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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 19th Mar 2021 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Bandwagons and scapegoats, the real experience awaits, rebuilding customer confidence on the journey to reopening, 12-step roadmap to building back better, 
Authors: Paul Chase, Glynn Davis, Gary Goodman, Malcolm Muir

Bandwagons and scapegoats by Paul Chase

I have been a student of social science and, particularly, economics for more than 50 years now. I have always been fascinated by how seemingly random events can assume such significance in the public consciousness and lead to the development of cause célèbre and bandwagons. The deeply tragic death of Sarah Everard is a case in point. Because the case is now sub judice, we are limited in what we can say but it is a matter of public knowledge that a serving Metropolitan Police officer has been charged with her murder. This may account for why it garnered so much attention in the media and ignited a public debate about the safety of women, the incidence of male violence and a broader concern about misogyny, which has now been declared a “hate crime”, whatever that my turn out to mean in legal terms.

The crass mishandling of the vigil on Clapham Common that was the result of a farrago of poor judgements and decisions by our current Metropolitan Police commissioner, Cressida Dick, has only added fuel to the flames. Law enforcement and politics do not operate in silos, they are intricately related, particularly at the top level of office holders, precisely because policing decisions can touch the body politic at some of its most tender spots. All this public clamour has created the classic ingredients of a full-blown moral panic and the cry has gone up “something must be done!”

But what, exactly? Let us not forget that the holding of a peaceful vigil by women carrying flowers was only deemed an unlawful gathering because of the lockdown regulations. It has not gone unnoticed the police have adopted a “pick and choose” strategy regarding when to enforce or not enforce these regulations. Black Lives Matter protests – not enforce. Vigil to mourn the murder of a woman – enforce. This pragmatic approach is not wrong in itself – sensitive policing and a light touch are better than a uniformly heavy-handed approach – but the head of the Met got the judgements wrong. And home secretary Priti Patel does not escape blame either – she indicated she wanted a tougher enforcement approach, and the police took her at her word.

So, now government and, in particular, the home secretary must decide how to address public concerns about women’s safety. And what have they come up with? Money will be set aside for a pilot scheme whereby undercover police officers will patrol pubs, clubs and bars to intervene if they consider a woman is being targeted by a male predator. But young people, in particular, go out in the late-night economy precisely because they seek social and sexual adventures. So, how exactly will the police decide what is an acceptable man-woman encounter and what is not? Do we really want to create a “Morality Police” reporting to the “Ministry of Vice and Virtue”? 

But let us take a step back. Why did government decide predatory male behaviour was primarily located in the licensed retail sector? Sarah Everard was not picked up or abducted from a bar or a nightclub, she was walking home from visiting a friend when she was abducted. Licensed premises were not involved. And as far as I can tell, alcohol was not a factor either. But the zeitgeist is that alcohol is a disinhibiting drug that leads to all kinds of mischief – that is why we have seen the licensed retail sector targeted for shutdowns and rigidly controlled during the pandemic even though there is no evidence that licensed premises were a significant cause of viral transmission. Our sector was scapegoated. And it is being scapegoated again. 

We are not in denial that good nights out can turn bad – that is why we have sector-led initiatives like Drinkaware Crew and the “Ask Angela” scheme. It is why we have excellent schemes for raising standards like Best Bar None. But police officers prowling premises to micro-manage personal encounters is not the way forward. We know how to do hospitality. We know how to keep our guests safe. We employ trained door staff and customer safety personnel in larger nightclubs. We can up our game if needs be – but the locus of police activity should be keeping the streets safe, keeping public transport safe. Politicians jumping on a bandwagon must not be allowed to scapegoat our sector again. We know how to reopen safely, and the notion that licensed premises are so unsafe for women they must be patrolled by undercover cops is a slur that will harm our sector and do nothing to protect women.
Paul Chase is director of Chase Consultancy and a leading industry commentator on alcohol and health

The real experience awaits by Glynn Davis

Since it was announced 17 May would be the reopening date for restaurants I’m probably not alone in having already spent far too much effort putting together, and iterating, a list of venues I’m looking forward to visiting. These are a combination of local establishments and a smattering of old favourites that my family and I relish the prospect of reacquainting ourselves with, as well as the odd place we never quite managed to get to before.
 
