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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 8th Apr 2016 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Children and restaurants, the eternal appeal of Brighton Pier, and the key networking events of March
Authors: Glynn Davis, Martin Cooper, and Ann Elliott

Children and restaurants by Glynn Davis

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. This has long been my thinking when it comes to taking my children out to restaurants. They have visited a cornucopia of establishments – varying in quality levels and cuisine types – but have they fully engaged in exploring the menu? No, not really.
 
This has not been an issue to date but now they are both of sufficient age whereby they need to order a couple of courses each, rather than getting by on bread and maybe sharing a single course, the limitations of their palates has become a little too costly. Far too much food has been left largely uneaten on their plates and no doubt found its way into the kitchen bin.
 
My solution to this has been to very recently focus more on visiting Italian restaurants. This seems to suit all the family’s requirements. We can eat out in top notch establishments (as well as more standard pizzerias), which very much fulfils my demand for a smart meal out and insatiable appetite for offal and squid/octopus while my children also get to eat some of their favourite things – notably a variety of breads, pasta and ice creams.
 
The beauty of Italian restaurants is from the Michelin-starred places downwards they cater tremendously well to children of all ages. They will always knock up straightforward, simple pasta dishes in small portions without any fuss. These dishes can pretty much be tailored to each child’s individual tastes. Any sauces can even be served in a side bowl just in case it has too much of this or too much of that in it.
 
They will of course, in most circumstances, serve any of their menu dishes in smaller portions for children. Now, I’m no Jamie Oliver but isn’t this a much better scenario than restaurants offering children’s menus that bear no relation to the cuisine being served to the adults? You know the dire options I’m talking about: chicken nuggets, dinosaur-shaped breadcrumbed things with indescribable white stuff inside, and other such unhealthily brown-coloured fried fare all served with chips and beans.
 
The Children’s Food Trust chief Linda Cregan has even recently called for all children’s menus to be scrapped in restaurants and pubs because the food on them is typically so bad for our youngsters. Instead, Cregan is advocating simply offering smaller portions of what the adults are eating. This is exactly what happened when I was growing up. A small lamb chop was a favoured meal of mine (so I’m reliably informed) in the days when a nugget was only a dream in the eye of the food scientists at McDonald’s.
 
Taking a trip through Italy recently with my family, involving plenty of eating out, was a delight compared with other dining experiences both at home and abroad. Regardless of what obscure things are on the menu to delight my own tastes, there is great comfort in knowing there will also be options that appeal just as much to my two young children.
 
For instance, in Florence at a smart, busy candle-lit restaurant, Il Santo Bevitore, my wife and I enjoyed red lentil soup with squid and pig cheeks as a starter followed by a chunky portion of crispy octopus while the waiter immediately offered my offspring a simple pasta dish with a tomato-based sauce if nothing else took their fancy. They took him up on this option. For their starters it helped that just having simple, unadorned high quality ingredients (very much the Italian way) also appeals to children.
 
My son enjoyed a plate of three types of ham, which was a first for him in a restaurant, while my daughter plumped for a bread vegetable soup (containing plenty of spinach). When had she been willing to eat spinach before? No doubt their willingness to acquiesce to a little experimentation was helped by the typically Italian style of service that puts everybody, of all ages, at ease in a way that I’ve not found replicated by waiting staff from other cultures and types of cuisine. 
 
If Italian restaurants are indirectly encouraging my children to try other foods beyond their basic repertoire then they are delivering even more than I had envisaged when I took the decision to temporarily knock on the head visits to higher-end French restaurants and other such largely inflexible places. The Italian’s continue to teach the world a lot about food culture and the dining experience and the most important part of the community that requires this education are absolutely our children.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

The eternal appeal of Brighton Pier by Martin Cooper

As someone who has lived in the town for 30 years, Brighton Pier has been a major focus while my two children have grown up in what is now a city. The vitality of Brighton and Hove and its pier come wrapped as one package. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the UK and, if piers appear a bit “old-hat”, Eclectic Bar Group’s surprise announcement this morning that it had entered into a conditional agreement to acquire The Brighton Marine Palace and Pier Company, which owns and operates Brighton Pier, is testament to their timeless and enduring appeal. That much is proven by turnover figures produced this morning that show a steady tick-up in turnover in the past few years. Brighton is on the up with the British Airways i360 observation tower set to be completed this summer. Here’s 12 interesting facts that emerged from the takeover document:

1. Brighton Pier, originally named The Brighton Marine Palace & Pier, is 1,722 feet long, and is the fifth most popular visitor destination in the UK, with more than 4.5 million visitors in 2014, making it the UK’s most visited attraction outside London.

