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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 28th Oct 2022 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Innovation at its best, customisation and automation, tackling waste with tech
Authors: Elton Mouna, Glynn Davis, Ann Elliott

Innovation at its best by Elton Mouna

I love BrewDog. For those of you who recall my Friday Opinion piece of July 2021 about bullying bosses and my often disparaging remarks about it on my weekly Talk TV sector news round-up, you may find that surprising. But I do, I bloody love ‘em. It’s the business’ innovation that has sent my heart all of a flutter, and goodness me, it is good at it. BrewDog truly are innovators of distinction.

Get yourself down to the incredible BrewDog Waterloo if you run a pub, a brasserie, a coffee shop, a nightclub, a quick service restaurant or anything in-between and definitely get yourself down there if travel hub pubs are in your strategy. I bet you a pint of Elvis Juice you will leave inspired and will be reimagining its ideas in your venues as if they were yours. Oh come on we’ve all done it.

What [founders] James Watt and Martin Dickie have done with BrewDog Waterloo is to make it whatever you – the customer – wants it to be. It can be any of these things at any time of day:

• A cafe
• A club
• A pub
• A craft beer bar
• A coffee shop
• A restaurant
• A party venue
• A recording studio
• Somewhere to competitively socialise with your chums
• An ice cream parlour 
• Your office
• And it can also be a place to wait for your train

You can hire a desk space for £10 a day that includes a bottomless tea or coffee cup. The tenner also covers, and what a lovely touch, a beer at the end of the day as your reward for working like a Trojan. And in another lovely touch the workspace desks magically transform into table tennis tables after 6pm. And I ask you who doesn’t like a game of Wiff Waff at the end of a hard days slog?

Oh yes, and the Zoom Rooms – wait till I tell you about them. I love a rhyming tagline so not only does the name Zoom Room tick a box but it does exactly what it says on the tin. They are the modern day equivalent of Gilbert Scott’s red telephone box for today’s style of communication and come with a comfy seat, lighting that makes you look good, they’re sound proofed and they are super cool. Zoom Rooms – simple, brilliant, relevant and popular. When I visited people were zooming in and out of them left, right and centre. 

There are lovely little meeting pods you can book for free, a podcast studio, a cafe run by the coffee masters Grind, plus duck pin bowling alleys with Bob Bob Ricard style “Press For Beer” buttons (yes even innovators of distinction like BrewDog will nick an idea or two). There are a whole host of other little touches that make BrewDog Waterloo the venue for whatever you want it to be but I won’t reveal more here as I don’t want to spoil your visit.

When it comes to innovation, to me there are three types of company:

1. Innovators of distinction: A company that fosters a culture that encourages and champions innovation. A company that innovated with urgency. A company that celebrates ideas that flourish and are undeterred by the ideas that don’t quite hit the mark. 

2. Innovators of transcription: A company that liberates ideas from its given sector competitors and reimagines them slightly and slips them into its own concepts as its own. Often it will simply buy an innovative company.

3. Innovators of dereliction: A company that has abandoned innovation and is living in a post-covid credit crunchy world that discourages innovation and sees it as a costly distraction. Average and lacklustre are okay.

Innovators of dereliction face extinction. Innovators of transcription often can’t deliver their borrowed or bought innovation with the conviction it needs. Innovators of distinction are the ones who often go on to greatness. So strive to get true innovators into your business and let them flourish. Strive to think like JKS Restaurants, which created the superb Arcade food market in Tottenham Court Road. Strive to innovate like the brilliant Mission Mars team and its Alberts Schloss. Strive to innovate like Charlie Gilkes and his team at Inception. Strive to be like Richard Hilton, who took three lacklustre hospitality venues in Canary Wharf, knocked then into one and created Fairgame – something vibrant, spectacular, relevant and amazing. Strive to be more dog – more BrewDog. 
Elton Mouna is an innovator, coach and mentor to middle managers in the hospitality sector

Customisation and automation by Glynn Davis

When standing in-line at the service counter of my local Pret A Manger waiting for my typical morning order of a cappuccino recently, it struck me how often I seem to be the only person requesting a bog-standard coffee. There are a cornucopia of options now being requested with various milk types, syrup flavours, decaf this and skinny that, and on top of this the cold drink options now have myriad varieties. 

My experience is not unusual because Starbucks has found its customised cold beverages now account for an incredible 75% of total drinks sales and 66% of all drinks now sold are customised in some form or another. Whatever happened to the standard latte and cappuccino? The world has massively embraced customisation in the world of coffee and also quick service restaurants (QSR).

One of the pioneers of the trend is Subway, which apparently boasts of the potential for 34 million sandwich combinations available in each of its stores when you consider the bread types, fillings, sauces and sandwich sizes etc. Many other food providers have recognised the appeal of offering such flexibility to customers. US chain IHOP boasts as many as 80% of its orders are customised and the appetite for this freedom has been lapped up by customers at the likes of Burger King and McDonald’s where self-service kiosks have certainly helped fuel the ability to add in extras and remove unappealing ingredients. 

