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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 31st Aug 2018 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Child-sized portions, inspiring the next Miss Independent and MUP not all it's cracked up to be
Authors: Glynn Davis, Ann Elliott and Simon Russell

Child-sized portions by Glynn Davis

I’m very much hoping it was not an age thing but when on holiday recently I ordered two children’s meals on the same day – eating one at breakfast and the other at dinner. The child’s full English had been ordered by my son on the first morning of a two-night stay at The Bull Hotel in Olney and looked just the right size to me so I ordered it on the second morning.
 
It suited my requirements perfectly – as it also allowed me to squeeze in some muesli and a croissant. The hotel also had no issues because the breakfast was included in the cost of our stay so the reduced cost of the child’s portion made no financial difference to them.
 
When it came to dinner that same day, at The Bell in Marston Moretaine, I was not as hungry as the rest of the family when they wanted to eat so I decided to order the scampi and chips off the kids’ menu.
 
We ordered it under the guise it was for my daughter whose actual preference was soup off the main menu. We swapped plates when they had been brought to our table in the garden. If we had been eating in the dining room under the watchful gaze of the staff then I probably would have ordered the adult portion and ended up leaving half of it. Again, the amount I was presented with was just what I wanted, and it also came in at half the price of the adult version.
 
This highlights my unease with openly ordering off the children’s menu. I have some uncertainty about whether the children’s dishes are to some extent loss-leaders because the real target for pubs and restaurants are the adults.
 
That is clearly the case with those establishments that offer free children’s food with every adult meal ordered. So by my reckoning it must be the case there are many other places where the child’s meal is not a great earner for the pub or restaurant. The fact I frequently find the child portions exceptionally good value and often differ little from the adult version – apart from it being squeezed on to a smaller plate and maybe the swapping of a vegetable and garnish for some baked beans – makes it even more tempting to order but also more likely the profit is slim versus the adult version.
 
This portion-size puzzle was most notable when my family ate at the Mermaid Inn in Rye on Christmas Day last year. My children were served main courses of exactly the same size as my wife and I – at half the cost. Since this is often one of the bigger meals of the year, my eight-year-old son felt full just at the sight of the plateful in front of him. When he’d finished it looked like he hadn’t even started.
 
It was obvious from this move the hotel had enough turkey and trimmings in the house to throw portion control completely out the window but such actions do generally add to the confusion about children versus adults portions and whether an adult can legitimately order the child’s options.
 
The fact is I personally would only do it in exceptional circumstances – during a more relaxed dining experience in a pub for instance, and when I know I’m giving them plenty of money from the beer and wine I’m ordering. It’s also rare I’m in a position when I need to be ordering small portions but I can see for some people the smaller sizes on the child’s menu would be the ideal option.
 
This is why many places – especially fish and chip shops it seems – offer OAP specials that involve smaller portions for a lesser cost. It not only ensures they can tap into this older audience but, as a side issue, it also leads to less food waste.
 
It is noticeable on a growing number of menus today the main courses are also available in starter-size portions. This is clearly done to enable the sharing of plates and for the ordering of a broader mix of dishes to satisfy today’s trend for grazing.
 
However, what it has also clearly done is to also please those people who all too often want to plunder the children’s menu but are too embarrassed to potentially be seen as a cheapskate or face being told to grow up and order an adult portion.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends 

Inspiring the next Miss Independent by Ann Elliott

I used to constantly interrogate those friends of mine who had decided to set up their own businesses, about how they had done it and why they had done it. I'd question them intensely on it – probably to the point of extreme irritation and boredom. In fact I am amazed they stayed friends with me! I really didn’t understand how they had managed to step off the corporate ladder, with its all its benefits and its security, into the abyss of the unknown.
 
My 18 years at Whitbread were fantastic, giving me the opportunity to work in seven different roles across marketing and operations in my time there. The training was awesome. Personal development was always high on the agenda with one-to-ones every month and bi-annual development plans put in place. Career progression was always possible. Its culture and values underpinned its ways of working. My colleagues were great and have been incredibly supportive since I set up Elliotts. It was a truly inspirational, fun and happy place to work. It really was not easy to leave. Indeed, why on earth would I?
 
Yet the curiosity about going independent was always there. How had people walked away from a great salary, consistent bonuses, a car, free beer, share options, a healthy pension and good career prospects? How had they gathered the courage to do so? What was the final prompt for them to make the leap? How had they found the journey? Did they worry and if so how did they cope with the worry? Did they ever regret it? Was it all worth it?
 
Having an idea usually came first, then a basic business plan and then considerations of funding – having money to support their starting phase (at least) was key. That funding came from savings, re-mortgaging, redundancy, inheritance or a simple tightening of belts and a partner stepping up to fund family expenses. After that came all the other core elements of setting up a business – the legal stuff, basic processes, support and implementation. Oh, and cash flow considerations. Always cash flow. Not profit but cash in the bank. That was the most important lesson I learnt and not one I had ever thought about it in my corporate career.
 
I have found my friends' entrepreneurial journeys, and the learnings from those journeys, to be so different and so fascinating. One size very much does not fit all. My journey setting up an agency has been very different to someone setting up a pop-up, creating a supplier business from scratch or opening a bricks and mortar site.
 
