynn Davis, Phil Mellows, Alastair Scott, Alex Kristall

Getting the bug for sustainable eating by Glynn Davis

When looking for a companion to join me for dinner at Yum Bug in north London, my vegetarian daughter counted herself out, but my meat-eating son was up for the experience when I read him a menu that included tacos and donner kebabs. Despite mentioning the secret ingredient of bugs in these dishes, he was still on board, and so we ventured into a rather smartly fitted out space near Finsbury Park station.
 
Despite being a part of the daily diet in many countries around the world, the UK has always been a bit twitchy about eating bugs, and the perception has hardly been helped by their frequent appearance as part of the Bushtucker Trials in “I’m a Celebrity Get me Out of Here”. Rather than eating large squishy things that are still wriggling, Yum Bug focuses on crickets that are well and truly dead and in the form of either chunks, mince, kofte, whole roasted or powdered, depending on the role they play in the individual dishes. 
 
They form part of the dishes on the small plates menu, with some options such as Welsh rarebit containing only small, minced pieces, whereas the donner kebab comprises 70% cricket alongside the bread, salad, sauces and other ancillary ingredients. The objective of Yum Bug is to deliver a proposition that involves a more sustainable option of protein than meat and is also much healthier on various metrics. Crickets specifically deliver a relatively chunky level of protein per 100g and also include impressive levels of calcium and iron while being free of saturated fats.
 
Now, I’m no expert on the health or sustainability credentials of bugs’ protein versus meat, but where I reckon I’m on safer ground is stating that these little critters are a better bet on both those measures than some of the plant-based hospitality offerings that became incredibly popular in recent years. Clearly, when the likes of The Vurger Co, Neat Burger, Nomas Gastrobar, Oowee, Ready Burger, Neat, Stem & Glory and many others set out their stall to attract the vegan diner, they were also attracting plenty of customers who were meat eaters but who bought into the idea that these restaurants offered a more sustainable foodstuff while also being a healthier option compared with meat.
 
In most cases, these restaurants and their plant-based foods failed to deliver on either of these. The production of some of the base ingredients were not that sustainable and they also involved plenty of heavy processing (UPF anyone?) to get them into a format that, in many cases, mimics meat and also tastes half-decent. Many of these brands have either collapsed, closed outlets, changed concept or added meat to their menus as they have fallen out of favour with customers and investors.
 
Yum Bug has an opportunity to step into the gap that the vegan restaurants have vacated, and while obviously ethical vegans will not eat insects, the sustainable/health-focused diner could be attracted to the proposition. According to its founders, the key driver of its customers is a desire for greater sustainability in their eating options and living a healthier lifestyle.

The plan is to open further restaurants as well as sell ready-made dishes online, as the product is honed through constant feedback and tweaking in the restaurant environment. Certainly, on my visit, there was much discourse between diners and co-founder Aaron Thomas, who was working front-of-house at the time and fielding a host of questions. The appetite appears to be potentially there if the education piece can be conveyed to a broad audience. 
 
It was interesting to find that the smart and comfortable interior of the Yum Bug restaurant is wholly the work of its previous tenant, the better fried chicken concept Coqfighter, which moved out to larger premises just around the corner that had been the home of a branch of Neat Burger. This rather neatly encapsulates not only the Darwinian nature of the restaurant industry, but also highlights the current trends around sustainability and healthier eating.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

A tale of two Guinnesses by Phil Mellows

I left London more than a quarter of a century ago and return as an outsider these days. Even when I lived there, like most Londoners I imagine, I knew only a tiny fraction of the capital – around home, around work and what we in the east used to call “Up the Other End” (not “Up West” as TV’s EastEnders would delicately have it).
 
From a distance, I can see now that the capital is really a multitude of different places. It’s surely impossible to know all of London, not even all the pubs. I’m a big fan of Will Hawkes’ newsletter London Beer City, which tries to track developments in the licensed trade, but even he rarely ventures into my old patch.
 
Of course, I barely recognise it myself 40-odd years after working on the local paper there. Stepping out of Canning Town station, a relatively new stop on the Jubilee line, you find yourself at the bottom of a concrete canyon, a massive housing development that’s gradually filling with residents (though not local people, I hear, even though they need the homes). 
 
Somewhere around here, I can’t place exactly where, was the Bridge House pub, a celebrated music venue in the time of punk and the R&B revival. I like to imagine you can hear me singing along at the Bridge House on the live tracks of the Official Blues Band Bootleg Album (I’m playing the original vinyl as I write).
 
