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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 3rd Feb 2023 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: The industry needs more like Larry Nelson, how doubling down on employee incentives helps Las Iguanas stand out, independent thoughts, 2023 restaurant trends – from the US to the UK
Authors: Phil Mellows, Angela Da Silva, Sarah Travell, Dean Concannon

The industry needs more like Larry Nelson by Phil Mellows

Journalists seldom take the opportunity to reflect on their own profession, but it seems appropriate now as the brewing industry takes in the sad news of the death of Larry Nelson at the ridiculously young age of 61.
Larry was editor and, since 2012, publisher of the Brewers Guardian, an international industry magazine dating back some 150 years, along with the Brewery Manual, former journal of the Brewers Society, and more recently, a companion Cider Manual.
I worked closely with him over the last decade and knew him for much longer. He was a great professional, a journalist with high standards who had earned the trust of brewers across the world. The warm reactions to his loss reflect the respect for his understanding of the industry and the charm of his easy-going company. 
There was no mistaking that soft, rich, Canadian accent. One audibly gooey-eared radio interviewer was moved to remark at the end of their conversation that he had “a voice like chocolate”. It didn’t tempt him into podcasting.
Larry won his share of awards, but awards alone never quite capture what people actually do. I have some sympathy here with film star Sylvia Syms, who died in the same week. She thought actors shouldn’t win awards because they’re only doing their job, and you might apply that to journalists too. Except these days we have to market ourselves, of course.
Trade journalism, at which Larry excelled, makes its own specific demands. Journalists covering an industry have one foot in that industry and the other foot in the principles of their own trade – in independent, objective reporting.
Because your readers all inhabit a particular world, you have to understand that world as well as they do. Make a mistake and you’ll be caught out. Trade journalism sets a higher bar in that respect.
You have to get the facts right, and you also have to have the in-depth knowledge of the industry that puts those facts into context, and which gives facts meaning. And you do all that with a mind to what you’re doing being good for the industry. You tell the truth as best you can, because in the long term the truth benefits the whole, even though some may not like it at the time.
Part of the Brewery Manual’s brief is to list all the operating breweries in the UK. This is done by a team of researchers who telephone each brewery for an update. It’s a hugely labour-intensive task, but it has to be done that way because, unsurprisingly, businesses that arrive with a fanfare tend to skulk away quietly when they fail. 
So, the Manual’s total brewery count was always more modest than other estimates. As early as 2017, Larry was warning that numbers had peaked, while others were celebrating a seemingly endless boom. 
Now, with breweries closing at a rapid rate, we are seeing a come down from that artificial high. As Glynn Davis has remarked in these columns, over-confidence inflated a crowdfunded bubble that had to burst. They should’ve listened to Larry. Instead, they only heard the euphoric media releases, all good news and no bad. 
David Jesudason (whose forthcoming book on Desi pubs I can’t wait to read) last week threw down a challenge to fellow beer writers to tell the stories of pub businesses that are failing in the current climate, as well as celebrating successes.
That’s great if they tell the whole story, as Jesudason himself does in an accompanying interview with a Shepherd Neame lessee who is having to give up his pub. But we have this thing at the moment where, for one reason or another, a licensee moves on and the non-trade media report it as though the pub has closed for good. There are enough pubs closing for good without having to exaggerate, and we need to understand why these things are happening – the full context.
The Guardian investigative journalist Nick Davies, now retired, wrote a book called Flat Earth News in which he coined the term ‘churnalism’. Proper journalism was being replaced, he argued, by the deskilled publishing of public relations spin. 
If there was one thing that riled the mild-mannered Larry Nelson, it was when he followed up a press release to ask questions or arrange an interview, only to find the person who’d originated the story had promptly gone on holiday as soon as they’d pressed the ‘send’ button. They thought their job was finished, when it had only just begun. 
The hospitality industry as much as the brewing industry, with which it’s so closely related, needs journalists who will chase down the full story, perhaps more than ever. We need more Larrys.
Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist

How doubling down on employee incentives helps Las Iguanas stand out by Angela Da Silva 

In April, after a three-year hiatus, one of the hospitality sector’s best and longest-established employee incentive trips will return. More than 20 superstar Las Iguanas team members will pack their bags and flip flops to jet off to Rio de Janeiro, having earned their place by smashing sales and customer feedback targets over the last 12 months. 

