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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 11th Aug 2023 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: When exclusivity works against inclusivity, on a lighter and crispier note, a path to quality and quantity candidates
Authors: Glynn Davis, Phil Mellows, Matthew de la Hey

When exclusivity works against inclusivity by Glynn Davis

Saturday night in Lincoln involved passing through the raucous scenes in the main drag as early evening drinkers jostled with the lairy late-afternoon imbibers in the busy bars of the city centre. This has never been my favoured habitat, and as usual in a new town, my preferred destination was a couple of back-street boozers on the edge of the centre, where I expected some calm, decent beer, and hopefully a bit of bonhomie from the locals.
What people have traditionally expected at these hidden away pubs is a lack of friendliness as the die-hard regulars’ eye-up any new visitors entering their lair. Apart from in some extreme locations, this sort of thing has thankfully died out, and in all my years of visiting such establishments, the near-open-arms welcomes have vastly outnumbered the unfriendly variety.
If we go back in time, this has not always been the case. It has often amused me that people look at those old sepia photographs of pubs and their interiors and have some romantic notion of what these pubs would have been like to visit. The Victorian pub is collectively loved as the iconic version of this British institution, but these boozers would have been pretty unwelcoming places to many people – whether they be women, children, minorities or out-of-towners. There would have been limited drinks options, no food and, no doubt, a lack of even half-decent facilities.
Society has come a long way from these hard times in terms of its approach to inclusivity and democracy within the mainstream world of hospitality. But it has been noticeable that there is a growing movement that is far from inclusive and democratic. There has been a gradual and increasingly widespread lurch towards premiumisation and exclusivity – or should we create a new word for it, “exclusionivity”? This has undoubtedly been fuelled by the growing polarisation between the affluent and those less well-off, with the former much better insulated in the current scenario of a cost-of-living crisis.
I’ve lost count of the number of hotels, especially in London, that have been built recently or had overhauls that involve serious reductions in room numbers in favour of more suites and larger rooms that command eye-watering room rates, which are beyond the comprehension of most people. As well as this move to catering for the wealthy, hotels have also been traditionally guilty of penalising solo guests with rates that have never been half that of the price for a couple. 
This lack of inclusivity towards single people has broken out in the restaurant world, where Alex Dilling at the Hotel Café Royal caused something of an outcry for reportedly imposing a minimum spend of £330 – the cost of two of the restaurant’s tasting menus – for solo diners, who he said were costing the business money. He has since rowed back on this and is now allocating a couple of tables each service for such customers, who won’t have to pay double the amount for dinner.
Clearly, charging people lots of money is the obvious way to reduce the inclusivity of any hospitality business, and many such places have comfortably placed themselves in this bracket. The likes of Novikov in central London and its new neighbour, Bacchanalia, are positioned at the extreme cost end of the market to predominantly cater to a money-no-object clientele. There are many others in this bracket, of course. Charging a bag load of money is undoubtedly a filter of sorts. But even in these domains of exclusivity, there is always another curtain and roped-off area that only the VVIP can pass through. At Bacchanalia, the extravagantly opulent dining room for regular guests is out-blinged by the members-only Apollo’s Muse room, with its marble-clad interior.
More affordable venues also often have hidden elements of exclusivity. This can manifest itself in the best tables being held back for favoured and important guests. This is hardly a new manoeuvre, but it does somewhat eat into the widespread moves towards inclusivity, diversity and democracy that the broader hospitality industry has been working hard to embrace. 
It is no doubt the open-arms approach from the likes of Loungers and Bob & Berts that makes them such welcome additions to the secondary towns and high streets where they typically choose to open up. They go to where the people want them, and where maybe other operators have historically feared to tread. They are proving that an inclusive approach to locations, as well as people, can be a winning formula. Although I’ll still be seeking out my backstreet boozers, where I personally feel most at home.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

