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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 22nd Jun 2018 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Salad days, moving the goalposts, and the benefits of matching food and drink
Authors: Glynn Davis, Paul Chase and Hannah Allsop

Salad days by Glynn Davis

My first experience with kebabs came as a student, when they became one of the healthier parts of my diet – at least they contained a bit of salad. It may have only been a modest amount of onion, cabbage, tomato and a hot green thing but it was something of a highlight in my nutritional intake at the time.

However, it was clear there weren’t many others who enjoyed the same affinity with the greener aspect of the Friday night kebab. A Saturday morning stroll would reveal a Hansel and Gretel-like trail of salad clumps leading from the kebab shop’s door. They had been scooped out the pitta and discarded as an unwanted diversion from meatier components.

This lack of salad empathy is also evident in the garnish placed on the plates served at many pub and restaurant meals across the country. I’ve spent far too long considering how little of these salad additions actually get eaten. I’ve seen whole groups polish off dishes without a single person attempting to engage the garnish.

It’s clear much of the population views salad as a visual enhancement but unworthy of consumption. Why? I feel it has become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, with pubs and restaurants placing it on the plate with little expectation it will be eaten, therefore committing very little to making it appear appetising.

This was highlighted on a trip I made to Germany to visit a brewery with a group of (mostly male) beer writers. Once seated at the table, sizeable bowls of salad were placed in front of each person. Within 15 minutes pretty much every bowl had been emptied, simply because it was fresh, appealing and, most importantly, had a terrific dressing. This latter point is the key failing of many salads because lack of dressing renders them largely tasteless. In most pubs you’ll see a proud selection of condiments but all too frequently no dressing of any description.

Thankfully we are seeing a dramatic improvement in the way UK foodservice presents salads – helped by a broadening desire for healthier diets and a move towards vegetarian and vegan dishes. The side-salads that accompany each dish at the many Turkish restaurants in my part of north London are arguably the major draw for my family and I. Without the zing and crunch of these well-dressed salads, I doubt we’d visit just for the meat-fest.

Salad is also playing a key role at new kebab business Kabab, which operates out of Deliveroo Editions kitchens in London and, shortly, Nottingham. Founder Phil Hinitt says the food is all about vibrancy and it’s the salad that delivers much of this. Each kebab comes adorned with Greek coleslaw consisting of white cabbage, spring onion and carrot along with spinach, rocket, red cabbage and a smothering of tahini mayo.

Tossed has also made great progress in this part of the market with salads that can be personalised, while Freshii is also looking to stake a claim to the healthier-eating market with options including salad-focused dishes. We can also thank restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi for dragging salads into the land of tasty – helped by his introduction of a myriad of ingredients most natives hadn’t seen let alone popped in their mouths.

I’m also pleased to report there might be a new salad trend emerging. Bright restaurant in London’s East End serves salads with other ingredients thrown in and a whole jug of dressing poured over the top. This sounds like the perfect way to serve this much-maligned component of our diet but I’m not sure all that liquid would work well with the pitta bread in late-night takeaway kebab shops. Soggy pitta would find itself on the floor for sure.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Moving the goalposts by Paul Chase

I am always intrigued to hear “public health” labelling any research paid for by the alcohol industry as “tainted by commercial interests”. What kind of naivety is it that causes people to believe money is the only source of corruption? Do these people think there’s an endless supply of benevolent millionaires willing to fund research into issues they have no opinion on? The fact is, funding has to come from somewhere and research should be judged on its own merits, regardless of who funds it. 

So it is regrettable, in my opinion, that a large-scale research project in the US into the health outcomes of moderate drinking has been abandoned because Big Alcohol was jointly funding this research along with a large dollop of public money. And who was objecting? The usual suspects – so-called “public health” bodies and taxpayer-funded temperance charities whose ideological bias taints their thinking and just about every piece of research they’ve ever produced. Is it a coincidence the voluminous research funded by the Institute of Alcohol Studies, for example, has failed to produce a single piece of work, ever, with anything positive to say about beverage alcohol? Yet this organisation regularly receives money from the World Health Organisation and the UN to fund its “scientific research”.

What methods do the Big Public Health ideologues use to pursue their objectives and skew research and public debate? Moving the goalposts is the preferred method of choice and there are numerous examples. In June 1998, 25 million Americans suddenly became overweight. Previously the official threshold for being overweight was a body mass index (BMI) of 27. Your average American at this time had a BMI of 26. On 17 July 1998, the government lowered the BMI threshold to 25 and almost one in ten adults in the US became part of a new obesity “epidemic” overnight. Subsequent research has proved a BMI of 27 is optimal for health, while so-called overweight people, as opposed to obese people, actually live longer than those of a supposed healthy weight. 

