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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 4th Jun 2021 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Public health – a reckoning, the improving dine-in offers at supermarkets, four ideas to save hospitality
Authors: Paul Chase, Glynn Davis, Abi Dunn
 

Public health – a reckoning by Paul Chase

Some people just don’t want it to end. I have never been one for believing in conspiracy theories – and there have been numerous such theories over covid – but, whether crises are created by conspiracies or by cock-ups, they create opportunities for people that they are extremely reluctant to give up. This is particularly true of the plethora of “public health experts” whose presence has proliferated over the course of the past 14 months. The problem that arises when a government says they are “just following the science” is that it elevates certain scientists to the level of quasi-religious cult figures. 
 
It is both a privilege and a huge responsibility to become a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and to provide advice to government throughout this pandemic. So much hinges on the accuracy of this advice – not least the progress of the disease itself – but also the future of our personal liberties. Sage members, and other scientific committees advising government, claim to be providing objective scientific advice – and then they go out and lobby for it with TV appearances and articles in mainstream media. The terms “scientist” and “expert” are bandied about with abandon and the dividing line between science and politics becomes more difficult to discern by the day. 
 
We are seeing this happening at present with a co-ordinated attempt by advisers to get the government to delay implementation of the final step of its roadmap, which is the lifting of all current coronavirus restrictions on the 21 June. The hospitality industry has no choice but to respond with a co-ordinated campaign of its own calling for no further delays. This must end. And if not now, when? We should all get behind the British Beer & Pub Association’s “Countdown to freedom” campaign.
 
One of the lessons government should learn from the past 14 months is that it should be a condition of membership of groups like Sage that you don’t do freelance media appearances. This shouldn’t be about furthering your careers as go-to TV experts. Advisers advise; politicians decide. If we keep the dividing line between the two clear then neither can hide behind the other. The problem is the modern public health movement is itself so politicised because activist scientists see public health as a new means of governing society. 
 
This has to stop and there has to be a reckoning. In future, we must a take a more holistic approach to estimating the costs and benefits of public health policies. The debate about whether lockdowns work has been far too narrow. We needed to look not just at whether this policy slowed down the velocity of transmission, but also at the collateral damage in terms of other health conditions that have gone undiagnosed and untreated as well as the colossal damage to the economy, people’s businesses and the public finances. At the very least, there should, in future, be some economists on committees like Sage.
 
All these things must be looked at when we finally get a public enquiry into the handling of this pandemic. But more needs to be considered – not least the way in which the government’s desire to control the narrative has twisted the nature of the British state, the emasculation of parliament and political accountability, and the co-opting of mainstream media as propaganda arms of the government. How can it be that a march in London that attracted hundreds of thousands of people calling for liberty and an end to covid restrictions got virtually no media coverage? Insofar as it did get covered when the media smeared the march as involving a few hundred anti-vaccine nut jobs. State management of mainstream media is one of the features of a totalitarian state and this is a deeply disturbing development.
 
I am not without sympathy for the government. Managing a crisis like this would be difficult for any government. To accuse the government of flip-flopping over policy is a bit cruel when, if we’re honest, we’ve all changed our view of this pandemic and how to deal with it as we’ve learned more about it. But if war is too important to be left to generals, public health is too important to be left to the current crop of public health zealots whose machinations have done so much to damage our economy and, in particular, the hospitality sector.
 
21 June is freedom day. No ifs, no buts.
Paul Chase is director of Chase Consultancy and a leading industry commentator on alcohol and health
 

The improving dine-in offers at supermarkets by Glynn Davis

One of the great mysteries in foodservice over the years has been just how uninspiring the cafes have been within the major supermarkets. Despite the fact they are supposedly experts in food they have always delivered a poor dining offer within their own stores.
 
Their long-standing argument seems to have been that everybody hates food shopping and so they have looked to do everything possible to get people in and out of the stores as quickly as possible. I’ve strongly disagreed with this and believe it was perpetuated purely for their own benefit (to push more people through their stores) and not for that of the customer. With this warped narrative, it would indeed have looked odd if they had introduced even a half decent foodservice offer inside their outlets.
 
Strange it was then that Tesco went against the perceived grain in 2012 when it bought Harris + Hoole, Giraffe and Euphorium Bakery. It introduced them into some of its larger stores but, sadly, the experiment was all over by 2016 when new chief executive Dave Lewis sought to address some of the failures of his predecessor Philip Clarke by offloading non-core elements. I’m not quite sure how these food businesses were deemed to be outside the core of a food retailer. Interestingly, what was regarded as core was a growing range of non-food products from electricals to clothing to homewares.
 
Not anymore. Fast forward to today and the major supermarkets now have so much space they don’t know what to do with it because a growing number of their customers now choose to shop online for food and particularly non-food items. The latter can now absolutely be deemed non-core within the group’s physical stores. Why buy a toaster in Tesco and have to lug it home when you can have it delivered?
 
The company now recognises you are more likely to want to buy toast in its stores – whether that be in the form of a panini or other warm specialist sandwiches. This is no doubt why Tesco has just announced its partnership with Pret A Manger – purveyor of some great sandwiches. The first shop-in-shop will open this month and another four will follow during the summer. Various formats will be on trial, including a fully seated replica of the regular high street Pret.
 