On a lighter and crispier note by Phil Mellows

With silly season well under way, let’s not forget the serious topics. We need to talk about crisps. I’ve just been unusually excited by the news that Bask, a lively venue in Stockport, is hosting a Festival of Crisps on August Bank Holiday Monday. It promises “tables and tables of crisps, literally (sic) as many brands as you can think of, saddled up next to bread and butter to make the ultimate crisp butty”.
Literally, I’ve never wanted to go to Stockport more in my life. I’m gutted that I can’t make it. And I’m not the only one inspired by this initiative. Top restaurant critics Grace Dent and Tom Parker Bowles (who is nearly royalty) have been raving about it on the social media channel formerly known as Twitter.
Ironically, only one letter different from “crisis”, crisps offer a savoury respite from our worries, as indeed do all ambient snacks. As a pub trade journo, I’ve had gallons of free beer thrown at me over the years, but what really gets the adrenaline pumping is that delivery of a surprisingly light cardboard box that can only contain bags of snacks (or, occasionally, something disappointingly dull).
The latest report on the market from Mintel confirms that, despite the soaring cost of living, “volume sales of crisps, savoury snacks and nuts are still up by 4% compared to pre-covid”, with 62% of consumers buying them for themselves as a treat.
The British crisp story begins with Smith’s, created in 1920 with, famously, a little blue twist of salt in the bag for self-seasoning. Nostalgic yearning for this interactive crisp meant it was brought back – although the 21st century version has a salt sachet instead of a twist, which isn’t quite the same. Even so, on their return, it was the only brand the Anglesey Arms in Halnaker, East Sussex, would sell, which has an admirable principle about it.
Smith’s was ousted as the UK’s best seller in the 1960s, when Golden Wonder introduced the flavoured crisp, already pioneered by Tayto in Ireland, where cheese and onion was the only flavour for a long while. I remember going on holiday there, asking for a packet of “plain” crisps and feeling most bemused when I got cheese and onion. Ready salted was the exotic alternative. Tayto has lately become a cult brand in Brighton, incidentally.
Meanwhile, cheese and onion took Britain by storm, and Smith’s hit back with salt and vinegar. The crisp wars had begun, and they’ve never really stopped. There’s now an endless proliferation of flavours in regular and hand-cooked varieties and, of course, savoury snacks don’t stop at crisps.
Bagged nuts, originally aimed at cinema audiences but quickly adopted by pubs, arrived in the 1950s thanks to KP. I well remember the sensational arrival of dry roasted peanuts in the 1980s and the thrill of reaching the bottom of the packet, where the intensely flavoured residue of salty dust was the best bit. No, I’ve no idea what I was licking greedily from my fingers.
So profound was the impact of this innovation that a few years later, as the novelty waned, KP announced in a press release that the market had entered a “post-dry roast torpor”. Other flavours and coatings have come along, but none have been able to match that revelatory dry roast moment.
There’s a boundless universe of savoury snacks to explore beyond crisps and nuts, however. Maize-based, baked and extruded potato in a diverse variety of shapes, flavours and textures. Even meat that, miraculously, doesn’t go off.
The roots of pork scratchings among the industrial working classes of the black country reach back into the 19th century and have proved a resilient staple of the pub back-bar. Indeed, I once found myself chewing on a staple that had somehow fallen into a packet too vigorously torn from the display board.
I have also attended a five-course pork scratching banquet hosted by PR guru Rupert Ponsonby, staged upstairs at the legendary White Horse in Parson’s Green, designed to demonstrate the culinary versatility of this humble snack. The final dish, for instance, involved scratchings dipped in chocolate, which worked surprisingly well.
But perhaps that’s going too far. The compelling joy of a bagged savoury snack lies in its essential triviality. Any attempt to take it seriously is doomed to irony. Which is why it’s so important to pubs and bars. 
Snacks may form only a small percentage of the take, but they are a permissible treat that provide a kind of seasoning for the pub-goer’s experience. They tell you, as much as a beer, that you’re on a time-out from daily drudgery.
Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist

A path to quality and quantity candidates by Matthew de la Hey

Recently, I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of news outlets highlighting the staffing shortages felt by the hospitality industry. “87% of hospitality firms are experiencing recruitment challenges”; “the hospitality industry is facing a 10% vacancy rate for the second consecutive summer”; “hospitality vacancies now around 50% higher than pre-pandemic levels”. It underlines a persistent and concerning picture about the availability of people to work in the vibrant sector we all know and love.
Hospitality is a dynamic and ever evolving industry, impacted by the economic tides, changing consumer demands and technological advancements. But it’s also one that is highly susceptible to global events and uncertainties. We’re still ricocheting from external shocks like Brexit, the global pandemic and the recent energy crisis, leading us into a high inflationary, high interest rate (and therefore very tricky!) economic environment. 
Difficulty finding staff in an historically competitive labour market only adds to the sector’s woes, but it doesn’t have to. The right candidates are out there, but relying on the thinking of the past – the way things have always been done – is not going to cut the mustard. Those who take proactive measures to adapt their strategy and lean into new thinking and technologies to navigate a new world are those who will get ahead. 
inploi’s team of analysts have just completed a research assignment auditing the talent attraction strategies (and the subsequent candidate experiences) of 40 major UK hospitality organisations to produce a snapshot of how many organisations are embracing the challenge. Here is a summary of our findings: 
Only 18% were using social media channels to advertise their vacancies: Platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are being underutilised, despite presenting excellent opportunities for building brand identity and attracting diverse talent, particularly amongst passive job seekers. These platforms are especially valuable for organisations looking to attract a Generation Z audience – a whopping 63% of Generation Z have discovered job opportunities via social media. There’s a significant opportunity here.  

Only 3% have careers sites and application processes that are accessible to the differently-abled: With neurodivergent individuals representing 15% of the UK population, companies need to ensure a more inclusive and user-friendly experience for visitors with disabilities and learning difficulties. By doing so, they’ll ensure that all potential candidates can access and engage with the opportunities available. 

15% include interactive career page elements, such as chatbots or gamification, and 23% offer dynamic search results or an interactive map search feature: Enhancing a careers site with a user-friendly and interactive UI chatbot, along with an interactive job view map, can significantly boost application conversion rates by engaging candidates with the option to explore roles near their home location and providing a personalised candidate experience. And in a competitive market, the candidate experience is more important than ever before. 

73% still require candidates to submit a CV in the application process: Removing a CV submission as a compulsory requirement where they’re often not necessary and offering a simplified application flow can have a huge impact on candidate conversion rates. Replacing form-based applications with a dynamic application journey that captures only the data you need maximises application completion. Chatbot-applied functionality provides a modern, simple and intuitive experience for applicants, with filter questions that remove irrelevant candidates to save hiring managers’ time.  

It’s clear that there has been a significant shift in the way candidates want to find and apply for jobs. Those businesses which adapt and innovate will get ahead, within hospitality and the broader economy. If only more would do so, ensuring a sustainable and prosperous future for the sector.
Matthew de la Hey is the co-founder and chief executive of recruitment software business inploi

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