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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 27th May 2022 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Hospitality in the internet age, cutting menu sizes will help combat cost increases, combatting the hospitality staffing crisis in 2022, conspiracy theorists in the mud
Authors: Olivia Fitzgerald, Glynn Davis, Michael Clitheroe, Paul Chase

Hospitality in the internet age by Olivia Fitzgerald

Earlier this year, Instagram chief executive Adam Mosseri declared his business was no longer simply a “square photo-sharing app” for friends and social groups.  Gloriously understated, he was perhaps, in part, referring to Instagram’s ever-expanding role as a connector between people, brands and businesses – and its unfolding role as a marketplace. 

Aside from being the seventh most visited website in the world and fourth biggest social media platform, Instagram is clearly becoming a more important tool for consumers to research products and experiences, organise their social lives and, increasingly, where they buy stuff.  

According to Instagram’s own figures from 2021, 70% of shoppers look there for their next purchase, while 40% use it to shop weekly. And perhaps most powerfully, half of people go on to visit a website having seen a company, brand or service in Instagram Stories first. 
Former Nike chief marketing officer, Greg Hoffman, recently spoke about how social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram had transformed their business. It has enabled them to execute storytelling at a deeper level, connect directly with consumers and transact directly too. Social media is now a key element in helping the company move at the speed required to meet consumer expectations in today’s market.

Big brand owners – particularly in key sectors like FMCG, fashion, and drinks – have spent an enormous amount of time developing digital e-commerce, or ‘e-comm’, strategies and distribution, including through key social media platforms like Instagram. So, what does e-commerce look like in hospitality? It seems most attention and thinking in this area is focused on at-home products and experiences like branded meal kits and food delivery, via aggregators such as Just Eat and Deliveroo. However, it is becoming ever clearer that social media is developing as a key engine for hospitality businesses to sell their in-venue inventory too, to secure bookings.

More and more restaurant and pub businesses are harnessing platforms like Instagram to not only market and promote the beautiful sizzle of what’s on the plate and in the glass, but also as a vital gateway in the booking journey and, ultimately, to grow revenue. And in a sense, you could say that pre-booked sales are e-comm for hospitality – a vital revenue driver, every bit as important as delivery.

From our own research, it’s pretty clear that established social media platforms like Instagram are an essential part of the hospitality experience. This is not just in terms of search, recommendations and consideration of where to visit – although clearly that is huge – but for pre-booked sales too.

In the latest GO Technology report – Zonal’s on-going quarterly research partnership with CGA, and along with Mozrest, the booking channel aggregator – we explored the issue further. In the study, we found that social media is already starting to rival Google in terms of search, with 48% of consumers using the key social platforms to search for venues versus Google’s dominant 79%. Furthermore, 33% of guests said they were already using social media platforms to book tables, and a further 38% said they would consider doing so. For the 18-24-year-old cohort, this figure rose to more than half. More obviously, perhaps, 36% of respondents were using social media to access offers and discounts. 

As ever, these truths are not universal. While penetration of social media sits at around 80% of the population (in terms of those who regularly use it), the propensity to use and harness for research, ordering and booking starts to diminish with consumers over the age of 45. 

The research also pointed to perhaps what is next: voice-driven research, ordering and bookings. Nearly 50% of consumers now own a virtual assistant such as Alexa or Google Assistant, and 47% of owners said they were using their devices for research including scoping for a venue. Nearly a third said that reserving a table would be quicker and more convenient by virtual assistants than other means.  

From their humble beginnings 12-to-15 years ago, and to echo the words of Adam Mosseri, it is clear that social media platforms are no longer merely a repository for square-shaped holiday photos or a way of keeping in touch with school and college friends. For hospitality, we are seeing the next iteration of the relationship between the customer, social media and business. 

And, although already seen as an essential element of the marketer’s toolkit, it’s no longer just about marketing an offering via an appealing digital shop window comprising photos, video and creative visuals. It’s about using the power of social media to drive bookings, visits and revenue. 
Olivia FitzGerald is chief sales and marketing officer for Zonal 

Cutting menu sizes will help combat cost increases by Glynn Davis

Returning to the Dolphin pub in the village of Melbourn in Cambridgeshire for dinner recently, I was struck by how much more comprehensive the menu appeared. In among the new additions were a selection of appealing looking small plates, which my family took advantage of in ordering a large array of dishes to share across the group.

But then we were told that the food would take an hour to arrive as the chef was in the kitchen on his own (along with his kitchen porter) for this Saturday dinner service. An hour later, we were informed that the food would take another 30 minutes, and would we like a round of drinks on the house to help us pass the time?

