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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 18th Feb 2022 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Attracting new talent to restaurants outside of London, pain game for craft brewing, making life a little bit easier, smooth operations in a remote world
Authors: Mitch Tonks, Glynn Davis, Ann Elliott, Simon Faughnan

Attracting new talent to restaurants outside of London by Mitch Tonks

Becoming a chef used to be seen as the job you got when you couldn’t do anything else. You were expected to work every day, and for most of the hours in the day. Kitchens were hot, noisy places, and the idea of looking after your team, both physically and mentally, wasn’t a consideration for most. Thankfully, today the tides are changing, and we are learning from the mistakes of the past in order to create spaces which are inclusive, exciting and nurture talent. 

When I opened the first Rockfish in 2010, my vision was to create success stories, and over the last decade we’ve been fortunate enough to see that happen. Now we have more than 400 employees and eight (soon to be nine) established restaurants. With a pool of talented individuals, we are at a point where we can take the next step and invest in a real training programme – the Rockfish Seafood Academy – which will help continue to create those stories. 

At a time when many of us are struggling to recruit, the industry collectively needs to look at how it sparks passion. What can we do to create the love of food, and how do we turn it into a skill? How do you create tomorrow’s talent? Because we can’t wait for the current gap to just fix itself. Our idea is simple: take chefs in the early days of their careers, pay them a proper salary and give them real, rounded and intensive training in how to be the best seafood chef.

Over four weeks, we will invest time to give the chefs the Rockfish experience, from being part of a kitchen team to seeing the boats and going to the fish markets to pick the catch of the day. Each trainee will be assigned a head chef who will not only look after them for the four weeks but continue to mentor them all the way through their Rockfish career. We want to help people understand why hospitality is such a fantastic industry to work in right from the start and show off the incredible opportunities and brilliant people. 

Through the creation of the Rockfish Seafood Academy, we’re able to celebrate the talent outside of the big cities – something we want more of our colleagues to be doing too. Not everyone wants the hustle and bustle of city life, and the south west especially is booming thanks to the huge interest in British coastal towns, which in turn has led to so many more brilliant restaurants opening. We should be going to the colleges and finding that talent – creating a new world of opportunities in an area which lives and thrives on hospitality. 

After initially encouraging people into chef positions, the other most important thing for us is ensuring people are happy and well looked after – which we hope will ensure they stay with Rockfish for a long time. We don’t want to find all this talent and then lose it – we want to encourage great careers and give people the time to shine. At Rockfish, for example, we have 48-hour weeks in summer and 40-hour weeks in winter, and if there is ever overtime needed, we always pay. A far cry from 60, 70 or even 80-hour weeks. Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, we shut to allow people to celebrate at home. 

While not every restaurant business can do that, there are definite steps the industry can make together that will make it a brighter and more welcoming industry for young people – or people looking for a career change. A support line which can help every member of the team with anything from financial advice to career direction is something we have implemented. We also have the aim of sending 30% of our team on a two-to-three day retreat every year to give them genuine quality time to relax and refresh.

And we get involved with the communities outside the restaurants, from funding environmental projects to taking out the restaurant paddle boards (which every Rockfish has) and cleaning the plastic and rubbish out of the ports. For us, it’s about building a real connectivity between our entire team, because we’ve realised having more than 400 employees can be an incredibly powerful thing, especially if you direct only positive energy towards them and empower them to do good too. And if the entire industry was on board, imagine what we could achieve then.
Mitch Tonks is the founder of Rockfish

Pain game for craft brewing by Glynn Davis

Brewery numbers in the UK have doubled over the past decade, which comes on top of a similar growth rate experienced in the previous 10 years. This equates to a net addition of almost 1,500 new breweries between 2001 and 2021, taking the total to 1,902, according to The Good Beer Guide.

This has been great for beer drinkers as the choice available has improved remarkably during this 20-year timeframe, and especially so in the past decade as this period encompasses the craft beer revolution during which the variety of beer styles has increased exponentially.

But things are starting to look a little rocky in the brewery world as we come out the other side of covid-19 and the government-backed loans, furloughs and other life-support tools run their course. As the dust settles, the tough underlying trading environment is becoming all too clear.

Even before the pandemic, many smaller players were being kept alive by crowdfunding. It still amazes me that the industry continues to attract funding from such a source when the only profitable exit has been Camden Town Brewery (sold to AB-InBev), and we have to go back to December 2015 for that successful deal. By contrast, there have been numerous failures.

