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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 26th Aug 2016 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Keeping the kids (and adults) happy when eating out, the British art of compromise, and the four qualities of inspirational leaders – SHOP!
Authors: Glynn Davis, Paul Chase, and Chris Edger and Tony Hughes

Keeping the kids (and adults) happy when eating out by Glynn Davis

In the front window of My Coffee Story in Brighton, two swings hang from the ceiling that prompt every passer-by new to the area to stop and marvel at the playful incongruity. For my daughter, it brought an instant demand to go inside and have a swing. Naturally I quickly acquiesced. This unusual accompaniment to a coffee bar could be seen as a rather blatant way of tempting children into the place, whose parents have to duly cough up £2.50 for a coffee and something else for the children.

But in the case of this particular coffee bar this would be an incorrect assertion because what My Coffee Story has is a mindset that welcomes children – in just the same way they welcome adults. This is true hospitality. They could not have been friendlier to what was, to them, more than likely one-off visitors – as many of their customers undoubtedly are, being located in a touristy part of Brighton.

While in the city with my family (including two children less than ten years old) for a few days, it seemed worthwhile checking out how we were treated in restaurants and to see how this fitted in with my general views on family dining. This overwhelmingly revolves around how you are treated rather than any specific family-friendly aspects being made available such as, god forbid, playrooms. Playrooms and food simply don’t mix in my view. Children should be doing one thing or the other – and absolutely not playing with their food.

The fact of the matter is children are now massively important to the leisure and hospitality industry. NPD Group research recently found that for 22.6% of visits (in the year to end-June) to out-of-home food establishments where at least one child was present, the choice of venue was motivated by the fact “the kids like it there”. This translates into a chunky £3.8bn of foodservice sales being directly driven by children each year.

I must come clean here and admit in my household no eating-out decision is currently made by my children. This is a luxury they can look forward to when they are paying the bills. The reason for this hard-line approach is that I don’t believe in choosing a restaurant or pub based on any recognisable family-friendly characteristics. What I’m hoping for, above all else, is the right mindset from the venue – that they welcome all members of the party. I whole-heartedly agree with Carrie Longton, co-founder of Mumsnet, with her view that a warm welcome goes a long way – for starters. This sets the tone for the evening way more than any colouring book and pencils thrown on to the dining table as soon as you sit down – and before a menu has even appeared.

Once you do receive the menu then the hope, from 91% of people (according to a HospitalityGEM survey), is that there is a child-friendly food offering. While 52% of parents prefer to be able to order from a children’s menu, a decent-sized 36% favour smaller dishes from the full adult menu for their offspring. Because the former has been predominantly focused on unhealthy chicken nuggets and chips et al, and there is a move towards parents choosing healthier options for their children, I’d expect the latter percentage to increase over time. Mitchells & Butlers clearly agrees and its spring menu for children focused squarely on small portions from the adult menu. Whether chicken nuggets existed on the adult menu I have yet to determine. If they did, then I suspect they would have likely acquired the more adult chicken goujons moniker. Either way, this is undoubtedly progress in my view.

As for my experiences in Brighton, dinner at Terre a Terre involved a separate children’s menu but, such is the nature of its unusual vegetarian offering, all items on both the adult and children’s menus were a complete mystery to me. What I can say is that the children’s menu was a quantum leap away from Chicken Nugget Land and probably interchangeable with the dishes in the adult menu. My pair certainly enjoyed the experimentation and the warm welcome they received.

The same could definitely be said of The Salt Rooms. Service was friendly and inclusive to all members of the family. Again there was a children’s menu available – with a modest choice of smaller versions of adult options such as fish and chips and souped-up side orders such as mac ‘n’ cheese. The bonus here was the fact under-sevens can eat free before 7pm. But what really won my children over at The Salt Rooms was the “Taste of the Pier” dessert. A whole variety of sweet things arrive at the table – from cherry ripple ice cream in cones to raspberry doughnuts and candy floss – in this sharing dessert for two people. Point to note, this was not on the children’s menu. This is a dessert for adults but my wife and I selflessly handed it over to my two youngsters.

