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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 6th Dec 2019 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Unleashing the sector’s potential, one step at a time, it’s tradition, temperance in disguise, and retaining the best staff
Authors: Kate Nicholls, Ann Elliott, Glynn Davis, Paul Chase and Carlo Platia

Unleashing the sector’s potential by Kate Nicholls

Next week’s general election represents a huge opportunity for hospitality, politicians and Britons alike. A policy and operating environment that empowers hospitality to thrive will benefit our country’s employment, commercial and social interests while safeguarding tourism. Our message to the new government is simple – unleash hospitality’s potential and it will unleash Britain’s potential.

UKHospitality has published Menu For Change, a document outlining our vision of how the sector can optimise productivity. With the right regulatory environment the sector can grow output by 5.5% during the next three years and is in pole position to lead on issues as diverse as sustainability, promoting healthier attitudes to food and drink, and job creation. Hospitality can be the catalyst to revive Britain’s high streets.

Our sector is vital for the UK economy. It is the engine of the nation socially, culturally and economically. Hospitality creates £130bn in economic activity per year, contributes £39bn in tax and employs more than 3.2 million people. These contributions are spread across every region of the UK and our venues are important community hubs where people can socialise and relax.

British hospitality is internationally renowned, setting global standards for customer experience and service, outstanding venues, and innovative business development and practices. It forms the core of Britain’s attractiveness as a thriving and valuable tourist destination but we face significant headwinds as a result of government-imposed costs. We need certainty combined with a flexible and supportive tax and regulatory framework.

What are we asking for? A business environment that allows us to do even more, supports the sector, and incentivises investment and growth while continuing to provide great customer experiences.

We need an immigration system that works for the whole economy at all skills levels. Reform of the Apprenticeship Levy and support for a long-term strategy to create and promote attractive and fulfilling careers as part of the sector deal is critical.

Measures to free up investment must be front and centre and the next government must deliver on promises to review business taxation, reduce the burden on property-based outlets, and save our high streets supported by immediate cuts in rates bills. 

Hospitality businesses enrich every region and community in the UK. They provide jobs and are the centre of our social lives – the places we spend leisure time with our family and friends. UKHospitality’s data map illustrates the economic impact of hospitality in every constituency in England, Scotland and Wales. Please use it to let others understand the importance of our sector as we approach this important election.

A critical challenge is to secure a level playing field with the digital economy across tax and regulation, which properly recognises bricks and mortar businesses do much more to create a sense of community spirit throughout the country. It’s encouraging to see greater political attention on short-term lets and alternative accommodation providers as we continue to voice the importance of national regulation as the most effective solution for our sector and consumer safety.

As I’ve mentioned, the right operating environment can deliver sector growth by 5.5% during the next three years and increase employment by half a million within a decade across every job level and in every region, including 30,000 apprenticeships by 2025. We can be a linchpin for local regeneration, infrastructure projects and increased inward investment.

Another vital part of our Menu For Change is the message for inbound tourism. Delivering on the new tourism sector deal and establishing “tourism zones” will unlock our potential as a valuable national employer, changing perceptions of the rewarding careers we offer. These will drive visitor numbers across the country, extend the season and incentivise investment in these areas.

On a practical level, Propel readers can drive these messages home loud and clear to prospective MPs about our positive contribution. Use the toolkits and resources available on the UKHospitality website to contact candidates, invite them into your businesses and solicit their support for our sector.

Recent years have been turbulent for parts of the sector but, equally, many businesses have evolved to meet changing consumer demands and have flourished despite tough trading conditions. Whoever holds the keys to 10 Downing Street on Friday, 13 December, we’ll ensure they know hospitality is a responsible employer and community champion, keen to play our part in resolving the challenges we face collectively.

To download a copy of our Menu For Change, click here
Kate Nicholls is chief executive of UKHospitality

One step at a time by Ann Elliott

I’ve been thinking about Christmas this week, of course, but also considering the start of 2020. Like most of those I talk to about new year, I always start off well in terms of resolutions. They are always specific (reach 8st 7lbs by the end of January), measurable (the scales don’t lie), achievable (when I’m not hung over and have had more than six hours sleep for four consecutive nights), and realistic (I’ve done this before – many times). 