In recent months, the number of breweries tripping up and hoisting up the For Sale sign sets a very worrying tone for the industry. Itchen Brewery closed its doors at the start of the year, West Berkshire Brewery hit the buffers owing £10m to creditors (disclosure: I was a shareholder), Swan Brewery of Herefordshire has called time and Weird Beard Brew Co of West London has put itself up for sale. 

More worrying for the industry is the abandoning of the craft beer sector by the large brewing companies who had provided funding for growth, and an ability for the founders of successful craft businesses to cash in some chips. Kirin-owned Lion recently announced it is looking for buyers for its Fourpure Brewing Co in London’s Bermondsey and Huddersfield-based Magic Rock Brewing, that it acquired in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Meanwhile, Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company (CMBC) recently released a statement proposing the closure of London Fields Brewery, which it acquired in 2017, and its aim of finding buyers for the site and brand. 

Clearly covid-19 has had a serious impact on these businesses, but the reality for both Lion and CMBC is that supporting these brands, regardless of a pandemic, has cost them significant amounts of money in marketing and promotional expenses to build their presences in the on-trade and retail market with the major supermarkets. They have clearly had enough and made the decision to jettison these cost centres and instead focus on their other core brands and overseas markets.

These acquisitions were undertaken when the craft beer sector was white-hot, and it was no doubt tempting for large players to pick off some cool brands to add to their portfolios (Magic Rock certainly had the necessary credibility, in my view). But maybe more note should have been taken of the US, where the craft brewery cycle was well ahead of that in the UK (Lion owns some US brands, so maybe it should really have known better).

Over in the States, it had been largely recognised that buying craft breweries is not without risk. Yes, it brings you a strong, cool brand – but as referenced, this needs financial support. And no, it does not bring you the opportunity to drive economies of scale. Closing down these craft breweries and transferring production to the parent’s existing facilities is arguably the death knell for the respect/value inherent in these brands. This quashed the potential purchase of many of the first-generation US craft breweries.

Against this backdrop, I’d expect to see a lot more pain in the coming months for some of the smaller players in the craft brewing sector, where the battle to sell their beers into pubs and onto the shelves of the supermarkets is more competitive than ever, and the potential to ultimately sell out to a big operator and sail off into the sunset now looks a very distant hope indeed.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Making life a little bit easier by Ann Elliott

How often do you think “It’s too hard to buy from this business, I just won’t bother?” I think like this more and more, whether I am buying online or face to face. If it’s not easy or quick, then forget it – I don’t seem to have the time or patience to persist. Amazon? Easy, unfortunately. Zara? Not always quite so easy, fortunately.

I experienced just this situation the other day when trying to book at table at a local restaurant. Nothing was available within a two-hour window of the time I wanted to book, but no other options were offered. I really wanted the system to say, “Why not try this other time or this other date, or this other restaurant?” Too much to ask?

It just meant that, if I really did want to eat there, I had to keep scrolling through other dates and times to see when they might just let me have a table. It was incredibly frustrating. For some reason, I always end up trying to do stuff like this in between doing other things and in a hurry. So, I ended up booking somewhere that I didn’t really want to go to, and at the same time feeling irritated with the restaurant I had wanted to go to in the first place. The words cutting off my nose to spite my face came to mind.

Booking a hotel room is equally difficult sometimes. If a room isn’t available on the day I want, then I just have to keep working away, trying other options until I find one. It would be so much easier, quicker and less frustrating if the online booking system told me when there were rooms available rather than telling me when they aren’t. Or theatre tickets! Actually, last week I did find a system which let me know when they had tickets available for a show I wanted to see – hallelujah! Tickets booked and paid for in three minutes, and I could then get on with the rest of my life.

Earlier this week, I was talking to the chair of a successful hospitality group who said that, as a brand, they are obsessed with making it easy to be a guest with them. They had taken apart all their guest-facing processes and removed any which made it harder to be a guest. This meant reviewing their online table/space booking procedures in depth. Now they provide options and suggest alternatives for their guests if their desired time slot/day isn’t available. It helps their guests, and it helps their own labour management too. They also look at their welcome-and-hold at the bar, their order-and-pay -at-table tech and their feedback systems. They also wanted to make it easier for their guests to post about their brand – motivating their guests to market their brand was a win-win.

This is all much easier to talk about in theory than it is to adopt in practice. It’s so difficult to think and act like a customer (to put your customer hat on, as one marketing director used to say to me) when you have been in a business a long time. It’s a challenge not to be defensive, to think objectively, to be brutally honest with yourself and others and to admit that things need to change when they aren’t necessarily broken.