2. In the past three years, the strategy of owners PierCo has been to create a cash-generative attraction that appeals to a wide demographic of visitors by offering traditional and thrill attractions and quality hospitality facilities with a family-friendly atmosphere. The execution of this strategy has delivered a three-year compound annual "target standalone" Ebitda growth rate of about 7% to about £3.5m for the year ended 31 October 2015 at a relatively constant "target standalone" Ebitda margin of about 27%. During this period, turnover grew at a three-year CAGR of about 9% to approximately £13.3m for the year ended 31 October 2015.

3. Brighton Pier opened on 20 May 1899, and cost £137,000 to build. It was the third pier built in Brighton following the Royal Suspension Chain Pier and West Pier. A condition of Brighton Pier’s construction was for the Chain Pier to be demolished but a storm largely destroyed it before this could take place. In 1998, the National Piers Society named Brighton Pier "Pier of the Year". In 2000, it was renamed Brighton Pier but suffered a minor fire on 4 February 2003. During this period the West Pier, which closed in 1975, had become beyond repair.

4. Brighton Pier has a large mix of catering and hospitality options, including restaurants, bars, fast food and snack kiosks and a range of concession kiosks. The fully licensed Palm Court fish and chip restaurant is midway along the pier, while Victoria’s Bar is next door. Horatio’s Bar is a 5,000 square foot public house on the pier-head with a large beer garden. The Glitter Bar is a karaoke and entertainment bar connected to Horatio’s. Both venues do not offer catering, but have potential to do so, while Horatio’s can host live music and entertainment in addition to private parties to extend the offering into late night.

5. There are 25 kiosks on the pier include fast food kiosks (Wokstar noodles and rice, burgers, hot dogs, savoury crepes), snack kiosks (ice creams, doughnuts, sweet crepes, smoothies) and retail outlets. These are placed throughout Brighton Pier, with a number repeated to allow visitors multiple opportunities to purchase.

6. Each year, a thorough substructure survey is undertaken by Hemsley Orrell Partnership (HOP), a specialist pier surveyor, which stated in its most recent report (dated January 2016) that in its opinion, when compared with other piers of a similar age around the UK coastline, Brighton Pier has had significantly better than average levels of positive maintenance over recent years. Additionally, qualified divers undertake an underwater substructure survey of the pier about every five to six years. The last underwater survey took place on May 2010. For the year ended 31 October 2015, PierCo spent about £700,000 on routine repairs and maintenance, with HOP forecasting a similar sum required for the forthcoming financial year.

7. Since 1 November 2010, £4.25m of non-recurring “catch-up” capital expenditure has been invested on steel bracing, replacement balustrades, new gas and electricity mains, concrete pile encasement and cathodic protection to enhance the pier’s structure. A further £500,000 has been committed and is currently being undertaken.

8. Since 1 November 2009, Brighton Pier has carried out major investments in its portfolio of attractions and hospitality facilities, spending £3.2m on the purchase of new amusement rides and arcade machines, installation of wristband technology and resumption of hospitality kiosks from vendors previously out as concessions – designed to increase visitor numbers, satisfaction and the length of time spent on the pier.

9. Owner PierCo's management team has a track record of maximising returns from its disciplined, Ebitda-focused approach to investment, demanding a high internal rate of return to be exceeded. For example, in the year ended 31 October 2013, PierCo spent about £1.2m on new amusement rides, including a roller-coaster. The management team currently has a programme of potentially Ebitda-accretive near-term development capital expenditure projects. When purchasing new amusement rides, PierCo’s management has historically focused on sourcing proven, high-thrill rides from established manufacturers as opposed to high-risk, high-cost ones or prototypes.

10. An investment in wristband technology is a strategic initiative, which aims to provide Brighton Pier’s management with access to customer data, including which rides are most popular, the order in which customers visit the arcades, amusement rides and hospitality facilities, and total time spent on the pier. The pre-paid wristband is purchased for a flat fee, allowing unlimited entry on amusement rides for that day. The wristband technology will increase the proportion of online sales made by credit card, providing a guaranteed revenue stream that allows the pier to hedge against the effects of bad weather and increase its visibility on customer numbers, while reducing the number of on-site cash transactions.

