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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 16th Apr 2021 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Hospitality versus no shows, the dine-in experience at home – breathing new life into takeaways, the Lyons share, creating a localised offer with responsive short-term tactics to get long-term results 
Authors: Amber Staynings, Stuart Herrington, Ann Elliott, Hannah Grievson
 

Hospitality versus no-shows by Amber Staynings

Ah the old “no-show” debate. In reality, we have had a situation with no-shows in hospitality ever since I can remember. I’ve conducted sales audits on businesses and, in most cases, the audit uncovers an incredibly high no-show rate with few processes in place to minimise its impact. We all know the repercussions for our sector when this happens. For me, it’s obvious. I’d rather have 50% less customers who all turn up than overinflated pre-booked sales where I’m lucky if 30% show up. To put a more positive spin on it, minimising no-shows means more cash, accurate financial forecasting and, more importantly, a far better guest experience that encourages loyalty and repeat business.
 
I understand some nervousness around introducing deposits and fears about putting customers off. But that was before covid. That was before we saw the most rapid change in consumer behaviour in our lifetime. Do I really believe a customer will book elsewhere because we ask for £5 per person or £20 per table to secure a booking when it’s redeemable at peak times? No, I don’t. Not anymore. And especially when competition is so high and margins lower, so we need to ask customers to make a conscious decision to support our sector by deciding in advance where they want to go, rather than booking two or three places and only turning up to one.
 
If the whole sector agrees to tackle no-shows in the same way, and to implement a deposit system then the issue will resolve itself to everyone’s satisfaction. We must all come together and agree to offset the financial damage caused to our industry through social distancing and limited capacity by taking deposits for pre-bookings. This action alone will go a long way to reassuring our staff, protect revenue and give us the confidence to upsell packages and experiences. By all means, allow the undecided to walk in where feasible but protecting our advanced bookings will have a beneficial impact on everyone involved in bringing the best of our hospitality service to increasing numbers over time, and with the ability to forecast our staffing and other resource levels for maximum efficiency. 
 
Our sector prides itself on providing customers with truly wonderful memories and experiences with their friends and loved ones. We are there to serve them and, as such, we are givers now, more than ever. Living with covid, we must remember the impact this has had on everyone and – for many – with truly devastating results. Building confidence and loyalty among staff feeds through to your customer base, for which close working relationships need to be built and sustained. Now, more than ever, my ingrained philosophy of building these relationships over the long term will be critical to your success. 
 
Systems and processes have an important part to play but, for me, securing sales and improving guest loyalty requires the quality of your relationship to be scrutinised and put centre stage. Our customers should be treated as close friends or family. Treated in this way, all customers, even newly acquired ones, would consider you as a friend and phone ahead, if necessary, to apologise in advance for not being able to maintain their booking commitment. There is no reason why every venue should not adopt this approach, small or large. My job at Bums on Seats is increasingly to help established sales teams or individuals acquire the skills to build and capitalise on these important relationships, without which hospitality cannot reduce no-shows substantially and go on to grow the bottom line through repeat business, new revenue streams and ongoing customer loyalty. It is perfectly feasible with the right guidance, training and support to achieve a no-show rate of less than 10%, followed by accurate pre-bookings and more advance spending through upselling packages and bolt-ons. This investment is needed – and justifiable – now more than ever.
 
A summary at this juncture might be helpful. Start by pulling together to invest in the right tech for your customer booking journey. Re-write your terms and conditions to reflect your own brand culture and language, and include a commitment to refund the deposit if a customer cancels within 24 hours of the event/table. Use SMS texts (where affordable) or personal calls, which are proven to work by prompting customers and helping to avoid no-shows, as well as building up a crucial relationship, which encourages loyalty. By treating your customer as a friend and making it easier for them to cancel if they have to, you will have put your business on the front foot and can look forward with increasing confidence.
 
Bums on Seats’ top tips for reducing no-shows:

• Effective booking system for online payments/deposits integrated with your tills
• Reminder SMS texts with an easy-to-use cancellation link
• Website booking journey kept simple, clear and decisive
• Decide on your deposit amount and think differently: £20 or £25 per table/area or £5 per person (my preference is table deposits now)
• Deposits all refundable – no quibble – unless cancelled within 24 hours
• Transparent and clear T&Cs in your tone of voice: why do we take deposits and how, as a customer, do I get my money back when I turn up?
• Consistent messaging and approach
• Focus on your customer relationships to drive loyalty
• Provide an excellent customer service when booking
• Confirmation calls and follow-up calls to keep personable interactions with your customers going.
Amber Staynings is chief executive of Bums on Seats
Bums on Seats is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member
 

The dine-in experience at home – breathing new life into takeaways by Stuart Herrington 

The first week of outdoor reopening for hospitality has demonstrated the massive pent-up demand for eating out and socialising again after a year of lockdowns and restrictions. Restaurants I speak to are reporting encouragingly high levels of customer interest, with many already booked up for the next few weeks. While enthusiasm for returning to restaurants is evidently high, and incredibly heartening for the hospitality industry, it’s also clear the consumer demand for delivery that became such a lifeline during the pandemic is set to stay. 
 