Creating loyalty that lasts 
Race to Rio was established by Las Iguanas in 2008 to inspire and motivate our team members to deliver incredible service and create amazing experiences for our guests, giving them the chance to visit our cultural home, nearly 6,000 miles away in Brazil. 

This year’s expedition will be our biggest ever group, and we’ll be delivering a week-long, all-expenses-paid trip of a lifetime, ticking off bucket list experiences like Copacabana beach, Christ the Redeemer, Sugar Loaf Mountain, the Sambadrome and a football match at the Maracanã stadium. It will also give our teams the chance to visit the home of Las Iguanas’ Magnifica Cachaça and see first-hand the charities we support, like Projeto Vidançar in the Alemão Complex favela.

It may seem like a gamble to increase our financial outlay on recognition at a time of spiralling costs and tightly squeezed margins, but the truth is initiatives like these have never been more important. With recruitment continuing to pose such a significant challenge to the sector, being able to retain your best people is more crucial than ever, and these trips help build loyalty among our restaurant teams by allowing them to immerse themselves in the values and culture of the business. In fact, 30% of our operations managers have been on previous Rio trips as a general manager or assistant manager. 

Recognition culture is key
People work at Las Iguanas for the same reason our guests visit us – it’s a fun place with good vibes, exciting food and drink and great music. We work really hard to create a fun culture in the workplace, so our people feel energised and enthused to deliver such a memorable experience to our guests, and recognition and incentives play a big part in keeping everybody motivated. 

We also run at least two other recognition trips throughout the year in conjunction with our drink suppliers, with places awarded to team members who crush their cocktail sales targets. This year, we’re heading to Cuba and Mexico, giving our teams more chances to experience the Latin American vibes that they buy into when they choose to work with us.  

Regular competitions and prize draws, like the monthly ‘your rent paid’ giveaway and on the spot ‘nice-ness’ rewards keep things exciting, and we put on regular events and nights out for restaurant teams. We make a really big deal about our awards do and company conference, and make sure that every event feels special, fun and unique. 

Generation Z values purpose
Being able to offer next level incentive trips is one of the ways we set ourselves apart as an employer to appeal to a Generation Z workforce, but so is the purpose at the heart of our business. A recent KPMG survey of 6,000 workers in the UK found that 51% of 18- to 24-year-olds value environmental, social and governance (ESG) commitments as a reason to work for a company, and 33% turned down jobs because a company’s ESG values did not align with their own.

The people in our talent pool want to work for a business that makes a difference, and our work with the LATA Foundation, which supports Projeto Vidançar and sponsors over 200 kids in Rio and Bahia, as well as partnerships we’ve had with local charities like End Youth Homelessness, Women’s Aid, Orchid Male Cancer and A World With Friends, shows that we genuinely care about the continent we love and the communities we represent in the UK.

Furthermore, our wider benefits package adds real value to our people. This includes a 50% team discount in all the Big Table Group brands, friends and family discount cards, discounted gym memberships and cheaper tickets to attractions, as well as virtual GP and mental health support, access to financial or legal advice, a real time finances-tracking tool and access to loans and savings. This all adds up to show our current and prospective team members that our support extends beyond the hours of their shift and that we care about them as people, not just workers.