So, a few years ago, I approached Propel founder Paul Charity with the idea of holding a conference to inspire and motivate potential entrepreneurs – those who may have the kernel of an idea to set up on their own at some point in the future (or now perhaps). I wanted to help them learn from those who have done it already. I wanted the speakers to talk about their learnings, their own experiences and their lessons for others from their very personal perspective. No corporate speeches but, rather, heartfelt and honest accounts of their journey. Nothing can substitute for the real thing and the highs and lows of setting up on your own but their learnings may help others avoid some of the lows and maximise the highs.
 
Paul was brilliant and Tuesday (4 September) sees this idea become a reality. There is an amazing line up of speakers all talking and presenting on their view of being an entrepreneur. I am truly honoured and delighted they are speaking. I think it will be an incredible day and I can’t wait. Thank you Paul and the speakers.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliotts, the leading integrated marketing agency in the hospitality and leisure sector – www.elliottsagency.com

Today (Friday, 31 August) is the last day to book tickets for the Women’s Entrepreneurs Conference. Tickets, which are £195 plus VAT for Propel Premium subscribers, £245 plus VAT for operators and £395 plus VAT for suppliers, can be booked by emailing anne.steele@propelinfo.com or calling her on 01444 817691.

MUP not all it's cracked up to be by Simon Russell

Drinks industry professionals are savvier than most, right? None more so than licensees – few would be brazen enough to pull a fast one of those on the frontline of our industry. But that is precisely what a public health/anti-alcohol group has attempted – with some success it would seem from the coverage generated.

"North east landlords blame cheap alcohol for industry woes" was one headline in a trade title, prompted by a sponsored survey and press release from Balance North East. The differential in on-trade and off-trade pricing is an ongoing and legitimate debate, though this was solely an exercise in calling for the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP). Yet Balance North East knows full well the unproven forecast model – which MUP is – will see less, not more, money spent in pubs.

Portrayed as offering salvation to hard-pressed licensees, this is a cruel deception, compounded by coaxing positive quotes and support from publicans – a classic "divide and rule" tactic from one of the more vocal anti-alcohol campaign groups.

It remains a mystery to me that greater scrutiny has not been given to the unproven model for MUP – not a peer review that accepts the numerous assumptions and confirms the sums add up, but tests the assumptions are valid. Distilling so complex an issue as substance misuse to a linear relationship between price and consumption is self-evident nonsense but it is where we are.

Publicly-funded, Balance North East campaigns to reduce alcohol consumption – any and all consumption is fair game, not just the misuse that means misery for the minority in crisis and those around them.
Having run a pub in my early 20s, I have spent 25 years working in media and communication, first for Matthew Clark/Constellation and now a dozen years running my own agency.

I have never known a time when journalists have been so stretched and so pressured to churn stories at breakneck speed that, for many, verification and balance has given way to passing off campaign literature as "news" especially if there is the merest hint of "research". Some of my PR peers use this to their advantage – working on the premise that when the same misleading or false claim appears often enough, many start to believe it.

This, sadly, is where we are with the nonsense suggestion MUP should be welcomed by pub landlords and operators. We need to call time on this before it is too late. Those in the industry close to their customers will know many drinkers have in mind a budget – perhaps a few drinks at home one night with their partner and two visits to the pub when they will enjoy a few pints.

MUP will ramp up many off-trade prices and drinkers will respond with some mix of switching to drinks less affected – probably higher strength wines and spirits (the irony!) – and by spending less in their local. Fewer visits or a shorter stay each time. But do we achieve some sort of "balance" if both sides of the debate are spinning? In a word, "no".

Campaign groups peddle the myth of "Big Alcohol" – a coordinated conspiracy intent on misleading the public and directing government policy. I’ve been in and around the industry for more than 30 years and either these "Big Alcohol" agents are deep, deep undercover, or it’s an invention. I think the latter.

However, communication from Balance North East, the Alcohol Health Alliance, the Institute of Alcohol Studies and others is, to describe it generously, as "creative" as it is disingenuous. They frequently fail to disclose data sources, and fail to provide an appropriate context for the claims made.

They are engaged in a campaign and using the tools at their disposal – even if they do stretch fair practice beyond the limit, in my view. The industry response in the public debate is minimal, which is why claims like this instance largely go unchallenged. There are exceptions – Paul Chase a regular in this slot, has been warning people against complacency for a decade.

Paul should be heeded, but more than that there should be every effort made to ensure a balanced and robust public debate – the stakes for the industry and society are too high to do otherwise. As a starter for ten, as well as revealing MUP reduces spending in pubs, there should be greater exposure of it being a windfall for off-trade retailers.

Not only will drinkers be out of pocket but so will the government. Less duty and VAT at a time when they are already slashing the budgets for drug and alcohol services. Then we might explore the merit of a whole population measure to address the behaviour of dependent drinkers – under 5% of the population. Further still, we should challenge "problem drinks" and examine why campaigners are so fixated with targeting white cider – just 0.27% of total alcohol and in long-term decline.
Simon Russell is managing director and founder of Inside Media, an award-winning PR and communication agency

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