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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 11th Dec 2020 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: How to be clever and wrong, retailing skills will be vital for the future of hospitality, no brand wants to be ‘normal’, a diatribe of displeasure
Authors: Paul Chase, Glynn Davis, Andrew Fishwick, Neale Chandler
 

How to be clever and wrong by Paul Chase

How is it possible to be incredibly well qualified academically, intellectually out of the top-drawer, and yet, at the same time, ideologically totally misguided? I don’t have a definitive answer to this conundrum, but I have some clues, and I offer as an example: Karl Marx.
 
As is well known, Karl Marx was a polymath, an intellectual colossus whose scholarly interests were staggeringly eclectic. Even as a youngster, he read voraciously and mastered poetry, the classics, philosophy, economics, law, religion, literature and several European languages. And yet he spawned a collectivist ideology – “Communism” – which is responsible for the enslavement and death of millions.
 
Which brings me to professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance and the ideology of “Healthism”. Professor Whitty is England’s chief medical officer, and Sir Patrick is the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, and you will have seen them flanking Boris Johnson at government press conferences. These two men are highly qualified and very intelligent, and along with Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies), have been responsible for advising on government measures for dealing with the covid-19 pandemic. When prime minister Johnson insists the government is “following the science”, it is largely their science he is following.
 
And where has all this learned scientific advice led us? It has generated a policy of rolling lockdowns and restrictions that have, at best, reduced the velocity of infection without reducing its volume. According the World Health Organisation, in the United States there has been 15 million cases and 284,000 deaths – a mortality rate of 860 per million. In the UK, there have been 1.75 million cases and an estimated 62,000 deaths – a mortality rate of 911 per million. So, our mortality rate has been higher than that of the United States despite a patchwork quilt of measures there, but no co-ordinated national lockdown, as opposed to the rolling lockdowns and restrictions here. Lockdowns and restrictions have devastated our economy and, in particular, our licensed retail and hospitality sectors, and have not enabled us to suppress the virus. Meanwhile our economy has shrunk by 11% and the Unites States’ economy by just 3.5%. 
 
Lockdowns don’t work. Of course, you can always make the counter-factual case – that without the lockdowns and restrictions the numbers dying would be even higher. But, consistently, we have seen the numbers of cases peak and begin to fall before lockdown measures were introduced.
 
So, what is the answer to the question: how can scientific advisers be so clever and yet so wrong? I think the answer is their cleverness is channelled through an ideology – a world view – that makes them clever but blinkered. I call this ideology “Healthism”. Healthism, like Communism, is a collectivist ideology. Healthists believe that the way to maximise the health and wellbeing of the whole population – the collective – is to limit the freedom of choice of the individual. The notion that one person’s health begins where another person’s freedom ends is central to healthist ideology. It is this fundamental perception that guides all the measures we’ve seen to suppress human interaction, in the vain hope of achieving “zero-covid”.
 
And if we invert this proposition, it leads directly to blaming the population if these measures don’t work. We’ve seen this in Wales where their hapless first minister, Mark Drakeford, has insisted that their recent “circuit breaker” didn’t keep the virus suppressed for very long because the people of Wales weren’t “behaving themselves” – not because the measure was wrong in principle. Healthists have a profound mistrust of freedom of choice and, therefore, of free markets. They see people as being weak and easily led, prone to addiction in respect of anything they might like or enjoy; easily manipulated by clever marketing and persuaded by advertising to buy things they don’t need. In respect of alcohol, this world view leads them to support whole population measures that restricts advertising and hours of opening and distorts the market with measures like minimum unit pricing. And the pandemic has allowed them to go on a spree of such measures. 
 
This profound mistrust of the common sense of ordinary people, this impulse to nanny and boss is why we see the public health establishment embracing restrictive whole population measures that stifle personal freedom and strangle the economy. This mistrust is why they didn’t, from the outset, take the targeted measures needed to shield the old and vulnerable in care homes and medical settings, but instead put the vast majority of healthy citizens under house arrest.
 
And the scapegoating of pubs, bars and restaurants where people gather to drink alcohol and socialise led them to force people to gather indoors, which is where the real transmission is happening. Fears that alcohol will disinhibit people and make them forget social distancing and start inappropriate personal contact is an old puritanical trope. Healthism is a modern manifestation of puritanism, it began when temperance sentiment moved from clerics to medics at the beginning of the 20th century, and this benighted world view is what has plagued the government’s policy on the pandemic from the beginning. 
 
The blinkered ideology of healthism has now permeated government at the highest levels. They are in thrall to it. The narrow cabal of activist academics and scientists that surround the government have a lot to answer for.
Paul Chase is director of Chase Consultancy and a leading industry commentator on alcohol and health
 

Retailing skills will be vital for the future of hospitality by Glynn Davis

For £175, Angela Hartnett’s Cafe Murano will deliver a white truffle menu box to your home while Davies and Brook at Claridge’s is up for delivering a meal kit of roast chicken for four people at a cost of £145. Other high-end places such as Le Gavroche, Hide and Smith & Wollensky are offering similar upmarket propositions that would have been highly unlikely before covid-19 when they predominantly concentrated on their dining rooms.
 
