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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 18th Mar 2022 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: A seminal moment for the industry, the impact of the pandemic on accessibility in hospitality, too many hospitality leaders still don’t know what they stand for (or against), a celebration of the pub
Authors: Kate Nicholls, Robin Sheppard, Rob Liddiard, Ann Elliott

A seminal moment for the industry by Kate Nicholls

In just five days’ time, the future prospects for hundreds – maybe thousands – of hospitality businesses will be known, and whether it’s bleak or hopeful comes down to the difference between 20% and 12.5%. If the chancellor announces a return to 20% VAT for hospitality and tourism in his Spring Statement next Wednesday (23 March), it’ll compound all the other cost pressures businesses are already facing, forcing many of them to close their doors for the last time. But keep it at 12.5%, and Rishi Sunak fires the starting gun on a return to profitability for our beleaguered industry – the only industry capable of driving the UK’s wider post-pandemic recovery.

The difference really is that stark. There’s hope, though, because the case for 12.5% received a boost this week when an inquiry by a group of influential MPs recommended that the reduced rate remains in place beyond the end of this month. Indeed, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Hospitality and Tourism concluded that VAT should not return to 20% this April, citing UKHospitality data revealing that the lower rate would bring benefits including jobs, international competitiveness and social wellbeing.

Simon Jupp MP (East Devon), chair of the Hospitality and Tourism APPG, said in the inquiry’s report: “Having sought views across the industry, it’s clear that keeping the reduced rate of VAT will help the hospitality and tourism industry get back on its feet after an exceptionally difficult two years.” Vice chair, Alison Thewliss MP (Glasgow Central), agreed, saying: “This report has been helpful in consolidating the evidence around what industry leaders have been telling us for some time – that a move away from the 12.5% VAT would put the brakes on investment and growth.”
Just what we wanted to hear. And the report rams home the message in its conclusion: “The evidence submitted to the APPG…strongly supports the case for retaining the current 12.5% rate of VAT to support the industry in playing a key role in the UK’s economic recovery and the government’s wider agenda, such as net zero and levelling-up.” And just in case the chancellor needs convincing further, the report also stated: “Across every area, the inquiry found a substantial case [my italics] for retaining the current 12.5% rate of VAT and, thus, the APPG recommends this policy remains in place beyond March.” 
The inquiry examined seven areas in which 12.5% VAT would benefit the sector: 
· Support the viability of businesses – help businesses recover financially after being the hardest hit sector by the pandemic and allow them to operate on a more secure footing.
· Improve the rate of employment – enable businesses to employ more people and make vacancies more attractive (e.g. higher wages).
· Positive impact on Treasury revenue – the tax cut would stimulate further economic activity.
· Support regional growth – could lead to regional investment across and within the UK’s home nations
· Improve international competitiveness – makes the UK a more attractive holidaying location for domestic and international visitors through reduced prices and reinvestment in business offerings.
·  Ease cost-of-living pressure – could reduce the cost of living and limit inflation through lower prices and avoiding price increases.
· Improve social wellbeing – businesses would be able to contribute more to their communities through the 12.5% rate by reinvesting in their offerings and engaging in social responsibility action (e.g. becoming more sustainable).

It all seems so compelling, and there’s still time to lend your support. UKHospitality has ramped-up its #VATsEnough campaign in the run-up to next week’s statement, and a last-minute flurry of letters, emails and postcards received by local MPs could just tip the balance in our favour by getting our voice heard in Westminster. Wednesday 23 March 2022 is set to be one of the hospitality industry’s seminal moments. To make it a triumphant one, visit and help get 12.5% over the line.
And to help convince you to click the link, how about this? While the tenth issue of Future Shock – Hospitality in 2022 – compiled by UKHospitality alongside sector data and insight specialists CGA – highlights the vulnerability of the sector, it also demonstrates how our resilient industry can play a leading role in solving the cost-of-living crisis. Two years on, and those businesses that have survived are now facing a tsunami of soaring costs. In addition to rocketing energy prices, for example, operators are facing a 19% rise in labour costs, a 17% hike in food prices and a 14% growth in drink prices. While many are trying to absorb as much as they can, operators are expecting to have to pass on an 11% increase in prices to consumers.

However, our analysis shows that the sector will likely contribute 1.7 percentage points to the national rate of CPI, and that the biggest contributing factor will be that planned VAT increase. But with positive government action – keeping VAT at 12.5% – the sector can be part of the solution to the cost-of-living crisis. A return to 20% VAT would come at a time when UK consumers are facing their own soaring bills, with the report showing that 70% of people are now concerned about their long-term finances, while a large majority (85%) are expecting prices in pubs and restaurants to rise this year, which would inevitably result in a drop in footfall and revenue for the sector at a critical time. So go on…click the campaign link.
Kate Nicholls is chief executive of UKHospitality

