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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 4th Feb 2022 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Restaurant design for the future, an era of renewal, how to nudge diners towards plant-based options, creating experiences for weekdays too
Authors: Glynn Davis, Sarah Travell, Louise Palmer-Masterton, Ann Elliott

Restaurant design for the future by Glynn Davis

On arriving at plant-based restaurant Kojo in London’s Hampstead area, the most striking aspect was its double-frontage, with half the unit housing a cool, grey-toned interior while the other section was kitted-out with bespoke blonde wood furniture – creating a much warmer, relaxing vibe.

When Alina Gromova-Jones, co-founder of Kojo, took on the site, she said she was well aware that, as a Hampstead local, many of the restaurants in the area had been suffering from trying to balance the increased levels of takeaway and click-and-collect orders with ensuring dine-in customers enjoyed an experience unaffected by the constant too-and-fro of people collecting food orders.

This arrangement seems to be working well, because as customers have been returning to restaurants post-“Plan B”, the mix has been shifting from 85% daytime trade to more of a 50/50 split, with, most notably, the dine-in space accounting for a growing chunk of the revenue in the evenings, where diners can enjoy an experience calmly and devoid of collection interruptions. With takeaway and collection volumes being maintained at levels dramatically ahead of 2019, despite the reopening of restaurants, many operators in the hospitality industry are now grappling with the issue that Gromova-Jones has addressed at Kojo.

The area where this issue is most acute is within the quick service sector, where take-away accounted for a sizeable percentage of revenues before covid-19 hit. A recent unplanned walk-in visit I made to a Shake Shack in New York City was a disappointing experience because the focus was very much on servicing order-ahead customers for personal collection, as well as the army of impatient delivery guys. It seems that as the company has been focusing on its digital experience and developing its drive-thru and kerbside offerings, the traditional walk-in customer is receiving a poor deal.

Operators like Shake Shack are having to experiment with the design of restaurant sites to better accommodate the significantly higher levels of off-premises consumption and the growing trend for ordering ahead. These solutions have been cleverly developed – at great speed – and promoted by the industry during the pandemic, and are now incredibly popular. For instance, at McDonald’s, where delivery now accounts for a third of its business, a trial is underway at a branch in Nuneaton involving the incorporation of a separate entrance for delivery couriers. It is part of a test market for its “Convenience of the Future” concept that seeks to seamlessly accommodate delivery, click-and-collect and dine-in.

In the US, Papa John’s has developed a new store design with an open floor plan that provides easier access to different ordering and pick-up options. It has also introduced a separate pick-up lane for drive-thru orders placed in advance that seeks to take some of the strain out of the drive-thru, where orders have skyrocketed since covid-19. KFC has also recognised the need to improve the flow of customers through its restaurants and drive-thru lanes and has developed a “quick pick-up” service that is an alternative to the drive-thru, and involves providing customers with designated parking spaces and pick-up shelves in the restaurant. Meanwhile, Philippines fast food chain Jollibee recently opened a site in Nottingham with a new design that includes a take-out window, which will no doubt become much more of a feature in the foodservice industry.

For some restaurants, the design is skewing increasingly over to the take-away offer. Burger King has followed KFC in opening a compact unit, being trialled in Norwich, which it calls its “urban box-style” format, which requires a very modest 800-1,200 square feet of real estate and features a mere ten covers for dine-in. It is looking for more locations for these delivery-focused sites that can be placed on secondary high streets. What is becoming clear is that much of the new digital-fuelled behaviour adopted by consumers over the past two years has become habitual, and restaurants must quickly adapt their bricks-and-mortar assets to keep hold of the increasingly multi-channel diners that they themselves have so successfully helped create during the pandemic.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

An era of renewal by Sarah Travell

As we move further into a new year, the sense of renewal for the whole sector becomes stronger. The majority of operators will be putting into practice initiatives worked on during the lockdown, renewing relationships with consumers but also looking at opportunities to grow market share and their estates. Many commentators have suggested that it will be the time for the sector’s “big beasts” to awaken and return to the expansion trail, with balance sheets rebalanced and landlord relationships refocused.

What, then, will become of the smaller, entrepreneurial businesses as this predicted change in the landscape takes place? Judging by Propel’s latest Multi-Site Database, which we are proud to be associated with, they don’t intend to step back but to consolidate any gains made over the course of the crisis, and, where possible, strike out further. 

The latest database includes 87 new companies, bringing the total number of businesses listed up to 2,293. The 918 sites run by those 87 new additions means the entire database of sites has reached 63,489 sites. Again, it highlights the sheer breadth of the sector, and those concepts and trends driving it forward. From experiential bar businesses like Archer Street to more traditional all-day offers like Gastrono-Me, and from games-based formats like Geek Retreat to community pub operators like Northern Union Pub Company, and even all-vegan cookie concepts in Floozie. Many touch on the trends I picked up in my last opinion piece, but all are independent and many have been borne out of the pandemic and the opportunities – especially property wise – it has provided. 