11. Brighton Pier has made successful claims for repairs to damage incurred, including a claim made following costs of circa £602,000 incurred as a result of significant damage from a large storm in the year ended 31 October 2014.

12. Brighton is one of the most popular visitor destinations in the UK and the most visited destination in the south east, with more than ten million visitors per year, of which nine million are estimated to visit Brighton beach. Tourism contributes an estimated £780m to the local economy and is responsible for the employment of nearly 20,000 people. Brighton and Hove has a population of 281,000 people, and in December 2015 was ranked second in the LSH UK Vitality Index Report, which measures the economic strength of towns and cities in the UK. 30% of England’s population is within a two-hour journey of Brighton Pier, with good transport links and local infrastructure.
Martin Cooper is deputy editor at Propel Info 
 

The key networking events of March by Ann Elliott

March brought four different networking events in just seven days – all connected with the hospitality and leisure sector and all great for varying reasons.
 
The Publican dinner, held in its new location in Battersea, seems to have been generally well received, particularly the change from its old haunt at the Grosvenor. This venue was a bit more edgy, less traditional, and more spacious than before and worth the pain of battling through the early evening South Bank traffic. Some complained about the lack of atmosphere but it didn’t seem to stop them dancing until the early hours. As usual some winners were extraordinarily well received whilst others were greeted in a much more muted fashion. Everyone agreed the man from Prostate Cancer was outstanding as was Michael McIntyre. Overall it was a success – a risk that paid off.
 
Doug Jack hosted the Numis Leisure Conference, which, as usual, was a superb event with a wide range of excellent speakers. It’s one of those events you feel privileged to have been invited to. I managed to hear Chris Watling from Longview Economics, David Wild from Domino’s Pizza, Simon Cooper from On the Beach, John Treharne from The Gym Group, Peter Martin from CGA Peach, and Rooney Anand from Greene King.
 
Both Chris and Peter had extremely interesting presentations. Chris’ presentation proved beyond doubt (or perhaps this is my interpretation) George Osborne has failed every one of his KPIs and would no longer be employed were he to be working in the city. Any “feel-good” feelings about the economy seem to be driven by the rise in house prices, which in turn have facilitated higher borrowing, which in turn has led to increased consumer spending. I didn’t come away with the sense of an immediate economic collapse but rather a feeling of unease that our current optimism might be built on shifting sands. Peter’s presentation talked about the general slowdown in our marketplace and its implication for all involved. Really fascinating and worth listening to if you can get to hear him speak in person.
 
David, Simon, John and Rooney all spoke with knowledge and authority about their businesses. It was fascinating to hear about Domino’s dominance in the sector and its fearsome and relentless innovation in terms of digital. There was no doubt about the positive impact of the Spirit deal on the future of Greene King and it was great to hear Rooney speak on the subject.
 
At the latest Propel Multi Club Conference I heard from some great speakers, including Neil Griffiths from Punch, Simon King from Burger & Lobster, and Phil Sermon from Vapiano. Some very different stories here but all delivered with passion and enthusiasm. I like the Propel conferences because they focus, on the whole, on listening to the voice of the operator. Who can forget the amazing Martin Wolstencroft from Arc Inspirations and his dynamic presentation at the last event – just brilliant. Propel does this event incredibly well.
 
Then there was a private lunch held by the irrepressible John Nugent, chief executive of Green & Fortune. It was held in its private dining room at Kings Place in King’s Cross. This is an amazing venue and John runs an incredibly successful operation here. The food was amazing and the service was impeccable. It was so nice to meet people from the broader foodservice world, including Sarah Fox from Hammerson, Miranda French from Troika, and Geoff Booth from Westminster Kingsway College. The latter has just transformed the college with a multimillion-pound spend and has been instrumental over the past few years in motivating and inspiring young people to feel wonderful about this sector. He is a bit of an unsung hero I think.
 
It was great to get out and about and listen to some amazing people and their stories. This has to be the best bit of my job – totally and utterly inspirational and motivating.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of key sector public relations and marketing company Elliotts – www.elliottsagency.com

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