The impact of the pandemic on accessibility in hospitality by Robin Sheppard

As we cautiously venture into a post-pandemic era, we can finally reflect on the impact the unprecedented covid-19 crisis has had on sectors and individuals around the world – but most notably, on that of the disabled community. There is no doubt that the pandemic has highlighted the pre-existing inequalities in the UK. In November 2020, statistics from the ONS revealed that disabled people accounted for 59% of covid-19 deaths. From this, it’s evident that more needs to be done to critically understand inequalities on the grounds of disability. We believe the time is now to innovate change.
The recent national lockdowns have given non-disabled people an extraordinary insight into how it feels to have their freedoms restricted every hour of every day. A frightening, invisible danger has opened people’s eyes to what it is like to have to meticulously research and plan every trip, rely on other people and sometimes decide that it is simpler and safer to stay at home. This is what many disabled people experience on a daily basis – but it doesn’t have to be that way. My mission is to make the hotel experience more joyful and inclusive for both disabled and non-disabled guests, designing and creating a place of beauty and practicality for everyone to enjoy. We should capitalise on this moment to enact fundamental and positive change in the hospitality sector. Whether these changes are to the hotel design, the décor or the branding – we need to build momentum on this topic and strive to gain equality for all.
I became very aware of inaccessible spaces following a battle with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a debilitating illness that interrupted my life in December 2004. It completely paralysed me from the neck down, taking almost two years of relentless physiotherapy for me to regain mobility. Following this experience, I have striven to promote accessibility within the tourism and hospitality industries, launching the Blue Badge Access Awards in April 2016, alongside RIBA and the Design Council, with the aim of turning hotel bedrooms and public areas into less functional and hospitalised spaces. Through these outlets, I have been conveying to hotels, restaurants, bars and other hospitality and visitor venues that their facilities are inadequate, not just for wheelchair users, but for people with invisible disabilities – from limited eyesight through the range of spectrum disorders. It’s not just that facilities lack in practicality but style, vision, and the joie de vivre that says, “you’re equal – you deserve to enjoy this place as much as everyone”.
To achieve this equality, I am calling for a change in the perception of accessible rooms in hotels – venturing away from clinical, hospitalised spaces and coining the term “liberty” to replace the word “accessible”, and to promote the rooms in a more positive, celebratory light. At Bespoke Hotels, we launched Hotel Brooklyn in February 2018, comprising 20 accessible bedrooms which we branded liberty rooms. We wanted to deviate from the typical accessible room offered, which will elicit an apologetic, “this is all we’ve got left” from the receptionist and a request for a discount from able-bodied guests.
Our “Brooklynised” spin on inclusive and accessible accommodation provides guests with a king-size bed and all the freedom they need. Comprising items such as a complimentary cocktail voucher, a digital flat-screen TV with Freeview and a library, the liberty rooms we offer double up as suites and family rooms and are widely regarded as an upgrade. As traditional thinking around accessibility and disability has been about mitigating rather than celebrating, it was fundamental that we change our Brooklyn hotel’s accessible room names and interior to reflect this – and we encourage others to do the same. We hope hoteliers can be inspired by, and improve upon, the template used at Hotel Brooklyn and innovate their own accessible spaces and rooms for guests.

By doing so, not only does it create a more inclusive, equal experience, but when encouraging hotels to take the “celebrate, don’t mitigate” route, occupancy and revenue naturally go up. Subsequently, hoteliers get to increase their share of the £12billion accessible tourism market in England. It is crucial to note that we cannot champion accessibility alone – we need the help of everyone to make these changes, no matter how big or small they may be. After all, this is not a disability issue – this is an opportunity to showcase how we can enable individual human beings to occupy space irrespective of their differences. To summarise, in the words of Barack Obama: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.” And the time for change is now.
Robin Sheppard is the president of Bespoke Hotels and co-founder of the Blue Badge Access Awards

