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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 12th Jan 2018 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: The assault on caffeine, Brits have a lot to live up to when it comes to service style, and empowerment = trust and agility

Authors: Paul Chase, Glynn Davis, and Chris Edger and Tony Hughes

The assault on caffeine by Paul Chase

I have long predicted an assault on caffeine would be the next health lobby campaign. The sale of energy drinks in the UK increased 155% between 2006 and 2015, up from 235 million litres to 600 million litres. And a recent paper from academics working for lobby group Action On Sugar stated consumption by children is growing, with the ten to 14-year-old age group likely to increase its intake 11% by 2019. The main dietary source of caffeine is, of course, coffee but energy drinks are particularly popular among young people, so the cry goes up “what about the children?” as a means of justifying calls for a legal ban on the sale of highly caffeinated energy drinks to under-16s.

In an attempt to get ahead of the curve, and with some fanfare, Waitrose announced it would become the first supermarket to ban the sale of highly caffeinated energy drinks to under-16s. “Highly caffeinated” is defined as drinks containing more than 150mg per litre. Inevitably, Action On Sugar is calling for a legal ban on the sale of such drinks to children, as is Jamie Oliver, who rarely allows a bandwagon to pass by without attempting to jump on it. A voluntary measure is never enough for the ban-it brigade and is always one step behind a legal ban that would criminalise such sales in the same way as the sale of alcohol to under-18s is a criminal offence.

However, what wasn’t mentioned in the flurry of media reports about this “first” for Waitrose is Morrisons trialled the same restrictions in late 2013. Morrisons banned the sale of drinks such as Red Bull and Monster to under-16s in six stores – in Glasgow, Dorset, Leeds, Cheshire, Staffordshire and Suffolk. However, the ban was discontinued a year later. No explanation was given but Morrisons said young people over 16 were having difficulties legitimately purchasing such drinks because they didn’t regularly carry appropriate ID.

There are currently no legal restrictions on the sale of energy drinks to children, although the British Soft Drinks Association code of practice requires drinks with a caffeine content of 150mg or more to be labelled “high caffeine content – not recommended for children or pregnant or breast-feeding women or persons sensitive to caffeine”. I am unclear how they are defining “children” but it will be interesting to see if Waitrose encounters similar problems to Morrisons – and whether the company sticks with it.

If 150mg of caffeine in a one-litre drink is “highly caffeinated”, how does this compare with the caffeine content of coffee? That varies a lot but typically a shot of espresso contains 63mg. Espresso is the base for cappuchino, latte, macchiato and Americano so two cups of coffee are almost the equivalent of the sort of energy drink Waitrose proposes to ban under-16s from buying. By that logic, should this age group be banned from buying a double espresso or drinking more than one cappuchino in a single session? Hasn’t the ban-it brigade heard of product substitution? Doesn’t it occur to them such a ban would be futile unless you extended it to coffee? Of course it has! Energy drinks is just the first step.

According to the Centre For Food Policy at City University London, caffeinated energy drinks are “linked to” headaches, stomach aches and sleep problems and “associated with” binge-drinking and drug use. All the ingredients of a new moral panic are here – health problem inflation, children at risk and drugs. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) already publishes guidelines on “sensible consumption” levels of caffeine. In 2008, the FSA revised its daily consumption guideline down from 300mg to 200mg a day to make it more “low risk”. Is this starting to sound familiar? Attacking energy drinks is such a tempting target for these nannying puritans because energy drinks contain not one, but two ingredients they consider highly addictive – caffeine and sugar – and they are generally fizzy. Therefore, they are aimed at addicting the children so lock up your kids!

The NHS in England is already threatening to ban the sale of all sugary drinks from hospitals unless hospital trusts shape up and ban them voluntarily, and this would obviously include energy drinks. Attempts to nudge us in the direction of healthy choices almost always result in a reduction of choice through bans and tax rises. Welcome to the nanny state.

Paul Chase is a director of CPL Training and a leading commentator on alcohol and health policy

Brits have a lot to live up to when it comes to service style by Glynn Davis

Waiter: “Would you like this octopus dish?” 

Me: “No thanks, we’ve already had it – and it was very good.” 

Waiter: “Would you like another?”

Me: “Not really.”

Waiter: “It’s on the house.”

Me: “Yes please.”

