Propel Quarterly Spring 2016

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uarterly Unmissable live sport on tap

www.propelinfonews. com


ISSUE 14 • SPRING 2016

An unmissable March on Man City vs Man Utd

Watford vs Leicester Saturday 5 March PLUS

Sunday 20 March

13 Live Cricket Matches

Arsenal vs West Brom Saturday 12 March Liverpool vs Chelsea Sunday 13 March


Super League Matches


Super Rugby Matches


Guinness PRO12 Matches

Nights of Premier League Darts

The start of a new F1ÂŽ season with 21 live race weekends

The month of March presents a fantastic opportunity for you to top up your takings with live sport. Plus, with a 3-month trial, you can give your customers the sport they want this spring without a long term commitment for your venue.

To find out more about our 3-month trial and other offers

Call 08448 245 670

The number of fixtures shown and fixture details are subject to change and correct at the time of print - 11/02/2016. Terms apply. 3 month trial: 3 month minimum term required. After 3 month period, Sky TV auto renews on a monthly rolling contract unless canceled with at least 30 days’ notice. Pricing, including during the 3 month trial period, depends on the rateable value of premises. 3 month trial period only available to new Sky Business customers. The F1 Logo, F1, FORMULA 1, FIA FORMULA ONE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP, GRAND PRIX and related marks are trademarks of Formula One Licensing BV, a Formula One group company. All rights reserved. Calls to Sky cost 7p per minute plus your providers access charge.

uarterly The essential information resource for pub, restaurant & foodservice operators

Future looking healthy for Friska

Inside: Analysing data for insight Albert’s Schloss – plans for the future London Union – Uniting street food traders Peach’s philosophy is bearing fruit Cafe Rouge – progress on the brand’s revival National Living Wage need not be hard labour Columbo Group co-founders on Blues Kitchen My big idea for 2016

Griff Holland and Ed Brown interviewed


ISSUE 14 • SPRING 2016

We’ll cover the bill for big ticket items.

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Editor’s Opinion

Editor’s Opinion

Dear Reader, The provision of food and drink on an out-of-home basis is as old as time itself. The UK's network of coaching inns are testament to the systemised provision of refreshments at key geographical locations as travellers made their slow and weary way around the country. For centuries, every town and city in the UK was well-populated with inns and taverns serving their local populations with a hearty if basic offering of recognisable staples. It is in the last quarter century, though, that the UK foodservice scene has changed beyond recognition, making a quantum leap in terms of the quantity and quality of branded offers. Now the UK foodservice scene lays claim to world-class credentials, second only to the US in combining the key constituent components of individuation, quality, value and consistency. Let's rewind to 1990 to get a flavour of the level of progression within branded foodservice in the UK in the past 25 or so years. Branded operators were few and far between. Luke Johnson and Hugh Osmond were still three years away from investing in PizzaExpress and creating a UK-wide network of restaurants. JD Wetherspoon had a turnover of £7m. Pubs were still required to close at 3pm on a Sunday before being allowed to reopen at 7pm. The branded coffee shop hardly existed and branded quick-service restaurants tended to be US imports – McDonald's arrived in the UK in 1973. Food in pubs existed at a basic level of tired staples – and the term gastro-pub was yet to be invented. Fast forward and progress has been dizzying. The UK now offers world-class branded formats run by world-class individuals. The UK's leading companies have fast-tracked themselves, assimilating the lessons around systemisation offered by our American cousins, who still lead the world in replicable branded offers driven, invariably, by the power of franchisable retail content. But talent has flooded the UK scene. Our aforementioned leading companies have moved their skillsets on an upward curve, producing talented individuals who have, in many cases, formed their own companies. US companies opening in the UK have also spawned a generation of executives equipped to start their own foodservice brands. High quality branded concepts are disruptive within their market places. This opportunity has attracted individuals from the banking, law and accountancy professions, who have relished the challenge to make their mark – and their fortunes – in the entirely democratic world of foodservice; if you offer tasty, good-value food, consumers will seek you out and fill your tills. The success of the UK's branded foodservice entrepreneurs can be measured in entirely objective ways. UK consumers make the second highest number of eating and drinking out of the home visits in Europe. UK consumers make 142 visits each per annum, second only to Italy, whose figures are skewed by much bigger breakfast usage (30% of all visits) and average 176 visits each year per capita. The UK foodservice market has the biggest domination by brands of anywhere in Europe. In the UK, visits to brands by consumers rose to 58% of all visits in the year to June 2014, up from 52% in 2008. (The next highest country is France with 45% of all visits to branded chains.) The UK dominates the European list of large companies by turnover with circa 40 companies achieving turnover of £100m or more. No other country other than the US is producing so many foodservice brands with the universality to appeal to overseas markets. A non-exhaustive list would include Costa Coffee, Jamie's Italian, Wagamama, Caffe Nero, Pret A Manger and PizzaExpress, with the latter attracting investment from a Chinese private equity buyer, Hony Capital, intent on expanding the brand across China. Lastly, it's worth noting that last year saw 16 new branded concepts opening in the UK each week – an incredible 800 new branded concepts in a single year. My own estimate is that the UK now has more than 2,000 operators of branded foodservice concepts. Some of these smaller, emerging brands will undoubtedly grow into world-class operations with a worldwide operating footprint. A particular feature of US foodservice has been its versatility in taking global cuisines and creating its own formulations – before re-exporting them. So aside from the US staples of burger, fried chicken and ribs colonising the globe, we have US re-inventions of Italian food and drink, in particular, conquering foreign markets – pizza (Domino's, Pizza Hut) and coffee (Starbucks) are the obvious examples. It was with some pleasure I dined at Soho House in Chicago this year and noted the company had exported its Dirty Burger, Chicken Shop and Pizza East brands to the US in a classic coals-to-Newcastle exercise. Could UK foodservice firms now go one step further and export our systemised and branded takes on Indian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Italian, and indeed, US food around the world? Who would bet against? Best wishes,








Future looking healthy for Friska Sonya Hook interviews Griff Holland and Ed Brown


My big idea for 2016


London Union uniting street food traders


Providing the proof to make government listen

by John Porter

John Porter interviews Jonathan Downey

by Kate Nicholls



Columbo Group co-founders discuss Blues Kitchen Glynn Davis talks to Riz Shaikh & Steve Ball


Redrawing the market map


Albert’s Schloss plans for the future


Peach’s philosophy is bearing fruit


Cafe Rouge – progress on the brand’s revival

by David Martin

Glynn Davis interviews Roy Ellis

Sonya Hook talks to Hamish Stoddart

by James Spragg


Making its pub offer Remarkable


Reduction in ‘low risk’ drinking guidelines doesn’t add up

John Porter interviews Elton Mouna

by Paul Chase

50 27


Foodservice market continues to show appetite for growth by Cyril Lavenant


Decisions, decisions!


National Living Wage need not be hard labour

by James Hacon

by Gareth Powell


Paving the way to success with effective training by Steven Pike



Analysing data for insight


Giving an agency a great brief

by Mike Lukianoff

by Ann Elliott

Published by Propel Hospitality The Goose House, Brighton Road Lower Beeding, West Sussex RH13 6NQ

Director Jo Charity T: 01444 810304 E:

Managing Director Paul Charity T: 01444 810306 E:

Commercial Director Sharon Dickinson T: 01444 810305 E:

Managing Editor Paul Bishop T: 01444 817690 E:

Events & Marketing Executive Adam Dickinson T: 01444 817691 E:

Deputy Editor Martin Cooper T: 01444 817689 E:

Design & Production Jonathan Taylor T: 01403 892685 E:


Contributors Paul Chase, Glynn Davis, Ann Elliott, James Hacon, Sonya Hook, Cyril Lavenant, Mike Lukianoff, David Martin, Kate Nicholls, Steven Pike, John Porter, Gareth Powell, James Spragg Printing and Distribution Evonprint, Mackley Estate, Henfield Road, Small Dole, West Sussex, BN5 9XR

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uarterly u ©Propel Hospitality Ltd. 2016





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Ed Brown (front left) and Griff Holland (front right)

Future looking healthy for Friska O

ne of the things most people remember about a childhood holiday is the food, whether that experience was amazing or terrifying. For Griff Holland the local cuisine on holiday as a teenager was so memorable it later provided the inspiration behind the creation of healthy food concept Friska. Holland says: “When I was about 16 my family went to California on a house exchange for the summer and I was blown away by the amount and quality of fresh and interesting food, and their approach to hospitality. We used to look forward to going to a couple of particular cafes and from that point on I wondered why there was nothing like it back home; basically an everyday casual place which people could genuinely look forward to going to. It was that trip which planted the original seed in my head.” Some years later, Holland met Ed Brown, a fellow Bath University graduate. “We met one evening at a business networking event and then arranged to meet up a few times afterwards because we quickly realised we had a similar ambition and values, albeit different skillsets,” says Holland. The two then developed a business plan for Friska together, selecting Bristol as the starting point for the brand in 2009. “It wasn’t as expensive as London and it was somewhere we both knew,” says Holland. “It is cosmopolitan and


Griff Holland and Ed Brown, founders of Bristol-based healthy food store Friska, talk to Sonya Hook about how the concept developed, the challenges faced and their expansion plans


a big enough platform to grow within and to add more stores.” The company now has six stores in Bristol and the pair are not ruling out more outlets in the city. Holland says: “It’s become a brand now in Bristol and people recognise it; operationally it is also easy to manage when all the stores are within one area. That idea is at the heart of how we want to expand. We will start growing the brand outside of Bristol but within each city we want to have at least three stores.” ▲

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Feature Some highlights from Friska’s breakfast menu: Light starts, such as: Porridge, Bircher muesli, yogurt and mango Poached eggs on sourdough toast (with additions such as chorizo or salmon) Breakfast boxes (full breakfast or veggie option) Breakfast pots – poached eggs and baby spinach (served with items such as chorizo and avocado or ham and beans) Toasties, such as: House bacon, house mushroom, peanut butter and jelly

A selection of Friska’s hot lunch options: Hot pots – spicy rice with meals such as: Texan beef chilli, Thai chicken curry and sweet potato sambar Hot box – spicy rice, slaw and baked tortilla chips with: Texan beef chilli, Thai chicken curry, sweet potato sambar Salad boxes Hot wraps Burritos Vietnamese pho noodles Soup of the day

Initial challenges


Getting people to understand what Friska was all about was a challenge at first, says Brown, but as he and Holland opened more stores across Bristol, they found a growing brand awareness made each opening easier. The first store took about 18 months to really take off, but other stores were quicker. “The other big thing was understanding the importance of coffee,” adds Holland. “We didn’t think coffee needed to support the offer but we noticed people queuing up for food holding a coffee from an independent cafe down the street; it was great that people were willing to queue up twice, but we were clearly missing a trick. We realised also that our values and approach should remain the same for the whole business. We took pride in our food offer and so the same principles needed to be applied to coffee, as well as everything else: staff, wastage, and so on.” The hot drinks at Friska, which include coffee roasted by Clifton Coffee, a range of hot chocolates and a selection of herbal teas, is now a big part of the overall menu.

The past few years have been “really great” for Friska, says Holland. “Without any massive capital investment we have managed to achieve really good like-forlikes; last year it was 20% like-for-like and we now take £3.5m a year,” he adds. “The budget for this year is more than that. In terms of revenue growth it’s been almost double every year, and adding more stores will increase that.”


“The uptake for new stores is now much faster than before because there is good brand recognition” The company’s Rivergate store has been a particular success. Holland says: “It is trading well ahead of forecasts. It is now well into its second year financial forecasts, even though it’s not even a year old. The uptake for new stores is now much faster than before because


there is good brand recognition.” This is something the pair prepared for when they opened in Birmingham last month. Brown says: “The big challenge is how customers in a new city get us, but we are confident it will be faster than when we started out in Bristol.” Friska looks for rent that is 6% of turnover or less. Holland says: “Therefore we seek slightly off-pitch sites and we look at things the big opposition are not interested in. The big guys might pay £150,000 to be on the prime site and we can’t afford that. But it’s good in the end because the risk for us is lower. Another positive is that landlords have really been welcoming and they like our independent spirit; it’s run like a chain but we are still small, and they like having a healthy proposition to support their Grade A schemes.” One of the things that has made the company successful, according to Holland, is the culture it has worked to establish. He adds: “We genuinely do believe that what makes Friska different is the working culture we have been trying to create; we are proud to have always paid above

Feature “Landlords have really been welcoming and they like our independent spirit; it’s run like a chain but we are still small”

Starting out – what was the eating out landscape like in 2009?

the living wage, for example. We attract and retain great people. Every one of our store managers in Bristol has come via an internal promotion. And one great example is a team member who started as front-of-house and within two years she had progressed to assistant manager and then store manager. She is now doing her HR masters and has an assistant HR role.”

Planning ahead This year the pair plan to focus more on the speed of service, which has become increasingly important as the venues get busier at key periods. “We are looking at launching a ‘click and collect’ feature within our loyalty app, so that people who order in advance can queue jump,” says Brown. The company plans to open three or four sites in 2016, with a focus on Birmingham. In 2017 it aims to move into Manchester and then Leeds, and then possibly other cities, such as Reading. “Those are the cities that we think will work strategically and geographically for us,” adds Brown. Friska aims to seek stores that are about 1,500 to 2,000 square feet, which it can then fit about 60 seats into.

“We weren’t quite out of the recession in 2009 but the timing was perfect in a way as there were great opportunities for new businesses then,” says Holland. “From a property point of view, no-one was really buying and we found that landlords were more willing to take a punt on a new idea – bearing in mind we had no experience and were relying on our enthusiasm to win them over. It was a great time to secure a lease. In terms of the food landscape, we were both a little bit naive about the extent of the London scene at the time. We thought the developments in London reflected a growing culture around food across the country and we thought the ‘Jamie Oliver effect’ was affecting how people viewed food everywhere. At the time the most exciting thing you could buy for lunch was a pre-packed chicken sandwich and we thought our fresh and interesting approach with food from around the world would take off immediately. It was naive and we soon realised we needed a more accessible range of options. The menu needed to be exciting and with products that really got people talking, but we realised that some things just wouldn’t work, and also that it was going to take some time to convince people.” Friska’s top sellers are Vietnamese pho noodles, while its hot boxes (in flavours such as beef chilli and Thai chicken curry), are also popular.

Brown explains the company is finding now, more than six years since the company started, that some of the items it added to the menu years ago – such as a pork banhi mi wraps – are now popping up on menus across the city. “The menu has developed over time but the idea of fresh and interesting food is the same, and people have caught on to this more now,” Holland says. Friska is primarily a breakfast and lunch venue, and while the pair have thought about the evening trade, they plan to stick with the current proposition for the time being. Holland adds: “Our house bacon toastie, which includes avocado and tomatoes, is one of the standout products which we have become famous for, and we have a good range of breakfast options like this.” The pair also note in recent years the eating out landscape has developed further, proving Friska emerged in the right place at the right time. Holland says: “Since the recession, the idea of a long boozy business lunch has disappeared and people are now more likely to grab a seat in a cafe for a quick coffee and a bite to eat that doesn’t break the bank, or they look for a healthy take-out option. People are also more likely to meet clients in a cafe for a business meeting, and we see this happening often in Friska.” ¡ SPRING 2016 ¡ PROPEL QUARTERLY



My big idea for 2016 John Porter asks some hospitality industry leaders where they will be focusing their efforts this year

Tim Foster Head of being awesome Yummy Pub Co:

Kris Gumbrell

Kris Gumbrell

“It’s back to the floor – I’m in the pubs every day, sorting things, and holding meetings etc. However, actually serving customers, and working a session as a member of the team, is something I’d not done for a while. In December, our business doubles in trade, and when you’re as small as us, that means everyone jumps on the pass, bar, floor or wherever they’re needed. I fixed more problems, saw more opportunities, and had more fun that I’ve done in years. So, it’s back to the floor for me, once a week. It doesn’t matter which pub, I’m just a member of the team. My guys aren’t sure how to react so far, but they’ll get used to it. I’ve already made a number of changes that, come year end, will result in pounds in the till and pounds saved in the bank that we would have missed if we kept just being in the pubs rather than working in the pubs.”

Chairman Brewhouse & Kitchen: “We're looking to grow happy and engaged teams with our newest initiative. ‘Up!’ is designed to present transparent career pathways, allowing our team members to map their progression all the way up to management level, or perhaps take a side road into brewing or cooking. The programme recognises that to grow internal future talent, employees must not only receive expert training in traditional hospitality skills, but also be inspired early in their careers if they are going to fall in love with the industry. We’ve created the role of the ‘B&K Specialist’ – where team members have the opportunity to attend a range of mastery courses and become an expert in their passions, whether it’s beer, brewing, food or service. Furthermore, each level is matched with a sustainable pay structure, allowing us to reward our people for their knowledge and productivity. We believe initiatives like ‘Up!’ will help us change the way our teams think about their roles in hospitality and will ultimately improve our guests’ experience at B&K.”

Heath Ball Head of pubs Dark Star Brewing Co: “To stop looking at margins and start looking at cash. People get too hung-up using a formula for pricing. They should look at value to the consumer and what they can bank, not potential profit that's on the shelf unsold.” ▲



Feature Oisin Rogers

Martin Hayes

Award-winning licensee, currently working with London sandwich, gravy and beer brand Dip & Flip, which has just opened its third site:

Managing director and founder The Craft Beer Co:

“I wanted to take some time out from pubs, and I also felt I needed to spend some more time with Dip & Flip. I took a share in the business when it started and, until now, I’ve mainly advised the other founders, Tim Lees and Gearoid Hogan. They‘ve done exceptionally well, but with the business expanding at a faster rate than we anticipated, and having to deal with issues like recruitment, training and managing a larger number of staff, as well as finding future sites, I felt I could add some value by becoming more actively involved, perhaps only for a short period of time. I fully expect to be back running a pub later this year, but with this business continuing to grow, I am keeping my options very much open.”

Martin Hayes

“We want to magnify our independence and the independence of those we work with. We're a business built on free spirit, and the free spirit of the brewers that supply us. In 2016, we'll look to work with more great brewers, many of whom I hope we can give a break to as they approach commercial-scale brewing, something you can only do if you're really as close to the market as my team are.”

Joe Cussens William Lees-Jones

Director The Bath Pub Company: “For me it’s better, more meaningful payroll reporting. Last year we invested in new EPOS equipment and an early opportunity we’ve spotted is to produce a report that shows our labour cost by trading period, not merely by day. Managing staff costs is a prime consideration in achieving our profit forecasts. At one site in particular, we were often concerned the payroll percentages seemed to be below where you might expect, given the high turnover of the site. The general manager there was reporting daily and weekly but was still struggling to achieve the targeted figure. Initial investigations show when you break the day into the four trading periods – morning, lunch, afternoon and dinner – you start to get a more revealing and meaningful picture of what’s going on. We were usually far more profitable during our lunch sessions than dinner. The plan now is to make the generation of these reports quick and easy so the duty manager can make any necessary adjustments to the rota for the rest of the week, and therefore achieve the required payroll percentages.”

William Lees-Jones

Simon King

Managing director JW Lees:

Operations director Burger & Lobster:

“It’s putting HR on the JW Lees board. We’ve always said people are our greatest asset and then someone pointed out to us if that was the case, why didn’t JW Lees have HR represented on the board? So, after some mumbling about people being at the heart of everything we do, we have decided to go for it and to recruit a director of HR. Like all big ideas, we have no idea whether this is going to take us forward, but we believe we need to mentor and develop our people so they can grow their careers with JW Lees, rather than us investing in our physical business and then leaving the all-important job of running our pubs to assorted ‘randomers’ who have shown that they are good at running other people’s pubs, but not necessarily ours.”

“I’m not taking full credit for this, as it’s been a combined effort from so many, and equally many businesses will be doing something similar. We finalised our Vision and Values during 2015. Until now, these have been organically driven by everyone within our restaurants, from the initial vision of our founding owners. The difficulty has been to encapsulate this and bring it to life as words. We launched it in January to our team of 600-plus, who will hopefully understand we all need to live and breathe these Simon King values if we are going to successfully run businesses all over the world and create the same experience wherever we open a Burger & Lobster. I believe we have them nailed, but I’m still a little nervous that our team agrees. Watch this space!”



Feature Dalston Yard

Uniting street food traders under one roof T

hose who remember the days when street food in London meant an ill-chosen hot dog acquired from a vendor in Trafalgar Square while waiting for the night bus could be forgiven for a certain amount of caution on the topic. Equally, when Jonathan Downey passionately insists the capital is on the verge of a food revolution that will transform its reputation internationally, there might be a temptation to point to London’s 50-plus Michelin-starred restaurants, its plethora of global cuisines and status as the cradle of the gastro-pub as evidence the old town isn’t doing too badly already. However, as trendspotters go, Downey and Henry Dimbleby, his co-founder in street food market operator London Union, have an enviable track record. With bars such as Match and Milk & Honey, Downey established an international reputation as a pioneer of the ongoing cocktail boom, while the Leon restaurant brand, cofounded by Dimbleby in 2004, demonstrated fast food could also be fresh and interesting. When Downey and Dimbleby set up London Union in June 2015, rolling Downey’s established Street Feast business into the new venture in the process, interest would have been high even if London Union’s backers didn’t also include a who’s who of Britain’s best-known chefs, restaurateurs and food writers. London Union’s promised “Annual General Eating” of shareholders, including Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Thomasina Miers, Russell Norman, Nick Jones, Yotam Ottolenghi, Giles Coren or Tom Parker-Bowles, will be further populated by the 160 or so individual investors who have backed


London Union co-founder Jonathan Downey tells John Porter how its street food market concept developed and why it has such a wide appeal


London Union to the tune of £3.5m through a crowdfunding initiative and private investments. Taking a step back, five years ago Downey might have been seen as an unlikely pioneer of the street food scene, given that the focus in his bars had always been very much on drinks, particularly cocktails. He admits at the time he was “quite disillusioned” regarding food in his own businesses, but saw several street food pioneers taking the same deconstruction and reinvention approach to food that Downey had taken to cocktails. He says: “It was all about how to make the very best classic burger – not mucking about with ingredients such as fois gras or truffle oil, but just what makes a really good cheeseburger. It’s very like crafting a perfect Martini, there’s really only three ingredients to get right. That was the essence of my bar background, and they were bringing that same hyper-focus to the elements that made the food experience great.” When burger vendor Lucky Chip set up a residency at a car park in Hackney in the summer of 2011, Downey stepped in to support them. “I didn’t think there were enough people going down there,” he says. “So, on a Sunday in June, I filled a bathtub with booze and ice, gave away a free beer or a glass of rosé, and about 500 people turned up. Provided they bought a burger, they got a drink. It was just a really good mixture of people on a sunny Sunday.” A similar event with barbecue specialist Pitt Cue followed on the South Bank, and the concept grew into the Street Feast business, which by May 2015 was operating a mix of temporary, seasonal and semi-permanent street food markets in half a dozen London locations, including Dalston ▲

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Feature Yard, Dinerama in Shoreditch, Hawker House at Canada Water and Model Market at Lewisham. The mix of independent food vendors, bars directly manned and operated by Street Feast itself, and live music and entertainment appealed to a demographic not always well served by London’s conventional pubs, bars and restaurants. “There was a generation of twenty-somethings who weren’t really doing much,” says Downey. “They were experiencing life vicariously online, and they didn’t have very much money due to student debt, or whatever reason. I found that Twitter can get them out – if we can create an event that they’ll pay to come, enjoy and remember. They’re not about finding a good pub to go to on a regular basis, or a restaurant or club night – they’re about events and experience.”

Creating communities Many customers initially came alone, but would interact with other visitors. “It’s not just about the communities we create with our staff and our traders, it’s the community we create amongst our guests when they sit down at these big long tables,” says Downey. “You can come there by yourself, and not feel awkward.” The customer mix is now 75% under 35, and 60% female, says Downey. “In places like Lewisham and Dalston, we get lots of young families from 5pm to 7pm, then it’s the after-work crowd and then a whole mix of people into the evening,” he adds. The Street Feast model also clearly appeals to local councils and property owners who can generate additional revenue from market halls and similar sites, many of which are lying idle while earmarked for eventual redevelopment. However, the potential game-changer came when Downey was approached by an agent in the spring of 2015 with a proposal to set up a permanent site in one of the unused halls at London’s historic meat market, Smithfield. “I realised it could be incredible, but it needed more than me,” says Downey. A conversation with Dimbleby followed in which Downey said: “Henry pitched this whole idea to me about a market hall where you can buy groceries, where they’ll cook you a steak, there’s coffee roasting, bread being baked and a gin still in the corner. My response was ‘funny you should say that, here’s the site’.”

“I realised it could be incredible, but it needed more than me”

Jonathan Downey (left) and Henry Dimbleby



London Union was formed and negotiations for Smithfield began in earnest – and at the time of writing, still continue. “We’d like to complete the Smithfield deal in six to 12 months and get it open within 12 to 18 months – but I’ve been saying that for a few months now,” says Downey. “There’s a lot of people and politics to deal with first. It would be a travesty for London if that building isn’t turned back into a market, and we’re the best people on the planet to do it at the moment. With my entrepreneurial optimism, I expect it to happen, but ultimately it’s not my decision.” However, London Union has other irons in the fire, among them a proposal for an ambitious floating street food market on the South Bank. “In London, as well as a flagship site we’ve said we’ll do 12 local markets in five years, and by May next year we’ll have six of those open,” says Downey. At this point, he offers a word of caution to property agents and landlords scenting cash. “We’re really in a position to pick and choose at the moment, and we’re saying no to nine out of ten proposed sites,” he adds. “Ultimately, it’s about great space in a good location. We can make a commercial rent work, but we shouldn’t have to if we’re only signing a short lease, or we’re doing a place-making job for a development in a part of London people wouldn’t normally go to. 12 sites in London feels about right. I don’t know where the saturation point is or how far out of London we’d go, for example, whether we could go to Croydon or Kingston. The crowd in Lewisham is lovely, it’s like a Hackney diaspora.” London Union has also attracted international interest, with Downey having made several visits to the US in the second half of 2015 to investigate potential street food ventures. Heads of terms have been agreed on a space in Philadelphia, with potential projects also under discussion in New York, Los Angeles, Austin and Miami. Downey says: “We see massive potential, there’s already a food truck scene in the US, but no-one’s really gathered it in one space in the right way yet. I think we can do it so much better.” Other approaches have come from Hong Kong, Shanghai, Dubai, Berlin and Amsterdam. “They’ve come to us, and the key thing is to find a great local partner in each location,” he adds. ▲



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Feature London Union originally offered 10.01% of equity during its crowdfunding campaign, valuing the business at about £35m. It later reduced that value to about £26m after increasing the equity stake to 11.86%. This inevitably draws comparisons with Camden Town Brewery, which lowered its value after its crowdfunding initiative and entered negotiations, which saw the business sold to global brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev in December 2015. Downey acknowledges “you get a lot of publicity when you crowdfund” and, as Camden Town discovered, “you also put yourself into play”. He was quick to take to social media to defend his friend Jasper Cuppaidge, founder of Camden Town, when the deal attracted outrage in certain parts of the craft beer community. “We were going to launch our crowdfunding at the same time as Jasper, but we decided to delay because we thought we’d get summer 2015 under our belt, and then price it,” says Downey. “From the start, I wanted to create a community of shareholders who would be ambassadors for our business, that ‘hive mind’ of experience and contacts, and I think we’ve achieved that. I thought we’d get a lot more people putting in less money, but what we found was that we had about 30 people putting in about £100,000 each.” He acknowledges the initiative has also attracted corporate finance interest. “Many people have come out of nowhere that want to talk to us,” he says. With several meetings with venture capital investors under his belt at which eye-watering sums have been discussed, Downey remains cautious but feels a partial equity sale to a major investor is an option for London Union at some point. One clear requirement for the continued success of London Union is a thriving street food scene, and the business has not neglected the operational nitty gritty alongside the big picture. Neil Rankin, executive chef of London gastro-pub operator Noble Inns, which created the Smokehouse brand, is also working with London Union on a part-time basis. Part of Rankin’s brief is to develop new food ideas and work with vendors to implement them, with a Brazilian barbecue concept called Meat Hook one of the first of these. A bespoke seafood shack has also been especially created at Hawker House for chef Jim Tomlinson, who delights in the nickname of the Prawnographer.

Providing a platform Downey, who sees this as an extension of the approach Street Feast took from the word go, says: “We’re creating our own ideas, and trying to encourage ’proper’ chefs to come into the business. We provide a framework for the food guys to make their business commercially sustainable, because we’re giving them 22 or 40 weeks a year, and we’re bringing tens or hundreds of thousands of people to their stand, so they can make money. We could still do with more coming in. There’s not enough new food ideas and there’s also not enough of the really good basic stuff, such as burgers and pizza.” He cites the example of an operator wanting to take a pulled pork roll off the menu because Tesco now sells pulled pork. “He makes a delicious sandwich,” says Downey. “You can get chips at Tesco, but you’re not going to stop doing them in our markets.” ▲

“There’s not enough new food ideas and there’s also not enough of the really good basic stuff, such as burgers and pizza” ¡ SPRING 2016 ¡ PROPEL QUARTERLY



London Union features a diverse mix of independent food vendors He also expects vendors to stay with London Union longer in future. “Until we created this new model, the next step from street food was your own place,” Downey adds. “Now it can be four or five sites with us.” While innovation is a big part of the offer, Downey says: “We used to think that vendor turnover was more important than we do now. I think 70% of what we do should be the same 20 or so traders, and then 30% will turn over. We’ve always got a showcase space at every site for a new trader to have a four-week trial at a lower pitch fee. We’ll help them with some marketing support, and tweak their menu and their service.” Downey compares the relationship between London Union and its independent-minded traders to that of Apple and independent app developers. Along with help with statutory requirements such as food safety compliance, “they get a lot of feedback, whether they like it or not – food quality, consistency, speed of service, the way their space looks”. He concedes offering advice to traders can sometimes be a challenge. “They’re doing it because they want to run their own business, and I really respect that, but equally we’ve just invested £1.7m in two spaces,” he says. He’s referring to a combined spend on Hawker House and Dinerama. He adds: “And so there are some parameters. I want to work with people, mentor and advise them. They’ll make their own mistakes ultimately, but they’d better listen.” The wet side of the business, directly operated by London Union, is important in terms


“As a team we’ve got lots of ideas, and the bars reflect what we’re interested in. Our crowd is adventurous – they’re not easily influenced, but you can nudge them in certain directions”


of both customer appeal and business growth. “75% of our revenue is bar sales, and about 65% of our staff are bartenders,” adds Downey. “That mix will change as we open more permanent markets and more all-day-all-week trading, but in the meantime, it’s a very good way of generating the cash we need to open the permanent sites.” That creates a need for well-trained bar staff as well as new ideas for drinks. “In just one week in October we opened ten or 12 new bars,” adds Downey. “One or two of them might only have been 3x3 metres, but’s it’s still a new bar. It’s a big part of the guest experience that we can control, and we’ve got to get that right.” Beer sales are strong, with the core range including beers from the aforementioned Camden Town as well as Fuller’s Frontier Lager and Heineken’s Birra Moretti brand. “We also sell plenty of American and British craft beer in cans,” Downey adds. On the spirits side, tequila, rum and Scotch whisky are all big sellers. The high Scotch sales in particular go against industry trends and come through a focus on developing interesting serves. “Diageo would love to know how we do it,” adds Downey. “As a team we’ve got lots of ideas, and the bars reflect what we’re interested in. Our crowd is adventurous – they’re not easily influenced, but you can nudge them in certain directions.” The relationship with other operators is good for the most part, says Downey. He gave some advice to Remarkable Pubs, which has given a number of street food vendors showcases in its pubs. “The good operators don’t begrudge anyone else’s success,” says Downey. “They admire it and learn from it. We’re not undercutting people, we’re charging entry. We’re supporting a lot of jobs, a lot of small businesses, and we’re doing a lot of good.” He sums up by saying: “Henry and I are focused on creating great spaces for local communities, great jobs for our people, great opportunities for our traders, and incredible shareholder value. That’s what we do.” He makes the distinction that despite London’s established food culture, the city is not always seen as a food destination in its own right. “We’re going to transform that view inside a year,” he says. “We’ve both said that if, and it is still if, we get to do Smithfield Market, apart from becoming dads it will be the most important thing we do in our lives.”

Jonathan Downey London Union Favourite place to eat: “That’s like asking me which is my favourite child. My favourite place for lunch in London is Lyle’s in Shoreditch. It’s the best of British ingredients with Scandinavian influences. It’s precision cooked, and it’s not just food you want to eat, but food the chef wants you to eat.” Favourite drink: “The purists will criticise me for this, but a pre-made gin Martini served from the freezer straight into the cocktail glass, for me tastes better than a freshly made one. The ingredients have had a little time to get to know each other.”


Providing the proof to make government listen ALMR chief executive Kate Nicholls explains how the organisation is using its benchmarking survey as evidence to demonstrate why the sector is important and deserves politicians’ support


his time of year is a busy one for trade associations – not only is there a flurry of activity around the Chancellor’s annual Budget Statement, but this year there have also been intense discussions and consultations on business rates reform, the pubco statutory code, the National Living Wage and tips, and new taxes on sugar. The challenge on both sides is evidence. Industry challenges government to show us the scale of the problem to justify the impact of the intervention. And politicians rightly ask us to provide evidence of the scale of business concern, of why the alternative or proposed solution will work and, most important of all, of why they should listen. Why is the sector important? In the battle for share of voice with other equally pressing good causes – insight, intelligence and information are king. And it is why the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) Christie & Co Benchmarking Survey and our new Future Shock research series, produced in association with CGA Peach, are so important. They provide politicians with a health check on the sector – a state of the nation report. Living and breathing the industry as we do, we often forget our politicians don’t. They see us through the prism of their own experience as a consumer or the newspaper headlines. So at a very basic level, we have to tell them our story, explain why we matter and demonstrate why pubs and restaurants deserve politicians’ support. Eating and drinking out directly employs almost a million people and, as a labour intensive, full service industry, our contribution per employee is significantly higher than many other industries. The sector’s gross value added (GVA) – the added value we bring to the economy and our communities both locally and nationally – is more than £27,000 per employee. With over 38% of hours worked being in the evening, each employee in the night-time economy generates almost £5,000 GVA for his or her local community.

Eating out revolution One other important part of the political narrative is the innovation and dynamism in the sector – which we seldom get


credit for. This year’s ALMR Christie & Co Benchmarking Report highlights nothing short of a revolution in eating out – with more than 52% of pub visits involving a meal, casual dining is not just confined to restaurants. The emergence of food has been a truism for some time, but this year’s survey confirms its dominance. First, as the leading segment in the market – even looking just at pubs and excluding casual dining outlets it is well over a third of the market. Secondly, as the driver of turnover and trade across all market segments. This year’s survey showed a record proportion of turnover derived from food, at almost 30% and, for wet-led, sales dropped dramatically to less than two-thirds of turnover (63%).

“They see us through the prism of their own experience as a consumer or the newspaper headlines. So at a very basic level, we have to tell them our story, explain why we matter and demonstrate why pubs and restaurants deserve politicians’ support” The other interesting theme to emerge from this survey relates to the high street. When we started the survey in 2007, the high street was synonymous with drinking – local authorities were still talking about high volume vertical drinking establishments, young people circuit bars. Their terminology and understanding has not changed, but our survey shows the outlets have – and dramatically. In 2007, high street and town centre outlets had turnover mixes, cost levels and rents that mirrored community wet-led locals. This year’s survey shows they have morphed over that period to look more like food-led pub restaurants. The only difference is that food-led businesses have slightly higher payroll levels. What is really surprising is that it has also replaced the community local as the average pub in terms of our survey data – on costs, turnover mix and margins. It’s not just that


the high street has become politically fashionable, it is the new normcore. And it is outperforming the market in almost every success metric – like-for-likes, investment, jobs and growth. And when you analyse the separate information from casual dining restaurants, you can see their KPIs are almost identical to that of pub food restaurants. The segments are far closer in financial terms than they might appear at first sight, but casual diners achieve far better margins. The two segments have much to learn from each other – and it is not just one way. Likefor-like growth across the sector stood at 4.2% over the last year. During the six years we have tracked it, food-led businesses have seen their turnover increase by 52%, high street businesses by 40% and community locals by just 29% – inflation ran at 18% during the same period. High street food-led pubs and casual dining are arguably the strongest aspect of a sector that has shown consolidation during tough economic times. There is also a note of caution in this year’s report – important for a Chancellor to take account in the forthcoming Budget. The cost of doing business has continued to rise as national and local authorities continue to burden retailers with prohibitive legislative costs. Operating costs associated with legislation now stand at a record high of 5.5% of turnover and premises costs, particularly driven by business rates, which jumped to 6.4% of turnover, but it is in labour costs that the biggest uncertainty rears its head. Of course this seriously affects a business’ chances of succeeding and, in an increasingly competitive marketplace, the margin between success and failure for high street operators is thin. This is where we come in. The sector is well placed for further growth and our benchmarking survey shows high street casual dining and food-led outlets are leading the way. If we can continue to impress upon government the need for flexibility and fairness, we look set to capitalise on this great work.

Kate Nicholls is chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers

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Columbo Group co-founders Riz Shaikh and Steve Ball

The concept hitting the right note and blowing away the blues I t might be a dark, wet, first Friday night after the New Year but this has not exactly affected trade at The Blues Kitchen in London’s Shoreditch. There’s a full-on party atmosphere among the drinkers packing out the room, with Champagne corks flying and a general swaying to the beat of the rolling Blues tracks that pump out of the sound system. It is an amalgamation of all the elements its co-founders Riz Shaikh and Steve Ball wanted in a venue when they set up their bars business Columbo Group in 2006, which they believed could deliver the sort of late-night venues they wanted to frequent but which didn’t exist at the time. They crucially wanted a venue with a late licence that would have drinks and music at its heart but which also had a local feel to it. They didn’t want an impersonal aircraft hangar-sized building – and they were also looking for a good deal. Shaikh says: “We were punters and nowhere matched our aspirations so we thought we’d create somewhere. We found the Old Queens Head [in north London] with its huge character and the concept was to change this old man’s boozer to a late-night venue. We turned the upstairs into a club.” They both had form when it came to music – including Ball’s creation of the renowned Fabric nightclub in Clerkenwell – and this allowed them to bring an extra dimension to the

Columbo Group co-founders Riz Shaikh and Steve Ball talk to Glynn Davis about the development of its Blues Kitchen concept and the company’s future plans

business. “We brought elements of what the market at the time wanted, with a programme of events – amazing bands, a line-up of DJ’s, and comedy,” he says. “We needed to create an experience.” By looking at things from the perspective of music promoters rather than operators, Shaikh reckons this allowed them to bring something fresh to the industry. He also now recognises the recession at the time helped as it “weeded out the weak”. “It was a time of new creative opportunities and new energy,” he adds. “It was a great time to start up.” Right from the off they imbued the company with their own personal values and this has permeated the business to be inherent in its culture. “This culture is manufactured through our ideals and values that we put in place,” says Shaikh. “We’ve followed this through in all aspects. They are not empty words as we live and breathe them right from the leaders to the KP [kitchen porter].” They found the pub was the best vehicle for them at the time to deliver their proposition. Shaikh says: “It was perfect for us. It’s what we were about. It worked from day one. We had [rapper] Roots Manuva booked on night one – superstar acts in a local pub with intimacy. But it was still an old boozer, a local. That’s what we wanted.” ▲ ¡ SPRING 2016 ¡ PROPEL QUARTERLY



People development “Hospitality was not seen as a credible career but now you can make [good] money and so there are better wages. Talented people want to come into it, including graduates. We can foster this talent. Our employees come first, the product follows that, and then profits come afterwards. “We work very hard to recruit good people. We’ve a unique comprehensive training and development programme – that can take people from bartender to general manager – using courses and coaching. We’ve two people full-time on this programme as we believe you need to give people the tools. Even our bouncers have a two-day induction to learn our values. We train them how to be a ‘host’ not a bouncer. Most of our time is invested in the staff. You’ve got to love the job as you can’t fake hospitality. And if the owner does not love it then how can the staff follow you. “We look up to John Lewis, whose employees have a vested interest, and we’ve given two of our manager’s equity in the business otherwise you have to ask, ‘why work for us?’ We give people the option of equity as you want your managers to be business partners.”

Lessons learned Such was its success that another Old Queens Head was quickly sought. Shaikh adds: “Naively we tried to look for another but it takes a while to know what is right [about your concept]. We took on another pub that was too small to play to our strengths and it was in a residential area so we sold it after 18 months. It was an important lesson. A relatively quick sale was smart as we could then put all our energy elsewhere. It was not emotional, but it’s tough to sell.” It wasn’t tough to then buy Paradise by way of Kensal Green in west London as Shaikh says: “We loved the site. It oozed character akin to the Old Queens Head. But as well as being a music pub it was a restaurant too. It was a hybrid, unique. We’d not seen anything like it. It embodies all our offerings in the place – Michelin-star chef, DJs upstairs, private dining and cocktails etc.” While the company has continued to add music venues – including XOYO, The Nest, and Phonox because “we have the nightclub background and music is our passion” – Shaikh admits that despite an aversion to creating an identikit chain of venues he also recognised the upside to developing a concept that could then be rolled out. From early on he says he had looked at Hawksmoor co-founders Will Beckett and Hugh Gott, who’d “had a stab at a few things” before creating something with consistency and homogeneity. Although regarding Columbo Group as more “opportunistic” in its outlook, the development of a replicable concept was kept in mind. It was realised with The Blues Kitchen. “It comes from our desire to create one concept but not a chain,” says Shaikh. “We’ve said there would only be three in London and then we’d move outside. And we’d only open a second unit when we’d done the first properly because you’ll compromise the concept. How would you [otherwise] know it was worth a roll-


“They are all unique, otherwise it’s a chain. We want a consistency in the roll-out but it’s not TGI Friday’s. It’s important not to bring a cookiecutter approach to what we do as it could compromise the business”


out? People sell their customers short.” The first Blues Kitchen appeared in Camden six years ago and, despite the typical tough task of finding suitable sites in central London, he says it was an easy one as it was at the height of the recession and Scottish & Newcastle was suffering from the pub company “model dying a death” and had an unwanted struggling pub in its estate. Columbo snapped up the freehold. “Our innovation was to turn it into a venue with Deep South Blues, barbecue and bourbon cocktails,” adds Shaikh. “What’s unique about Blues music is it’s timeless. It’s not a fad. It’s not a trend. Columbo Group is unique in not being fashion-led or fickle, which is the late-licence stereotype. Get them in and out, lots of vertical drinking. But those days are gone.” The pain being experienced in the latelicence nightclub market is evident in research from the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, which has found the number of nightclubs in the UK has fallen from 3,144 in 2005 to only 1,733 in 2015 and revenues have dropped from £1.5bn in 2010 to £1.2bn in 2015. The factors at play include the loss of unused space in cities, rapidly increasing property costs, gentrification of inner-city areas that leads to frequent complaints about noise, and less alcohol consumption by younger people. Columbo Group is swimming against this underlying tide and a big part of this at The Blues Kitchen is successfully mixing the food and beverage offer with music. “Eating, drinking and dancing are a challenge to put together,” says Shaikh. “Your music and lighting needs to be perfect and very few places combine all three. But the challenge makes it rewarding.” One of the challenges is making all the components work smoothly together because the whole is judged on each of the separate working so a failure in one area inevitably results in an across-the-board disappointment for the customer. It’s a total failure for the operator, suggests Shaikh.

Feature “What’s unique about Blues music is it’s timeless. It’s not a fad. It’s not a trend. Columbo Group is unique in not being fashion-led or fickle, which is the late-licence stereotype”

Although food represents a modest 30% of sales he believes it is absolutely vital to the overall offer. As are the buildings that house The Blues Kitchen concept. The second unit was taken on in 2013 with the acquisition of the lease of Bar Music Hall in Shoreditch – that was purchased at the same time as The Cat and Mutton pub in east London.

Neighbourhood feel “All our sites are unique, otherwise it’s a chain,” says Shaikh. “We want a consistency in the rollout but it’s not TGI Friday’s. It’s important not to bring a cookie-cutter approach to what we do as it could compromise the business. Camden is unique in London and every Blues Kitchen will echo its neighbourhood – that way it is more of a venue for locals.” In contrast, he says Shoreditch is not a neighbourhood bar but is more for after-work drinks during the week and for people coming into the area during the weekends. Certainly on the rainy first Friday night in January there was a queue snaking down the road at 10.15pm waiting to enter, as the venue was full to capacity. Likewise the third outlet, Brixton, has its own characteristic, again largely appealing to local customers. “It only opened two months ago and has been a rip-roaring success,” adds Shaikh. “But we don’t want to rest on our laurels and there is much room for improvement. We therefore won’t even think about number four until this one is perfect.” But Shaikh cannot resist revealing that Manchester would be the perfect home for the next one: “Manchester is likely to be our fourth opening because the city has some huge character buildings and the culture is suited to it. It’s right for this product. I’d also love to open in Liverpool as it would be an excuse to see the football. Although I’m not sure whether that’s a great idea at the moment!” He also reckons it is such a robust concept that he would like to do it globally but suggests

there is no such grand plan or strategy in place that would encompass such thinking. That’s not to say it won’t happen though because Columbo Group has shown itself to have an opportunistic streak, combined with a well tuned radar, which enables it to spot openings and act quickly on them. What helps this is its private ownership whereby “we don’t have to answer to venture capitalists”, says Shaikh. To prove the point Shaikh and Ball have just added the iconic Jazz Cafe to the portfolio that takes the group to ten outlets. It was simply too tempting an opportunity to miss and the purchase was done off-market as part of a consortium that bought all the music venue assets from Mama Group. “Any Londoner who likes music will have been to that venue,” adds Shaikh. “We’ll leave it mainly as it is. It has just lost its way and we want to reinject the love and passion. We’ll improve the offer and reignite it. It’s one of the most exciting things we’ve done.” He hopes the Columbo Group culture can contribute to helping the Jazz Cafe develop into the same successful venture as the rest of the venues, which Shaikh says are all profitable – with some “extremely” so. This is the case with The Blues Kitchen venues and he points to the £250,000 of revenue the Shoreditch site did during a single week in December from its 14,000 square foot and capacity of 780. He then quickly adds it also achieved 95%-plus customer satisfaction levels to highlight it is not just about racking up big numbers. Although he dismisses the idea of adding more pubs to the group, preferring to instead concentrate on opening further Blues Kitchens and music venues, the Jazz Cafe suggests the temptation could be too strong if another interesting asset comes into view. Whatever comes next it will undoubtedly be a venue that the two co-founders could easily enjoy an evening in – if only they had the time that is.

Columbo Group at a glance Employees: 460 Music bookings department: 20 Turnover: £30m Venues: The Blues Kitchen (Camden, Shoreditch, Brixton), XOYO, Paradise by Way of Kensal Green, The Nest, Old Queens Head, Phonox, Cat and Mutton, Jazz Cafe Wet/dry split examples: The Blues Kitchen 70/30, Paradise by Way of Kensal Green 70/30, Old Queens Head 80/20, XOYO 100/0

Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends ¡ SPRING 2016 ¡ PROPEL QUARTERLY



Redrawing the market map as the suburban dream declines Red Circle Insight managing director David Martin explains how the hospitality sector is playing its part in the revival of city centres


ur provincial cities are reviving, finally. After decades of decline and socio-economic “hollowing out”, as the better off moved out to the suburbs and beyond, the city centres are being reinvented – and they are back in fashion. There is a positive boom in urban living particularly and, significantly for our industry, in the increasing numbers of young, well-educated adults living close to our provincial city centres. The number of residents aged 20-29 in large city centres nearly tripled between 2001 and 2011, according to The Centre for Cities’ Urban Development report. It described a “highly educated, mobile generation born since 1980 that have increasingly turned their backs on suburban life in order to live in inner cities”. Clearly, the issue of affordable property is central to this trend. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, when they were in their mid-twenties about 45% of my generation (the boomers) owned their own home. Now that figure has fallen to about 20% and, as the realistic prospect of home ownership recedes for young adults, so their life aspirations are changing, and this also affects their geographical choices. But there are attitudinal forces at play here too, and our industry is a key player in these dynamics. A 2015 YouGov poll of city centre residents, for The Centre for Cities, showed that proximity to restaurants, leisure and cultural facilities was the most frequently selected reason why residents chose to live there. At the same time, as more people live in city centres, the more this will influence council planning policy, liable to favour some elements of the industry more than others. These attractions of easy access and walkable proximity are in stark contrast to the post-war car-borne flight to the suburbs and beyond – the good life of the old suburban dream. Whereas now it’s easy to imagine that ideal living is more about being close to the right bars and restaurants. A 2015 piece in the architecture and design magazine Dezeen by the founder of London creative workspace Secondhome Rohan Silva, noted that: "Young people


today interpret their quality of life differently to a generation before. And they want to live in the middle of the action. They want to be close to cultural life and amenities like that. And they're happier actually living in a smaller unit to do that.” The same journal has also discussed the potential for city centre student-style accommodation with communal facilities, developed specifically for young professionals – a trend that would have implications for in-home and out of home food demand.

Changing habits But changes in food buying are already happening. The Waitrose 2015 Food & Drink report observed that the growing tendency for food shopping to be spread across more smaller trips is led by the younger generation, for whom it’s “their norm” – and it will be inextricably linked to the growing numbers who live in, or close to, the city centre. Simultaneously, the big four supermarket groups, after decades of out of town suburban superstore development, now find this floor space becomes less attractive as consumer aspirations, living patterns and behaviours change. It’s not difficult to propose analogies in the on-trade. The major managed pub estates have now largely exited the least affluent urban areas, where many of the most profitable boozers would have been found before the car-borne flight to suburbia. Skip forward to the 1980s, and the top performing provincial managed pubs tended to be in aspirational honeypot drive-to destinations – the likes of Didsbury, Headingley, and Four Oaks – the “quality suburban” locations that young adults with money wanted to be seen in, even if they couldn’t afford to live there. But that was then – whereas now, CGA Peach says that city centres are the main focus for new site growth. It also notes that this is not purely down to casual dining, but was also a function of net increases in bar numbers in city centres such as Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Sheffield, and Bristol – several of which have benefited from the investment in modern tram


Albert Dock, Liverpool, is a fine example of city centre rejuvenation systems which make the centres more easily accessible. The “middle of the action” is firmly back in the city centres, and in this context Mitchells & Butlers’ recent comment that some of its pub dining brands had been impacted by new casual dining openings was intriguing – not only for repertoire reasons, but also because the geography of that new competition differs from the typically suburban pub dining estates. These changes are not just geographical. They also involve consumer perception and positioning. On that last point, I defer to the doyen of the ad industry, Dave Trott, whose always-thoughtful blog recently observed: “When you position yourself, you reposition everyone else. If you are the biggest, they must be smaller. If you are the fastest, they must be slower. If you are the cheapest, they must be expensive. That’s fundamental to any positioning strategy.” Translate that to our market, and if the city centres are becoming cool again, what does that say about the “positioning” of the suburbs and the brands that are typically located there? How are they perceived now – especially by younger adults? And this discussion cannot ignore the potential threat of a lower nationwide drink-drive limit and its differential geographical impact on our market, as the trade in Scotland has begun to reveal. The geography of the population, and their mental maps, are continually changing. Nothing stays the same, and that is true of postcodes’ pulling power too. This is an attitudinal as well as a spatial issue. To that point, a recent editorial in The Times described the suburbs as a “world of privacy, respectability, stability and dullness”. That’s as much a state of mind as a place perhaps, but for the more affluent young adult market – the consumer group increasingly setting our market’s agenda – it sounds a long way from their current aspirations, and rather more like a suburban bad dream.

David Martin is managing director of Red Circle Insight, a market and customer insight resource

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The German concept on a mission to be king of the castle

Following the successful opening of Albert’s Schloss in Manchester, Mission Mars chief executive Roy Ellis talks to Glynn Davis about what makes the venture work and its future plans


o you know of another bar that does £300,000 per week? That’s the question from Roy Ellis, chief executive of Mission Mars and founder of Inventive Leisure. Nothing springs to my mind. He enquires because this is the impressive level of revenue that his Albert's Schloss and Albert Hall bar and restaurant in Manchester is pulling in on an average week. I suspect he already knew the answer. But either way, there is no disputing the magnitude of this newcomer on the city's hospitality scene that landed in late August and has created something of a buzz in a city well used to such a sensation. Its weekly take is just one of a series of sizeable numbers that highlight what a mighty venue it is. It occupies 28,000 square feet, sells more than 5,000 pints each week (amongst other alcoholic things), has a capacity of 700 in the bar/restaurant on the ground level and another 2,800 in the Albert Hall entertainment venue that sits above the Schloss. As many as 200 different items are baked daily in its in-house bakery, and the total investment in the project totalled a substantial £3.5m. Despite the big numbers, the success of the venture is "no surprise to us" suggests Ellis as he and his partners in Mission Mars have plenty of form with chunky statistics. With his compatriot at Inventive Neil Macleod they frequently hit £100,000 per week turnovers at some of their Revolution vodka bars, and the other partners Adelaide Winter and Joel Wilkinson ran Trof Group and this enjoyed some £80,000 weeks at its Gorilla venue. The four seasoned operators have corralled resources and combined their years of hospitality experience to deliver Albert's Schloss that is a concept devised to suit the majestic Albert Hall building that was being operated by the Trof Group and which now sits within the Mission Mars business – the foursomes' new venture [see box on page 36]. Trof Group was using the ground floor for pop-up events, while the main venue upstairs played host to big name acts such as Bloc Party, Sam Smith and Maximo Park. Ellis


says the four partners looked at the grade II-listed building and thought: "We don't want a theme like Disney with its branding but want something that is true to the building that built on the success of the Albert Hall [upstairs]. We were keen it did not betray this big, grand, beautiful terracottaclad 1908 iconic building that looks like a palace. We took inspiration from Schloss', which are Bavarian castles like country palaces, retreats." As it happened Albert (of the Hall) was born in a Schloss so this fitted well with the Bavarian idea they had conjured up. To deliver on this concept little expense was spared and £2.5m was spent on the ground-floor space alone. The remaining £1m went on renovating the Albert Hall venue on the first floor, which continues as a venue for big name acts.

“We don’t want a theme like Disney with its branding but want something that is true to the building” “We've used loads of reclaimed materials that I've had in storage, including 200-year-old timber floors from a distillery in Scotland and from a tram-shed in Manchester, as well as bricks from a mental asylum,“ says Ellis, who adds all four partners “love the buzz of beautiful buildings and admire quirkiness”, which they have all made the most of in their previous projects and have brought this to full fruition at Albert’s Schloss. These materials help split the large space into different domains that allow it to cater for all types of customers – from big groups to couples and small groupings who are looking for a more intimate space. The expanses of space as well as a ▲





Please Enjoy Magners Responsibly



number of open log-burning fires, for instance, make this broad appeal possible. This also helps it attract a broad spread of ages – from youngsters looking for a night out on the town as well as older clientele looking for a place where they could just as comfortably take their mothers for a civilised bit of time together. Typically the capacity is held at 550 to enable maximum comfort and this is split roughly 250 in the dining area, 100 casually seating/perching and the other 200 drinking around the sizeable bar area. Although the whole space is intended as something of a showstopper, one of the highlights is the central bar area that is dominated by gleaming beer tanks that serve unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell. This is delivered directly each week from the brewery in Pilsen, near Prague in the Czech Republic. This makes it the first 'Tankovna (tank bar) in Manchester and one of the few in the country stocking this authentic Pilsner that is served in its freshest form just as it would be at the brewery and bars in the Czech Republic.

Popular Pilsner Such as been the demand for the creamy lager that Albert's Schloss has quickly become the “biggest seller of tank beers outside the Czech Republic”, according to Ellis, who adds: “When we opened we had four tanks, which look amazing, but within five weeks the delivery men were tired out so we needed to have two more installed. We go through six tanks per week [each holding 900 pints].” Certainly the beer is very much integral to the offer. “Albert's is about Bavaria and its crisp, creamy Pilsner lager,” adds Ellis. “All of us [partners at Mission Mars] personally enjoy Munich beers and the creamy lagers so we‘ve Paulaner and Pilsner Urquell, for instance, available. We need to be excited about drinking glasses of this.“ Ellis believes it has been important for the venue to avoid a focus on craft beers because this might not have worked so well over the long term and also for multiple sales on a session

because of the strong flavours exhibited by many such beers: "These beers are all the rage at the moment but it's a bit of emperor’s new clothes about craft beer,” says Ellis. “Do people really want to drink it all night? After a glass of it I want to get back to drinking lager.” This is not to say there is not a decent selection at Albert’s Schloss – with ten beers on draught as well as a decent number of bottles. These not only include beers from Bavaria and broader Germany but others are sourced from elsewhere in the world. So for the less adventurous there is the popular Peroni, which sits alongside the other brews that are distinctively more in keeping with the Schloss concept [see box]. What also sits extremely comfortably in the concept is the strong Schnapps selection, of which Ellis is particularly proud. “Of the drinks we've had – including tequila and vodka – this is our best so far,” he says. “It‘s beautifully infused with various ingredients. We've authentic brands from around Scandinavia and the rest of the world as well as creating our own.” Although the city “likes to have a good time and a drink”, Albert‘s Schloss still has a strong catering offer and serves 2,000 covers per week with each diner spending an average of £15. The best-selling dish is chicken schnitzel (£9.50), which when served with an order of French fries bumps the bill up to a more than affordable £12. Another serious seller is the authentic Schweinshaxe pork knuckle (£13.50) that will be very familiar to any visitor to Bavaria or any other part of Germany for that matter. These typically hearty Bavarian dishes are complemented by the homemade flatbreads and pretzels that are produced fresh from the venue’s in-house bakery. The food, drink and extremely high quality fit-out of Albert’s Schloss combine to deliver a thoroughly rounded offer but Ellis and Mission Mars have one more component that really differentiates their proposition from everything else and which Ellis is especially proud of. ▲ ¡ SPRING 2016 ¡ PROPEL QUARTERLY


Feature That’s entertainment! “The best bit, which was developed really late on, is the entertainment – which starts at 8pm each evening,” he says. “We came up with various ideas but we were not sure if they would work. Would the idea be a folly? We created some show concepts, involving a house band of 20 people, and performers who move around the room with the lighting following them. There appears to be a randomness about it for the audience (but it’s all organised) and it's really exciting because of that.” Because it is very expensive to put on and only works in a very large-scale venue – where the extra people it draws in and the additional dwell time it creates can offset this cost – it is an interesting USP that he reckons would be very difficult for others to replicate. The barriers to entry are high on copying the proposition with all its components. The other factor that Albert’s Schloss – and the Mission Mars team – has in its favour is the extensive experience of its four cofounders in being able to successfully run such a juggernaut of a venue. “You need experience to run a £300,000-plus a week bar,” says Ellis. “You‘re taking in 30,000 people per week, 150 team members, handling the large volumes of beer and food coming in and out the building. There are lots of moving parts. Lots of things need to go right.“

“We’re doing this to create the greatest bars in the world and for this you need the best locations and the best buildings in these locations”

Example of the food & beverage offer: DRAUGHT BEER u

Hakker Pshorr Dunkel £5


Irlbacher Helles £4.60


Paulaner Hefe Weisbeer £4.80


Augustiner Edelstoff £5.40


Irlbacher Hefeweizen £5


Erdinger Kristall £5


Berentzen Peach £3


Barenjager Honey £3


Aalborg Taffel Akvavit £3


Schloss Wildwood Strawberry £2


Schloss Chocolate Orange £2


Haus Made Pretzel £3.50


Selection of Schloss Bread £4

FOOD Clearly plenty is going right as the group is on the lookout for further venues in which to run other Albert Schloss. Not surprisingly this is definitely not a cookie cutter type concept that can be easily rolled out. The key to the future expansion plans of the team lie in their ability to find the right buildings. "We'd never think of putting it into any mall or concrete block,” says Ellis, who knows all about rolling out branded venues having previously turned the Revolution vodka bar chain into a nationwide success. “We need big, palatial buildings. We could go for an ‘Albert Schloss-lite’ version but that’s for Costa Coffee where it’s all about branding and growth strategies.” He adds: “We're doing this to create the greatest bars in the world and for this you need the best locations and the best buildings in these locations. Are these buildings around?” He believes they are and has earmarked a number of major cities where the company is hoping to find the right sites. These comprise Glasgow, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol and London. To make the search easier Ellis reckons the required size could be reduced down to 20,000 square foot – but it must incorporate both bar and restaurant areas as well as the entertainment venue space, otherwise the true essence of the Albert’s Schloss concept will not be delivered. It’s a big ask to find such sizeable venues that suit the exacting standards of Ellis and the other founders but with their extensive experience in the hospitality industry, if anybody can make it work then they are undoubtedly in the mix.


Bratwurst & Kraut £5


Flammkuchen £7


Currywurst £9


Halloumi Schnitzel Burger £9.50


Treacle Cured Bacon £5


Haus Pickles £4


Alpine Cheeseboard £8.50

Revenues: Structure: Mission Mars 50/50 owners Roy Ellis and Neil Macleod/Adelaide Winter and Joel Wilkinson Venues comprise: Trof, Def Institute, Gorilla, Albert's Schloss and Albert Hall



Average food and beverage sales per week (excluding ticket sales): Across Albert’s Schloss & Albert Hall £300,000 Low: Albert’s Schloss £180,000 and Albert Hall £60,000 High: Albert’s Schloss £260,000 and Albert Hall £120,000 Ticket Sales: Albert Hall £250,000 (mostly distributed to bands and promoters)

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Hamish Stoddart (left) and Lee Cash

Peach’s philosophy is bearing fruit


hen the Peach Pub Company started, in 2001, it wasn’t aiming to be big. In fact it began as just one pub, the Rose & Crown in Warwick, which was developed to tap into the growing interest in gastro-pubs at the time. The venture began when Hamish Stoddart teamed up with restaurateur Lee Cash. However, neither of them had pulled a pint before, so what made them so certain they could make it in the pub industry? “The gastro-pub scene became popular in the early 1990s in London, and then later on in that decade it started to flow out into the countryside, and it was particularly strong in Warwickshire, so we followed this wave by taking on the Rose & Crown,” says Stoddart. “In the beginning, for us it was all about awesome service and doing ethical food, so we really focused on free-range meat, English produce, sustainable fish, and that kind of thing. We wanted to create a mixture of a proper pub but with great gastro food.” With Cash’s extensive restaurant experience – having been trained and mentored by Raymond Blanc – the pair knew the food and people side would not be a problem. And Cash’s hosting skills were also legendary, adds Stoddart, which was another bonus. But they did face some challenges, specifically a lack of knowledge about pubs. Stoddart says: “We secured a pubco


Since opening its first pub 15 years ago, Peach has collected more than 50 awards, recognising its customer service, team members and their working environment and culture. Co-founder Hamish Stoddart talks to Sonya Hook about the next stage of its vision and ambitious expansion programme


lease, which we didn’t really understand. The challenge was understanding the pub world and doing it in a lease format. We just weren’t pub people.” For the first pub, finance was also a challenge. “We started out with relatively little money,” he adds. “Cash and I put in £50,000 between us and we raised another £100,000 from investors, most of whom we bought out a couple of years later.” Stoddart’s background in business helped at this stage and this, combined with Cash’s restaurant experience, proved to be a winning formula. But it wasn’t until Jo Eames came on board that the trio had the perfect balance of skills to grow the business. “She has a design background and adds the creative element to each venue,” he says. “Between the three of us we then had the skills covered for a great business. It meant that between us three core people we had the skills to grow the company without getting more outside expertise or investors involved.” The first two or three stages of growth happened fairly quickly, Stoddart says. “I gave up my proper job when we opened the Fleece in Witney, Oxfordshire, and that’s also when I pulled my first pint,” adds Stoddart. “After this we took on pubs quickly and within four years, with six pubs, we had grown from a single venue to a proper business.” Around this time the company, which had unintentionally kept out of the limelight, was starting to get ▲

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Feature The Fleece

d'Parys bar area

The Fleece recognised. “Five of our six pubs had been nominated as being in the top 30 within the UK and we still hadn’t really announced Peach at that stage,” says Stoddart. “Up until that point we had been growing based on raw enthusiasm alone really.”

Bottling the magic The team took on another partner, Andrew Coath, and decided it was time to put some more concrete business plans in place. “We decided then to share the ownership, basically to share real equity with operators without them having to invest huge sums of money,” says Stoddart. “At this time we also worked on ‘bottling the magic’ as we call it, which involved writing down everything we did in terms of the culture, values and our service standard. And then over the next four years we carried on trying to build on our shared ownership plan, taking on some new partners along the way.” In 2010 the gastro-pub market started to get harder, with a lot more competition both within the sector and from the emergence of new restaurant concepts. “Around that time we strengthened our centre and we really started building the team, which has helped us get to where we are now,” adds Stoddart. “At the end of 2014, Andrew Coath chose to leave the business to set up his own company, and in January this year Peach finished buying him out for £526,000. It was a wonderful result for our first partner and proof of our commitment to shared ownership and in allowing general managers and head chefs to become partners and share in the success and to take value away,” says Stoddart. Peach continues to grow its profits and the company now has 17 pubs with some in the pipeline already for the months ahead.

“We wanted to create a mixture of a proper pub but with great gastro food”

Peach Pubs is already the largest independent gastro-pub operator in the UK, says Stoddart, but the team currently has no plans to sell up. “Our aim at the moment is to get to 22 pubs from our current 17 with 15 partners (from our current number of 11), which we hope to do in the next couple of years,” he adds. “At that point we will reassess and decide what we want to do next.” For the year ahead Peach is aiming for two more leases. “We will definitely be opening a boutique hotel alongside an existing pub called the High Field in Edgbaston, because the building next door has become available,” says Stoddart. “We have a range of pubs altogether from a high-end gastro-pub such as the High Field, to a posh boozer like the wet-led James Figg in Thame, which only sells pizzas and pies as its food offer. ▲ ¡ SPRING 2016 ¡ PROPEL QUARTERLY



Finance: To expand the business, and to help get to the aim of 22 venues, the team has raised £4m extra from the bank, which was completed in February. Stoddart says: “We are currently about £6m in debt with £12m of freeholds, and with more funds now available for expansion, mainly in leasehold. Peach currently has a turnover of around £25m but by two or three years this should be up to £35m.” This time around, securing bank finance was not hard, he says, “mainly because we now have some freeholds”. Previously, in 2011, getting finance was “horrible” he adds. Stoddart says most of the pubs in Peach’s portfolio, being country pubs, are strong during the summer months and at Christmas. “In the summer we trade at 25% above average and this Christmas just gone was fantastic, trading at double the average across the portfolio,” he adds. “We were up 11% like-for-like. A big week is now £750,000 for the full portfolio. During Christmas week our biggest pub took £70,000. The past year was our best year by miles, showing how robust our model is now.”

We have a whole range of product offerings but they all focus on ethical food and they are high service-led premium venues.” For its growth plans the company will continue to focus on character buildings located in market towns and also country pubs. “We feel these are economically viable for us for the long term,” says Stoddart. “We don’t worry about tenure; we will consider all from pub companies to private landlords. Once we reach 22 pubs we will then be at a different level, turning over about £35m; we will see if we want to go bigger than that when we reach that number. We are also willing to share our ‘central’ services with operators or investors to reduce costs and share expertise or multi-site set-up. We are working with one other pub operator now.”

Values: “It was a wonderful result for our first partner and proof of our commitment to shared ownership and in allowing general managers and head chefs to become partners and share in the success and to take value away”

The Rose & Crown



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The reinvigoration of Café Rouge

James Spragg

Café Rouge managing director James Spragg talks about the progress on the brand’s revival Café Rouge St Paul‘s


remember reading an article about restaurant brand management in these pages by Tony Hughes. He noted a certain pattern of behaviour for operators who come in new to a brand they’ve inherited – paraphrasing, he said they cannot help but criticise anything and everything, and then some. I totally agree. Hughes’ words were ringing in my ears as I sat down to write this article, after Propel asked me to pen my thoughts on the transformation programme at Café Rouge. So let me just start by saying this is, and always was, a fantastic brand. There were some very specific reasons as to why it had perhaps lost its way in recent times, which I plan to touch on, before giving a flavour of what we’ve done in the past 12 months, and what we intend to do next. I came in as managing director just over a year ago, prior to which I had a short stint running Strada and before that, PizzaExpress. One of the main issues was there were so many competing views about where to take this brand and that had led to confusion. Several attempted evolutions, which had dramatically changed the business, hadn’t worked. The rejuvenation investments had generally moved up sales only temporarily – instead of sales continuing to build in year two (post investment) the numbers fell away. In considering the way forward, we had to look back. We looked at a raft of consumer measures – general feedback, consumer reviews, mystery diner scores, net promoter scores, focus groups and so on. There was a lot of latent love for the brand, with lots of comments about how good it had been (in the past). What was clear was people wanted it to be good again. There was also a sense Café Rouge was trying to go after younger customers and trying to be a bit cooler. This resonated and was

visible in some of the attempted redesigns and newer menus – a reaction perhaps to what was happening in the general casual and fast-casual market (we had hot dogs as our lead promotion). It’s important to say a lot of the attempted changes were wellintentioned. It felt a bit like the cricketer who has lost form with the bat – they need to go back to basics and go back to the nets, graft and drill their technique. This brand had come out swinging furiously, and it felt like there wasn’t a loud enough voice saying: “This is what we are; this is what we are not.” The brand needed to be nurtured and protected and loved. It needed some leadership. Georgia Hall, an experienced brand director, joined pretty much on the same day as me. We were in fierce agreement on the direction the brand should go in, which was to take it back to what made it great, focusing on our strengths and core customers.

Going back to its roots What seemed clear was Café Rouge should not try to be a cool brand; it was a heritage brand, which didn’t need radical change but to evolve with its guests. I experienced something similar at PizzaExpress. Just like that brand, Café Rouge needed to take itself back to what it was really good at and do it very well. In terms of food, that meant giving customers what they clearly wanted, which was classic, authentic French food done really well (not their recipes changed every five minutes). The reality was the food had previously lost its way a little bit – we had eight different menus across 90 restaurants. Now we have one and we have focused on the things an authentic French bistro should do very well – classic French dishes such as steak frites, as well as wine, coffee, cheese, pastries and desserts. ▲ ¡ SPRING 2016 ¡ PROPEL QUARTERLY



Café Rouge Greenwich

will centre on the satisfaction of our guests. To this end, we will The brand is 26 years old and the competition now in our be partnering with the Alain Ducasse organisation – it will help all-day dining space is huge, with great brands such as Bill’s, us develop and operate a world-class training facility at our Carluccio’s and Cote all trying to take our lunch (and breakfast Euston business support centre. It will also input on our food, and dinner). We had to get comfortable with them and focus on menu, restaurants and service delivery and we are confident our what we (not them) did well. We needed to set it on the right next menu change this month will be another big step forward, path for the next five to ten years. but crucially one our customers will embrace. That said, the nature of the market meant that investment was In terms of the transformation, we’re not there yet. We have a key issue, as some of the Café Rouge restaurants had not been much work to do and the reality is that we will never get refurbished in many years. It meant the dining environment “there” such is the nature of competing in today’s was tired, as were the cooking platforms, which meant market. We need to continually evolve. What I some dishes were very difficult for our operators can say is the brand is back in sales growth to produce. This had to be changed quickly as “One of the and this trend appears to be sustained, it was hitting not just customer satisfaction but main issues was which is very encouraging. Our customer morale too. Thankfully, the backing of Casual there were so many scores are moving forward too. Finally, our Dining Group and its investors meant we refurbishments in late 2014 have gone competing views were able to address this at pace. By 2017, into year two (post-refurbishment) and we will have refurbished all 90 restaurants. about where to the sales momentum is building further. Of course, alongside product and take this brand The programme is demonstrating what we property, the other fundamental “p” was and that had led had hoped – the refurbishments would act people. The first thing we did was meet the as the catalyst to help give our operators a to confusion” general managers in groups of five and ten. great platform to build on. The renewal of the They were an important sounding board and brand and the rejuvenation of our restaurants hearing what they had to say shaped our brand have also energised our people; in addition to roadmap. Service culture is a massive focus for the an absolute sense of focus, there is also a high level of next 12 months as we strive to be complaint free, with guests engagement with a brand people feel passionate about. These genuinely made to feel special. We are changing all reward results have given us the confidence to turn the dial up on our structures around this objective – how we measure our business customer marketing efforts, which will hopefully deliver further incremental sales momentum. In addition to the refurbishment, the brand is set to return to site growth. We are due to open one site at the end of May, and are in discussions on a further four, with a plan to add five per year. Café Rouge has also gone international – last year opening in Dubai through a franchise partnership – which is obviously adding another exciting dimension. We know we have got to keep this brand moving forward, but we will do it in a considered way that really respects our core customers. We will keep investing in people, the brand and our properties. The absolute focus is on operating authentic French bistros that serve great tasting food, with engaging staff, in a warm and comfortable environment.

James Spragg is managing director of Café Rouge and Belgo, part of Casual Dining Group



Crisps as they should taste. @Piperscrisps



Making its pub offer Remarkable Having joined Remarkable Restaurants in September, managing director Elton Mouna tells John Porter how he is evolving the group

Elton Mouna


areer opportunities can sometimes be like buses and so I’m just a stone’s throw away from many Remarkable pubs,” – you wait, and then two come along at once. For says Mouna. “I’ve always admired the pubs and frequented them as readers of the Propel Morning Briefing last year, this a customer.” That knowledge already put him ahead of most of the certainly seemed to be the case with Elton Mouna’s industry, for whom the Remarkable business had stayed well under professional path. Having reported in June that Mouna had taken the radar over the 30 years it took founder Robert Thomas and his on the role of marketing director with the expanding Brewhouse family to build up the estate of mainly freehold pubs in north and & Kitchen pub operation, by September the story was that he east London. Mouna says: “Robert bought a pub local to him, and had been appointed managing director of London’s somewhat found that after he’d paid the staff and bought the beer there was misleadingly-named Remarkable Restaurants, which is in fact a some money left over, and so he bought another one, and another after that. It grew organically to 14.” 14-strong pub group. Many of the pubs are striking buildings, although Mouna had actually been working on a consultancy “they were great pubs, but not always in great basis with both businesses before taking up the “As trends locations”. That has changed with London’s job offer with Brewhouse & Kitchen. When a come and go and food and drink culture shifting its centre of counter-offer came along, Mouna took the fads fade in and out, gravity eastwards, putting pubs in locations view that “Brewhouse & Kitchen is a top these pubs keep providing such as Shoreditch and Bethnal Green firmly notch, expertly-run company but the chance on the map. Mouna says: “As trends come to head-up the brilliant, quirky Remarkable excellent food, fabulously and go and fads fade in and out, these pubs was an offer I couldn’t turn down”. He adds: kept beers, and really good keep providing excellent food, fabulously “Remarkable offers more of a leadership role wines, all served by great kept beers, and really good wines, all served with a short chain of command, and in terms of people in a lovely by great people in a lovely old building.” the geographical area, I really understand the old building” He believes “architecturally our buildings are London market. It was the most perfect job that I intriguing and a definite strength”, citing as could have been offered.” examples “The Royal Inn on the Park which stands Mouna’s track record includes a 19-year stint with majestically on the edge of Victoria Park in Hackney”, and London’s venerable Fuller, Smith & Turner. He joined as a “The Approach Tavern in Bethnal Green and its classic Victorian general manager in 1995, initially running the Fleetwood, near charm”, and “please, go under the cover of darkness and visit Moorgate tube station, and moved via an operations role to the stunningly externally-lit Salisbury Hotel in Green Lanes”. become retail marketing manager and ultimately corporate Operationally, founder Thomas is now chairman, taking communications manager. He struck out on his own in 2014, a less active day-to-day role. The business is structured so a “and I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do, which didn’t go number of the pubs trade as individual companies alongside according to plan because other people kept asking me to do the core Remarkable Restaurants company. One of Mouna’s work for them”. early decisions was to address the name, and the business will Remarkable Restaurants had an established relationship with now trade as Remarkable Pubs, because “it says what we are”. Fuller’s, which kegs the exclusively-imported Czech lager Litovel He adds: “The business has evolved brilliantly over the last 30 ▲ sold across the Remarkable estate. “I live in Wapping in east London



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Feature years under the stewardship of Robert. I’ll be building on that, but it is also my view that all aspects of every business can be improved and this applies to Remarkable Pubs. I’m an advocate of ceaseless and constant improvement.” There has been one disposal and one acquisition so far on Mouna’s watch, with the lease of The Sutton Arms in EC1 sold to his former employers at Fuller’s, and the freehold of The Albion in Bethnal Green acquired. “The Sutton Arms didn’t quite fit our predominantly freehold portfolio, and Fuller’s know that area really well, while the Albion is in a high footfall location and a better match with the business,” says Mouna. “The deals reflect the fact that we’re able to make decisions quickly. If we want to do something the chain of command is small. We get things done. Liela Moss, a family member and fellow director, together with Liz Pallace our financial director and I make the decisions. It is refreshing, and I feel this agility helps keep the business on its toes.”

The price is right Wielding his new broom, Mouna says: “We will be seeking better deals from everyone who supplies us and considering approaches from new suppliers. If people want their products in 14 brilliant, busy, quirky London businesses they must show me the eagerness and drive to earn their place on the bar.” Alongside getting the best supplier deals is a focus on keeping selling prices competitive. “Pricing is key to profitability and growth, so retail selling prices were one of the first things I tackled,” he says. However reflecting the lateral thinking approach that won him several industry awards at Fuller’s, Mouna handed responsibility over to the individual managers. “I asked them to do a local price survey and tell me where they’d set their prices, whether that was up or down,” he says. The tactic resulted in a 4% across the board increase. “As a consequence, there’s been no issues with new prices bedding in, and I think the team made very good decisions,” Mouna adds.

“In the competitive craft beer market, a unique beer offer attracts customers only as long as the quality and consistency is right. If you can’t do quality and consistency, don’t bother. I want to offer intriguing, fun beers that we can all be very proud of” Empowerment is generally the watchword with Remarkable’s general managers, who have a franchise-style contract that gives them a share of the income from wet sales and control of the food business in their pub, for which they pay a turnover-related fee. “It’s a strong business model, and for London quite rare and sought-after,” says Mouna. “Many of the big managed houses used this model many years ago but have since taken the decision to take all food-related sales as their own which, to be honest, I’ve always thought was a shame as it takes away an element of

creativity and entrepreneurship. We attract a higher calibre of person. The model attracts talented, creative people who really feel they have a stake in the business.” The company is working with recruitment website Leisure Jobs, which Mouna thinks is “going to give us a better calibre of team member”. He adds: “I’ve always had it drummed into me that you don’t recruit on convenience, you recruit on personality. You can train someone to serve drinks, but it’s much harder to train them to smile.” Also on Mouna’s agenda is evolving Remarkable’s links with London’s food and drink culture. Several local street food operators have run pop-ups in its venues, and its own Dragonfly micro-brewery, housed in Remarkable’s George & Dragon in Acton, brews golden ale Early Doors for the estate. While the bespoke beers give Remarkable a point of difference, this is another area where Mouna believes there is scope to raise the game further. “We’ve just recruited a new brewer named Riccardo Pulcinelli,” says Mouna. “He’s involved with the Clouded Minds Brewery in Oxfordshire, and is also going to be working for us. Early Doors is going to be brewed in quantity, and then he’s going to be brewing some interesting ‘when its gone, its gone’ keg beers. In the competitive craft beer market, a unique beer offer attracts customers only as long as the quality and consistency is right. If you can’t do quality and consistency, don’t bother. I want to offer intriguing, fun beers that we can all be very proud of.” Areas such as lighting, decor and, reflecting one of Mouna’s great passions, music have also been revamped. “Each of our pubs has a jukebox, a relatively small point in the big scheme of things, but nonetheless a real strength,” he says. “You won’t find the likes of Justin Bieber or Now That’s What I Call Music Volume 258 on our jukeboxes; what you will find is a curated choice of great music with the likes of the mighty Ian Dury and the Blockheads, the equally mighty Stevie Wonder, Stéphane Grappelli, Jimi Hendrix, Blondie, Snow Patrol, the Jam and classic music of a similar ilk.” In customer terms, there is a recognition by Mouna and his team that the location of Remarkable’s pubs in areas much-frequented ▲ ¡ SPRING 2016 ¡ PROPEL QUARTERLY


Feature Remarkable Pubs timeline June 1985: Robert Thomas buys the Prince George, E8 1988:

Thomas acquires a second pub, The Shakespeare, N4

1993-2013: Trading as Remarkable Restaurants a series of individual acquisitions include the Rosemary Branch in N1; The Royal Inn, E2; The Approach Tavern, E9, The Reliance, EC2; The Barley Mow, EC2; The Swimmer, N7; The Salisbury Hotel N4; The Telegraph at the Earl of Derby, SE14; The George & Dragon, W3; The Shaftesbury, N19; and The Lord Tredegar, E3. 2013:

The Dragonfly brewery opens at the George & Dragon


Elton Mouna appointed managing director, with Thomas becoming chairman


The Sutton Arms is sold to Fuller’s, and The Albion, E2, acquired


The business informally rebrands as Remarkable Pubs

by younger customers puts them at the spearhead of the industry’s need to reinvent its offer for a new generation. “Generation X, the baby boomers, are used to going to pubs,” says Mouna. “They like pubs. The problem is they are getting older. They find the prospect of their comfy sofa and an early night quite appealing. For that generation, weekend brunch in a pub is appealing, which is definitely something we will focus on.” Evenings are potentially more of a challenge. Mouna adds: “For Generation Y, the millennials, our job is to keep the pub relevant. For this generation, a big night out is often a big night in with a box set from Netflix, a meal from Deliveroo, and something cheap yet more than acceptable from Aldi to drink. The biggest cost of the evening is the Uber cab to and from your friend’s house. Generation Y will bypass the pub unless we make it appealing.” The aim is to capture the spirit of the independent coffee shop market, with excellent service in a laid back style. Mouna adds: “We’ll certainly be taking social media to a new, more effective

level. We won’t be guessing what this generation want, we’ll be asking them. I am a great believer in gathering people round a table and talking to them to find out how we keep the pub really relevant. You’ll see more pop-ups in our pubs, you’ll see brilliant quizzes run by people with real personality and, of course, better coffee.” The overall ethos is to be “excellent retailers operating the best pub in our local trading area”. Further growth is on the agenda, and Mouna says Remarkable was on the shortlist to take over the Old Brewery bar and restaurant in Greenwich after it was vacated by Meantime Brewery, even though the lease was ultimately awarded elsewhere. “We assembled a comprehensive professional bid, complete with finance arrangements, and whilst we were not successful we made it through to the final few,” says Mouna. “We seriously consider all acquisitions and I can’t wait to grow the business. It will come through good, well researched, organic growth. We haven’t got a target, or anyone else to please other than ourselves, which is a very nice place to be.”

Elton Mouna Biggest professional influences: Noel Healy was the man who employed me as a barman all those years ago. He instilled in me the paramount importance of high standards and brilliant customer service. After many years at the mighty Fuller, Smith and Turner how can I not have been influenced by the incredible Michael Turner? He’s a true leader, and every time I spoke to him I learnt something. Also, Kris Gumbrell from Brewhouse & Kitchen – his energy and creativity are impressive and infectious. Favourite musical artist: I love music. I have my clear favourites but I also go through phases. I am currently going through a Monty Alexander phase, a pianist who combines jazz and reggae. Favourite record: Reasons to be Cheerful by Ian Dury and the Blockheads, a brilliant song full of clever, funny, funky, happy creativity. Brilliant. Best ever gig: I can’t narrow this down to one. My top three, all in joint first place, are: Ian Dury and the Blockheads – 1997 Dingwalls in Camden; Stevie Wonder – 2013 Clapham Common; Jocelyn Brown – 2015 Jazz Café, Camden



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Reduction in ‘low risk’ drinking guidelines doesn’t add up Paul Chase explains the flaws in the evidence used by chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies to justify the new level of 14 units per week for men and women

Dame Sally Davies


n 8 January, the Department of Health published an Alcohol Guidelines Review. The key recommendations were to reduce “low risk” drinking guidelines for men and women to 14 units a week, recommend abstinence days, and advise total abstinence for pregnant women. By the time you read this article the spate of news stories about the new “low risk” drinking guidelines will have subsided somewhat. That is the nature of the 24-hour news cycle. But do the authors of this review believe the new “low risk” drinking limit for men and women of 14 units of alcohol a week is likely to persuade people to drink less? I doubt it. It is clearly their intention to establish a new narrative; one that repeats the mantra “there is no safe level of alcohol consumption”. Remember how we used to be told tobacco was a uniquely dangerous product because there is no safe level of consumption, no matter how small? So, what the new alcohol guidelines really represent is a shift in the official position: in future drinkers will be treated like smokers – increasingly marginalised. And drinking will be “denormalised” as an “unsafe” activity. What (chief medical officer Dame Sally) Davies’ dodgy dossier needed to do, in order to justify reducing the low risk drinking guidelines, was to deny the accuracy of decades of research that proved the protective effects of moderate drinking, particularly in relation to heart disease and stroke, and which established moderate drinkers live longer than “never drinkers”. In addition the report needed to emphasise the increased risks of cancers and other diseases at any level of alcohol consumption. Let’s examine each of these claims in turn:

Protective effects of moderate drinking Numerous studies have found a J-shaped relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and death from all causes (all-cause mortality). The most well known of these is the metaanalysis conducted in 2006 by Augusto Di Catelnuovo et al, which aggregated the results of 34 prospective studies involving 1.2 million people in eight countries. What this curve shows is at very low levels of consumption, the risk for moderate drinkers of dying from all causes is less than that of “never drinkers”, represented by the horizontal straight line. Above a certain level the risk of dying from all causes rises above that of never drinkers. For men, that level is two to four “standard drinks” per day, and for women, one to three standard drinks per day. In the United States a “standard drink” is the equivalent of 1.7 UK units of alcohol. So, two to four standard drinks a day represents between 3.4 and 6.8 units of alcohol


Drinks per Day Alcohol Consumption

consumption for men, and one to three standard drinks gives us a range of 1.7 to 5.1 units a day of alcohol consumption for women. Above this level a moderate drinker is exposed to higher levels of risk from all-cause mortality than a “never drinker”. The guidelines review appears to rely on one piece of research that contradicts this thesis. On 10 February 2015, the British Medical Journal published a study that argued for age-specific alcohol consumption guidelines. The study was conducted by researcher Craig S Knott et al and it concluded moderate drinking only had a protective effect for a certain group. The data published by this research was a meta-analysis that aggregated the results of eight previous studies. The aggregated data clearly showed protective health benefits in relation to heart disease and stroke, in respect of moderate drinkers, for the whole cohort of subjects studied. The researchers then applied a statistical sleight-of-hand by dividing the subjects of the research (people) into so many sub-groups it became virtually impossible for them to produce statistically significant results for the protective effects of moderate drinking for any of them singularly, except for postmenopausal women. This is an old trick, and not one restricted to the world of statisticians, it’s called “splitting, minimisation and denial” – split up the cohort data in order to minimise previous claims so that their accuracy can be denied. There is a name for this. It’s called “junk science”. Curiously, the Alcohol Guidelines Review rejects the notion there should be age-specific drinking guidelines, but accepts without question the conclusion the health benefits of moderate drinking, which were apparent when examining the whole cohort ▲


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Opinion tobacco and lung cancer. In 2005 Sir Richard published a study using 23 years of data in which he compared lifelong non-drinkers (no “sick quitters”) with moderate drinkers. It proved conclusively that moderate drinkers lived, on average, longer lives than the “never drinkers” and had a lower risk of all-cause mortality. If I have to choose between the science of Sir Richard and the pseudo-science of the boys from Sheffield University – who produced several iterations of a previous dodgy dossier – the notorious “Sheffield Report”, which recommended minimum unit pricing, then it’s a case of “no contest”. And it was indeed the team from Sheffield which did the research and the number crunching on which Dame Sally relies. It is simply not scientifically credible for Sheffield researchers to keep on claiming “sick quitters” is a confounding factor when that objection has been emphatically answered.

of subjects studied, could safely be assumed to disappear when that cohort was broken down into sub-groups. But the Di Castelnuovo meta-analysis is not the only study that established the J-shaped relationship between moderate consumption and all-cause mortality. In his excellent blog, Christopher Snowdon identifies a number of other such studies:

Cancer and other risks

Doll and Peto 1994

Other studies have shown a particularly strong protective relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and heart disease, as well as overall mortality.

Corrao et al 2000

The graph above represents the conclusions of a meta-analysis that aggregated the results of 84 studies. Apparently Dame Sally believes all of this science has been overturned by one piece of junk science conducted by Craig S Knott et al. She doesn’t quote this piece of research, but it’s obvious from the review’s narrative, if you know the science, that this is what is being relied on. And on the basis of this “evidence”, Dame Sally dismisses decades of science that has established protective effects of moderate drinking in relation to heart disease and stroke as “an old wives tale”.

The ‘sick quitters’ hypothesis There is, however, another basis on which neo-prohibitionist zealots seek to deny the protective effects of moderate consumption. It’s called the “sick quitters” hypothesis. This proposes that when comparing moderate drinkers with “never drinkers”, the “never drinkers” include in their number people who have been heavy drinkers, become ill as a result, and then gave up drinking alcohol – “sick quitters”. As a consequence of including “sick quitters” along with “never drinkers” the average longevity of this group is reduced, thus exaggerating the protective effects moderate drinking afforded the other group. It’s as if Dame Sally has suddenly discovered the “sick quitter” hypothesis, but not discovered it has been rebutted. And rebutted by no less a figure than the late Sir Richard Doll – the epidemiologist who proved a causal link between smoking

Consider this statement on page 19, paragraph 58 of the review: “The Sheffield Report describes an even greater number of health conditions (such as high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias and a number of cancers) to whose development it is clear that regular drinking contributes but for which conditions it is not possible to prove the role of alcohol in any individual case.” Here we get into the murky world of “alcohol-attributable fractions” and blurring the lines between causation and correlation – cancers and other illnesses that are caused by alcohol use, as opposed to merely a statistical correlation between the two. In any event an old statistical trick is used in the Alcohol Guidelines Review: quoting large percentage increases in the cancer risk factor arising out of alcohol consumption, without quoting the baseline risk. Certain cancers only affect a small number of people – mouth and throat cancers are examples; so even a large percentage increase in a very small risk is still a very small risk. Add to that the possibility an individual sufferer may be both a drinker and a smoker and the difficulty in establishing which activity caused the cancer becomes Sir Richard Doll 2005 apparent. What is equally apparent is even if you accept the hypothesis that very low levels of alcohol consumption increase the risks of getting some pretty rare cancers, it doesn’t alter the fact moderate drinkers live, on average, longer lives than those that have never consumed alcohol. Despite herculean attempts to debunk this scientifically proven fact, the only evidence they have is one contrarian piece of junk science and the number crunching of a group of scientists at Sheffield University with a track record for producing policy-based evidence, not evidence-based policy. I am afraid that is what this review amounts to: a piece of policy-based evidence, cooked up in conjunction with other members of the neo-prohibitionist wing of the “public health” movement. It feels like a conspiracy; but you don’t need to imply a conspiracy when they all think alike. Dame Sally should be ashamed of this review, and the only honourable course of action for her now is to consider her position and resign.

Paul Chase is a director of CPL Training and a leading commentator on alcohol and health policy ¡ SPRING 2016 ¡ PROPEL QUARTERLY



Foodservice market continues to show appetite for growth Following a positive 2015, NPD Group director of foodservice for the UK Cyril Lavenant explains why the signs are also looking good again this year GB foodservice still outpacing Europe Last year was another positive year for the foodservice industry in Great Britain, with the market growing visits by 1.2% for the year ending November 2015. This follows 0.9% growth for the same period the year before. However, while two consecutive years of growth is encouraging, this is still not strong enough to conclude that consumers are returning in significant numbers to British foodservice outlets. But it is in line with the 1.1% growth we predicted at NPD at the beginning of 2015. Moreover, Great Britain is still outpacing the countries the NPD Group tracks in Europe. Germany’s performance for the year ending November 2015 was +0.3%, France was -0.5%, Spain was +0.7% and Italy came in at 0%. The traffic growth complements another positive sign with the number of items per visits increasing by 1.7% (to 2.41) after two consecutive years of decline. As a result, the average ticket is now at £4.65, with the value of the total foodservice market reaching £52bn (compared with last year’s figure of £50.7bn). This encouraging performance is the result of the very strong improvement the foodservice industry has made across the board. Customer satisfaction with branded operators is growing each year. In the commercial sector, 66% of the visits are rated “excellent” or “very good” when it comes to quality of food/beverage, a growth of ten percentage points since 2009. The measure for atmosphere/ambiance has appreciated even more strongly with 59% of visits rated “excellent” or “very good” – 13 percentage points higher than in 2009. And this is the case throughout the 13 satisfaction measures that the NPD Crest’s survey covers, with an average 11 percentage point increase since 2009. As a result of this strong increase in satisfaction, customers are more likely to come back to the outlet or chain than they were in 2009. Indeed 47.1% of those who have an occasion within a branded outlet say that they would definitely come back within a month compared with 42.2% recorded six years ago. When it comes to independents, only 40.3% of the consumers claim they will definitely come back, slightly up versus 2009 (when the figure stood at 39%), but this also shows that independents are still able to raise their game. Of course, not all consumers who claim they will come back do so, but at least their stated


Chart 1: Excellent + Very Good satisfaction Top 5 dimensions – YE Nov 15



Accuracy of order

Convenience of location




Taste of food/beverage

Quality of service

Quality of food/beverage

intention is growing, which is a first step. This is fantastic news as it shows all the investment made by the industry is paying off. It also raises the expectations that we as consumers have when we eat out and drink out. Our motivations to eat out are indeed clearly changing from basic functional/ convenient motivations (this measure had reduced by 4.4 percentage points since 2009) to more social reasons. Visits made to socialise (with friends, families, to treat kids, to dine as a couple, to celebrate) now represent 39% of all visits to the channel, a 5.9 percentage point increase since 2009. Another sign that we are looking for an experience – or a social moment – is visits on premise have increased by 3.4%, while “on-the-go” visits have declined by 1.6%.

“This encouraging performance is the result of the very strong improvement the foodservice industry has made across the board” Operators are clearly doing what they can to attract as many consumers as possible in a market that remains 529 million visits smaller than it was in 2008. The fight for market share is therefore stronger than ever and some sectors did not succeed in proving their relevance to consumers.

Winning and losing channels The top three winners are quick service pizza/Italian (growing by 4.1%), followed by quick service burger (+3.5%). Next is a group of four channels with similar


performances: traditional full service restaurant and quick service bakery at +3%, quick service coffee at +2.8% and quick service chicken at +2.7%. Seeing the growth at the quick service channels is not a surprise as they are chain driven and affordable, and they strongly developed their offering and their overall customer experience. It is, however, more surprising to see traditional full service restaurants doing so well. This sector suffered five consecutive years of decline but is now enjoying a second positive year (after a 0.5% rise in 2014). This is another positive sign as it shows consumers are willing to go back to more expensive channels. The more modern casual dining sector is growing at a slower pace this year (1.5%) as it is hard to grow strongly yet again after the 7% rise seen in 2014. Another reason why casual dining growth is slower is London is now saturated with casual dining chains and they now need to target growth outside the capital. Another good sign for the industry is that the number of declining channels is very limited in 2015. The only channels that are still suffering are: workplace canteen (-1.1%), cafe/bistro (-1.3%) and motorway service stations/on board catering (-3.1%).

Growth throughout the country In 2015, seven out of the 11 regions in Britain saw their foodservice traffic increase, which is a welcome improvement on 2014 (when five regions were in growth) and 2013 (when four regions were in growth). The top growing regions are now the north west (6.1%), eastern (4%), London (2.8%) and Wales (2.7%). This is another strong sign the ▲

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Insight industry overall is in good health as consumers are clearly feeling more confident throughout the country.

Snacking back to growth Another confirmation consumers feel more confident and are willing to come back to foodservice is that all dayparts – with the exception of late snacking – are growing. Breakfast’s growth is slowing down (2.7% in 2015 versus 5.6% in 2014), showing consumers are now expecting more than the often basic offers. Just opening early or having some breakfast items and a meal deal are not enough any more for the increasingly demanding consumer. Lunch (+1.6% in 2015 versus +2% in 2014) and dinner (+1.3% in 2015 versus +3.5% in 2014) have seen their traffic increase at a slower pace than last year as consumers are diversifying their occasions by treating themselves to an afternoon snack (+1.2% in 2015 versus -5% in 2014). This slowing trend for the two main meals however indicates we are still not willing to treat ourselves without thinking about what we can afford.

What are the likely success factors for 2016? Experimentation and Customisation As operators increase the range of qualitative and diversified offers, consumers are becoming less loyal. Indeed, consumers want variety, new flavours, fusion foods and premium options. Operators must constantly come up with new ways of bringing in customers or driving loyalty. Any operator that can offer customisable food or create small “sharing dishes” should do so. It’s all about fun and experience.

Super convenience If an operator has relevant products on the menu but does not work on increasing convenience, it will struggle. Convenience, as we used to know it, is not enough any more. Consumers are willing to spend more time eating in, but they don’t want to waste time, they don’t want to queue. Consumers want an easy life. And we all know the technology to facilitate our

life exists so we are less and less likely to accept it is not present everywhere. This means investing in apps or websites and such an investment will definitely pay off.

Chart 2: Top 10 growing channels % visit growth YE Nov 15 vs 14 0.0%




North West Eastern London Wales Scotland South West Yorkshire/Humber



FS Traditional QS Bakery QS Coffee

Any winning operating business needs to QS Chicken deepen its human FS Pizza/Italian relationship with consumers. Relying Hotel only on technology is not sufficient. We In-Store Restaurant live in an increasingly cold and distant FS Ethnic world, so bringing warmth is crucial as foodservice is all about experience and fun. You need to be creative and staff need to be trained. