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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 7th Jul 2023 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Learnings from the Propel Women’s Conference, set menus increasingly being ditched for à la carte, hospitality’s challenging the road to net zero, from booking aggregators to direct bookings – how hoteliers can make the most of both
Authors: Ann Elliott, Glynn Davis, Hamish Stoddart, Stewart Moss

Learnings from the Propel Women’s Conference by Ann Elliott

It was difficult not to be overawed by the calibre of speakers at last week’s Propel Women’s Conference. From beginning to end, we had the most amazing women talking about a wide range of subjects including their career learnings, issues around diversity and inclusivity, how to launch a start-up, working as a female in a male orientated finance world and many more. It was a totally inspiring day.

The conference was opened by the brilliant Debbie Hewitt. She is the non-executive chairman of The Football Association, Visa Europe, Compare the Market and White Stuff. She became the first female British vice-president of world governing football body FIFA Council in April 2023. She was the first female managing director of the RAC in its 125-year history and is the first female chair of the Football Association in its 157-year history. In 2021, she was included in the Vogue 25 – British Vogue’s annual list of the UK’s most influential women.

I first met her when she was the non-executive chairman of The Restaurant Group and just loved her from the outset. So inspiring, supportive and motivating – always willing and open to share her story and help other women do well. More than anything else though, I found Debbie to be overwhelmingly kind, and that has meant a lot to me over the years.

She gave, not surprisingly, a very honest overview of her career and talked through the tips she would give her younger self. That’s invaluable to anyone at the start of their own careers and really worth taking note of in order to avoid some of the pitfalls that might hold you back in accelerating your progress. It’s like having a mentor on tap.

Her tips, from a “head” (as opposed to a “heart”) perspective included:

• Career options are more important than a plan

• You can move sector but be prepared to start again
• A good boss is worth more than a few grand

• The best leaders take risks on people
• Change takes longer than you think – implications are usually bigger

• Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Having had a number of fantastic managers in my life, who definitely took a risk with me, her comments struck home. Those bosses were worth their weight in gold and created a culture that inspired everyone who worked for them and around them. They deliberately worked to bring out the best in people, and it’s a real skill and talent. They key is to learn from them and keep in touch, even when you move on.

From a “heart” perspective, Debbie talked about:

• Control the controllables

• Think “will this matter in six months’ time?”
• Attitudes are contagious – is yours worth catching?

• Know (and savour) the perfect moments

• Failure is not fatal – it’s the courage to continue that counts

• Does it pass the Sunday Times test?

The comment on attitudes really seemed to ring a bell with many in the audience. Having a positive mental attitude is invaluable to success both personally and professionally, albeit it’s sometimes easier to read about than put into practice.

 Ages ago, I read a book written by Napoleon Hill, who said: “There is very little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative. One of the surest ways to find happiness for yourself is to devote your energies toward making someone else happy.” It’s a tad old fashioned for this day and age, but there is a ring of truth and commonality in both his thinking and Debbie’s comment on attitude.

“Above all else, resilience, the ability to bounce back.” Debbie’s summary and final thought. Having listened to an article on the radio this week about how many women just want to give up in the face of misogyny, prejudice, sexual misconduct or disempowerment in the workplace, resilience and grit are both critical. It can be so disheartening to hear that this behaviour is still happening, but if women do give up (and I can understand why), it makes it so much harder for those following on behind.

Listening and learning about resilience from other women is so useful – and that’s why this conference is so important and useful for women at all stages of their careers in our lovely sector.
Ann Elliott (she/her) is a portfolio non-executive director and board advisor. Premium subscribers will receive access to all the videos from this month’s Propel Multi-Club Conference, featuring the sector’s finest female leaders and entrepreneurs, next Friday (14 July) at 9am. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Propel Premium for a year for £995 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The single subscription rate is £495 plus VAT for operators and £595 plus VAT for suppliers. Email to upgrade your subscription. Premium subscribers are also to be given exclusive access to the recording and slides to Propel Multi-Club Conferences. Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before; regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Propel group editor Mark Wingett.