This interchange took place during the early stages of lunch at hot new Catalan-inspired restaurant Rambla, which landed in Soho recently, and cemented in my mind what a cool place it is. The food was terrific – it received the only five-star review of the year from Evening Standard critic Fay Maschler – with a combination of a light touch with the core ingredients and fastidious effort with some of the accompanying sauces and additional components.

However, what made it special for me was the easy-going style of the place as delivered by the Spanish and Catalan team – both from the serving side and the chefs behind the bar counter where we sat. This enabled an ongoing conversation with them as our meal was served.

Our lunch came to a close with the following exchange.

Me: “What cheeses are on your cheese course?”

Waiter: “No idea what they are called. I can’t remember all those names. I can tell you what types they are, such as a goat’s cheese, but not the names.”

This sealed the Spanish style of service for me – full recognition and respect for the food but not upended by any off-putting stuffiness. It could be fighting for pole position in my affections with the service typically delivered by Italians in quality restaurants. They manage to tread that extremely fine line between casual chattiness and being overly familiar. They will take part in a friendly exchange but know when to cut it at just the right time.  

Locanda Locatelli is a favourite with my family, especially my daughter, whom I took for lunch as a celebration when she started school. It came down to the desserts and the waiter asked her if she would like to visit the kitchen and select from the ice creams. She jumped at this friendly gesture, although I did wonder whether it was a good idea as I saw her being led away. It did rather go against the rule you tell children of never going with strange men when they offer you sweets or ice cream.

That aside, the Italian style of service – particularly with their welcoming attitude to children in even the smartest of venues – has always been the ideal way I like to be treated when dining out.

This easy-going style has become increasingly relevant as the eating-out customer has supposedly fallen out of love with fine dining. The response to this has been the removal of linen tablecloths, some simplification of dishes – that also possibly juices the margins – and the employment of people sporting visible tattoos as well as nose rings if the restaurant really wants to push the boat out on lightening the mood.

This all somewhat misses the point because what really makes the key difference is adopting a style of service that goes out of its way to make everybody feel comfortable and welcome. The inclusivity delivered by Italian restaurants (and Spanish I now know) is what other cuisines should be aiming for in my opinion. 

I agree it is not as simple as simply stating Italians and Spanish deliver one broad type of service and the French deliver another but, without wishing to upset the French nation, I suspect we all know which of the styles we’d likely plump for – if only on the basis of stereotypical reputation rather than actual reality.

What is worrying me is I’ve been discussing service in terms of EU nationalities and not even approached Brits. The reality is I don’t think I get served by the natives enough to be able to describe what British service feels like. What we can be sure about is Brexit will put the cat among the pigeons and I’ll probably soon experience exactly what British service is. I can’t help but feel – and I hope I’m wrong – that it won’t be quite like the experience I enjoyed so much at Rambla.

Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Empowerment = trust and agility by Chris Edger and Tony Hughes

The seventh “emotional” moment of truth in our cycle of employment is empowering front-line staff to do everything they can to delight the customer. Why is this important? First, foodservice units serve micro-markets and demographics from facilities that will have small – but nuanced – differences; service providers need a degree of flexibility to accommodate these divergences. Second, in today’s markets – partly driven by digital experiences – customers have an increasing preference for customisation and individualisation. Third – as Daniel Pink alluded to in his masterful treatise on leadership – younger workers today hanker after some degree of autonomy that allows them to both “feel in control” and express their own personality. So how should Inspirational Leaders propagate an empowerment culture that breeds trust and agility among their employees? 

Permit flexibility within a fixed frame – while empowering organisations centrally mandate various fixed policies, procedures and practices, they generally allow some flexibility for local autonomous behaviour. Some build clear “no go”, “check then go” and “go” rules into their operational model. They do this for two aforementioned reasons. First, to build a degree of local responsiveness and agility into their business model at micro-market level and, second, to enrich front-line operators’ job roles through providing a certain degree of autonomy and self-expression. 

Paradoxically, organisations that claim to allow a certain degree of local autonomy – such as IKEA – actually find they are able to extract better “core” control of their operations in exchange. However, interestingly, some organisations have gone further than prescribing a “catch-all” model, segmenting their businesses according to capability and performance. 

One foodservice organisation we examined during our research for this book prescribed four “autonomy classifications” for its estate. Highly-performing units with experienced managers (grade 1 units) are given far more “denominated freedoms” than those that were underperforming and/or had inexperienced or underperforming managers (grade 4 units). Others, such as Federal Express, deploy different empowerment standards at different levels, especially with regard to customer refunds, where phone representatives require no prior approval up to $250 and supervisors have an upper limit of $10,000.  

