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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 22nd Jul 2016 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: ‘What happens in Vegas’ is influenced by Brits, asking the right questions of the right people in the right places, and getting to grips with the foodservice home delivery market
Authors: James Hacon, David Martin, and Glynn Davis 

Brits influence ‘What happens in Vegas’ is influenced by Brits, by James Hacon

If you’ve never been to Las Vegas, it is simply one of those places you must visit – so be sure to add it to your bucket list. I’m not normally a fan of overly commercialised destinations, but Las Vegas is different. Built on the misfortunes of unlucky gamblers, it was the vision of East Coast mobsters under pressure from authorities that saw this city grow to what it is today. Surprisingly, it is not the gambling that is pulling in the punters today, it’s the entertainment and dining.

From the first time I visited the city almost ten years ago, this change has been pronounced, with much of the real estate having been converted to mammoth nightclubs and larger, more upmarket dining schemes. The latest statistics show revenue in the city is at an all-time high, driven by hotel rooms, with more people travelling to the city than ever before. However, the casinos are losing out, with a combined loss of $662m last year, having been in the red for six years.

This pressure is resulting in gargantuan spaces being converted from slots or gambling tables to retail, entertainment and restaurants; in turn creating some of the best performing food and beverage spaces in the world. A considerable number of these successful companies and concepts are led by Brits.

Hakkasan, headquartered in London, was of course founded by Alan Yau, founder of Wagamama, and is now a global hospitality group operating restaurants, nightclubs and hotels. It operates two nightlife venues in Las Vegas, Omnia at Caesars Palace and Hakkasan at the MGM Grand. Amongst the highest grossing venues in the world, both are estimated to bring in $90m to $100m each year. It’s not just the management that are British either, a key part of the success of the venues is being put down to great artists, including Calvin Harris, who was reportedly netting $400,000 a gig. Entry costs start at $30 and run to more than $200, with bottle service tables setting you back a minimum of $2,500 on a Saturday.

While Gordon Ramsay may be getting less of the limelight here in the UK, in the US he’s still massive, further cemented as the host of MasterChef USA. Gordon Ramsay Holdings still has quite the collection of outlets in the city with the Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill, Gordon Ramsay Steak, and Gordon Ramsay BurGR. There is still a broader sense of his style within the venues developed in the city each year during the Hell’s Kitchen USA series, also.

STK by The ONE Group was a real standout experience from my recent trip to the city. Headquartered in New York, the group is headed by chief executive Jonathan Segal, originally from London. The concept has 18 sites open or under construction worldwide including one in London and one to open soon in the new St Andrew’s Square development in Edinburgh. The proposition really suits Las Vegas where the live DJ helps to match the music to the atmosphere, which isn’t easy when you’ve got a blend of patrons from pre-club-going groups of girls right through to more mature couples and suited businessmen. Out of anywhere we visited, STK’s service was the best, with very attentive wait staff that really knew their steak and wine. Speaking to floor staff in the city, it seems it’s garnered a reputation as being one of the places to work in the city, with the management confirming there is a waiting list for positions – quite remarkable given there are 350,000 hospitality staff employed in the city.

If we didn’t have enough influence already, American celebrity chef Todd English has even created the Todd English P.U.B, offering a modern interpretation of English pub fare. Taking a very prime position on the strip, it was always busy every time we passed. In fact, it’s one of the only places we could find to grab brunch, avoiding the mile-long breakfast buffets found in the hotels.

We will be visiting some of these concepts, alongside many innovative Las Vegas concepts by American entrepreneurs, as part of the Propel Las Vegas Study Tour, which I will be guiding alongside Paul Charity and the team.
James Hacon is brand strategy director at Thai Leisure Group and continues to work with a select group of other operators to advise on growth strategy. The Propel/ALMR Vegas Study Tour, taking place between 25 and 28 March 2017, opens for bookings next week. Contact Jo Charity on or 01444 810304 for more information

Asking the right questions of the right people, in the right places by David Martin

I’m a life-long researcher, but I admit we are getting saturated with surveys nowadays. They seem to follow almost every commercial transaction or interaction. We’re close to feedback overkill – I got asked for my views by a crematorium recently. But of course quantity doesn’t mean quality, and it’s worth asking if we are posing the right questions to the right people.

Industrialised feedback systems have opened up previously unimagined volumes of customer sentiment data, and they’ve made it feasible for businesses of all sizes and budgets. It’s a boon, but industrialised processes can come with standardised questions – off the shelf dashboard digits that drive senior management metrics, but which may also fail to pick up warning signals in an increasingly crowded and disrupted market. 

Tesco was always cited as the master of customer data-driven commerce. It knew what its shoppers bought from its stores. In 2007 it had a grocery market share of almost 32%, and it appeared invincible. Now its share stands about 28%, as Aldi and Lidl have advanced to 10% of the market, and their future roll-out plans remain aggressive. Despite all its Clubcard data, and its presumed insight advantage, the biggest beast of food retailing was attacked and weakened by these new intruders. We thought it knew it all about its customers, but it probably didn’t know enough about their competitive purchasing patterns and brand attitudes, particularly in the local markets where the discounters were invading their space. 

The incumbent big food retail brands faced these new entrants just as consumers enthusiastically adopted home delivery, and during an expansionary era of “land grab” – in some uncomfortably parallel storylines for our own market. Recent months saw newsworthy status changes for two of the biggest and best-known eating out brands – and they were somewhat surprising, given their apparent standing with the out-of-home dining consumer. Consider the evidence: 

CGA Peach Brand Track data showed they were both top 20 brands in terms of consumer awareness, in an eating-out market where most brands fail to reach 50% prompted awareness. 

It showed they were top 20 brands in terms of consumer usage, in a fragmented market where most brands fail to reach 10% of the eating out population. 

Large numbers of their customers said they were likely to revisit them. 

But for Frankie & Benny’s and Harvester, despite such competitively favourable brand-level consumer KPIs, and formerly upbeat expansion plans, the corporate outlook seems to have recently changed. To risk stating the obvious, big brands are more exposed to attack from new openings because of their bigger geographical footprint. Both these brands defend about 250 local market positions, where every trial visit to a new competitor risks the permanent loss of a customer. Plus, they defend these established positions in the social media era, which amplifies the self-publicity value of novelty and discovery, for the individual diner.

Board-report consumer feedback metrics will naturally tend to focus on national, brand-level results. But it’s in local markets where diners make their decisions, and a hard fact about today’s environment is individual consumers are becoming aware of more and more branded dining options – about 30 on average according to CGA Peach, and this number has tended to grow over time. How often does your unit-level feedback data focus down on areas of new competitive intrusion?

For the big beasts in eating out, the undoubted benefits of brand scale and salience are not enough, and comforting brand awareness and satisfaction scores can mislead. To defend against customer defection, there’s a growing need to remain interesting, to inject variety and positive surprise into the experience, traits not necessarily picked up in standard feedback questions. 

Take “likely to recommend” for example – a survey staple, particularly for organisations devoted to Net Promoter Scores. Whilst it’s long been justifiably argued that customer ‘satisfaction’ is an uncritical test, it’s also worth asking whether the same can be said of recommendation. It’s very easy, from behind the anonymity of your keypad, to say you would recommend a brand or venue whilst at the same time being totally open to defect to a new and potentially more interesting local competitor, something that is rather less likely to be measured. 

There are clearly graded levels of brand “attachment” and usage, and it’s dangerously simplistic to assume that your current customers are “loyal” – still less that they might “love” your brand. The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science at the University of South Australia recently cited research showing only 4% of Australian males said they “loved” their favourite beer brand – and if you wanted an acid test, that’s surely it. The Institute’s plain-speaking Aussie view is that “too many marketers want their customers to love their brands when the stark reality is most couldn’t give a stuff”. That’s especially true in what it more academically describes as the “option proliferation” of markets nowadays – all the more reason to try and develop feedback metrics that are sensitive to potential customer defection.

There’s a supposedly “ultimate question” posed by business author/guru Seth Godin: “Would they miss you, if you were gone?” You could ask that of your customers, but even then, they might say they’d miss you, but that doesn’t equate to spending. I’d wager that brand sentiment levels for Marks & Spencer are deceptively flattering in relation to present-day spending behaviour. Similarly, a recent Verdict Retail survey on BHS suggested 55% of adults said they would miss the brand – but only four in ten said they had shopped there in the past six months. And that’s something they won’t be doing in future.

The out-of-home market is a chaotic and crowded world of new channels, new brands, and new behaviours. It demands new management responses, so perhaps it’s also time to think about sharpening your feedback focus. Big data doesn’t equal smart data – consider whether you’re looking at the right questions, asked of the right people, in the right places.
David Martin is managing director of Red Circle Insight, a market and customer insight resource

Getting to grips with the foodservice home delivery market by Glynn Davis 

One of the biggest bugbears of retailers offering home delivery is the experience for customers is typically way below the standards that they enjoy in-store. This is because retailers predominantly rely on third-party logistics firms that are much more focused on the unit cost of delivering an item than they are about offering an exemplary service that reflects the retailers’ brand and its standards. Needless to say, with the rise of online shopping and the resultant home delivery explosion, the retail industry is going through a painful period of working out how best to handle the problematic issue of “final-mile” delivery because we all have examples of horrific home shopping stories.

For many retailers Click & Collect has been the answer and they have tried to encourage more shoppers to go down this route rather than select the home delivery option. For some merchants such as the supermarkets, The Wine Society, John Lewis, and Fortnum & Mason the answer has been to operate your own fleet of vans and drivers to handle deliveries. The restaurant and food industry is now at the very early stages of working out how to deal with its own home delivery and logistics conundrum. Until relatively recently the market had been quite simple: takeaway providers were home delivery while restaurants were pretty much 100% eat-in. 

But the emergence of digital takeaway platforms such as Just Eat and delivery firms including Deliveroo has changed the whole dynamic of the market. By using the ordering platforms, takeaways have expanded their reach dramatically – between 2009 and 2014 the takeaway market has risen 2.7% to £6.5bn while food bought in restaurants has fallen 5% to £17.1bn. Not surprisingly the restaurants have sought to fight back. The likes of Deliveroo and more recently UberEats – and possibly Amazon shortly – have moved into the market to provide them with the delivery capabilities that the restaurants all presently lack. Such has been demand that the streets of major towns and cities are awash with Deliveroo cycles and mopeds.

It’s an interesting situation whereby services like Deliveroo have an upmarket image because of the quality of the restaurants they deal with – in stark contrast to the takeaways with their in-house delivery – whereas in the retail industry any third-party courier/delivery firm is seen as much lower quality than a retailers’ own delivery service. Whether we therefore see a gradual shift by consumers towards recognising takeaways and their in-house delivery services as a tad more upmarket is debatable but what I would expect over time is for those upmarket restaurants that are using third-party delivery firms like Deliveroo to come to the conclusion – as retailers have done so – that for top quality service levels it is essential to handle the last-mile delivery in-house. 

This is something Koh Thai Tapas has recognised and has invested in branded vehicles and uniforms. It wants to ensure its brand values are reflected right the way through the customer journey and is hoping to overturn the widely held view of takeaway (and in-house delivery) being downmarket. Although PizzaExpress recently ditched plans to set up 150 delivery-only sites and is instead undertaking a trial with Deliveroo I’d expect it to return to handling logistics itself but maybe with slightly more restrained plans. 

Part of the problem with delivery firms is the majority of their business inevitably comes within specific time frames. It’s lumpy to say the least. Let’s face it, most of us have a taste for a takeaway around eight or nine in the evening probably Friday through to Sunday. This makes it very tough to schedule the workforce and to scale it up and down accordingly. Proof that it is a tough one to crack comes with the recent launch by Deliveroo of Roobox kitchens. These are shared foodservice facilities set up by the delivery firm within which restaurant chains install their own chefs who prepare food orders that Deliveroo can then more easily dispatch within the local area – possibly through consolidated deliveries.

There is also the service by UberEats in the US where drivers carry a small selection of foods around with them for ultra-quick delivery. The obvious risk here is the degradation of the food and the inevitable discounting that will occur in order that they can clear their stocks without loss of profits. This all seems to be shifting things away from the upmarket service and perception that the likes of Deliveroo (and its clients) wish to convey to consumers and suggests it will only likely appeal to more volume-driven restaurant brands.

The battle lines have hardly been defined, let alone drawn, in the food home delivery market place but what we can be clear about is that restaurants and food producers are now getting a taste of the logistical issues that continue to be a headache for many retailers.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

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