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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 15th Oct 2021 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Bigger bills are a fair price to pay for sustainability, women need to speak up and be heard, how digital reputation sets brands apart in hospitality
Authors: Glynn Davis, Ann Elliott, Anthony Gaskell

Bigger bills are a fair price to pay for sustainability by Glynn Davis

For many people, the belief has been that a free-range chicken costing at least £10 is priced too highly, whereas in reality, the argument should probably be that it’s the £3 broiler that is underpriced. Our thinking has arguably been polluted by the availability of ever cheaper food prices – irrespective of animal welfare and sustainability. This has a close correlation with fast fashion, which has convinced many people that it is right to pay only a few quid for a t-shirt and not think about the broader impact on society and the environment of such purchases.

As inflation sets in, supply chains become strained and sustainability moves ever higher up the agenda, maybe we are entering a period when the fundamentals of our consumption patterns are being recalibrated – and this includes a change in the way we price food. This is certainly the hope of Mark Lumsden-Taylor, chair of the Rural Policy Group, who suggests we are at the dawn of a new food era where people are ready to re-engage with production and give more weight to provenance, ethical concerns and nutritional value rather than price.

This comes at a very interesting time, because there have been several very lively media debates about the pricing of dishes at the restaurants of certain celebrity chefs. Tom Kerridge was lambasted for charging £87 for steak and chips at his Hand & Flowers pub in Marlow, while Gordon Ramsay was pilloried for the £32 fish and chips dish on his menu at The River Restaurant in The Savoy Hotel.

The consensus is that these are indeed large numbers, but I’d argue they are not the rip-off prices that many people have suggested. There is no doubt that these two chefs will be sourcing top-notch ethically reared/produced/farmed ingredients and, I certainly expect, paying their employees a full and proper wage. On top of this, we all know the pricing of a dish of food considers way more than simply the food on the plate. Would anybody in their right mind believe fish and chips at their local cafe is the same experience as a night out at The Savoy, or within the cosy environs of Tom Kerridge’s two-Michelin-star dining room in Marlow?

What frequently gets lost in such arguments is that restaurants must make a profit. It seems that this is so often regarded as a dirty word – including, rather perversely, by some in the industry. Talking recently to Nick Kokonas, co-owner of Chicago-based three-Michelin-star Alinea restaurant, he suggested many people are only willing to concentrate on the food and drink side of things while actively avoiding any other elements such as accounting, technology and marketing. Because of this, they simply do not run sustainable businesses.

Restaurants have to charge at levels that deliver profitability, and I don’t believe for one minute that Ramsay and Kerridge, along with many other top chefs charging what are absolutely big numbers, are living large on excessive profit margins. Personally, I have a higher-than-average threshold for what I will pay for a meal and it includes many factors, one of which is the ethical sourcing of the ingredients. I certainly don’t subscribe to the view that high-end menus must include typical luxury fayre as fois gras, Wagyu beef, lobster and truffles – especially when provenance and ethics are in doubt. One of the most memorable meals I’ve enjoyed was at L’Arpège in Paris, which was extremely costly and only involved the humble vegetable, but the experience was worth every penny.

One supposed ingredient I have absolutely no interest in seeing on any menu is gold leaf. Which brings me to another celebrity chef currently in the media over his extravagant pricing – Nusret “Salt Bae” Gökçe – who has just opened his London outpost Nusr-Et at the Park Tower Knightsbridge. With gold wrapped burgers at £100 alongside Tomahawk steaks at £800, Wagyu striploin at £120 and £50 cappuccinos, this is certainly uber-premium pricing.

Sadly, these prices seem calculated purely to extract the maximum profit (well beyond what could be described as fair and respectable margins) from customers as Salt Bae leverages his worldwide social media fame. It’s certainly one way to earn a chunky profit, but I’m not so sure about the long-term sustainability of the project.

While such places are good entertainment for some people, I hope their activities do not detract from the serious debate that needs to be had around what we should be paying for food – and which ultimately benefits all stakeholders. Let’s just hope we are not tripped up by a £100 burger when trying to convince people to cross the road to avoid the £3 chicken.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Women need to speak up and be heard by Ann Elliott

It's always a joy and an honour to run the Women’s Leaders and Entrepreneur Conference, part of the Propel Multi-Club series, but the conference last week was particularly poignant. Seeing so many women in one room for the first time in almost two years was just magical.

I think we were all so pleased to be back, to be in touch again and able to make the most of the tremendous camaraderie we have. As one guest said: “It was an impressive day of speakers and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There was such a buzz in the room and during the breaks, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.”

The speakers and panellists included Sarah Willingham, Dorothy Purdew, Zuleika Fennell, Chantelle Nicholson, Grace Regan, Louise Palmer-Masterton, Anna Garood, Laura Morris, Bharti Radix, Judy Joo, Carol Welch, Resh Sonchhatla, Heena Varambhia, Regina Borda, Romy Miller, Shereen Ritchie, Claire Morris and Celia Pronto. What an amazing line up. I always wonder how we are going to improve on the conference from the year before, but we always manage to do it. I learned so much.