For once, however, I’m thinking my new year resolutions should be more about eating and drinking healthily and less about trying to fruitlessly reach my pre-wedding size. I’ve whittled the options down to two – incorporating more plant-based dishes into my diet and joining the four million or so who commit to Dry January. Actually, it’s not simply a question of “going dry” – giving up alcohol can’t be that hard can it? – and more about finding low and no-alcohol options that aren’t boring, full of sugar or make me feel like a six-year-old when I order them. 

Of course the “free-from” movement has steadily made its way into the mainstream, producing a permanent cultural shift as consumers, including me, seek alternative food. This trend is making headway in the drinks market too. Indeed, CGA reported alcohol-free beer volume was up 28% in the year to February 2019. 

This may be a fraction of overall beer sales but clearly the low and no-alcohol segment is making strides. For restaurants, pubs and bars, increasing their range of low or no-alcohol drinks is a no-brainer – it improves customer satisfaction, builds on a rapidly growing trend, improves profits, and creates a more inclusive dining experience that embraces this social change. 

This is where brands such as Seedlip come in, distilling non-alcoholic spirits to invent, among others, the nogroni and martino. They’re not alone – some of the top trends for 2020 include premium alcohol-free and fruit beer. With bold flavours, the newest low and no-alcohol drinks can provide an appealing alternative to alcohol. With all those options, I shouldn’t become bored.

If I do fall off the wagon, however, I might hit the spirits rather than my favoured white wine. There has been a revival in the dark spirits market. Go to any event this season and it will be brimming with young spirit brands, notably rum. I’ve seen a plethora of speciality rums springing up that focus on the experience rather than ABV, combining with inventive mixers and emphasising the origin of quality ingredients. Given the wave of success that swept the gin market a couple of years ago, it was only a matter of time before producers saw potential to add another spirit to the mix – but this time with moderation and experience to the fore.

Food and drink pairing isn’t new, of course, but I’ve also seen an increasing interest in pairing food with low and no-alcohol drinks and a number of operators have told me this trend will feature in their menu planning next year. The flavours produced in aperitifs and fermented drinks brewed with superior loose-leaf tea, for example, are ripe for matching with complementary dishes. It’s not just about removing the alcohol but adding value. Producers are looking at the isotonic properties of potential ingredients or the positives consumers can derive from the addition of quality botanicals such as chamomile, narrowing the gap between food and drink.

In a number of focus groups I facilitated this week enthusiasm for the low-and-no trend seems to come down to three key things – a dedication to well-being and cutting back on alcohol, a focus on memorable experiences rather than booze-fuelled nights out, and genuine curiosity to try new flavours.

All this has helped create the biggest opportunity in the drinks industry right now. Rather than having to fill up with a pint of sugar-laden fizzy drink or quenching my thirst with a jug of free tap water during Dry January, I’m looking forward to experiencing real creativity in the market place and not being bored by the options. 

I think there’s so much creativity in plant-based/vegan menus nowadays my resolution to eat healthily should hold firm – for January at least. I just hope there are some really fabulous low and no-alcohol options to keep me off wine (and gin and rum and whisky) throughout January and perhaps beyond – but one step at a time.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliotts, the leading integrated marketing agency in the hospitality and leisure sector –

It’s tradition by Glynn Davis

News that The Connaught Grill is to return to upmarket London hotel The Connaught after almost two decades revives memories of a couple of great meals I enjoyed there. It had a superb reputation for traditional cooking built on French foundations, exemplary service, and mountains of white linen.

Its planned opening next year is a move to resurrect what the hotel’s owners describe as a “mythical restaurant” they believe deserves to return to the capital – having originally run from 1955 to 2000. 

During the latter part of that period as an enthusiastic, as opposed to knowledgeable, food writer I interviewed the Grill’s legendary head chef of 26 years Michel Bourdin. When I inadvertently revealed I didn’t know the ingredients required to make béchamel sauce he quite rightly questioned whether I was in the right game!

The same conclusion was also drawn of The Connaught Grill at the turn of the millennium, when diners began seeking lighter food. To satisfy this demand the dining room was refitted and turned over to Angela Hartnett, who brought in fresh Italian cuisine and a Michelin star.