Tesco is certainly not alone in now looking to address the poor situation of eating within supermarkets. Sainsbury’s, this week, opened the first Caffé Carluccio’s, with 45 seats, which will be joined by a Carluccio’s Counter later this month and, in July, the Restaurant Hub – a multi-brand offer with grab-and-go and delivery options – will open in the Sainsbury’s Selly Oak store in Birmingham. Menus from Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Slim Chickens and Harry Ramsden’s will be available. 
 
With much of the focus of these new formats on the takeaway side of things, the major supermarkets are still not putting enough effort into boosting their dine-in propositions. The exception seems to be Morrison’s, which has just spent £16m on its 400-plus cafes where a new healthier menu has been introduced and more food is being brought directly across from its Market Street counters. In my local superstore, they are currently introducing a variety of new counters including a Waffles & Shakes House. It’s certainly not haute cuisine but the company sensibly understands its cafes are an important part of the local community.
 
The shopping centres long ago recognised the value of a decent F&B offer in attracting customers and boosting their dwell time. I can see it is not quite the same environment in a supermarket but with space aplenty in many large stores and the fact that not all UK consumers dislike buying food, it is surely time for the major grocers to be brave and give it a go. Partner with great brands and prove that Tesco sticking its neck out to buy Giraffe all those years ago was not a mistake but was simply just ahead of its time. 
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends
 

Four ideas to save hospitality by Abi Dunn

Like so many of my friends, peers and colleagues in talent, hospitality is who we are. It muscles its way in to your life and, in many ways, takes over. An intoxicating industry that demands and deserves our full attention.

The past 12 months have hit us types hard. Psychologically, I mean. Who could ever have predicted a global “event” that would see one specific sector on the brink of disaster? Throw in Brexit and we have a perfect storm. The battle for talent is raging across all roles and all operators. Our fire-fighting throws money at the problem, yet deep down we know this isn’t the sustainable solution we need.

I know for a fact that it consumes so many minds across the industry. How can we fix our beautiful sector? How do we get people to see it as a career? How do we get the people back? How do we attract the next generation?

At risk of oversimplifying the problem, I have pondered several things that must happen over the next 12 months to save hospitality. 
 
Rip up the ‘board level’ rulebook on talent 
I mean actual change, not just lip service. “Our people are important” blah blah. “Guest first” is dated. “Bottom line first” even more so. Managers get it. They know what change needs to be made, yet so often the big fat budget hammer comes crashing down. We must stop it now. We have no choice but to review our payroll – the margins might be tight but in the absence of revenue, the point is moot. But it’s more than money or fair pay. The plaster of the “golden handshake” won’t keep your people engaged for long. 

Owners and boards must wake up to the fact that their front liners’ priorities have changed. They don’t care about free drinks, staff discount and a Christmas do. Even career development isn’t at the top of their agenda, nor the big bucks. Of course, they expect fair pay but following covid, quality time with friends and family is right at the top of the list.

So, how do we offer that? A solid rota function that allows them to plan and allows them to have some weekends off (yup I said it). A 45-hour working week, maybe a gym membership, more holidays. Let’s face it, 28 days and a pension contribution are legal requirements. Stop calling them benefits for goodness sake. Look after your young people. I don’t pretend to know exactly what Generation Z wants from their hospitality job, but I certainly know that my best option is to ask them.
 
Steps towards better working conditions resolved – tick. So now it’s time to campaign right? Campaigning without the aforementioned internal changes really is futile, so I hope we can get our ducks in a row before we entice the masses. There are two groups to target.
 
Engage what you’ve got
First – our “lowest hanging fruit”. These are the ones we already have – hourly paid team members who don’t see their jobs as careers. It’s incredible how many of us fell into hospitality on the way to something “more suitable” in our parents’ eyes, before falling in love. That’s what we must bottle and shout about. Who does this duty fall upon? I think it’s our managers. It was certainly a manager who engaged me in the sector. They highlighted my skills, showed me how I could carve out a career. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – if managers were incentivised on bringing hourly guys up through the ranks, our talent pipeline would be significantly healthier. 
 
Reel in the new
Second – the outside world. These campaigns must break moulds, showcasing different operators and niches (the sector doesn’t revolve around hotels – sorry hoteliers). On a par with the army and NHS attraction efforts of “old, but cool”. They need to be cool. We can’t land on stock images of servers in crisp white shirts carrying trays. Great drinks, great food and great music are non-negotiable when cooking up any sort of media campaign. Who are we talking to? Schools, colleges, universities, parents? Anyone with the resilience, kindness and strength to join our special group should hear our message. The nerds, misfits, dropouts, clever kids, cool kids. The school leavers, the grads, the PHDs. Let’s go large. Have you heard the announcement from McCulloch and McDowall about their recruitment campaign? It’s going to be epic for sure and exactly what we’re talking about.
 
The Brexit issue
Finally, and I’ll keep this one short and sweet because politics isn’t my bag. There must be a solution to European workers coming into UK hospitality. Visas? Permits? Low-cost sponsorships? It just has to happen, and fast. 
 
Simple right? Just four tiny things and we get where we want to be. But seriously, jokes aside we have a mammoth task. And not only that, it requires everyone to get on board. We’re straight off the back of our greatest challenge yet, so will we get through? There’s not a doubt in my mind. Lesser sectors perhaps not, but ours? Of course. We are full to the brim with creative, resilient and generous humans who, by all accounts, are ready to step up to the plate. 
Abi Dunn is founder and chief of dream jobs at hospitality consultancy Sixty Eight People – www.sixtyeightpeople.com

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