What eventually came out of the kitchen was excellent, and we will definitely return to the pub, because a less conscientious chef could easily have thrown out sub-par food. He was clearly under great pressure but did not let his standards slip, and so despite the long wait, we gave him a hefty tip and much thanks, because the poor guy was pretty stressed. Looking at the complex spread of dishes on the table, I could not help feeling that the menu was making the life of the kitchen team at this pub, and the many other Greene King-owned boozers running the same menu, particularly tough during these times of extreme staff shortages.

In complete contrast is North London pub The Plimsoll, which I visited recently, and was impressed by the menu of a mere ten dishes. This limited choice was certainly not deterring guests, because I was informed the dining area is fully booked for dinner service every night of the week. What was noticeable was the amount of its Dexter cheeseburgers that came out of the open-plan kitchen. This is the dish that made the owners’ names when running the kitchen at a nearby pub, The Compton Arms. Its popularity is certainly making life a lot less stressful at The Plimsoll.

It’s clearly not only labour shortages that are prompting these simplifications of menus, because escalating prices of raw materials are also having an increasing impact. This is being felt across all parts of the industry. It was reported that Michelin-starred Cornerstone restaurant will no longer be putting monkfish, hake, John Dory, cod and scallops on its menus because it was economically unviable. Its signature scallop dish would have to be priced at £30 versus its previous price point of £16.

At the pub end of things, Marston’s has been following the menu streamlining principle, with the number of dishes having been cut by 35%, thereby helping improve efficiency in its kitchens as it looks to offset the inevitable price increases to its menus. It has undoubtedly been helped in this task by the knowledge from the pre-pandemic period that a mere ten dishes made up 80% of food sales.

In the US, this trend for reducing menu items has been in evidence over the past several years, according to Technomic, who found it dramatically accelerated in 2020 as covid-19 took hold. To liven up these shortened menus, many restaurants have been introducing limited-time-offerings.

Such obvious action does not yet seem to have been adopted across the hospitality industry in the UK, because between February and April 2022, the number of food and drink items on menus increased by an average of 1.8%, according to Lumina Intelligence’s Menu Tracker. Pubs and bars were the main culprits of this menu sprawl, with an average of 219 food and drink options available – of which food encompassed an incredible 92 different items.

Whether it’s because of the chronic shortage of people or the ongoing inflationary pressures on raw materials, it is surely inevitable that all hospitality business will have to take the knife to their menus and cut off those items that don’t stack up financially, or are making the lives of chefs unnecessarily tough at a time when they really should be recognised as assets of community value.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Combatting the hospitality staffing crisis in 2022 by Michael Clitheroe

In the months since coronavirus lockdown restrictions began to lift last year, there isn’t a single hospitality business that hasn’t been impacted in some way by the dearth of available staff. It’s an ongoing crisis that’s reached all corners of the country, with the sector still yet to identify a sustainable solution.

Last summer, research conducted by a combination of UKHospitality, the British Beer and Pub Association and The British Institute of Innkeeping confirmed that nearly 100% of businesses had open vacancies – primarily concentrated in front-of-house roles, non-head chefs and kitchen porters.

Indeed, it was expected that following the winding down of furlough, the tide would turn and we would welcome an influx of people back to the fold. But sadly, this doesn’t appear to be as much in evidence as originally anticipated. In a bid to both attract and retain staff, many employers have boosted salaries in the hope it enables a short-term fix. Figures from Indeed confirm hospitality wages have grown by 4.6% in 2021, making the sector one of the fastest growing in terms of pay.

As a result, we continue to see more and more examples of how the credibility of the hospitality sector as a prospective career option has been restored. Taking the time to invest in individuals and their education throughout the industry has been a major factor. More and more work-based qualifications, such as NVQs, apprenticeships and degrees, are being obtained in the workplace, which has resulted in an incredible re-evaluation of the hospitality sector in terms of its employment and career prospects.

In fact, the sector is going full circle, with a meticulous focus on its people. In a bid to entice this fresh wave of talent into industry, hospitality venues have even launched their own recruitment and training academies. To develop talent within the business, Balmer Lawn Hotel (BLH) has created an array of specialist roles to help upskill existing employees, which includes several management positions.

On top of this, progression extends to the kitchen, where opportunities have been successfully provided to porters to develop them into prep or starter chefs. The key success factor to recruitment is retention. At BLH, we have a meaningful and purposeful business plan with people at its heart – a culture that has seen us win awards for training and development while also producing a pre-pandemic staff retention rate of more than 97% for full-time employees for over two years. 

Employees’ long-term progression, from that of a part-time job, student, or graduate placement to long-term education while in full-time employment, demonstrates how effectively we position hospitality as opposed to other industries for a prosperous and long-lasting career. Struggles with recruitment are by no means a new phenomenon for the hospitality sector, although the past two years have exacerbated the issue to a degree never seen before.