Over the past year, we’ve played our part, like much of the rest of the population, in helping drive up the levels of takeaway meals consumed and deliveries made in the UK. They have tripled over the past 12 months, according to the new Hospitality at Home Tracker from CGA, which also found the volume of orders went from 9.1 million in February 2020 to 19.6 million in February 2021. The fact there is now a tracker dedicated to this part of the market says a great deal.
 
While these meals have helped to vary our diet and add a bit of excitement to dining I’ve sadly found many takeaway meals, generally, disappointing. Having tried numerous takeaways from various restaurants over the past year, I don’t believe I’ve had any meal that has been as good as it would have been if it had been served in their restaurant. Clearly, presentation will always fall down but also the little added extras have all too often been missed. The mixed chutneys in the Indian, the unlimited toasty-warm bread in the Turkish venues and the copious fresh salads served in the Polish restaurants are examples of missing elements that contribute to my overall sense of disappointment.
 
We’ve also had the odd meal kit at home – particular shout outs to Honest Burger and Fuller’s – and I’m pleased to say these have been a much more pleasurable experience. The immersive bit of getting your hands dirty and a little bit creativity has added greatly to the overall proposition and meant that meal kits – or make-aways as they now seem to be called – have offered so much more than a pile of plastic containers housing lukewarm dishes left on my front doorstep.
 
But even these are no match for the experience of dining out. I’m certainly not alone in this thinking as evidenced by the deluge of bookings received by restaurants that have opened their booking lines. Rick Stein quickly amassed 20,000 bookings for his restaurants in Cornwall while D&D London reported 50,000 reservations. Many pubs also announced spectacular levels of demand – for bookings from 12 April onwards. 
 
Research by Wi5 found almost a third (32.5%) of people stated they want to return to restaurants as soon as possible, which is double the level when restrictions were lifted in July when a much more cautious – pre-vaccine – approach was clearly being taken. That not the case anymore judging by the prediction we are set to go on a £50bn spending spree when covid-19 rules are lifted, according to Scottish Friendly and the CEBR, with people splurging on dining-out in cafes and restaurants as well as holidays and travel.
 
So much for the stay-at-home, baking sourdough and living a simpler life in the country mindset we’ve supposedly all adopted. While there will, undoubtedly, be some healthy and enjoyable lifestyle changes brought about by covid-19, I personally don’t feel they will make any difference whatsoever to my eating-out habits.
 
I’m already looking forward to reducing the intake of takeaway food and instead relishing the prospect of returning to the comfort and luxury of restaurants to enjoy a level of experience that simply cannot be replicated at home.
 
As I work on my restaurants-to-visit list, I can’t wait to dig my elbows into a thick linen tablecloth while I decide whether to go for the 40 or 50-course tasting menu. And, whereas I would previously have had to very carefully consider whether to go for the prestige wine pairing over simply going for a bottle, I’m now ready to go all in – at least while the novelty (and the money) lasts, of course.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends
 

Rebuilding customer confidence on the journey to reopening by Gary Goodman

As we proceed into a transformative era for hospitality, the industry will be welcoming back a new type of consumer. After almost a year of digitally driven experiences in the books, from online grocery shopping to virtual gatherings, customers have been conditioned to expect convenience, speed and accuracy with every purchase. And with multiple ways to engage with a brand, the consistency across digital channels and service styles has become exponentially more challenging to manage.
 
In a recent webinar with Propel, I had the pleasure of joining leading operators from Nando’s, Azzurri Group and Bistrot Pierre to discuss how they have used lockdown to get closer to their customer and how, with Yumpingo, they are “surfacing the voice of the guest” in their organisations to drive ever-improving standards and experience. 
 
Vikram Badhwar, Nando’s global head of operations technology, shared how the team has overcome operational challenges around delivery, team performance and service consistency across locations. 
 
He said: “For our managers and staff, it can be rewarding to get real-time feedback from the guests. We’re getting dish-level feedback from Yumpingo and now we have a whole host of insights we didn’t previously have. We do extensive research to understand where our brand sits within a given market, how consumers feel about us as a brand and our real-time NPS score. To be able to drive changes in the restaurant this year, nearly real-time will be our sweet spot.”
 