One of the new entrants in the latest database update is Gastrono-me, the all-day cafe concept founded by Gemma and Mike Simmonite, in Bury in 2015. At the end of 2020, the couple – on the back of the success of their first site and the reliance the business showed through the pandemic – decided there were opportunities to grow. This March will see them open a second venue, on a former Bella Italia site in Cambridge. According to the duo, while they are set up for further expansion, they won’t open a restaurant “for the sake of it” but do hope to have a third site ready to go by October – with a fourth ready by April next year and then a fifth that August. 

The crisis has also given experienced operators the chance to “go again”, and that includes the team behind another new entrant, Northern Union Pub Company. This is the fledgling venture from Sam Moss and Michael Brothwell, who in 2017 founded Leeds Brewery, which this spring will have grown to five pubs in north London. The duo, who sold their previous seven-strong pub estate to Camerons Brewery in 2016, has taken, in part, to rescuing and restoring closed community pubs, recently applying to reopen The Winchester Tavern in Highgate. Moss told Propel that the business felt passionately about pubs and their continued use and protection, and that was part of the attraction to The Winchester. He went on to say: “It’s a beautiful pub in a good location. If you’re not someone who uses a pub, it’s very difficult to quantify quite how important a really good pub is to its community. It has such a positive impact in so many different ways. I think it really does provide a focal point and a heart for a lot of communities.” You can’t argue with that sentiment or the formula the business is following. 

From restoring community pubs to a career change for a former pastry chef at Claridge’s. Kimberley Lin launched vegan cookie brand Floozie Cookie, initially as a three-month pop-up in London’s Covent Garden at the end of 2020. Earlier this month, a second Floozie site opened on Hans Crescent, near Harrods, in the capital. In between those two launches, Lin, who has also worked as executive pastry chef at The Corinthia and development chef for Dominique Ansel, also found the time to launch her first solo restaurant, Lilly’s, in London’s Covent Garden, at 3 Henrietta Street.

Another new entrant to the database is Rosslyn Coffee, the London-based concept founded by former Caravan head of wholesale James Hennebry and Mat Russell, in 2018. With sites already in Victoria Street and 118 London Wall, the business is now gearing up to open a third site in central London, in Old Broad Street, after securing a site at the Tower42 Estate, with its eyes on further expansion. 

As any self-respecting accountancy firm will tell you, prudence and patience can be the cornerstones of any good business. Looking at the latest entrants to the Multi-Site Database, this is again highlighted, as those smaller companies that have been able to bide their time and consolidate their finances are now finding opportunities to grow and make their marks. Let’s hope they can further build on these foundations as the sector’s renewal gains pace. 
Sarah Travell is the founder and chief executive of Virgate, sponsor of the Propel Multi-Site Database. The database is one of the benefits Premium subscribers receive. The go-to database provides company names, the people in charge, how many sites each firm operates, its trading name and its registered name at Companies House if different. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Propel Premium for a year for £895 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The single subscription rate is £445 plus VAT for operators and £545 plus VAT for suppliers. To subscribe, email jo.charity@propelinfo.com

How to nudge diners towards plant-based options by Louise Palmer-Masterton

Following on from my opinion piece a couple of weeks ago (plant-based food is not just for vegans), a very interesting piece cropped up in Vegconomist this week.

The previous opinion piece was hoping to open up more discussion around how we can influence meat eaters into choosing plant-based options, something I know many hospitality businesses think is impossible.

But, according to recent scientific research, meat-eaters can be influenced into choosing plant-based options in restaurants by utilising innovation and novelty. According to the study, undertaken at the Future Consumer Lab in Copenhagen last year, food decisions are, in fact, motivated by non-rational social and contextual factors. Vegconomist goes on to explain that the strategies that manipulate such factors and influence choices are referred to as “nudges”.

The Vegconomist article highlights three key “nudge” techniques that have a proven effective in increasing uptake of plant-based choices among meat eaters.

1. Plant-based option being the default, with customers needing to opt in to meat and dairy choices
We’ve done some work with this in Cambridge, where we have done many catering events over the years. There are now companies for whom all catering is plant-based by default, but you can request meat or fish as a special option. Almost no-one does opt in to meat or fish. A study in the Journal of Public Health in Denmark in 2019, conducted over a series of conferences, also backed this up. Some were given a vegetarian menu as the default, others were not. The menu with the default vegetarian menu got an uptake of more than 80% opting for it, whereas with the ones where the vegetarian menu was not the default, there was only 10% uptake.

I’ve also witnessed this myself at many hospitality events and dinners. People are asked about dietary requirements and can opt in to plant-based, but meat-eaters are not given the option – they just get served meat. Many times, I’ve sat at a dinner with people eyeing my plate with food envy. Plenty of comments too like “I wish I could have had the choice to have that”. Almost all the dinners I have attended recently have had beef or steak as the main meal, so can you see the impact it would have on sustainability if all dinners were default plant-based, but people could opt in to meat or fish? It would be an immediate and drastic reduction in the carbon dioxide emissions of your event. Even giving people a meal choice would be a step in the right direction, featuring plant-based and meat with equal billing. Which leads nicely to nudge number two.