The qualifying period for Race to Rio 2024 has already begun, so next time you’re in a Las Iguanas, your feedback could help put somebody on a plane to Brazil!
Angela Da Silva is HR director at Big Table Group-owned brand Las Iguanas

Independent thoughts by Sarah Travell

Local pubs, restaurants and other independent businesses are the lifeblood of our communities. They add vibrancy, innovation and colour to high streets and developments across the country. So, it was particularly sad to read in the latest Hospitality Market Monitor from CGA and AlixPartners earlier this month about the terrible toll the past few years, and the current unprecedented inflation in energy bills and other costs, has taken on this sector. 

The Monitor reported a net decline of 1,611 licensed premises in the fourth quarter of 2022, with nearly nine in ten fourth-quarter closures occurring in the independent sector. However, judging from the latest Propel Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies in association with Virgate, this hasn’t stopped independent operators looking to still enter the market or taking the opportunity to expand their own portfolios, both locally and nationally.

The database has now grown to include 2,769 companies, which operate 68,035 sites. An additional 51 companies, which operate 268 sites between them, were added during December 2022 and January 2023, and the majority were independents. Many picked up the themes that came through last year and out of the pandemic, with franchising, bakeries and dessert concepts to the fore, but there is also a heartening sprinkling of new restaurant businesses and pub ventures. The heart of our sector might be under pressure, but it keeps on beating. 

It seems the British consumer’s love of the local café and bakery is undimmed, as evidenced by several new openings in the database. Boyce’s Bakery, run by Keith and Karen Boyce, their son Tommy, daughter Stacey Canty and her husband Nic, has 11 branches across Kent and is set to open its 12th site, in Rainham. London-based bakery and cafe concept Libby’s, which was founded by Simon Wolanski, opened its debut site in Notting Hill in October 2021 and now has a second site, in Belsize Park. 

In the west country, bakery and coffee house concept Mokoko, which was founded by Jake Harris, operates two sites in Bath, one in Portishead and two in Bristol. Its latest site opening was in Bristol’s Temple Meads at the end of last year. Dough Bakehouse, from The Apprentice winner Carina Lepore, operates two sites in London, in Beckenham and Herne Hill, and the business is gearing up to open a third site, at Boxpark London.

Others are looking to follow in the footsteps of national dessert chains such as Creams and Heavenly Desserts. Leeds-based doughnut shop concept Doh’hut, founded by Tom Stafford, opened its debut site in Trevelyan Square in January 2020. The company has now confirmed an opening for later this month, for its first franchise site and London debut, in Exmouth Market. This will be quickly followed by a marquee site in Covent Garden a few weeks later. Stafford then plans a further three sites in the capital in 2023, as he expands the concept he launched after being inspired by the street food and food truck culture of the US west coast. He is also preparing to launch a new gourmet sandwich shop, Things In Bread, in Leeds this year.

Meanwhile, London-based dessert lounge concept Scooperb, which is owned by Ram and Deepali Prabhu and operates sites in Rayners Lane, Alperton, Hounslow and Basingstoke, opened its fifth site in St Albans Road, Watford, at the end of last year. Inspired by the flavours and aromatic spices of south Asia, it offers eggless, vegetarian and vegan handcrafted ice creams as well as milkshakes, waffles, crepes, sorbets, sundaes, baklava, cookie dough, brownies and falooda.

The CGA and AlixPartners Monitor also showed the casual dining and restaurant sectors recording net declines of 2% and 2.4% of sites in the final quarter of 2022. In slightly better news, community, food and high-street pubs all had a net decline of less than 1%, and Pip Lacey and business partner Gordy McIntyre, who operate restaurant Hicce in Coal Drops Yard, King’s Cross, are looking to make sure that pub number stabilises and returns to growth. The duo launched their new pub venture in London’s Islington, Hicce Hart, in Penton Street in December. The offer includes a selection of small plate-style bar snacks alongside a full dining menu of sharing starters, mains and desserts. There is also a Sunday roast option.

At the same time, fledgling London pub company Pubs Next Door, which was founded by Aaron Wilson in 2021, reopened The Three Compasses in Hornsey’s High Street as a premium local following a £230,000 joint refurbishment with Star Pubs & Bars. It follows their combined £175,000 revamp of The Henley Arms, North Woolwich, in November 2021. Pubs Next Door now plans to build its portfolio of community pubs across north and east London to five. 