Encourage signature acts of self-expression – in addition to prescribed flexibility, some companies actively encourage staff to express their personality by allowing them to include a “signature act of self-expression”. What is this? TGI Friday’s, for instance, has a very tight customer service cycle it expects its “teamers” to follow. It ensures consistency and quality of operations. However, within this cycle teamers are permitted to include one “heart-warming action” that allows them to personally connect with guests, be it singing, card tricks, dancing etc. It’s not trying to turn them into performing monkeys, the company is recognising the fact its staff have extrovert personalities and allows them to express themselves in a fun way, giving them (and their guests) a high degree of enjoyment and satisfaction. 

Listen to feedback – being empowered to respond to customer needs is critical but staff also need to feel they are empowered to change things within the organisation they work. In the introduction, we refer to Mathew Syed’s book Black Box Thinking, in which he argues organisations that actively encourage a culture of “problem disclosure” and then take steps to remedy them have lower-quality malfunctions than those that don’t. This certainly applies in service organisations. Fashion group Inditex, which owns the Zara brand, makes daily contact with stores around the world from its base in Spain to understand how their customers and managers feel about their products and processes. Sainsbury’s has a daily “operations call” between a senior director (who can get things done) and a representative from each of its districts to act immediately on practical suggestions to improve operations. Whatever the mechanism, however, the main point is this. Empowering cultures do not only give employees the necessary wherewithal to deal with customer needs and requests, they also listen to the feedback they give as to how things can be improved internally in order to function more effectively and profitably. 

Tolerate patch-up and workarounds – in some instances, however, general managers in service businesses will feel they need to take matters into their own hands to make improvements – actions we label “patch-ups and workarounds”. Often, given the distance of the “centre” from the rest of the business, its failure to use (or listen to) operator expertise in the conception of new change initiatives, coupled with its lack of insight into the minutiae of unit operations (due to few operators transitioning into jobs “in the centre”), many change initiatives might be ill-conceived or badly thought out.  

The service operator now has a choice; do they accept the change initiative lock, stock and barrel or seek to make (legal) alterations that make the initiatives more workable? Braver, more self-confident operators will make modifications by “patching up” deficiencies of the change initiative. In exceptional circumstances, operators will “work around” certain initiatives because of their poor conception or design. This is not to say they fully reject the objectives underpinning the initiative, “workarounds” fulfil the main intentions or ends of the initiative without any resort to the means suggested by the policy designers!

Accept ‘added value deviance’ – on rare occasions successful (maverick) operators will breach company standards, rules and procedures if they believe the “law is an ass” or there are better ways of doing things. This behaviour can be termed “added value deviance” because while such behaviour might be deemed illegal by the organisation, it might actually serve to improve overall business performance! 

As stated, operators on the ground might be well ahead of technocrats at the “centre” in terms of what the customer expects and what might give them competitive advantage within local micro-markets. It is important to state, however, that added value deviance will only flourish under two conditions. First, it is only operable or sustainable within “circles of trust”, where operators feel they are protected by higher authorities that will shield them against punishment. Second, a strict code of personal conduct must apply. Short-termist, self-interested “blatant cheating” will have harmful long-term side effects on the network. There are some instances when over-exuberant (or desperate) operators have instituted policies in their own interests that have “blown up the machine”! 

In summary, organisations – as previous sections have alluded to – have put a lot of time and energy into enticing, hiring, onboarding and training great people. It stands to reason, then, that they should have the faith and confidence to give them a reasonable degree of discretion to service their customers to the best of their abilities. 

We would offer two further insights. Firstly, while service providers and operators should be empowered to delight the customers the organisation wants, they should be given the discretionary power to “discourage” the customers the company doesn’t want! Within retail and hospitality, in particular, permitting staff to sensitively “move on” customers who are destroying the experience for others safeguards the integrity of the product for core users. Secondly, empowerment should not be used as an excuse for cost-cutting – culling staff numbers to place all accountability on an exposed front line. A rhetoric of empowerment should not hide a reality of compliance, otherwise major trust issues will pervade the company. However, a truly empowered culture is a marvellous sight to behold – a place where creativity, flexibility and high levels of discretionary effort will flourish!  

This article was extracted from Chris Edger and Tony Hughes’ book “Inspirational Leadership – How to Mobilise Super-performance through eMOTION”. 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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