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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 5th Jun 2015 - Friday Opinion
Subject: Caffe Nero and anti-badger cullers, the woman behind Bill’s, the importance of Nottingham’s BID to the city’s leisure sector and the secrets of a successful launch
Authors: Martyn Cornell, Sonya Hook, David Lucas and Ann Elliott

On the horns of a dilemma in the culling fields by Martyn Cornell

When somebody threatens to punch a member of your family on the nose if you don’t stop carrying out a perfectly legal activity, what do you do? Standing up to bullies who believe violence is a valid method of advancing their cause is fine if you are the only one threatened by the violence, but a moral dilemma of an entirely different sort when your decision to tell the bullies to poke it could bring violence down on the heads of others. That, basically, was the problem faced by Caffe Nero: campaigners who wanted it to stop using milk from farms in areas where badger-culling is taking place had made “serious and credible threats against our team members”, the company said this week, and in response “we decided that the welfare of our people and our customers came first and have take a pragmatic decision on our milk sourcing policies”. Or “caved in to the bullies”, as some might phrase it.

Caffe Nero went on to say that “any threats to our people or customers is [sic] totally unacceptable” and “we are not intimidated by protesters in spite of their ongoing and upsetting efforts to threaten our business”. But the company clearly HAS been intimidated by the protesters, and HAS accepted the threats, and given in to them. If you genuinely think a threat is unacceptable, you don’t do what the person threatening you wants you to do. If someone says: “Give me that hat you’re wearing or I’ll punch you,” you can’t give them your hat while maintaining that you’re not intimidated by their threat.

Now that Caffe Nero has given in to the anti-badger cullers and said it will stop using milk from areas where badgers are being culled (although it has, so far, failed to explain exactly how it will monitor the supply chain to ensure that happens), where does it think it can draw the line? What threats really ARE unacceptable? What about militant vegetarians who are against the consumption of milk in any form, since its production not only, arguably, leads to suffering for cows, but also involves the death of calves whose birth is necessary for cows to start producing milk? If the company received “serious and credible threats” from a group that wanted it to switch entirely to soy and almond milk in its outlets, would it fold in the same way it has done against militant anti-badger cullers?

At the same time, by giving in to a tiny, tiny number of militant anti-cull bullies, Caffe Nero has brought on its head a massive PR fail, with attacks from the National Farmers Union and MPs who called the chain “spineless” and accused it of putting British farmworkers’ jobs at risk by refusing to stock milk from farms in the area where the culls are taking place, talk of a boycott of Caffe Nero from farmers in Gloucestershire and Somerset, and the Countryside Alliance, and customers declaring they had torn up their Caffe Nero loyalty cards over what a columnist in the Independent newspaper called the chain’s “craven cowardice”.

Worse, people who disagreed with Caffe Nero’s actions over the badger cull protesters have now turned the spotlight on the company’s tax affairs. It is owned, according to the Daily Mail, by a holding company in Luxembourg and has paid no corporation tax since 2007 on UK sales of £1.2bn and reported profits of £123m, leading Ian Liddell-Grainger, Tory MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, to declare: “This is a company, effectively based in Luxembourg, which does not give a stuff about British farmers … They appear to only be interested, selfishly, in the bottom line and profits. If they paid UK corporation tax, I might have had some sympathy, but they don’t. Britain now needs to stand up and boycott Caffe Nero.” Liddell-Grainger said that if activists opposed Caffe Nero buying milk from cull zones, rather than protest outside the company’s outlets in the UK, they should “go to Luxembourg” and protest there instead. Saucer of (badger cull zone) milk for Ian, please.

The anti-cull campaigners, of course, have been hailing their “first major victory against retailers who sell badger cull milk”, and have now decided to target the supermarket chain J Sainsbury, with the campaign’s spokesman saying they would disrupt its stores, create “mayhem” at the chain’s AGM, and “bombard its chief executive with messages”. However, Sainsbury’s has shown it has blood, rather than milk in its veins, declaring that it would not be banning milk from badger cull areas: “We do not think it fair to penalise farmers who by geographic circumstance are within the official Defra cull area,” a spokeswoman said, adding that in any case, the government had not disclosed precisely which farms were involved in the cull.