Clearly an element of The Connaught Grill’s return is a desire to offer something inextricably linked to tradition. The move will enable the hotel’s owners to create something money arguably can’t buy. I believe we might see a growing attraction to brands with tradition, which runs counter to the foodservice industry’s current transient nature. It seems eating out has become so built around constant change we’ve lost all connection with anything constant. 

Are we drowning in a sea of swirling flux? There’s plenty of evidence to suggest we are. The industry has become awash with food trucks, market halls, supper clubs, pop-up restaurants and kitchen residencies, serving up an ongoing diet of change that’s fuelling an unwillingness to eat the same dish twice. 

This appetite for change is seeping into all areas of the restaurant industry. Hence we have an establishment such as Carousel in Marylebone with a kitchen that hosts a constantly changing roster of guest chefs, who take residence for one or two weeks before returning to their own establishments.

We’ve also seen chefs who have been successful with one format choose to change the model entirely and, seemingly pre-empting any boredom of customers or perhaps themselves, introduce a new cuisine and concept in the same premises. For example, founders of acclaimed restaurant Oklava are switching the offer at sister site Kyseri from modern Turkish dishes to a baking and wine concept. Likewise, Spanish small plates restaurant Rambla has been reopened as a US West Coast dining concept by chef and restaurateur Victor Garvey, who said: “Rambla has been phenomenally successful in the two years it has been open but now I’m ready to do something new.”

While this is all rather refreshing, I wonder whether such widespread changes in the industry will fail to create restaurants with anything like the longevity to become “traditional” in any sense?

A major ingredient of many long-standing establishments is they change their model by such small increments, hardly anyone notices. Such consistent approaches have their place and should be applauded but the current climate suggests we have lurched away from this ideal. 

That’s why it’s great to hear the legendary Grill will return to help The Connaught hotel inject a brand and concept with in-built tradition. Of course they will have updated the proposition in modest ways, no doubt featuring a little less béchamel sauce.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends 

Temperance in disguise by Paul Chase 

Christmas is nearly upon us so we can expect the nanny-scolds to be out in force warning us to reduce our drinking or find alcohol-free alternatives. Alcohol Awareness Week will soon be replaced by Dry January and calls to resist temptation and repent! In our sector we are all aware of the anti-alcohol zealots of Alcohol Change UK (ACUK) – formerly Alcohol Concern – it’s Scottish sister organisation Alcohol Focus Scotland and Geordie cousin Balance North East. 

Together with the Alcohol Health Alliance and the Institute For Alcohol studies, formerly the UK Temperance Alliance, these are neo-prohibitionist organisations that barely bother to conceal their desire to see a world free from beverage alcohol. They may disguise it a little, as ACUK does, by saying they want a world “free from serious alcohol harm” but the word “serious” is there because these organisations believe there’s no safe level of drinking so if you were to declare yourself against all alcohol harm that would rather give the game away.

However, the temperance movement is something of a chameleon – adept at replicating itself in new guises. In my opinion the “mindful drinking” movement is a relatively recent example of how puritanism mutates and appears in different forms. Club Soda is the UK iteration of the mindful drinking movement. Formed in 2014, it states on its website its intention is to “create a world where no-one feels out of place not drinking”. There’s nothing like basing your mission on creating a “straw man” and then campaigning to knock him over! 

Club Soda defines mindful drinking as an “umbrella term to include everything from going alcohol-free to cutting down or taking a break”. That simply sounds like campaigning for moderate and responsible drinking – who wouldn’t support that? But the problem with moral crusades isn’t where they start, it’s where they end up. The original meaning of the word “temperance” was “moderate drinking” and 19th century temperance organisations in Britain and Ireland, as well as counterparts in the US, began by advocating moderation – campaigning against strong spirits and in favour of long alcoholic beverages such as beer. However, when they found moral persuasion failed to deliver enough volunteers they quickly reached for the statute book and moved to advocating abstinence, taking “the pledge” and outright prohibition. This process reached its apotheosis with American Prohibition, which lasted from 1920 to 1933.