Self-belief is absolutely vital – there is no room for “imposter syndrome” or “playing the victim card” in becoming a success in this sector. While most women (and many men) will have had times when they wondered if they were really capable of delivering results, when they were way out of their comfort zone, these women got on with it and leapt into the unknown. They just tried – they believed they could, and they did. As someone said on the day: “What would you do (or could achieve) if you weren’t afraid?”

Having a sense of purpose for yourself, your business and your teams came through loud and strong as a must-have. It’s an old saying that if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. But these women knew where they were going and led their teams in the right direction on the right road. That sense of purpose might need to change (as it had to during covid), but not having one at all is not an option.

“Be yourself and be real” seemed a very clear message to me. The stories they told were personal, absorbing and mesmerising in many instances. They didn’t have one persona for work and one for home, they were them – all the time. All those who spoke had very clear personal values that guided them, whether they were talking to their teams or their children. They spoke about their families because their families were very much part of who they were and not something to be hidden away.

Resilience was a theme too – not giving up and not giving in. They talked about their setbacks and frustrations, their difficulties and their hopes – particularly over the last 12 months – and how they just kept going. They had emerged from the pandemic not as they went into it, but as different people with revised goals and dreams – still with that desire to make those dreams a reality, be successful and make the most of the opportunities that exist in our sector right now.

And finally, to the role of mentoring – of passing the ladder down to those below them, not drawing it up once they had achieved success. They all wanted to help other women on their own personal journeys and to pass on what they had learnt through trial and error. They were generous, kind and honest.

These women were inspiring, and we need that inspiration now more than ever. I know its anecdotal, but I think there have been less women attending the industry events I have been to in the last few months, fewer women speaking at them and fewer women facilitating panels or conducting interviews. Many women say to me they don’t want to be “out there” or put themselves forward as industry experts. They don’t want, or need, the perceived attention or glory. I understand that.

If they don’t speak out though, if they don’t talk about their own experiences, then they are not helping a new generation of women learn from them. Younger women in our sector need to hear the voices of women who have been there and done it, and to believe they can do it too. Thanks to Paul Charity, and Propel, for giving these women a voice.
Ann Elliott is a hospitality strategist, connector and adviser

How digital reputation sets brands apart in hospitality by Anthony Gaskell

After 18 months of turmoil, it’s great to see hospitality alive with activity once more, and I’m extremely happy to see my company’s industry clients winning online and delighting customers again.

While much has been learned during the closures and subsequent reopenings, something which has become increasingly clear in recent years – and during the lockdowns in particular – is that digital technology and online channels are more important than ever to hospitality brands.

Digital and online channels kept hospitality brands connected to their customers when locations were forced to close their doors. These same channels will continue to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the customer experience in pubs, restaurants and bars.

Reputation’s recent report produced in collaboration with CGA, Out-of-Home Reputation Management, highlights the importance of digital reputation to pub, restaurant and bar brands. More specifically, it reveals that the 2,000 hospitality consumers surveyed rely on digital tools and online reputation before, during and after their visits to a venue.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most popular channels for discovery and booking are Google and Facebook, while social media platforms and ratings and review sites such as Trip Advisor are used during and after visits. Customer reviews also play a significant role in the consumer’s decision-making process, and they seek social proof of an excellent experience when searching for a pub, bar or restaurant.

Customer reviews also play a significant role in the decision-making process, as hospitality consumers seek social proof of an excellent experience when searching for a bar, pub or restaurant. Older consumers (aged 55 and over) tend to turn to Trip Advisor (48%) to find this, while younger consumers favour Google (34%), and only 27% of those surveyed preferred a venue’s website.

While consumers of all age groups seek reviews before choosing where to eat or drink, it’s younger consumers who are more likely to leave a review, with more than a third of them (38%) doing so after visiting a hospitality venue. Crucially, younger consumers’ reviews tend to be spread across various channels, including Google and Facebook, while 67% of consumers from the younger demographic favour venues that post impressive food and drink images on social media.

Clearly, digital channels are an integral part of the hospitality customer journey and experience. So, how can your pub, bar or restaurant brand deliver a first-class customer experience digitally? Broadly speaking, delivering a better customer experience online is about deploying a strategy of specific tactics across a variety of touchpoints – including online reviews, social media, and Google My Business. More specifically, effective digital reputation management involves not only requesting and acting on customer feedback, but also managing and responding to unsolicited feedback and gaining control over unstructured data. To do all these things consistently well, your brand will need a comprehensive, all-in-one software solution. 

The Out-of-Home Reputation Management report can be downloaded from Reputation’s website. It will help you gain a deeper understanding of how consumers find and choose hospitality venues online and how customer conversations online continue long after last orders. Moreover, you’ll get actionable tips about how to create and protect positive online impressions and how to enhance the customer experience digitally.
Anthony Gaskell is managing director of Reputation

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