Many people place a large chunk of the blame on Brexit and its impact on access to the continental labour market. At present, the government doesn’t include hospitality jobs on its shortage occupations list, which offers lower barriers of entry and reduced visa fees for certain professions. Calls have been growing recently from across the sector to loosen rules to include a six-month working visa for EU nationals – a move that would certainly help, but is unlikely to materialise. 

There are other profound factors to consider that pre-date Brexit and the pandemic, but it is how the sector worked on addressing these image problems prior that have stood the industry in such its good stead at such a critical time, therefore enabling employers to fast-track change and evolution.

Overall, while the industry will continue to face many challenges in the next six to 12 months, we look forward to exploring relationships with our educational bodies locally to attract students on training programmes and placements for graduates – maximising our routes to the labour market alongside the development of our existing pool of potential.
Michael Clitheroe is the general manager at Balmer Lawn Hotel in the New Forest

Conspiracy theorists in the mud by Paul Chase

It has been said that we live in a post-truth world, where an entire generation of people who have been brought-up on social media have been led to believe that not only are they entitled to their own opinions, however vacuous, but they’re also entitled to their own facts. No one can be an expert on everything, and in fact. most people aren’t experts on anything. But we are bombarded with contradictory information on a vast array of subjects because social media amplifies the warped opinions of doubt archaeologists and a variety of other bad-faith actors.

President Obama expressed it well when he commented that if you pump out enough raw sewage on social media, people won’t know what to believe anymore. Sites like Twitter and Facebook have provided all manner of crackpots with a global soap box from which to spout their nonsense. The kind of oddballs who might once have popped-up at Hyde Park Corner and climbed onto a real soap box, attracting a bit of interest from members of the public who would roll their eyes and chuckle as they passed by, can now gain vast followings from people whose deep insecurities make them vulnerable to damaging misinformation.

The covid pandemic created a huge opportunity for these grifters – not just disaster capitalists and the cronies of corrupt politicians, but vain fame-seekers who spouted conspiratorial nonsense, and who saw covid as part of some global conspiracy to impose a new world order and a Chinese-communist-style social credit system. Covid passports were not just bad in themselves but a portent of what was to come, and it had all been enabled by globalists. Klaus Schwab, Bill Gates, Tony Blair and the World Economic Forum became boogey men – a sort of real-world example of Spectre from the James Bond films. 

Except that covid wasn’t some kind of chimera, it was real. It did, and still does, kill a lot of people. Over the years, I have done a lot of research on alcohol and public health, and this has forced me to distinguish between voodoo science and the real thing. There are two sources of statistical information that I have found trustworthy over the years – The Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the NHS. So, on the 23 May 2022, the ONS published a really useful round-up of covid statistics and in the process dealt what would, in any rational world, put a lot of covid conspiracy theorists in the mud.

Remember those who made much of the difference between dying with, as opposed to of, covid, and who said we were all being lied to, and the death rates were exaggerated, and that covid was “just a bad version of flu”? Here’s what ONS say: “Coronavirus (Covid-19) has been the underlying cause of death in more than four times as many deaths as flu and pneumonia in England and Wales since March 2020. Annually, deaths due to Covid-19 have been higher than those due to flu and pneumonia in any year since 1929.

“Although mortality from Covid-19 has reduced since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, it is not yet clear whether the disease is behaving similarly to flu and pneumonia. There were 148,606 deaths where Covid-19 was identified as the underlying cause of death in England and Wales between the weeks ending 13 March 2020 and 1 April 2022, compared with 35,007 deaths due to flu and pneumonia. In contrast, there were 170,600 deaths, where Covid-19 was mentioned anywhere on the death certificate as a cause or contributory factor, compared to 219,207 deaths involving flu and pneumonia.”

And this on how deaths are classified: “The ONS uses data from death certificates to count deaths from Covid-19 and all other causes. This is distinct from public health measures, which include deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test. We use the term ‘due to Covid-19’ when referring only to deaths with an underlying cause of death of Covid-19. When taking into account all of the deaths that had Covid-19 mentioned anywhere on the death certificate, whether as an underlying cause or not, we use the term ‘involving Covid-19’. This is also the same for flu and pneumonia.”

So, covid deaths are classified by ONS as deaths where covid was the underlying (main) cause as expressed on their death certificates: 148,606; deaths where covid was mentioned on a death certificate as a contributory cause including those where it was the main cause: 170,600.

All the factual information that would have answered the covid denialists’ drivel about mortality statistics being faked to fool us and control us has been available on the ONS covid dashboard since the end of March 2020. Who would have thought it? Conspiracy theorists in the mud!
Paul Chase is director of Chase Consultancy and a leading industry commentator on alcohol and health

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