Will Club Soda and the mindful drinking movement go the same way? We’ll have to wait and see but the historical precedents aren’t good. I don’t doubt the sincerity and good intentions of the people at Club Soda and their genuine social concerns about the harms of excessive drinking, but I suspect they may turn out to be a Trojan horse. What’s interesting is that unlike all the other neo-temperance organisations referred to above, which refuse to take money from the alcohol industry for fear supping with the devil will compromise their ideological purity, Club Soda has no such inhibitions. It is funded in part by Heineken and The Brewers’ Research and Education Fund, an offshoot of the British Beer & Pub Association, as well as the City of London. 

There is a growing market for low-alcohol and alcohol-free beer. Linking-up with a mindful drinking organisation that claims to represent 40,000 supporters in the UK alone may be perceived by brewers as a route to market for these products. Club Soda may also see access to alcohol industry funding and pubs and bars that stock alcohol-free products as a route to market for their anti-alcohol ideology. Which of these parties is the postman and which the letterbox remains to be seen!
Paul Chase is director of Chase Consultancy and a leading industry commentator on alcohol and health

Retaining the best staff by Carlo Platia 

The nature of the workplace is changing – and fast. Younger generations are no longer driven solely by money – they want to feel good about where they work, to be part of a team and to feel special. 

The pressure is firmly on the hospitality industry to evolve and adapt policies and procedures to meet these demands. If we don’t, we’ll lose the battle to attract and retain the best employees in a talent war that’s raging ferociously on the high street fuelled by a shrinking pool of workers, which is something likely to be exacerbated further by Brexit and a subsequent cut in EU workers. Failing to attract the best workers has a direct impact on the customer experience – we’re in the people business after all – and if you consistently deliver sub-par experiences in today’s competitive climate you’re going to struggle. 

Many outstanding businesses have worked tirelessly to put culture at the centre of their business. Be At One, for example, built its whole ethos around creating a fun, vibrant environment for customers by recognising it needed to start with its staff. Some would argue it’s easier to create a winning culture in a late-night cocktail bar than replicate it at a casual dining site in a remote leisure park with minimal midweek footfall. I would argue it can be replicated, however, with the simple things making a huge difference. 

Recognising and acknowledging those who go above and beyond in the workplace is rocket fuel for a business. That isn’t limited to hospitality, any business in any industry will benefit if managers recognise the hard work of their team – it goes a long way. The challenge comes when identifying who the best workers in your business are when you’re operating at scale. 

Before founding Feed It Back, my wife Julia and I ran a bar in Weybridge. It was a family affair and we knew who our best workers were and acknowledged and rewarded them accordingly. However, this depended on us being in the business day in, day out and was very time-consuming. Replicating that across a large estate would be impossible – and that’s where technology plays its part.

When talking to prospective customers, their focus is too often on introducing a check and balance on their offer to identify when things aren’t up to scratch. Don’t get me wrong, this is very important but what is equally vital, and often overlooked, is the ability to look at what – and who – is driving positive reviews. 

Recognising and sharing the moments when a particular employee delivered an outstanding experience is not only great for boosting team morale, it also rewards the best team members in your business. From the restaurant, bar or nightclub manager to the senior C-suite team, technology can allow all levels to identify the best employees across the site, region or entire business. With this information they can pinpoint common themes shared by outstanding workers and promote them to ambassadorial or training roles while learning from them and sharing their expertise across the business.  

The data also acts as a great incentive for employees to drive performance. Casual Dining Group brand Las Iguanas uses data from the Feed It Back platform to track employee performance and identify those individuals who consistently go above and beyond, offering an all-expenses paid trip to Brazil in its “race to Rio”. An incentive such as this, and acknowledging those who go above and beyond to deliver the X factor that wows guests, breeds an infectious culture in a continual pursuit of learning and development. 

The beautiful thing about the hospitality industry is it’s a genuine meritocracy and fast tracks enthusiastic, hungry and competent team members into management roles. You would be hard pushed to find an industry with as many success stories of work floor to boardroom. It’s something we should be immensely proud of.

In time I expect the balance of power to flip, with prospective employees quizzing businesses about the technology they use, perks they offer and opportunities for progression before they accept a role. With this in mind, now is the time for operators to get ahead of the curve and ensure they are using everything in their power to retain the best people and position themselves as a leading place to work.
Carlo Platia is chief executive of Feed It Back

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