It is interesting that, so far, neither Costa Coffee nor Starbucks, both, after all, far bigger than Caffe Nero, seem to have featured in this farrago. At the time of writing, neither had responded to Propel’s request for comments. Meanwhile, Caffe Nero’s response to the anti-badger-cull militants is likely to be held up for years among PR professionals as a classic example of how not to respond to threats from bullies.
Martyn Cornell is a leading on-trade commentator and published beer industry historian

The woman behind Bill’s

The name on the front of the fast-growing Bill’s chain may be a man’s, but behind the whole concept at the beginning stood a female with vision. Sonya Hook finds out what Bill’s co-founder Tanya Webb is doing now

The national rollout of the Bill’s restaurant chain could not have happened without the expertise of one woman. That Bill’s is now a hugely popular and growing concern is in very large part thanks to Tanya Webb, who linked up with her brother-in-law, Bill Collison, in 2000 to fuse her cafe concept onto his successful fruit and vegetable store in Lewes, East Sussex. Webb used her 15 years of expertise in brand consultancy and creating restaurant concepts around the world to get the cafe side of the business off the ground.

It became a huge success, and within 15 years, during which time it was sold to the restaurant entrepreneur Richard Caring, who also owns Caprice Holdings and the Soho House group, it has grown to almost 70 sites across the country. So where is Webb now, and what new project is she getting her teeth into?

Near to where she lives in Brighton is a cafe she bought in 2013 called Marmalade. The simple but striking venue is wholly owned by Webb, although the refit was done by her partner Mark Barnes, who runs Catering Projects Ltd, a kitchen design business which has worked with big brands such as Nando’s and Byron’s. The design work, which took just one week, involved ripping out the ceiling and creating a mezzanine level, as well as exposing some original features. “Mark is very good at making things happen and we designed it between us – we work well as a team,” Webb says. 

The cafe has just 35 seats, but it is rarely empty and has a good take-away trade. It has a small kitchen, and 15 staff on a rota, with a maximum of six on at any time. But somehow the team manage to sell an average of 75 portions of eggs each day, generally scrambled or boiled (with soldiers!), and it has a varied all day breakfast menu. The glass counter is filled with fresh sandwiches, as well as homemade quiche and cakes. “We try different recipes and we tweak existing ones, especially salads,” Webb says. 

One of the biggest challenges, she says, is that it has been hard, financially, to go down the quality route. “I want to sell nice sandwiches with nice ingredients, and things that I would like to eat, but it means that as a business we need to pay more for these items and so our margins are perhaps not as good as they should be,” she adds. “I have accepted that because it is more about the enjoyment of it and I want people to love the food. However, with the minimum wage increasing and more staff needed, it is hard to make money. I do make money because our volume sales are good, but it’s tough to be able to sell what we want and also be a reasonably priced cafe.”

Webb is considering putting prices up a little, she says, but she is adamant that she will not compromise on quality. “It is definitely one of the challenges of an establishment that focuses on the day-time trade only,” she says. “If it was an evening venue then people would spend three times as much as they do in the daytime.” 

At the moment, piling up the counters with tasty and attractive sandwiches has worked well for Marmalade, despite its slightly out-of-town location. “If you serve quality and you make the volume then you can get the customers,” Webb says. “When starting out, many businesses aren’t as busy as they would like, and so they cut costs by dropping the quality. But it’s a big mistake, as they still won’t get people coming in. So many people try to serve sub-standard food, but at Marmalade we go for quality and people come back each day for more.”

Another challenge, Webb says, is the high staff turnover in the cafe and restaurant business. For Webb, it has been a great comfort therefore to have Louise Carter, who worked at the original Bill’s store, running Marmalade for her. “If I go away then I don’t have to worry about the business because I know Louise will keep it running well, but also that she understands the visual thing, Webb says. It’s a certain skill that only some people have. Louise is amazing. She will ensure the displays are right and that the cafe looks the way that it should. We complement each other very well.”

Despite those challenges, the business has tripled its turnover since Webb took it over. Although the cafe is set away from the high street in Kemptown, a shopping and residential area to the east of Brighton city centre, Marmalade does have the advantage of being near a school and the main hospital for the city, plus it has a loyal local community trade. “It can’t take much more and I think it is trading at 90% of its maximum capacity, largely because of the size limitations of the kitchen,” Webb says. “The obvious way to boost the business would be to start opening at night. It would probably make good money, but this business is about enjoyment and not just about making money.”

Marmalade has opened at night for one-off events and private parties, and this is something she may do more of, Webb says, but it is not a big part of the future business plan. As it is, the business took off quicker than she expected, although it has been hard work, she says, and it took up more time that she planned for. She adds: “Things that are good don’t happen easily. You have to work hard. It is now where I want it to be. I pop in daily but I have good staff running it, so I can leave it alone.”

Webb loves the idea of running a B&B, or a local pub but she is not prepared to invest the time or energy again. “I have a background in creating concepts and I know that the first year is hard and you have to see it through,” she adds. Marmalade is also unlikely to become a chain, although the team did seriously consider a second site last year. “When you start rolling something out you lose some of what was special about it,” Webb says.
Sonya Hook is a freelance journalist

The importance of Nottingham’s Business Improvement District to the leisure sector by David Lucas

In November 2014, Nottingham was awarded a Purple Flag for the fifth consecutive year. This “safe night out” accreditation means that the city has been recognised once again for its excellent management of the evening and night-time economy and is symbolic of all the efforts that have been made by the Nottingham Business Improvement District (BID), a not-for-profit, business-led organisation working alongside a number of partners to create a safe and welcoming environment for people visiting the city centre.

As the organisation comes to the end of its current five-year term and prepares to embark on the process during which members of the BID vote on whether they want it to continue, it is worthwhile looking at what value the Nottingham BID has added to the leisure industry in Nottingham city centre in recent years and how much BIDs in general can contribute to the sector.

One of the Nottingham BID’s most outstanding achievements has been to secure an exemption for its members from the Late Night Levy that was introduced by Nottingham City Council in 2014. The levy is applied to relevant late-opening licensed premises in the city. The BID secured exemption for its members because of the initiatives it already funds, which contribute to safeguarding Nottingham city’s late night trading environment.

The organisation’s success in securing exemption from the levy will save the members affected a total of over £100,000 each year in levy costs, which would have been in addition to the BID levy they already pay.

As part of its safeguarding efforts, the Nottingham BID supports the city’s highly successful street pastors scheme and plans to increase its funding in its next term. It has also recently stepped in as one of the partners to provide additional funding to keep the scheme operating in the short term following the end of Comic Relief grant funding.

The street pastor scheme sees volunteers patrol the city centre late at night on Fridays and Saturdays to offer support and advice to individuals and businesses. Alongside funding, the BID has provided more than 29,000 bottles of water for distribution by the street pastors since 2013. Their services are greatly valued by members of the public, BID members and the emergency services who are able to make better use of their time and resources.

The Nottingham BID also funds the city’s taxi marshals, who to date have spent 3,000 hours managing city centre taxi ranks on Friday and Saturday nights to help ensure people get home safely. There are plans to expand this in the BID’s next term.

Without financial support from the BID there would be no late night public toilet facilities in the city centre. In addition, the Nottingham BID has taken an active stance when it comes to crime reduction initiatives for the city, investing in schemes that directly benefit leisure businesses, which make up a significant proportion of the BID membership.

One example of this is the licensed premises exclusion notice scheme that came into place earlier in the year and makes use of the BID’s existing secure information sharing system, DISC, and 175-user digital radio network. It allows Nottingham city centre bars, pubs and clubs to ban repeat offenders from all premises and helps ensure a positive experience for all. The BID’s provision of mechanisms to deal with the everyday and sometimes challenging issues facing the licensed trade extends to running free training courses for members. Emergency first aid, drug awareness, due diligence and food safety are among the courses on offer.

Place management aside, the Nottingham BID also offers a range of valuable marketing opportunities to its members as part of its busy calendar of events which includes a Food & Drink Festival and an independent initiative with accompanying competition, last year won by Indian fine dining restaurant, MemSaab.

A key source of positive promotion for Nottingham’s licensed trade is the Best Bar None scheme. Managed in Nottingham by the BID, Best Bar None is a national scheme aimed at promoting responsible management and operation of licensed premises.