It marks a major shift in the way restaurants have to think very differently about their business models and revenue streams. We are seeing a plethora of initiatives from restaurant operators who are valiantly fighting to keep the lights on and their teams employed.
 
But even in a post-covid-19 environment, it is questionable whether they will be able to return to the old ways of solely producing food for consumers on their premises and possibly having a delivery element if they can be bothered with the added complexity (and gentlemen in motorbike helmets) it brings. 
 
What we are seeing is hospitality businesses become increasingly similar to retail operations. As well as developing meal boxes (for cooking at home), many have opened up temporary store fronts in their restaurant space and added online shop fronts for taking orders for home delivery and click and collect. Some such as Top Cuvee in north London have opened stand-alone shops dedicated to their retail element that operate alongside their restaurants. 
 
Others such as Pret A Manger and Leon have moved into selling their branded products through major grocery retailers, while Greggs has begun opening cafes within supermarket outlets, having struck a deal with Asda. This will be very familiar territory for Greggs chief executive Roger Whiteside because he previously held senior executive roles at Ocado, Marks & Spencer and Thresher before moving into the foodservice sector.
 
He is certainly not the only former retailer to make the move. One of the recent crossovers is Andy Hornby, chief executive at The Restaurant Group, who was a senior executive at Asda and Boots. He joined TRG chairman Debbie Hewitt, who also has many years of retail experience, and they have created a strong top team that is embracing delivery at Wagamama and click and collect at Frankie & Benny’s restaurants on retail parks. 
 
Hornby joins Richard Hodgson, chief executive of Yo!, in the sector having both worked together at Asda before Hodgson moved on to Waitrose and then joined Pizza Express. His retail experience is serving him well as he pushes ever more collaboration at Yo! that involves supplying Yo! To Go products in Co-op stores and pre-packaged sushi lines into Sainsbury’s and David Lloyd Leisure Centres. It is also running kiosks in Tesco and Asda as well as trialling an Indian street food concept with the latter.
 
Speaking recently at the Propel Multi Club conference, Hodgson stated: “Our objective is to get our products to customers in a way that serves their needs. Not many people can succeed on their own. It starts with the need for collaboration. You can only survive and succeed if you work together. We’ve looked at who to collaborate with – universities, hospitals, airlines, airports and supermarkets.” 
 
The newest major name to join the sector, with massive retail experience and a capacity to collaborate at the highest level, is Allan Leighton. Coincidentally, he worked with both Hornby and Hodgson when he was chief executive at Asda. More recently, he was chairman of The Co-operative Group and presently sits on the board of BSkyB – among many other things.
 
He has joined PizzaExpress as chairman alongside new chief executive David Campbell and will bring a wealth of retail experience to a business that now has the foundations in place to take a new path following its recent recapitalisation and ability to access funds for new initiatives. 
 
Since these former retailers’ skills will be massively valuable in the new world order of foodservice, expect to see many more senior executives tempted away from retail and into a sector that is now undergoing dramatic change and where they can bring their knowledge to bear and create new multi-faceted business models.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends
 

No brand wants to be ‘normal’ by Andrew Fishwick 

This year has been challenging for the hospitality industry, characterised by uncertainty and financial pressure the likes of which have never been seen before. Whether you operate an emerging concept or a legacy brand with hundreds of sites this global catastrophe has hit everyone – hard.
 
As we enter 2021 with a dim flicker of hope ahead, it’s almost impossible to predict which brands will emerge as winners and which will unfortunately join some of the well-known brands that have closed their doors. 
 
This poses a challenge for us. Since Handley Amos and I launched The Pepper Collective, a hospitality and leisure business that harnesses partnerships to create new customer concepts, we didn’t have a marking criteria or an algorithm to predict success. The collective was designed to be, at its very core, a collaborative business that sees Pepper work with people and brands to provide a wide range of operational and business support that, over time, transforms an idea into a reality you can eat, drink and experience. Each partnership has different strengths and weaknesses, and we look at every opportunity on its own merits and search for the magic or the sparkle, although when people are involved in the equation things can get joyfully messy. 
 
Then, after all the analysis, it comes down to some simple questions: “Would we go to this concept?”, “Can we see opportunities within the P&L for us to add value?”, “Can we see a future friendship with the people behind the idea?” We hope to say yes to all three; however, we have never once asked: “Is this business normal?”
 
“Normal” has been discussed a lot this year – the “new normal” and the “old normal”. But which brand actually wants to be “normal”? Normal behaviours are characterised as being usual, typical and conforming. But these are never words that should be associated with our industry. And that’s the point. For any business to survive and thrive in any age, it needs to be special. It needs to buck the trend, it needs to wear its point of differentiation as a badge of honour and it needs, more than anything, to live by its values. I believe this has always been true – but never truer than now.
 
But what does that mean for businesses facing drastic choices? Does it mean they can’t pivot or change? Does staying true to your values mean you can’t adapt to a new landscape? Not at all. The hospitality industry, more than most, has held true to its values even within its darkest hours. 
 