This one playful, show-stopping dish epitomises the fact adults are really just children at heart and children merely adults in training – so as long as restaurants give everybody in the party an equally warm welcome, irrespective of age, I will continue to dine out a very happy man and can continue to safely avoid the devil’s playrooms.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

The British art of compromise by Paul Chase

Joe Gormley, the old miners’ leader, once said: “When you negotiate wi’ employer, we start over here (gestures left), and employer starts over there (gestures right) and then we walk towards each other. The trick is to walk slower than them beggars!”

The implicit assumption of Gormley’s view of negotiation is that reasonable people in conflict will always find an accommodation; a middle ground; be able to split the difference. This appears to be wishful thinking when it comes to the conflict between the food and drinks industries and so-called “public health”. Recent developments in relation to the childhood obesity strategy and the sugar tax, and an apparent softening of the rhetoric in relation to the new low-risk drinking guidelines illustrate this perfectly.

Sugar and spice
In the past week it appears the government’s childhood obesity strategy has been watered down – to the evident outrage of campaigners for whom any compromise is tantamount to a sell-out. The sugar levy remains but as a tax on fizzy drinks producers, rather than retailers. It would have been hard for the government to renege on this because it’s a revenue-raiser announced in the budget, and they’ve pledged to spend the money on school sports. But most of the other measures demanded by “public health” campaigners – regulation to force mass reformulation of products to reduce sugar, salt and fat content; reductions of so-called junk food advertising directed at children; and to limit supermarket promotions on “unhealthy foods” have all been left out of the government’s strategy.

Instead, the government has set out a voluntary approach – for example, asking producers to reduce sugar content by 20% over five years – with the implicit threat of regulation if they don’t. This is similar to Andrew Lansley’s “industry responsibility deal”, in which drinks producers promised and succeeded in removing a billion units of alcohol from the market. In fact they removed 1.2 billion units – and ahead of time. But health zealots hate private sector solutions to public health problems and have constantly tried to say this initiative didn’t work. Nothing but regulations and bans ever work for them.

Predictably, Jamie Oliver, who campaigned for a wide range of coercive regulatory measures to combat the “obesity epidemic”, was said to be “in shock” at this government sell-out to “Big Food”. Equally predictably, Dr Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes and parliamentary nanny in chief, was appalled by this watering-down process. Perhaps she needs to understand that, unlike her, prime minister Theresa May might just turn out to be a conservative. Certainly May seems to have an instinctive dislike of nanny state measures and is disinclined to view the food and drinks producers as capitalist bad-guys intent on the mass promotion of industrial disease.

For “public health”, Big Food is intent on hooking people on “unhealthy foods” by adding “addictive ingredients” such as sugar and salt. It’s all a conspiracy you see. So, no kind of compromise is ever going to appease them.

No safe level of drinking
An apparent softening of the official line on the new, “low-risk” drinking guidelines published by the chief medical officers of health in March this year has also been reported in the press. While the unisex drinking guideline of 14 units a week remains, along with the “there is no safe level of (alcohol) drinking” mantra, the government is keen to damp down the rhetoric. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt will “give context about not preventing people from enjoying a drink” and say that while there is no totally safe limit of alcohol consumption, the risk is no higher than other everyday activities such as driving a car. Rhetorically this is a long way from CMO Dame Sally Davies’ claim that she thinks of the increased risk of cancer every time she reaches for a glass of wine.

The government seems to have accepted that the science underpinning the new guidelines is correct and the message just needs to be spun differently. But the science isn’t correct and the government should instigate an independent review and a call for evidence. Such a move would probably lead to Dame Sally Davies’ resignation, and the government clearly doesn’t want to be at the centre of another row where they are depicted as being on the side of “Big Alcohol”. The drinks industry nevertheless points out that the government champions British exports of products such as Scotch whisky abroad, while condemning alcohol as a health risk at home.

We are a long way from Joe Gormley’s vision of warring parties walking towards each other. Instead, in relation to the obesity strategy and the softening of the rhetoric around the drinking guidelines, we have that most British of solutions: a government compromise that pleases no one.
Paul Chase is a director of CPL Training and a leading commentator on on-trade health and alcohol policy

The four qualities of inspirational leaders – SHOP! by Chris Edger and Tony Hughes

In our last book – Effective Brand Leadership – Be Different, Stay Different. Or Perish! – we focused on the critical role of brand leaders in originating, scaling-up, evolving and reviving foodservice brands. One of our main conclusions – having drawn on our own insights, combined with 24 in-depth case studies provided by brand leaders such as Tom Byng, from Byron, Jillian McLean, from Drake & Morgan, and Karen Forrester, from TGI Friday’s – was the brands most likely to succeed provided “distinctive uplifting experiences” for their teams and guests.

We argued that, in effect, brand members personified their brands. It was vital team members felt “uplifted”, resulting in them acting in a “contagious” manner – infecting their guests with joy and happiness so they departed from their brand visits with fond memories that were (in all probability) likely to result in revisits and strong advocacy to social media sites, friends and family.

But how do you provide “uplifting experiences” for your teams? In the book we touched on the importance of connecting “emotionally” with team members to drive attentive, caring and collegiate behaviours. But what did we mean by this and what generic qualities do brand leaders require to achieve this?

In our next book – eMOTION – we explore how inspirational leaders tap into the positive emotions of their teams through “activating their positive feelings” by a variety of means to achieve “super-performance”. Science has shown us that humans are physiologically and neurologically primed to react to seven dominant feelings (anger, sadness, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt and happiness) and that emotional reflexes are far quicker than cognitive thinking patterns, moving us – due to primal survival and pleasure instincts – to react to our feelings more rapidly than rational thought! It stands to reason, therefore, that leaders who are able to generate positive feelings (and neutralise negative feelings) among their teams stand a far better chance of securing outstanding hospitality behaviours. Dry logic rarely (or slowly) stimulates. Sensory appeal rapidly galvanises!

Our new book will outline how inspirational leaders drive “eMOTION” through activating positive feelings during ten fundamental “moments of emotional truth” – but what qualities do they require to lead in this way? We believe – in addition to generic technical, behavioural and cognitive requirements – these leaders have four distinct qualities that have emotional resonance. Inspirational leaders are:

Spiritual – the first quality inspirational leaders have is spirituality. They are imbued with a clear heartfelt purpose, which energises those around them, evoking and summoning up deep feelings of attachment and loyalty. In short, they stand for and articulate something powerful and worthwhile. They have a sense of higher purpose and are custodians of a “noble cause”, which attracts buy-in and loyal followership. This spirituality is sincerely expressed, grounded in integrity, generating trust and respect!

Holistic – their second quality is their ability to provide coherence through taking a balanced, holistic approach. They can see how all the moving parts of their organisation fit together to “harmoniously” form the greater “whole”. This is particularly important in foodservice-based contexts where breakdowns in one area of the operation can have unintended effects elsewhere. Also, they are quick to neutralise negative emotions, such as fear, anxiety and anger among their teams through their ability to spot and fix deadly combinations. Above all, they appreciate the contributions of all their team – assimilating and melding – rather than fracturing through “divide and rule”.

Optimistic – their third major quality is infectious optimism, which is imitated by those around them. The link between positive thinking and optimal emotional states has long been established; as has the insight that humans – due to primal survival instincts – have a tendency to lean towards negativity and scepticism. However, positivity creates positivity! It unleashes creativity and helps people transition through difficult times and events. Inspirational leaders recognise this. They are relentlessly optimistic about the present and future potential of their teams and their organisation; they are “glass half full” types – not delusionally but realistically so! Their enthusiasm and positivity is contagious at all levels of the organisation, enabling them to manage the short-term journey while guiding the organisation to its long-term destination!

Proactive – finally, in tandem with the qualities above, inspirational leaders ooze urgency, energy and pace. They proactively observe, challenge, rectify and follow up. In short, they are “on the case”, without squeezing autonomous behaviour out of the organisation. They are “in” the business rather than “on” it! This enables them to “run at” rather than “run away” from problems – encouraging the same behaviours from their teams. Again, this behaviour minimises any feelings of immobilisation, inertia and fear that might paralyse the organisation when things are perceived to be going wrong. They have the ability to turn negative sentiments into positive feelings (such as gratitude and enthusiasm) because they are actively willing to do something to “sort things out quickly”.

Inspirational leaders understand it’s not necessarily what you do and say that makes a difference, it’s how you make people feel that counts. Inspirational leaders optimise emotional climates within their organisations by generating positive feelings. The qualities they possess to do this are encapsulated in SHOP! – spirituality, holism, optimism and proactivity.
Professor Chris Edger is a multiple author on retail leadership and Tony Hughes is a luminary of the European foodservice scene

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