In the old days, you’d often find a trail of gherkins outside McDonald’s from children removing them from their Big Macs. Today they simply tap on the kiosk to remove them before their burger is built and while they are tailoring their order how about replacing that unappealing slippery vegetable with a crispy hash brown. Clearly customers are “Lovin’ It” because as many as 71% of people now expect companies to offer personalised options and 61% become frustrated if they are not given the freedom to tailor their orders, according to research from McKinsey & Company.

But this is beginning to cause some serious issues for foodservice companies. Staff shortages and the increased complexity that customisation brings to the production process in the kitchen is leading to the greater propensity for incorrect orders and also the nemesis of fast food brands – queues building up in their restaurants. 

To address the issue there is plenty of innovation taking place. A variety of brands including Chipotle with its Chipotlanes, Chick-fil-A and Taco Bell are promoting digital ordering ahead of collection (often linked to their drive-thrus) that enables much better scheduling in the kitchens and helps reduce customer indecision when ordering in-store and therefore avoids queues building up.

The other aspect that is of great interest to foodservice companies is the introduction of automation. Chipotle is piloting a robotic arm called “Chippy” to fry its chips and here in the UK, robotic kitchen automation firm Karakuri has just launched its automated frying product and is about to embark on a trial with a major fast casual chain before a potential roll-out of the technology that assists stretched kitchen teams.

Starbucks has gone down this route with its Siren System that automates much of the drink production process and alleviates the growing issues around the tailoring of options by improving efficiency. Take the grande mocha Frappuccino (whatever that is!), which took a barista 87 seconds and 16 steps to produce. This has been reduced by the Siren technology to a mere 36 seconds and 13 steps. 

It’s not just about technology though because Subway is attempting to put the customisation genie back in the bottle through a much simpler initiative. In its latest menu refresh in the US in July it launched its “Subway Series” of 12 chef-created sandwiches that sought to reduce the reliance on its custom offer. In early tests Subway stated as many as 50% of diners ordered the new sandwich builds and that customers could expect more of these “set” product creations to be introduced in the future. 

The balance between customisation and efficiency looks set to be an important consideration for the QSR and fast casual brands as the industry seeks to give the customer what they want while also recognising there are finite resources when it comes to employee numbers and wage levels.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Tackling waste with tech by Ann Elliott

Aiming to be ready for Christmas just a bit early than the week before, or even the day before, I sent out my requests for my family’s Xmas lists in early October. Not surprisingly, everyone thought that was ridiculously early and I haven’t had anything back yet. When finally they do respond I expect “nice T-shirts” to be on the list somewhere. They always are, and I have bought from the Rapanui brand range in the past because from an eco-perspective they are beyond reproach (a bit like Patagonia).

Great then to read an article about the founders in the Times and understand a bit more about their background, mission and values. 

When he was just five years old, Mart Drake-Knight wrote a letter to his local bin man. It read: “I am very worried about lots of rubbish. Will there be enough room left for me in the world when I’m a grandad?” Now, 30 years on, Mart and his brother Rob have built a booming eco business with a new model that’s helping to revolutionise the clothing industry, and he is doing his bit to help solve the problem that so concerned him as a child. “We realised that tech could be used to design out waste,” Mart says. “We wanted to make something that was sustainable, made from natural materials using renewable energy, and that didn’t end up in landfill.”

That line: “tech could be used to design out waste”, stuck out for me. How does our sector currently use tech to design out waste? Could we do better? Waste in hospitality could include food, disposables (guess the clue is in the name) and utilities just to begin with. 

Patently there are tech companies that are addressing certain elements of waste – particularly back of house and particularly with reference to gas usage. Tech can now recognise when gas rings aren’t being used and can turn down the gas for instance. Are there tech companies though who look at waste across the whole of a restaurant/pub’s supply chain and provide tech solutions to eliminate it?

The Zero Carbon Forum does a brilliant job in terms of helping businesses develop plans to become carbon neutral but that’s not quite the same thing. Becoming a B-Corp accredited organisation is a positive starting point too (although a demanding process). Houston & Hawkes recently became the UK’s first B-Corp contract catering business. French restaurant groups including Big Mamma Group and Cojean have the accreditation, as does Italian pasta brand Miscusi, which opened its first UK restaurant last year. Exclusive Collection was the first UK hotel group to become a B-Corp in October 2021. 

There are superb examples of operators then who are determined to tackle waste and using tech to do so – they are leading the way. 

Rapanui’s business tips gave some insight into its use of tech and its pursuit of waste elimination:

• Make a “not to do” list. Write down all your priorities and then actively choose not to do some of them. 

• Amplify tech. When you have a large team, one of the key things is amplifying technology. 

• Automate it. Any kind of software that allows you to automate stuff in everyday business is vital. In my view, automation and reusability are the superpowers of the 21st century.

• Keep learning. No matter who you are, go and learn to code. Even if you aren’t on the IT side of things, it will help you understand how to think in the digital environment and help you leverage things more quickly.

Of course our operating models are a lot more complex than designing, producing and selling T-shirts. Are there lessons to be learned from Rapanui though? Perhaps an objective of “using tech to design out waste in our kitchen” would be a great starting point? It should ultimately help profitability as well as do our bit to help the world.
Ann Elliott is a hospitality consultant

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