Set menus increasingly being ditched for à la carte by Glynn Davis

Selecting the relevant level of choice to offer diners can be fraught with difficulty. It has long been a problem for restaurateurs, and back in the 1980s it contributed to Marco Pierre White gaining his enfant terrible reputation.
His decision to offer no choice at the cheese course at his first restaurant, Harvey’s, caused widespread media interest after one particular incident. In the Irish Mirror last year, he recalled one stressful evening during the period when he was striving for Michelin stars: “We did a plate of cheese, we were only 14 quid for three courses in those days. We did seven cheeses with a little stack of biscuits in the middle. We didn’t have the money to do anything else, we couldn’t do a huge cheese board and then half of it gets wasted. 
“So this man asked to see me and said, ‘I always choose my own cheese’. I said to him, ‘We don’t do it like that in Harvey’s, we do a plate of cheeses’. He said, ‘Well I don’t like three of them’. So I turned around and said ‘Four of them should be a sufficient portion sir’. He said it again, ‘Well I always choose my own cheese’. I said, ‘I’m sorry we don’t do that here.’ He said it a third time and I said, ‘Sir why don’t you just go away and take your friends with you, goodnight sir, bye, bye’.”
Times might have changed, and there is a tad less aggression in kitchens (and dining rooms), but there is still some reluctance from people to stipulate personal preferences when eating out of home for fear of being perceived as a difficult customer. As many as 34% of people are too self-conscious to personalise their meal or go off-menu, according to research from Vapiano, which also found 73% of people are more comfortable making personalisation requests when encouraged to do so by the restaurant.
There has been scant opportunity for customers to not only make changes to menus, but to even have any sort of choice of late, because there has been a widespread move by many restaurants to adopt a fixed, tasting menu-only type proposition. Although they have traditionally been the domain of high-end venues, it has broadened out to wider range of eateries as it has helped them to better manage resources and reduce waste in these difficult times.
What they’ve not all fully embraced is the actual term “tasting menu”. They have also, in many cases, reduced the number of courses involved, and the cost too. The Man Behind the Curtain in Leeds has a six-course £60 menu; Hide & Fox in Kent has five-courses for £75; and Sheffield’s Joro has a £35 five-course menu. If they sound like extended set menus but with no choice, then that’s exactly what they are.
This all sounds like a sensible strategy, but the hospitality industry is clearly in something of a quandary right now because some operators have reversed their no-choice, fixed price offerings and reverted back to offering à la carte. Restaurants including Gary Usher’s Elite Bistros group and Wild Flor in Brighton are among those to have ditched their set menus because they found it too restrictive on what they could include on the menu to successfully hit the fixed price point. 
Such is the ongoing impact of inflation on ingredient costs that it is clear restaurateurs don’t know which way to turn for the best. Genevieve Sparrow, owner of small plates restaurant Pasero in north London, suggests there is no obvious right choice, apart from maybe not running a restaurant right now!
Maybe they should take a leaf out of TGI Fridays’ playbook in the US. The casual dining group has come up with the ingenious way of giving people the perception of choice with its new Grilled & Sauce menu. Guests choose from six flame-grilled proteins, such as steak and salmon, plus nine sauces that diners can mix and match. With the addition of a choice of two sides, diners are very much given the sauce-driven feeling of having much more choice than is the reality. One potential issue for certain guests might be the cheese options – there aren’t any! 
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Hospitality’s challenging the road to net zero by Hamish Stoddart

I opened my first pub in 2002, a year after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change first concluded that humans were responsible for global warming. In the 20 years since, I grew that first site into a highly successful gastropub group, Peach Pubs. Meanwhile, the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change have continued to rise, reaching a new record high in 2022. June was the hottest month in the UK since records began. Climate change is happening.  

As a business leader, I’ve felt strongly the moral responsibility to play my part in tackling this global challenge. At Peach, we turned purpose into profit. I calculate our cumulative return on capital 21 years running for myself and other investors was 25.6% [RH1]. With no investors after day one, our goal was profit for us all, through purpose. 

Every hospitality business in the UK has an opportunity to benefit from treating the planet better – more resource, energy-efficient or lowering waste – so why aren’t more doing it? Customers know things need to change and are looking for businesses that will lead the way. For the team, it’s a real motivator for joining and staying. I just don’t understand why you wouldn’t be more profitable and do the right thing.

In 2020, with COP26 all over the front pages, I convened a collaborative collection of pub companies who have a shared commitment to climate action. We’ve been learning how to accelerate our journey to net zero, supported by good big brands and smaller, purpose-led brands.  
This year, we funded an important piece of research to determine how we can knock down barriers to pubs taking action. We interviewed some of the best hospitality brands out there – Mitchells & Butlers, Greene King, Peach Pubs, Nando’s, The Restaurant Group, Punch Pubs, Pizza Pilgrims, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners and Pernod Ricard UK – to understand what they’re doing on climate.    
We also conducted a survey of operators to understand where net zero figures in their priorities. Nearly 60% said net zero is central to how they want to do business, and a further 33% said it was important. They want help to get there – more than 40% want to see more collaboration across the industry to meet the challenges of going net zero, while 30% want more government funding and 10% want more regulation.  
The Race to Net Zero report identifies key needs for businesses in the sector: a better understanding of the commercial case for net zero; greater allocation of capital to net zero investments; and better collaboration across the value chain. It calls on operators, government and trade bodies, suppliers and investors to take two key steps each to drive change. 
This includes for operators to set net zero goals and collaborate to find the right solutions; government grants for more sustainable equipment and consistent standards for carbon calculation and reporting; preferential terms of trade from suppliers for climate-first businesses; and recognition from investors of the future value of long-term investments in carbon reduction.  
There is good news: the report highlights that significant emissions reductions can be achieved by implementing quick wins like energy efficiency and waste reduction. It includes easy-to-access resources including the Sustainable Restaurant Association, Zero Carbon Forum and the Net Zero Hospitality Initiative so operators can get started.    
We gathered the Race to Net Zero group last week to talk about the report’s findings. The energy and commitment in the room was powerful. There were ground breaking examples of businesses finding ways to serve both profit and planet. But that group represents perhaps 20% of the people we need on board. It is not enough.  
There are some bold hospitality businesses pushing forward but we need to do much more, more quickly. This is a commercial opportunity for all of the industry to cut costs, attract customers and protect against future regulation. We must take that opportunity, there is no Plan B. There is profit in being bold, be among the leaders. You can download the full report here.
Hamish Stoddart is the founder of the Race to Net Zero collective