Too many hospitality leaders still don’t know what they stand for (or against) by Rob Liddiard
It is increasingly common knowledge that hospitality margins are under pressure and recruitment has never been harder. Many are being tempted to lower hiring standards in order to get candidates through the door and into open roles at affordable labour prices. I’m not going to use this article to preach that a leader should never lower hiring standards, even in an impossibly tight market. I think that’s naive and unfair. All I hope to achieve is to get you to think a little more strategically about which of your hiring criteria you’ll let slide in present circumstances, and which you resolutely will not.
I care about this topic because Yapster closely monitors engagement and communication patterns across the hospitality sector (see our 2022 Social Leadership Report if you missed it) and we can see in stark numbers when sites, regions or entire companies drift into becoming uninspired or misaligned through poor recruitment or absent leadership. Of course, we can also see the magic that happens when groups of aligned people rally around compelling leaders, cultures and missions.
So, how can you lower a hiring bar without destroying your team? My favourite technique for separating “need to have” from “nice to have” hiring criteria is to ask a leadership team to articulate their “anti-values”. Anti-values are behaviours that irritate, offend or undermine in your workplace. Most of us can run off a tight list of anti-values quickly and without much preparation if asked, usually by reflecting over our careers to date and any mis-hires made or personalities clashed with.
For example, my personal anti-values are:
- Lack of curiosity
- Selfishness
- Making excuses
- Dodging hard, right decisions
- Sulking
Hopefully yours will be somewhat different, perhaps even completely different, based on legitimate differences in our personalities and business models. In my world, dealing with a colleague who lacks curiosity is painful because technology should get better with every new release, and employees standing still effectively drag the team backwards. Selfishness (which can be a productive attribute in some sales and professional organisations) is also harmful in subscription technology because we share one product and support team across all our customers. We have to win together.
What are your anti-values? I ask this question of my friends in hospitality leadership fairly often, and “no regard for standards” is probably the number one answer. It cracks me up how particular many great operators are when it comes to standards of service, but I also have huge admiration for the customer experiences you’re able to deliver as a result. Many of my industry friends can rant for hours on smeared cutlery and poorly presented plates. If this rings true for you, please don’t allow the current market conditions to pressure you into hiring folk with no natural attention to detail. You will make yourself and colleagues who share your values (which is hopefully most) miserable and team productivity will probably go down rather than up with the new, ill-fitting team-mate.
Rather than yielding on values (tolerating anti-values), I suggest you relax some of your required experience or role attributes where possible and prepare to give more training and mentorship on the job. I appreciate that many of you have already done this but have a problem with candidate volumes (meaning you don’t have enough candidates with the right stuff culturally to begin with, even when you lower experience requirements). Where talent pipeline is the real problem, it is essential to give more thought to your ideal candidate profile. This means going through a similar exercise to what markers do in ideal customer profiling, thinking carefully about who your best candidates typically are and where (and how) you can proactively source more of them.
My favourite recent example of talent pipeline growth hacking came from an operator with a number of sites in student towns, where new potential employees move into the same halls and student buy-to-let addresses year after year. Rather than focusing on building up a database of candidates, this operator has developed a database of addresses which new prospective employee students frequently move in and out of. This operator’s recruiters then send mail to those addresses clearly setting out the brand’s values and aspirations, hoping to lure in the right type of people to the top of their talent funnel. It’s time to get clear on what you stand for (and against) and find your kind of people – you can teach them the rest through decent training and communications.
Rob Liddiard is co-founder chief executive of mobile messaging platform Yapster

A celebration of the pub by Ann Elliott
I was trying to remember the other day when I had last been in a pub for just a drink – no food of any sort. I couldn’t actually remember. In fact, I couldn’t remember when I last went into a pub which didn’t serve food. When I ran 288 tenancies for Whitbread in the early 90s, very few of them served any sort of real food. There would be bags of peanuts secured to a cardboard poster which, when pulled off, revealed a semi naked woman. Trays of pork scratchings (not good if you ever ate one with hair or a nipple) or jars of pickled onions. Perhaps gherkins if it was really posh. It would be a treat to visit a pub which served baps, pie and chips or sausage rolls.
The situation in those years probably reflected the late AA Gill’s comment: “Food and pubs go together like frogs and lawnmowers, vampires and tanning salons, mittens and Braille. Pubs don’t do food; they offer internal mops and vomit decoration.” Thank goodness things have changed. Pubs are now my default option, and we have some brilliant ones near us, including Oakman’s Betsey Wynne – my go-to pub for everything, though never just a drink. To socialise with my community or feel part of the neighbourhood. We do have one pub in our village, but it’s in a time warp and not worth walking up to – for food or just a drink.
So, when a friend recommended Choir of Man to me, a play/musical set in a pub, I wasn’t totally convinced it would work. I couldn’t see it set in a gastro pub, or even a drinker’s pub for that matter. Its website describes it thus: “Imagine the greatest pub gig you’ve ever been to and multiply it by ten, and you’ll still be nowhere near the fun that this show exudes throughout. Featuring pub tunes, folk, rock, choral and Broadway numbers, the nine guys showcase music that has wide appeal. The cast features world class tap dancers, poets, instrumentalists and singers, ensuring that there is something for everyone in this joyous and uplifting show for all ages. Not only is the concert set in a pub, but it has a real working bar from which the cast will pull pints and invite audience members to get up close and personal with the show – witnessing the action from chairs and tables among the guys – come ready to drink in the action!”
A show set in a pub serving real pints – on stage and passed across to the audience? Could it really work? Feeling very sceptical, I went to see it with a friend last Sunday afternoon in London. Well – I think it’s the best show I have seen for years, without doubt, and it celebrated everything that is great about the pub – those pubs which don’t serve food (and aren’t restaurants really) but do serve their audiences well. It wasn’t nostalgic, but it certainly pointed to a time when the pub brought people together and allowed them to be themselves too. The sort of pub that most people would probably say they wanted in their neighbourhood, but probably stopped going to quite a while ago. 
It was a show which made the audience laugh, cry, shout, stomp, cheer, sing and dance. It was poignant, emotional, funny and very human. It made the whole audience love the very idea of the pub as it perhaps once was – even though the performers were probably all under 40 and may not have ventured into many pubs like this in reality. I am surprised it’s not sponsored by Greene King, Punch or Stonegate, or linked to UKHospitality or the British Institute of Innkeeping. Do go if you want to celebrate all that is great about pub life. It finishes on 3 April in London, but it might tour. Of course, it was a cliché – pubs like this don’t exist anymore. Or do they? 
Ann Elliott is a hospitality strategist, connector and adviser

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