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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 4th Mar 2016 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Missing my booking time, Boris bashes bingers – part two, and the threat of Amazon
Authors: Glynn Davis, Paul Chase, and Ann Elliott

Missing my booking time by Glynn Davis

Ever since I was drinking age it has always been something of a ritual to pop into the pub for a drink ahead of enjoying a meal in a restaurant. Needless to say, the time spent in the pub invariably prompted an arrival at the restaurant later than the time I’d booked. I was always pretty relaxed about this – questioning what difference 15 minutes could really make to a restaurant in which we were likely to spend at least two hours and probably more like three. And in which time we’d spend plenty of money so the late arrival would be immaterial.

How wrong can you be? My mind was changed dramatically after I had been invited to spend a lunchtime shift in the (very cramped) kitchen of the then Michelin two-starred Pied à Terre by owner David Moore and then head chef Shane Osborn. For a restaurant with extremely high standards of food and service, an invariably full dining room, a high number of complex tasting menus to serve, and a very small kitchen brigade, it quickly became obvious that any minor delay threw their whole schedule out of the window.
 
Timers were going off all over the place as individual components of a dish were completed and all had to then be brought together at exactly the same moment and to join ingredients that might have been cooking away for some hours. For people who work in kitchens this will be nothing new but for a naive diner this was a revelation in precise timing. Whenever word reached the kitchen of a delay in a table arriving there was some spitting of blood by the chefs as they recognised the knock-on effects for the rest of the service.
 
What the diners see is nothing of the grief they have just inflicted. They are the customer and are to be given a wonderful experience regardless of how late they turn up. This is the nature of restaurants at this level. It is as much about the service levels as it is about the food quality. My experience at Pied à Terre came to mind recently when I’d booked dinner at very well regarded Chinese restaurant A Wong in London’s Pimlico. I’d taken an 8pm slot (having warned them I might be slightly late) because the ten-course “Taste of China” menu cannot be booked after 8.30pm. I’d originally wanted to book for 8.30pm (so I could potentially sneak a quick one in beforehand at a pub near the restaurant – old habits die hard or never).
 
We would have probably made it for 8pm but for our babysitter who turned up ten minutes late – having initially forgotten we’d booked her in (youngsters). Despite our best efforts this meant we arrived ten minutes late at 8.10pm. The dining room was extremely busy and a glance at his watch told the head waiter we were in fact late by 600 seconds. Rather ominously we were banished to the bar in the basement, as it was obvious we’d missed our very tightly defined slot. There is a similarity to being on a plane waiting for a new slot to take off after experiencing a delay somewhere along the line.
 
Unfortunately, once sat at the bar we were forgotten about by the waiting staff. After a number of requests we were finally found a table but we were then left again. It was then explained to us as it was heading for 9pm we were too late for the tasting menu. They could create a shortened version for us – with some dishes replaced because they had run out of various ingredients. But this was not what I’d booked the restaurant for. I wanted the full “Taste of China” not just an excursion. There seemed little reason to stay.
 
It is my intention to return to A Wong at some point because I accept that it was my ten-minute delay that caused the problems. But I also cannot help but divorce myself from the fact this would not have happened at a place like Pied à Terre. Part of the reason these restaurants have their Michelin stars and other such awards is because it’s not the customer who takes the hit for their tardiness in turning up late. It’s the kitchen and the waiting staff. The customer is going to be largely unaware of the potential problems they have caused and will have a great experience, regardless of the time that they sat down to eat.
 
As well as its top notch food A Wong is also lauded for its relaxed no tablecloths policy and open plan kitchen layout on the ground floor but sadly this free-and-easy approach does rather expose the customer to great disappointment if they can’t be quite as precise with their timings as the kitchen.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends 

Boris bashes bingers – part two by Paul Chase

Back in 2011, I wrote a piece for Propel titled “Boris Bashes Bingers”, in which I outlined a scheme put forward by London Mayor Boris Johnson whereby drunken offenders would be subject to “sobriety orders”, and would have to report to police stations twice a day for sobriety tests to ensure their compliance. The government quite rightly refused to finance this scheme on the grounds of practicality, but Johnson came back with a high-tech solution from America: a “sobriety bracelet scheme” for those convicted of serious drink-related offences who might otherwise have been sent to prison.
 
I expressed back then my reservations about this scheme, but then heard nothing more about it, and assumed it had either died a death or been trialled and found wanting. But not a bit of it! The scheme has been trialled in south London and two other areas – Cheshire and Northamptonshire. It works like this:
 
On conviction for a drink-related offence the court orders a community sentence, but imposes a “sobriety condition”; the offender must abstain from drinking alcohol for 120 days – down from the six months that was originally envisaged. To enforce this, the offender is fitted with an ankle bracelet that can detect alcohol by measuring air and perspiration emissions from the skin every 30 minutes. Blood alcohol levels as low as 0.02% can apparently be detected, and the bracelets can tell when the alcohol was consumed and then electronically transmit that information to a monitoring station. The police are then informed the offender has broken his “sobriety condition” and can arrest him and bring him before the court.
 
Johnson has hailed the trial of this scheme as a success: “Sobriety tags have proved a fantastic success in helping offenders across south London to stay off the booze and avoid the circumstances under which they might reoffend,” he said. Apparently 91% of the tagged offenders complied with the sobriety order and stayed off the booze for 120 days. This compares with only 61% of offenders who complied with traditional community service orders for alcohol-related offences.
 