With varying restrictions remaining in place across the UK for the hospitality industry for some time to come, delivery will continue to be a vital revenue stream for many restaurants and small businesses. However, given most of us have spent the past year eating at home, businesses cannot afford to become complacent. All restaurants with a delivery offer should be looking to breathe new life into their takeaway experience to keep customers excited about their favourite food on-demand options.
 
With restrictions meaning reduced capacity, booked-up restaurants and the impact of the British weather on alfresco enjoyment, customers will still be looking to takeaways for a dining experience. Just Eat recently conducted research that shows Brits have been attempting to redefine their takeaways by bringing the restaurant experience to their kitchen table throughout lockdown. Restaurants should find ways to meet this demand and help their customers replicate the dining-out experience.
 
Our research found the most popular ways of replicating the dine-in experience included ordering a new cuisine, placing an order from a restaurant customers had never tried before (22%) and attempting to recreate the excitement of eating out by ordering food they would not normally cook at home (16%).
 
It is clear customers want variety and the thrill of trying something new, all while still in the comfort of their own home. So how can restaurant operators refresh their offering? 
 
Mix up the menu 
Add or swap in new dishes regularly to keep things interesting for customers seeking variety. More than a fifth of people ordered a new cuisine or from a restaurant they haven’t tried before, so think of ways to cater to those customers who are craving a change. 
 
Promote the three-course meal
Think about adding stand-out offers on multiple courses to encourage the full dine-in experience and orders for treat meals. One in five want options for set menus or deals for multiple courses so make it an easy decision for customers who are looking for something that goes beyond the standard main course-only order. 
 
Make things personal
Personalisation has become increasingly popular and customers are actively seeking this when dining out. The ability to customise dishes ranks highly in terms of improving the takeaway experience, particularly among 16 to 24-year-olds, with a third attracted by the ability to tailor dishes to their tastes. So, look at creating options for people to customise their order based on their personal preferences. 
 
Create an element of fun
The majority of people have been eating with the same housemates or family members for the past year. As restrictions ease, restaurants should use this opportunity to offer exciting dine-in occasions for groups getting together for the first time, while still enjoying the convenience of their own gardens and homes. Some 60% of people said being with friends and family is what they missed most about eating out so use themes or concepts around sharing dishes, for example, a reunion meal with friends, or a “thank you takeaway” for those who have helped each other during lockdown. 
 
Encourage adventurous choices
More than a third of people said trying new food is what they missed about eating out so provide recommendations on less well-known dishes to make them more accessible to those who haven’t tried them before. Some customers may want to try something new but just need that extra bit of information to give them confidence to do so. 
 
The past year has provided restaurants with the opportunity to launch or expand their takeaway offer and win new customers, and it’s clear takeaways are no longer seen as an occasional evening treat. In order to stay competitive and breathe new life into the takeaway experience, businesses should explore creative new ways to offer novel experiences and satisfy the variety-seeking customer.
Stuart Herrington is head of UK field accounts at Just Eat UK
Just Eat is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member
 

The Lyons share By Ann Elliott

My wonderful friend, Maurice Abboudi, regularly recommends books that he thinks I will enjoy and from time to time he sends me one that he knows I will love. A few weeks ago he bought me Legacy by Thomas Harding, a book that charts the rise and fall of the Lyons family and was described by The Times as a “terrific story”. And it is. I just couldn’t put it down. One of the reasons I love this sector so much is the opportunity for success that it gives to those who want to create something brilliant and are prepared to work hard, are passionate about what they are doing and possess both optimism and commercial realism. This story is jam-packed full of individuals who had these attributes in spades.
 
Samuel Gluckstein arrived in this country in August 1843, aged 22, and decided to launch a cigar business – “back in his little room in Whitechapel, he attempted to make cigars. It was frustrating work, harder than it looked, requiring great dexterity and timing... Samuel rolled cigar after cigar after cigar. It was tedious, painstaking and exhausting work”.
 
From this relatively unpromising beginning, his family built an empire that, by 1913, was the largest restaurant operator, the largest tea merchant and the largest baker in the world employing 20,000 people.

Lyons started its teashops in September 1894 at 213 Piccadilly with 200 covers and a bakery counter at the front of the shop. By 1939, it had 253 tea rooms across the country, of which, 70 were destroyed in the Blitz. Due to wartime labour shortages, the service style moved from table service to cafeteria service, which stayed with the brand until the shops were sold and closed in 1981. In 1896, it completed an extremely ambitious demolition and then rebuild of the Trocadero.
 
It opened the Lyons Corner Houses in 1909 (lasting until 1977), starting with the site at Coventry Street that, at the time, was the largest restaurant in the world. They were gigantic places with food being served on four or five floors. The ground floor was a food hall but the sites also had hairdressing salons, theatre booking agencies, telephone booths and, at one point, a twice-a-day food delivery service. The other floors had several restaurants each with a different theme and all with their own musicians.
 