I think that human resource directors have been doing this now for some time, but in terms of making it easy to be an employee. The issues around team retention and recruitment through Brexit and the pandemic have forced them to think through their own processes, particularly in terms of new recruits. They have had to make it easy, simple and quick to join their team. They have simplified their job ads, their recruitment processes, their interviewing techniques and their whole applicant tracking systems. A mantra of making it easy to be a guest (or employee) is really powerful and inspiring for an organisation, and the impact can be transformational.
Ann Elliott is a hospitality strategist, connector and adviser

Smooth operations in a remote world by Simon Faughnan

Hospitality technology soared during the pandemic as the sector adapted to a new way of life. Many of us made the switch to working remotely and our staff levels shrank as our operations scaled down. Now that we’re learning to live with the virus, we’ve got used to it.
This supercharged remote-working technology has brought huge benefits for senior leaders and multi-site managers who aren’t site-dependant. But, at the same time, managing from a distance can come with its pitfalls: keeping up with what’s happening onsite, retaining teams, keeping them engaged and resolving issues quickly can be tricky.

Seizing the face-to-face moment
Time is precious, and those onsite moments of personal contact are priceless. Making sure operations are running smoothly and that the team are happy and motivated should be top priorities. 

On the other hand, without setting an agenda in advance, your two hours could turn into an entire day once you start delving into the different issues that have been going on since your last visit. And it’s here that digitalised operations management can help you get to the point and prioritise the bigger issues. 

Let’s face it, with recruitment and retention the way it is right now, connecting with teams and ensuring they are engaged and motivated must be a top priority. A word of praise for a site manager or a pat on the back for a barista can transform into golden moments that will stay with them forever.

Engagement in the digital era
Engagement does go a lot further than that, however. Communication needs to be consistent, staying true to company culture at all times. Getting teams to live and breathe culture is no small feat, especially with geographically dispersed teams. Culture comes from within, and the best way to ensure it sticks is to lead by example. But how do we do that? Well, it starts the day a new hire joins the company, through onboarding then ongoing training, and continues right through the employee life cycle. 

In this digital era, and with young people making up the lion’s share of hospitality workers, we also need to shake up the way we engage with our teams. The new generation of digital natives seek instant action, rewards and gratification. We need to tailor our communication and learning programmes to cater for their impatience and shorter attention span. After all, they’ve been streaming content since they were babies (quite literally), so they would doubtfully take a second look at any employer who isn’t keeping up by giving them everything they need on their mobile, and fast.

Interviews via the metaverse are also becoming a thing. Today’s young professionals expect to get promoted in a matter of months, not years. So, if a company isn’t offering a visible career plan, it will be unlikely to hold their interest for long.

Culture comes from within
Site managers are an important cog in a company’s culture wheel and in ensuring each venue stays true to the brand, in every way. For that to happen, they need to stay passionate, motivated, living and breathing the brand.

Internal promotion is becoming more crucial as recruitment gets tougher, but it also plays a key role to preserving brand standards and culture. But how can we ensure that culture is engrained in freshly (and rapidly) promoted site managers in companies where Gen Z and Millennials make up more than 80% of the workforce? 

Empowering and coaching managers
We need to build an ecosystem of support through our organisations so that culture trickles through everything we do. It’s here that our area or country managers step in. They need to be able to identify talent at all levels and coach potential site managers, guiding them through the promotional transition and helping them as they grow.

Senior managers need to empower their venue managers to take responsibility, giving them the best tools for the job. They set and agree performance goals and measure performance with clear KPIs and feedback.

So much data, so little time
With the digital era comes information overload. So, how do we sift through the data to measure performance effectively? Analytical tools with user-friendly dashboards are an essential ally here, without a doubt. Better still if they integrate data from all over your business, giving you a real-time overview of the big picture.

On talking to several hospitality readers recently in the production of our most recent whitepaper, most agreed that five or six KPIs at a time per area is enough to monitor at any given time. Any more than that, and we become distracted from our main objectives.

Some KPIs were in those top six unanimously. Sales and profitability data, as well as food and drink costs, are a given, although guest satisfaction was also a clear winner. Labour costs, which account for up to 40% of hospitality overheads, are another regular KPI across most businesses.

However, employee satisfaction, retention and development statistics are now on the dashboard to stay. On the operational front, compliance is paramount, and this was reflected in the number of businesses monitoring audit scores, operational and safety incidents. 
Running an efficient operation and keeping everyone happy is indeed a tall order. One which, without the recent technological growth spurt, would bury any business under a mountain of paper. This may be one of the positives to emerge from the pandemic.
Simon Faughnan is chief product officer at MAPAL Group

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