Then there is the drive to reduce sugar consumption. It’s all about “saving the children”. Children are currently consuming twice their daily recommended limit of five grams of sugar. However, three years ago the guideline was halved from ten grams to five and all of a sudden this moving of the goalposts doubled the number of kids at risk! But at risk of what? Five grams of sugar is roughly 100 calories. The recommended guideline for calorie consumption for a growing 11-year-old is 2,000 calories a day. Does it really matter whether 100 or 200 of those calories come from sugar as opposed to some other source?

In 2014, new drug Selincro was approved in the UK for treatment of “mild alcoholism”, a previously unknown medical condition that used to be called “moderate drinking”. Subsequent research has proved this drug to have no medical efficacy whatsoever when compared with the results of blind trials involving placebos. 

In the examples I have given above, if you want to find a “baddie” look no further than the pharmaceutical industry, which vigorously promotes diet pills and treatments for newly invented illnesses.

My favourite, of course, has to be the scientifically unjustified lowering of the low-risk alcohol guidelines in January 2016. This created hundreds of thousands of hazardous drinkers overnight and provided new impetus for the temperance lobby and its sock-puppet charities such as Alcohol Concern and Alcohol Focus Scotland – just when alcohol consumption, binge-drinking and under-age drinking were all declining and the percentage of teetotallers was growing – particularly among the young.

Does money corrupt research and policy-making? Not nearly as much as ideological bias.
Paul Chase is director of CPL Training and a leading commentator on alcohol and health policy

The benefits of matching food and drink by Hannah Allsop

Food is often the main event when dining out but placing equal importance on your drinks by carefully matching them with food can boost your sales while setting your venue apart from rivals. By expanding your drinks menu and investing in staff training, you can give your team the tools to make the most of upselling opportunities. We’ve carried out research on what guests want when it comes to matching food and drink. Are you ready to rethink your offering?

Upselling doesn’t have to be a hard sale. Guests are going to order a drink with their meal regardless so making a drink suggestion to go with their chosen dish will feel natural to the guest. What’s more, 85% of guests say they appreciate a team member recommending drinks that complement their dish.

Don’t forget desserts. When it comes to quantity, 56% of guests consume two drinks when eating at a casual restaurant – perhaps because the usual tea and coffee offering isn’t enticing? Today’s consumer is looking for unique experiences and can pick up a matcha green tea cappuccino in their local coffee shop. Are they really going to spend money on a filter coffee? Possibly not. Providing an unexpected hot drink to complement each dessert really gives guests something to talk about.

Meanwhile, 84% of guests think it’s important or very important staff have good knowledge of their drinks menu. Your team are the face of your business so if they don’t know your food and drinks menu inside out, this can be an awkward experience for the guest and team member. A total of 96% of guests say effectively trained staff can have an impact on what they spend when eating out, and knowledge of the menu is one of the clearest indicators staff are well trained. Pairing food with drink is a great way to showcase this so it’s essential to invest in training your team.

Introducing more premium drinks is a lucrative way to keep taste buds happy. Almost three-quarters (71%) of guests are very likely or quite likely to purchase a premium alcoholic beverage, while almost half (47%) are very likely or quite likely to purchase a premium non-alcoholic beverage – so going premium is a no-brainer. But how do you promote premium? Guests are much more likely to purchase a high-end drink if it has been carefully paired with their food rather than selecting it from the bar. With well-trained staff ensuring a guest’s premium drink will complement their dish, guests won’t mind paying extra.

According to the Office for National Statistics, last year only 57.8% of adults had consumed alcohol the week before. The nation’s thirst for soft drinks continues to grow so it is wise for operators to expand their selection. 

When it comes to pubs, 80% of guests feel low-sugar and sugar-free drinks are poorly promoted. With sugar consumption becoming an increasing concern, 78% of guests think it’s important or very important sugar and calorie information is displayed on soft drinks – something to bear in mind when it comes to promotion.

Our research shows 59% of guests would be interested in trying a restaurant’s homemade soft drink – providing venues with an opportunity to stand out from the crowd – while 68% like to try new drinks. Sales of “homemade” beverages have risen 46% since 2012, according to Datassential. A great way to launch beverages guests may not thought of trying is to promote them with food pairing offers. This is an excellent way to provide a personal and unique guest experience.
Hannah Allsop is digital marketing co-ordinator at HGEM

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