From booking aggregators to direct bookings – how hoteliers can make the most of both by Stewart Moss

Hotel visitors and holidaymakers are more mobile and online savvy today than ever before. Indeed, 37% of people are now using third-party online booking sites to book their accommodation, highlighting the increased demand for this type of booking platform.  
However, despite the popularity of third-party booking sites and online travel agencies (OTAs), there is still an appetite amongst consumers to book directly with the hotel. In fact, three in five people who have visited a hotel in the past six months prefer to book via a hotel’s website directly. 
This begs the question: how do hoteliers maximise the opportunity presented by both third-party sites and direct online bookings? 
Booking aggregators are a ‘must-have’ for hoteliers
As a key part of the marketing mix, OTAs provide an effective way to boost a hotel’s visibility, especially amongst potential first-time guests and during quieter periods. What’s more, we know people seek convenient and efficient experiences when spending time in hospitality, so the same can be expected of hotel booking experiences.
Having every accommodation option available in one place provides potential guests with an easy booking experience, which encourages them to turn looking into booking.
That being said, it doesn’t mean using booking aggregators comes without challenges. Only half (53%) of those who have booked a hotel stay in the past six months say third-party websites are easy to use. What’s more, only 50% realise that by using these sites, the website takes a slice of the booking cost from hoteliers. Once consumers know this, 63% say they are more likely to book directly with a hotel. 
The benefits of listing a hotel on booking aggregator sites make doing so essential, especially as competition is fierce and you want to be where your competitors are. So, what does this mean for hoteliers?
How hoteliers can make the bookings process as guest-friendly as possible
Encouraging potential guests to go direct to their website will not only drive bookings, but can increase guest spend and revpar, as well as building loyalty and encouraging guests to return. The key to success here is to ensure that owned booking platforms are user-friendly, up-to-date, responsive and secure.
We know that 60% of hotel-stayers book through a hotel’s own website, making it the most popular channel to book through. To make the most of this opportunity, ensuring guests can easily book and update their reservations online is key to providing a great experience. Sending friendly reminders in the run up to a stay adds a light personal touch to the customer journey that guests will appreciate. 
Having a user-friendly booking system can drive revpar too. With the right booking tools, hotels can offer guests added extras at the time of booking, such as ordering room service on their first night, Champagne to the hotel room or book a table at the on-site restaurant. Offering guests these options can help drive overall spend at a time where guests are in buying mode. 
Once a good online booking system has been established, what happens next? Offering a blanket discount or incentive to re-book may be partially effective in enticing some guests to return and book direct. However, to maximise this opportunity, hoteliers should consider offering guests reasons to return that tap into their individual preferences and needs. 
From looking to booking – how to incentivise guests to book direct
We know four in five (83%) of consumers say a discount on a future visit would encourage them to visit a hotel again, but to ensure they take that next step and book, hoteliers would benefit from having a customer relationship management strategy in place to utilise all the valuable data they collect on their guests. This will ensure they are providing guests with offers and promotions that are personalised and encourage them to book directly with the hotel next time. 
In order to create these hyper-personalised offers for customers, data is key. All aspects of the hotel’s tech stack should be fully integrated so that data can be stored in one central location, enabling hoteliers to have a 360-degree view of the hotel, including a full breakdown of the most and least successful aspects of the business. 
Once a hotelier has a greater understanding of their business, as well as their guests’ needs and preferences, hotels can create a whole host of incentives which lead to bookings, such as generous bounce back deals or triggered voucher codes, as well as hyper-personalised incentives to guests based on their spending habits during their last stay, encouraging them to return. 
How social media can take direct bookings to the next level
Social media platforms are also becoming increasingly important sources of bookings too and, while only small numbers have booked a hotel via Facebook (11%), Instagram (11%) and Twitter (9%) so far, many more would be interested in doing so. Including the option to enquire or book via social media is an easy way to drive direct bookings. 
Therefore, being present, active and helpful on social media is a great way to engage guests as well as drive loyalty and improve guest sentiment. In addition, something as simple as adding a booking button to social media pages can help generate incremental bookings.
Hoteliers that list their hotels on third-party bookings sites and OTAs will not only increase general visibility of their venues, but leveraging both can drive occupancy as well as increase overall profitability. Once the customer is booked in, leveraging technology to provide personal touches and rewards can incentivise future bookings and build customer loyalty. Hoteliers that do this will ultimately gain an advantage, helping them grow more profitable direct sales, drive more spend per stay, enhance overall brand perception and raise overall traveller satisfaction.
Stewart Moss is managing director at High Level Software, part of the Zonal family

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