The BID continues to encourage licensed premises to achieve accreditation in this annual scheme, demonstrating to customers that they care about providing a safe and welcoming environment for them. The 2014 scheme saw 48 venues achieving accreditation, a figure that the BID aims to grow by at least 20% year on year. The licensed sector faces unique challenges including changing legislation and a need to balance commercial concerns with a duty to promote responsible drinking. The BID enables better communication between businesses, the licensing authority, police and other stakeholders.

Looking at the various initiatives organised or supported by the Nottingham BID, it is clear that the existence of a BID has been beneficial to the leisure industry in Nottingham. From encouraging more consumers into the city at key trading hours thanks to its safe reputation to saving licensed trade premises money by exempting them from the Late Night Levy, the BID has demonstrated that it should only be natural for leisure operators to vote in favour of another term when the ballot takes place in June.
David Lucas is current chairman of Nottingham BID and head of the licensing department at Nottingham-based lawyers Fraser Brown

The secret of launching or re-launching a site by Ann Elliott

We receive quite a lot of briefs from clients to help them announce the opening of a new pub or restaurant or to re-launch newly refurbished ones. We are about to open our 40th site this year for our clients. It’s all about creating local awareness and engagement inspiring the local community to cross the threshold – after that it’s up to the operator to ensure they want to come back. It sounds very simple but it isn’t. It’s tremendously time-consuming and has the potential to waste money and not provide return on investment.

So what do we do to ensure success?

1)  Talk to the operator: It’s important, before we start, to talk to the BDM and the licensee. We need to know what’s in their minds, understand what they think will work locally and bounce ideas off them. If we can run ‘pre’ and ‘during’ closure activity then that all helps create interest.

2)  Brainstorm: Corny but critical. 

3)  Create the announcement: We create a core press release two weeks before opening covering the basics – date and time of the opening event plus anything new about the offer. Then all the local media know what’s happening when, put the date in their diary and are well briefed. 

4)  Target businesses and the media in the local area: We build a database of all relevant local businesses, media, bloggers, key opinion formers, politicians, celebrities, even key competitors, and keep building on it – the pub will need and use it later.

5)  Soft launch – so that the new team can put their skills to the test: We co-host a VIP launch for local businesses and media to get them to experience the new offering. And when we say local media, we mean everyone in their offices (and keep the invitation open so they can come any time).

6)  Host a grand opening launch event: We then host a grand opening for customers in the area making sure the launch visuals catch the attention of passers-by – the imagination has no limit here. A photographer is always on hand to capture the entire event and then we use the pictures on digital/ social media. It’s always better to have an on-brand celebrity to officially open the place, mingle and be involved. This launch event is the bit that takes the time and breaks the budget. 

7)  Sample radio stations and key publications: We arrange for local radio and press to receive food and drink samples so they love it as soon as possible. Go early to catch the breakfast shows.

8)  Sample local businesses in the area: The venue will often send their team out with food and drink to local businesses, shops, offices, universities, transport hubs (anywhere really) – leaving vouchers, too, so customers come into the venue to experience it first-hand. Going out on the streets to hand out food always drives traffic.

9)  Be creative: We do all sorts of things to generate coverage in traditional and social media. Personally I loved it when Gourmet Burger Kitchen changed the name of Aylesbury to Aylesburger on the local town signage. They also wrote their menu in heavy Glaswegian for their Glasgow launch. There are fantastic ideas that got people talking, which encouraged visits. And then great visits encouraged word of mouth – it all hung together.

10)  Post-event announcement: We also create a post-event press release that talks about the launch alongside imagery of the celebrity and locals. Not particularly creative but does get results. Oh and invite post event reviews from journalists and bloggers (and guests).

11)  Engage in social media activity: Obvious, but we ensure we have a specific social media strategy and plan in place throughout the entire campaign and often create a hash tag which can be used throughout.

12)  Drip-feed news to the local media in the area: We continue to drip-feed the media in the local area until the pub says stop or the budget runs out.

That’s the process we follow but of course the key ingredient is the creative idea – which often costs nothing at all to think of or to execute.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of sector marketing and PR agency Elliotts –

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