All gone – but not quite. Behind the new, soulless, town centre, parts of the old Canning Town remain, including Streeties. Although it’s been a pub since the 19th century, originally as the Prince Alfred, I can’t remember ever going there, but a couple of people had mentioned it to me (including Chris Van der Vyver of Husk Brewing, the lone purveyor of craft beer around these parts).
 
Streeties is a survivor. One of London’s rare freehold pubs, it can’t have changed much in recent decades. You can tell it’s well looked after, though. Smart and clean with a big screen at one end and a pool table at the other. There’s little to choose from in the way of beer, and nothing in the way of food, though the range of spirits reassure you that you’re still in the 21st century. People mostly come here for the company, for Trevor the parrot perched in the corner, and the Guinness.
 
At midday, I’m the only customer. I take a stool at the bar and order a pint, noting that it’s properly poured, left to stand while it waits for the final third. It’s waiting longer than usual as the woman behind the bar has had to dash out to deal with some emergency in the street. She returns, apologises and finishes the pour. “That’ll be £4.20,” she says, and I don’t believe her until I get my change. A few days earlier I’d paid £6.50 for a fairly ordinary pint of cask ale elsewhere in the capital, and this was better than ordinary.
 
It made the second half of my plan for the day all the more enticing. From here, I was jumping on the tube to Soho and the Devonshire Arms, the pub that’s the talk of the trade right now. Even before they say hello, people have been asking me: “Have you been to the Devonshire yet?”
 
Virtuoso publican Oisin Rogers opened it towards the end of last year to rave reviews. In a few months, he tells me, it has already become the biggest Guinness account in the world. Yes, the whole world. Though it feels like it’s been here a century or two, the Devonshire’s interior was rebuilt from scratch, to deliberately give that impression. It’s a reassuring hug of a pub with a touch of the Irish about it, the settling stouts queuing patiently along the wooden blocks above the taps.
 
Behind the back-bar there’s the Green Room, with a piano and vinyl record deck reserved for “friends and family”, and a bolt hole for Soho celebrities escaping the selfies. Upstairs are the dining areas, unashamed celebrations of meat and fish, and below, a full-scale butchery, beef gently ageing on hangers, attaining a prime worth waiting for – as with the Guinness in my hand upstairs. Yes, it’s good and, if anything, cheaper than I expected at £6.95. Still, a £2.75 price gap with Streeties, though. Which is the best pint? There’s honestly not much in it. 
 
In this tale of two Guinnesses, this tale of two cities in one, it strikes me harder than ever that making generalisations about the pub trade is a fool’s game. A few miles apart, Streeties and the Devonshire could not be more different, yet they each perform their function to the best of their ability. And each is just as valuable to the people who drink in them.
Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist. Oisin Rogers will be among the speakers at the Excellence in Pub & Bar Retailing Conference. The all-day conference takes place on Tuesday, 14 May at One Moorgate Place in London and is open for bookings. Rogers will talk about the creation and running of The Devonshire, the Soho pub that incorporates a three-metre-long bespoke wood ember grill, the first of its kind in the UK; an on-site aging chamber that is the biggest in central London; its own bakery; three dining rooms; and the extraordinary lengths it has gone to in order to deliver the perfect pint of Guinness. For the full speaker schedule, click here. Tickets are £295 plus VAT for operators and £395 plus VAT for suppliers. There is a 20% discount for operators and suppliers who are Premium Club members. Email: kai.kirkman@propelinfo.com to book places.

Plus one management by Alastair Scott

I love doing consultancy work. I find that the debate with other people really forces me to think, analyse and invent. And occasionally, it sparks a moment that I need to write down. Last week was one of those. Historically, I have talked about “coach party” rostering, which I thought up when I was at Mitchells & Butlers, using it when we bought a load of pubs from Whitbread. 
 
Coach party rostering was my response to those who always had an extra member of staff on in case a coach party arrived. It is the practice of a manager, or owner, who stands in as an extra pair of hands in case service gets busy. Recently, I renamed it “plus one management”. 
 
Of course, we all know that this is a commercial disaster. Firstly, whoever comes in feels like they are working, when in reality, they aren’t. This just makes their week feel longer, unnecessarily. They should be working a shorter week, coming in only when required.
 