In its heyday, the Coventry Street Corner House served more than 5,000 covers and employed around 400 team members. For a time, the Coventry Street Corner House was open 24 hours a day. In 1923, it was extended to seat 4,500 diners. Lyons eventually had 250 Corner Houses in London.
 
Lyons also ran other individual large restaurants, a steak house chain, 676 UK Wimpy bars (founded in 1954), Baskin Robbins and Dunkin Donuts along with a considerable 35-strong hotel business, including the Regent Palace Hotel (the largest in Europe when it opened), The Cumberland Hotel and the Tower Hotel.
 
By 1930, Lyons was the 20th largest company in the UK. At various points in its history, it had the second biggest market share of the team market in the UK and US, was a global leader in packaged tea, had the biggest selling coffee brand in the UK, was UK’s third largest soft drinks manufacturer, became the second largest ice cream manufacturer in Britain and was the biggest supplier of pre-packaged cakes in the country. It launched Ready Brek porridge in 1957 to huge acclaim.
 
Amazingly, Lyons also ran a munitions factory during the war – building it from scratch in Elstow in Bedfordshire to include 250 separate buildings, 12 miles of fencing, six miles of road and a new rail system. Between July 1943 and the end of 1944, it delivered five million two-inch trench mortar bombs for the army.
 
In mid-1972, the company borrowed £250m to make acquisitions, with most of the loans taken out in foreign currencies as short-term bridging loans. Thirty years later, the Daily Express would describe this as “the worst advice Rothschild ever gave a client”. In October 1973, the oil crisis hit and by spring 1974, banks no longer wanted to invest in the business. Interest rates started to rise. Lyons had to sell off assets in order pay back debts starting with its hotels, most of which it sold to Trust House Forte for a “song”.
 
In 1978, Lyons was acquired by Allied Breweries and became Allied Lyons. It was eventually sold and broken up with different manufacturing parts acquired by Nestlé, RHM, Weetabix and Hillsdown Holdings.

It is an amazing story with so many lessons for today’s entrepreneurs – one of both triumph and tragedy, of both true business genius and blindness, of both family togetherness and divisiveness. And it’s very, very relevant for today’s hospitality sector.
Ann Elliott is a hospitality strategist, connector and adviser
 

Creating a localised offer with responsive short-term tactics to get long-term results by Hannah Grievson

The pandemic has had an historic impact on consumerism and among the changes there have been a number of positive and progressive hospitality trends accelerated by lockdown restrictions. One trend we have anticipated within the estate is the increased demand on high streets to provide an essential localised offer (such as grocers and butchers) that caters to the community. Recent studies indicate 63% of consumers will buy from more geographically local businesses over the next 12 months and 60% plan to increase shopping with independents on the high street. We have also noted more value being placed on health and the desire to shop sustainably to lower carbon footprints.
 
As part of our “shops on demand” leasing strategy, we aim to curate and invest in a balanced and blended community offer consisting of hospitality, retail and leisure. Working with many sustainable brands and independents, we have slowly introduced more essential stores to our high street such as fruit and vegetable specialist Natoora, food market Farm Fetch, and dedicated delicatessen Colette – all providing fresh food and produce for the community. This has ensured the estate has been well placed to face lockdown restrictions because our offer has remained relevant to our community as consumer behaviour has continued to evolve.
 
Research into consumer finances during the pandemic have also shown disposable income has seen a boost for many, with a study from CACI indicating 74% of consumers’ finances have improved or stayed the same. On the King’s Road and Fulham Road, despite restrictions on consumer movement, we have still seen steady local footfall due to our high residential catchment. With commuting off the table for many, people are moving their disposable income away from employment hubs and towards their local high streets. This trend is predicted to continue as many people plan to work from home post-covid.
 
Our high residential footfall and affluent demographic appeal to many but we understand balance, so attracting the right F&B brands with accessible commercial leases is imperative. We support tenants that want to invest in our community whether that is transitioning to a full bricks and mortar tenancy or a seasonal reoccurring pop-up offer. Giving brands flexibility, particularly during this pandemic era, is important so taking inspiration from being pop-up pioneers, we have fully embraced dedicated pop-ups, white boxed units, shorter leases, seasonal trading stores, turnover-based rents and considered breaks built around business models. Our aim is to discover and nurture, ensuring our offer can evolve with consumer demand and remain adaptable to social and economic influences. 
 
As landlords, we must continue to facilitate a flexible and responsive approach after the pandemic ends and be prepared to constantly evolve as the consumer landscape continues to change. We need to work together to invest in our communities, responding to these undulating trends in the short term, by providing a flexible “shops on demand” hospitality leasing model that constantly adapts, best supporting our tenants’ offers and the needs of our community in the long term. 
Hannah Grievson is property director at Sloane Stanley

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