Point proved? Not quite. Only 113 offenders were put on these tags during the 12-month trial and nine breached the condition, leaving 104 who complied. A good result for a very small sample of people who, I suspect, were specially selected as “suitable cases for treatment”. The 61% success rate (or 39% failure rate if you prefer) for those offenders sentenced to other forms of community order is clearly a percentage of a much larger number. I can’t discover what that number is, but Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, stated recently 80% of offences committed in London were related to alcohol. That would be at least 588,821 recorded offences then, if you believe this statement, which personally I don’t. Just what does “related to alcohol” mean?
 
This is a classic example of how politicians desperate for positive headlines work: hail as a “fantastic success” a scheme involving a small number of people specially selected as suitable cases for treatment, and then make an invalid comparison with a much larger group of people that represents the generality of offenders who haven’t been selected – and fail to mention that! We can tell nothing from this scheme except how base the motives of politicians are!
 
I am very much in favour of people being held responsible for their own misbehaviour, rather than ever-greater server liability, but I think we need to put sobriety bracelets into the context of the other measures supported by police and others for the control of the night-time economy: breathalyser tests carried out by door supervisors, ID scanners and potentially drug detection dogs. Whilst acknowledging drunkenness and alcohol-related crime – howsoever defined – is a serious problem, it is a serious problem all the crime surveys say is declining, so I don’t feel there is a pressing need to turn our city centres into leisure ghettos or our venues into fortresses. I want to see alcohol-related domestic violence reduced. But we surely need to incentivise people to drink out of home rather than at home if we want to achieve that.
 
It’s not difficult to imagine a development of this technology so that it could be applied to the operation of individual licensed premises. I can imagine the government empowering licensing authorities to require premises in the night-time economy to provide a bracelet to every customer on a Friday and Saturday night. If the customer consumes more than, say, four units of alcohol, this is electronically communicated to a unit behind the bar, the bracelet illuminates and the customer has to leave. It’s the logical next step if you’re asking door supervisors to test for sobriety on entry. But surely I’m being paranoid, right? Surely no government is going to regulate the tick-and-tock of individual behaviour in this way? That’s precisely what people said when the smoking ban was first mooted. Watch this space.
Paul Chase is a director of CPL Training and a leading commentator on health and alcohol policy 

The threat of Amazon by Ann Elliott

Should we, in the hospitality sector, be worried about the deal between Morrisons and Amazon? Or is it something that only the other major retailers should be concerned about?
 
The FT said on Wednesday (2 March), the day after the announcement: “Amazon has been struggling to make a grocery delivery business work for most of a decade, with limited results. It is fine shipping bulky, long-lasting consumables such as nappies, kitchen towels and detergents. Fresh meat and fish, fruit, eggs, milk and all the rest that makes up a family shopping trolley has proved much harder. It spoils. It is difficult to return. Some of it has to be refrigerated in transit.”
 
Amazon has promised to deliver fresh and frozen goods to customers within an hour in some places. I am fascinated to see how it is going to make this work. My Amazon parcels are left in my porch (sometimes overnight) and I can’t be the only one who never gives a thought to my frequent book deliveries – how is that going to work with frozen or chilled products? The only thing for sure, is that Amazon will sort this out.
 
So should we be worried? Well, perhaps not worried, but the deal should cause us to stop and think for a number of reasons.
 
1. The power of strategic planning
 
Jeff Bezos has stuck by the strategic plan he presented to shareholders in 1997. That is: “Amazon.com uses the internet to create real value for its customers and, by doing so, hopes to create an enduring franchise, even in established and large markets.” He has been determined, focused and single minded. His strategy has been clear from day one. He has been prepared to try to fail but he has never rescinded his initial vision for the business.
 
2. The hedgehog principle
 
Amazon totally embodies the “hedgehog” approach discussed in the seminal book “From Good to Great” by Jim Collins. It has created complete dominance in its marketplace and been totally focused on what it does well. This reminded me of a presentation at a Numis conference (last year I think) when I asked the chief executive of Domino’s to name his key competitors. “Amazon and Asos,” he replied. Of course Domino’s sell pizzas but fundamentally it is an IT/digital company and wants its customers to be able to order pizzas with one click. Not very different from Amazon in that respect. Knowing what drives its economic model, knowing what it is passionate about and knowing what it can be best at in its markets, has made both Domino’s and Amazon live demonstrations of the hedgehog principle and the power of having a core business purpose.
 
3. 100% customer focus
 
I learnt a massive amount from the book by Brad Stone called “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon” – in particular how a 100% focus on providing value to the customer dictates Amazon’s approach to everyone, particularly its suppliers. It is completely ruthless in doing this. It doesn’t accept cartels, long standing agreements, old ways of doing things – it breaks down all barriers in its search for customer value. It’s not nice to read (a bit like reading about Jack Welch’s way of doing business) but you can’t help but admire them. I think we will see the customer apprising Amazon more and more as the supreme example of outstanding customer service – quick, innovative, personal. These are the principles it may be looking for in its other food (including restaurants?) providers.
 
4. A relentless pursuit of innovation and ‘out of the box’ thinking
 
Who would have thought Amazon and Morrison’s would partner up? According to the Guardian on Wednesday (2 March): “Online accounted for 6.7% of grocery sales last year. However, the category grew by 9% year-on-year at a time when the wider market is in decline.” Amazon needed a way to make this growing grocery market work for it in the UK. This deal is ground-breaking and demonstrates Amazon’s ability to consider non-conventional routes to achieving its objectives.
 
I think the deal is audacious and brave and I hope it works for both parties. Not a time to be worried – more a time to learn I feel.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of leading sector PR and marketing agency Elliotts – www.elliottsagency.com

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