It may seem dark for the industry at the moment, but as you can see from the examples above, shards of light are still attempting to shine through. 
Sarah Travell is the founder and chief executive of Virgate, sponsor of the Propel Multi-Site Database. The comprehensive database is updated monthly and 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. Email to upgrade your subscription.

2023 restaurant trends – from the US to the UK by Dean Concannon

Over the last few years there have been a number of brands from the US which have made headway on the UK hospitality scene. From long established brands like Starbucks, Hilton and Pizza Hut to newer faces including Dunkin’ Donuts, Shake Shack and Popeyes. 

We recently visited Dallas, Texas – where Harrison’s US office is based – and undertook a study tour, diving deep into what American hospitality businesses are doing in order to make waves, stand out from the crowd and keep customers coming back. Here are the top three trends we found, and which we expect to head across the pond this year.

Experiment to find what fits 
In the land of big dreams comes big spending power. When money is no object, we saw that larger hospitality brands and groups are spending big bucks in order to put experimental concepts into the marketplace. This could be as impactful as launching six to eight brands in one big hit, running them for a trial period and only taking the most successful one, or ones, forward. 

We know it’s not possible for every, or many, hospitality businesses this side of the pond to experiment on such a large scale. However, the theme of experimenting should be something operators explore further. Whether that is implementing a new menu, shaking up the restaurant design or bringing in guest chefs for a new and fresh perspective.

With restaurant space at a premium, we also expect to see more pop-ups and temporary experimental brands hit the scene in order to gauge what UK diners are looking for and what they engage with best. By embracing a more experimental approach, it could be the push needed to rise above the parapet and become the next ‘hot thing’ on the scene. 

American smokehouses are king
Nobody does smokehouses and barbecue joints quite like the Americans. Large-scale smokers as the centrepiece and meats cooking 24/7, all coupled will rustic décor, plastic trays over plates and a more casual attitude. This leads to some of the bigger players turning over millions of dollars every year. 

Furthermore, in the US, there is a much bigger focus on regional styles, flavours and preferred cuts. In a similar style to how we have seen regionally-focused Chinese or Indian restaurants come to prominence over recent years in the UK, shining a light on what makes each variation unique, we expect to see the same focus on what makes a good Kansas City burnt end versus a Carolina-style barbecue here too.

For restaurants in the UK offering American barbecue options, try focusing on specific styles versus generic American barbecue to tap into enthusiasts and create intrigue. A good example of this is Hickory’s Smokehouse, which has a menu featuring everything from Memphis-style baby back ribs to smoked Kansas-style pork ribs and Texas-style brisket. 

Goodbye sad sports bars, hello family-friendly sporting venues 
Sports bars (or pubs) in the UK are often thought of as a sad affair. Seen as a time capsule still featuring furniture and carpet from the 1980s, they are not the most welcoming and diverse environments, and certainly have not kept up with the changing sporting audience. The UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 cemented this, with everyone who loves football coming out in support of the England women’s team. It’s time for the venues to catch up. 

In stark contrast, in the US, when there is a game on it’s a full-day event. While the stadia hold huge numbers of people, it is still not possible for everyone who wants to watch whatever the game may be to see it live. This has paved the way to super sports bars, taking up as much as 20,000 square feet at a time.

What is more crucial is the overall environment, not the size. Television screens on every possible surface to ensure the best vantage point for all the fans, big group-sized tables, tasty food and sharing plates and easy access to the bar. Overall, they create an environment anyone would be happy walking into and supporting their local team. 

In the heart of the City of London, venues such as Goldwood Sports Pub & Kitchen are leading the way – and we expect to see many follow suit as hospitality businesses look to attract a wider portfolio of customers and increase footfall.
Dean Concannon is design director at global brand and design specialists Harrison

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