Secondly, it causes costs to mushroom. An extra ten hours a day, or 70 hours a week, is not far off £50,000 a year down the drain. But even in our own pubs, it seems very easy to drift back to plus one management. Our teams seem to like having three instead of two front-of-house in quieter sessions. Why?
 
Is it because they can stop and chat? Is it because of the proverbial coach party? Or is because they like to have one on the bar, one waiting staff and one food runner? When I ask my own team, I can’t seem to get a straight answer, other than a repeated promise not to do it again.
 
I am conscious that my last article was on lowest common denominator management, and I am in mortal danger of wanting to do the same. However, our route out of conundrums like this is threefold:


1. Have a shift plan that ensures multi-tasking is part of how the shift is run – not just slack tasks, but also the key role of “float”.
 
2. Teach management that having an extra person on “just in case” is poor management practice. It will make service worse, and you won’t recoup the costs.
 
3. Make your labour costs visible. If you are just managing labour ratio, you will never see this detail and will be oblivious to the problem, which is even worse. 
 
So, I suppose I should be grateful. I can see the problem and know what to do, and I now know the best way to explain it to the team that need to deliver day in and day out.
Alastair Scott is chief executive of S4labour and owner of Malvern Inns

Fuelling a workforce for success by Alex Kristall

In a world marked by rapid technological advancements, shifting demographics and unforeseen global events, businesses must stay ahead of the curve to ensure a resilient and adaptive work environment. 
 
Food matters to employees, and it is underrated by employers to improve satisfaction levels and performance. In today’s world of hybrid working, gathering with work colleagues over a meal is more important than ever. We crave human connection. Eating alone in front of the laptop simply doesn’t cut the mustard.

It’s no secret that nutritious food makes us feel good in every possible way. It encourages human engagement, nurtures the soul, improves physical health, gives us energy and enhances our mood. In short, food is the fuel that helps us to thrive.

So, what is the link between food and a successful workforce? Through Sodexo UK & Ireland’s recent survey, we uncover what fuels a workforce for success. 

Food fuels performance
A career in hospitality has taught me that workplaces are about people. Giving people the resources and space they need to thrive not only improves satisfaction rates, but it also plays a key role in recruitment, retention and performance.

Alongside pay and perks, workplace satisfaction and well-being play a big part in performance, and companies need to carefully consider what makes their employees tick.

It’s here that the impact of quality catering services is huge; an enriching food experience not only fuels productivity, it creates a welcoming work environment for employees to engage with one another, share ideas and boost morale. It’s a hearty serving of happiness on a plate.

Eating experiences elevate employee health
Mental and physical health issues are on the rise in the workforce. When it comes to the importance of food among workforce health, 97% of employees surveyed said that taking a lunch break improves their workday, while 64% said that a meal at work gives them the energy to continue their day.

It’s clear to see that good nutrition is a cornerstone of employee health and its positive impact extends far beyond the workplace. When access to nourishing food is prioritised, employees experience improved physical health, increased energy levels and reduced sick leave. Employers have a responsibility to help employees reach their potential and they need to lead the way in creating a culture of good nutrition.

Good food increases employee satisfaction
Among the respondents to Sodexo’s survey, 28% reported feeling disengaged with their work and want to quit, while 43% can be seen as “quietly dissatisfied”.

These levels of dissatisfaction are alarming and action needs to be taken by employers if they want to retain their staff. Wellness perks alone are no longer enough; the wider issues of pay, financial resilience and employee experience also need careful consideration.

Sitting around a table together over a great meal will improve morale and job satisfaction, and consequently lead to higher retention rates and enhanced productivity.

Getting people back to the office and connecting
The survey found that 58% of respondents work in a hybrid pattern. Employees like remote working because it saves them time and money, enables better work-life balance and gives them space to focus. 

Yet, data suggests that more than two days of remote working is taking its toll on employee engagement. So, how do we incentivise them into the office? Socialising with colleagues, free or subsidised food, a comfortable working environment and subsidised commute were rated the top four motivations.

With a tempting food offering on tap, employees will be more inclined to venture into work and will head home happier and healthier once their day is done.

Food is the way forward
The powerful influence of food on the workforce is clear to see. If we nourish employees with good food, and experiences are seasonable, sustainable and served in inviting, social spaces, they’re much more likely to thrive.

As we look ahead for ways to improve satisfaction, well-being, retention and performance in the workplace, it’s time to shift our focus to food as an essential ingredient in the recipe for success.
Alex Kristall is managing director at contract catering business The Good Eating Company

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