For the hospitality sector, understanding consumer behaviour and building back loyalty will remain a top priority, but navigating 2021’s unchartered territory will be incredibly challenging. Any leader making a significant adjustment to their business right now is facing:
• Managing evolving guest expectations with price-conscious and value-driven purchases
• Keeping a close eye on margins as food costs rise, irregular staffing, and to-go/delivery revenue staggers
• Getting the entire organisation, from the chief executive to front-line team member, on the same page when it comes to new company policies and priorities
 
In the same session, Joel Robinson, digital & technology director at Azzurri Group, said: “What we can do with digital is infinite – but the harder question is what should we do. And we answer that with the voice of our customers.” For the sector, word of mouth is critical to your success. Seamless in-person and digital experiences will be paramount in driving more happy guests and creating lasting advocates of your brand. The more we can leverage technology to remove friction from each touchpoint and enrich the process, the more likely they are to return. It’s what will separate a leading brand from the rest.
 
If we take a step back and start with why – why does your business exist? Why do customers choose your brand over another? Why are your detractors more vocal than your promoters? It boils down to delivering on your brand promise and having the metrics in place to know precisely when and where you’re not meeting expectations. Brands that put guests at the heart of their business and focus on retention, win. 
 
Closing the loop between guest perception and reality
Guests are typically willing to share feedback when satisfaction hits extreme levels – an utterly great experience and an exceptionally terrible one. But the majority in the middle, where happiness can be easily influenced with the right action, gets left on the floor. Creating opportunities to capture guest feedback throughout their journey, on or off-premises will give brands the competitive advantage they need and provide customers with a chance to be a part of the hospitality experience. 
 
In the coming months, as teams unravel the menu changes, seating arrangements and service hour adjustments to prepare for in-store traffic, consumers will be looking where to invest their time and money. An air of uncertainty will remain for quite some time as customers get reacquainted with traditional, yet liberating, socialisation. As traffic and sales volume fluctuates at unprecedented levels between revenue centres during this time, meeting your guests anywhere they wish to engage with your brand, whether click and collect, in-store or delivery with a consistent brand experience, will help retain those customers for when they’re ready to share a table again in your restaurant. 
 
To rebuild customer confidence, we have to fundamentally change the way we think about excellent service, food and, ultimately, experiences to deliver the hospitality guests are looking for in this new era by:
• Acting on constructive feedback to strengthen every step of the guest journey
• Closing the loop between service perception and reality to unlock unparalleled hospitality
• Removing the risk of subjective decision-making to make adjustments to menu, dish or service performance
 
Connecting the guest experience to NPS
A key metric for understanding guest satisfaction and confidence in your brand is Net Promoter Score (NPS). NPS can span across all venues, menus or a single dish. We do a lot of work around value with operators, both in terms of overall value and value perceptions by dish. This often involves testing different price points and the impact on value perceptions. If guest perceptions of a dish they had delivered are massively low, in value terms, it tends to suggest the menu item is inconsistent with delivery expectations. Operators have an opportunity to optimise the dish with cost-effective ingredient adjustments or charge a little less for the menu item.
 
Operators tell us head chefs and executive chefs may not always appreciate individual opinions or feedback on their dishes but are highly receptive to understanding if the NPS for a specific dish is:
• Lower and underperforming
• Out of step with the rest of the menu
• Inconsistent across service styles
 
And, of course, they are eager to do something about it. Food teams, in general, seem to appreciate the opportunities to drive up the consistency of performance and NPS across a menu.
 
This is a resilient and adaptable sector and it is vital for teams to sustain momentum to build back trust and loyalty with consumers. By leveraging customer feedback and behaviour data, brands will improve performance, build personalised experiences and increase guest satisfaction across NPS, CSAT (customer satisfaction score) and every review channel. We released a whitepaper, “Recovery through the yes of your guests”, revealing how seven brands and varying service models were able to realise double-digit gains on their NPS score by tapping into guest analytics to drive incremental changes throughout the business. This in-depth guide will help many operators struggling to identify and implement adjustments for a successful reopening.
 
We have to get back to what we do best – delivering authentic dining experiences in venues well lit by buzzing conversations and delighted guests. Operators must determine if they have the tools needed to make data-driven decisions that improve experience and brand performance. With effective performance management, this work will have a massive impact on NPS – underpinning brand health and financial performance. It’s time to run better businesses with data-driven insights, creating more happy guests.
Gary Goodman is chief executive and founder of Yumpingo
Yumpingo is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member
 

12-step roadmap to building back better by Malcolm Muir

As the roadmap to recovery has been laid out, hospitality operators are carefully considering their next steps to ensure they reopen successfully. Businesses that are keen to start afresh with renewed resilience in the new normal, as well as long-term vision for the future, should explore these steps to building back better: 
 
Reinvigorate your offer 
A year of restrictions has seen new trends and customer expectations emerge that your old offer may no longer fulfil. Competition too, both on a local and national level, may have completely turned a leaf. If you had a great offer pre-covid, it may still be great now. But there’s no harm in certifying whether your offer is still relevant and grabbing new opportunities that have arisen due to changes in behaviour, demographics and competition. 
 