2. Reduce meat dishes and increase plant-based menu options
A British study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology this year found that meat-eaters were much more likely to choose vegan when the plant-based options made up 75% of the menu. It seems that even though meat-eaters like eating meat, menu choices can be influenced by this simple step, and that the split between plant-based and non-plant-based at 75%-25% seems to be the sweet spot for this behaviour. Menu engineering can play a huge part in this. Menu scientist Claire Scullion, who spoke at the recent Restaurant Marketer & Innovator conference, knows from experience that giving specific menu items more prominence is a key strategy to influence meal choice.

3. Innovative meal design as a strategy to promote plant-based dishes – in other words, making better plant-based options
Another Danish study, this time in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science in 2021, researched the impact of innovative meal design and visual design as strategies to promote plant-based menu choices. It experimented with having the prominent dish of the day as a plant-based dish, indicating that customers could ask for other options, but those were not given prominence. The study found that menu design, including the visual design, have a large influence on customers’ food choices, as 85% of participants in the study chose the plant-based dish of the day.

The Vegconomist article concludes that nudging strategies alongside education around healthy and sustainable eating can be highly successful in making carnivores choose plant-based menu options, and that the foodservice sector “can contribute to the desired societal shift towards mainstream consumption of foods with lower environmental impact.” Thanks very much to Vegconomist.
Louise Palmer-Masterton is founder of Stem & Glory

Creating experiences for weekdays too by Ann Elliott

Birthday presents from my husband can be a bit of a hit and miss affair, I have to say. In the past, I have been given a fireside companion set, a mug tree, an electric nit comb and a biro refill – luckily not all for the same birthday.

A few years ago he bought me a meal and an overnight stay at Gravetye Manor in West Sussex, which, of course, was in quite a different league. And very suspicious. Actually, it was only a promissory note which I think he hoped I would forget about, but I didn’t – and here we are now, having a few days away.

The manor was built in 1609, and in 1885 it was bought by the renowned gardener, William Robinson, who created the most stunning backdrop for the house. As my husband restores historical gardens, it’s not a coincidence that our holidays (short or long) have a horticultural element to them. As I eat food and drink wine for a living, it’s not a coincidence either that our holidays always involve a lot of eating and drinking.

As a result, we often end up in a National Trust cafe eating vast quantities of cake, scones and flapjack, which somehow seems to make both of us very happy. We have been doing that this week, but this time our cafe visits have been supplemented by extraordinary dining at Gravetye. Even when we passed over the chance to dine again from the £95 six-course menu in the dining room, choosing instead to play cards and eat in the bar, the food was sublime and the service faultless. I won too, so an added bonus.

We drove here via a visit to the RHS garden in Wisley and visited an astonishing National Trust house called Nymans. What absolutely amazed me was how packed these places were. Rammed. Tricky to find a parking space. Full of retired (I assume) people and women with children in pushchairs – and sometimes retired people pushing pushchairs. It's a different world. Where does everyone come from?

RHS Wisley in particular seems to have captured this market brilliantly, and I think the National Trust is catching up but, to be honest, is a bit slow on the uptake compared with the RHS. The former has the Terrace Restaurant (looks like Company of Cooks runs the dining, and it was extremely good), the Wisley Cafe, the Food Hall and the Glasshouse Cafe. In the summer, it opens the Stone Pine Cafe, the Sky Terrace and the much-lauded Honest Sausage Van. It is catering for all dayparts and all segments of their customer base.

What the RHS have done is create a brilliant experience for its weekday visitors – you can easily lose a few hours here just wandering around the retail shop, picking up loads of indoor plants that will die within seven days of getting them home (my own experience), buying sticks in bottles that make your home smell like a garden or picking up jams and chutneys that will never see the light of day.

And you can wonder around the acres of garden, climb to the viewing point (which, contrary to its description, doesn’t look out over much) or enjoy the vast glass houses. Or, like us, you can eat when you get there, go shopping, have a stroll and eat again on your way out. There are thousands of people doing that every day in places like this. They seem to love it, and I bet it makes their heart sing. We decided to stop on the way back (which is, of course, what you do on day trips out) at a typical English pub. It was fine, but not fine enough to encourage the guests we had just seen at Wisley to drive out there.

We often talk in our industry about creating brilliant guest experiences, but that’s almost always in the context of Generation Z/millennials. We don’t often talk about creating them for those that are around in weekdays – the retired/semi-retired/working from home/parents (and grandparents) with children. They have time and they have money, and from my experience this week, there are an awful lot of them around.
Ann Elliott is a hospitality strategist, connector and adviser

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