The industry has dealt with political indecision, economic uncertainty, seismic shifts in customer behaviours and global industrial adjustments. It hasn’t “pivoted”, not in the true sense. But it has adjusted, while remaining absolute in its belief in the power of hospitality and the vital role it holds within our economy, society and culture. 
 
It has certainly found new ways of working – omni-channel routes to market; a digital revolution; and a renewed, lean and agile sense of purpose. Covid didn’t invent these changes, but it has certainly helped businesses adopt them perhaps sooner than planned. For many, the digital revolution has prompted a renewed focus on how we look at delivery propositions, particularly given how important this now is to consumers. Creating new revenue streams such as retail or experiential or “at-home” variations has been a major driver in those businesses that will come out of this stronger. And, ultimately, being forced to reassess everything in your business, from the top to the bottom, from balance sheet sensitivities to brand engagement, has led many leaders to adjust what they previously considered as the “only” model.
 
It’s led to the emergence of delivery kits from some of the UK’s leading restaurant brands. It’s resulted in the opening of dark kitchens from the next generation of emerging talent in London suburbs. And, it’s prompted expert mixologists to pre-package their craft for consumers celebrating the “big night in”.
 
These aren’t the challenges anyone was expecting to face this year, which is why it’s almost impossible to predict how brands will respond to the next wave of this crisis. But, we know, above everything, brands should strive to avoid the “new normal” (or any “normal”) and continue to think outside of the box to reaffirm to UK consumers just why our hospitality scene is so special. 
 
At Pepper, we are trying to do this by supporting some of the UK’s quirkiest and most exciting concepts to help bring them to market and rollout to scale. We want to work with truly original brands that are prepared to take risks and continually strive to improve their businesses in the interest of consumers. That means focusing on the factors that matter most to consumers – innovative, value-adding products and services; eccentric and authentic customer experiences; and creative, game-changing ideas.
Andrew Fishwick is group chief executive of The Pepper Collective
 

A diatribe of displeasure by Neale Chandler

Here we sit. It’s been five weeks of another mandatory closure of hospitality businesses in Staffordshire and other areas of the UK. It’s been five weeks of my little piece of the puzzle being closed. And there does not appear to be an end in sight. The government, led by the prime minister and advised by what seems to be the Ministry of Stupid Rules, is yet to give us any inkling of the exit plan back to trading. A promised tier review announcement is due next week and Christmas is two weeks away. 
 
I find it astounding the government is not being advised, or is choosing to ignore the advice, of the implications of a midweek announcement for this industry. Does it seriously have absolutely no idea of what it takes to reopen businesses such as these after such a period of uncertainty? Does it really have no grasp of the complexity of thousands of hospitality business all trying to get their stock in at the same time? Or does it really not care?
 
Christmas – a time for togetherness, a time for happiness, forgiveness and a time for giving. And in our trade a time to walk 500 miles (from the bar to the kitchen to the cellar to the store) to fill the tills and create a cash buffer for the lean months to follow. But not in 2020 it seems. The biggest trading opportunity of the year, December, is now but a distant pipe dream. 
 
The knock-on effect of this cannot be underestimated. It has been well documented that the hospitality industry in the UK employs millions of people and generates billions in revenue for the state coffers. These are facts but, frankly, they are far removed from my thoughts. What is in my thoughts though is my desire, my purpose, to provide for my family, to recruit, train and develop the best team I can, to build a sustainable business, and to be able to pay my way. 
 
I have no desire to build a brand and I sit comfortably with the notion that each community is different but the same. I am at peace with the view that in all communities there are those that just want to go to proper pubs. Not plastic, soulless, one-size-fits-all behemoths run by corporates, but proper pubs that are relevant to and centred in the communities in which they trade. Proper pubs and real people that absolutely take care of their communities, that do no harm, that provide warmth, conversation, sustenance and quite often a shoulder to cry on when times are tough. A proper pub is the pivot in their community, deals are done, stories are told, relationships are formed, celebrations and commiserations are an everyday occurrence.
 
And this brings me to my point. Unless there is a paradigm shift in the government’s approach to the hospitality sector in these times, we are in danger of losing swathes of the very fabric that holds our culture together. And once they are gone, they are gone forever. On my patch alone, there are many former pubs that are now houses, including the house I now live in, Ancient buildings with stories to tell, buildings that been repurposed over the years as habits have changed. Buildings that have served beer in the blackouts of World War II. Buildings that have been around since the civil war. 
 
In today’s age, we don’t deserve to lose any more pubs. We don’t deserve to make our staff jobless. As business owners, we don’t deserve the hardship that is imminent. This crisis is not of our making and in the main the industry, being the resourceful lot that we are, have adapted in rapid time to provide an organised, safe space that complies and, most importantly, satisfies a customer’s will to remain healthy. But yet we are being kicked in the head. Every day. This isn’t right and the government and the prime minister have a case to answer for their actions. Their absolute and complicit ineptitude in their handling of the pandemic in general and this hospitality crisis will be their legacy come voting day. Mark my words.
Neale Chandler operates two Staffordshire pubs – the Kings Arms in Eccleshall and the Plough Inn in Uttoxeter

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