Grill the takeaway topic
Since the pandemic, many pubs and restaurants have introduced a takeaway offering. You should, however, make sure that this second income stream remains sustainable and doesn’t start competing with your on-site service once this reopens. Also question if your takeaway offering really mirrors the qualities of the main business. If it does, make sure your forecasts account for the additional costs associated to presentation and brand experience. 
 
Reprice everything
Pricing is based around both the cost of the product and the demand for it. If costs have changed and demand has changed then your selling prices should change too. Be prepared to tweak prices up and down where necessary. With many menus having moved online and table apps readily available, these tweaks have become easier to manage than ever before.
 
You’re only as good as your team
A great deal has been said about what businesses have learnt from 2020. It is also true that staff have learnt a great deal about their employers. Whether furloughed or not, staff have made a series of judgements about how they were treated. More than ever this will impact staff turnover in the future. Continue to find ways to cultivate your company culture so that the busyness of a fully functioning operation doesn’t damage your relationships. 
 
Your customer service is everything
While many operators have done phenomenal jobs keeping customers engaged, the “love of hospitality” has, in some ways, also grown cold. The truth is, customers are unlikely to be able to experience your brand in the same way they used to. Think social distancing, masks and a certain rigidity in experiences resulting from regulations. Finding ways to improve customer service is vital before things get really busy again. 
 
Have reservations about reservations 
Whether an app that does it for you or your team takes telephone reservations, you should analyse if there is any room to improve the efficiency of your reservations strategy. Unoccupied tables cost money. Time invested in planning available reservation periods is well spent. If you are in the height of the season, do you need to take reservations at all? 
 
Monitor your virus security 
Hospitality operators will continue to face risks surrounding both current, but also future virus threats. Recent reports show hospitality settings to be safer than many other areas of society thanks to their efforts to make venues covid-secure. It’s now a case of continuing to monitor virus security compliance, particularly as adaptations to regulations unfold. 
 
Be alert about operational safeguarding
Revisit policies that safeguard your revenue. The detail of cash and revenue control can be lost in the fog of day-to-day operations. Introducing the right levels of operational controls and compliance monitoring across an estate tends to uncover a host of issues that may have previously remained hidden from head office and were, therefore, left unchallenged. 
 
Don’t underestimate dates
This unique moment of having to restock should give us cause to pause and plan for better stockholding. Most operators will have minimal cash flow and need to make sure the stock they buy converts to cash soon. Take an opening stock and review it each time you order more stock, paying extra attention to sell-by dates. More frequent, but smaller deliveries may be the best way forward while you increase cash within the business. 
 
R.T.F.M!
A popular, non-too polite acronym that tells people to “Read The Manual” before complaining to IT that the printer is broken can also apply to hospitality. In this instance, it refers to an instruction to regularly and religiously “Read The Meter”. Water, electricity and gas costs can result in businesses being hit by big bills because nobody was reading the meter. Setting simple operating procedures like this in place returns control and monitors costs of the business. 
 
Support “long live the local”
We’re not just talking about the fantastic cause; this phrase also translates perfectly to corporate social responsibility. Sustainability and supporting community is back on the menu for good and many have used lockdown to branch out and deepen their local ties. Brexit and covid have affected the scale of operations, delivery timelines and import processes for many suppliers. Just make sure that the local ties you’ve made still enable you to operate at peak efficiency. 
 
Rethink outsourcing
The stark reality of our current trading landscape means we all have to make some brutal decisions about fixed salary costs. This should not, though, impact on your service or on the controls in place protecting your stock and revenue. Outsourcing your stocktaking and compliance or financial auditing functions at this time can offer a number of benefits.
 
Operators looking to implement critical operational and financial controls as their business reopens can visit www.venners.com for further information.
Malcolm Muir is consultancy director at Venners
Venners is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

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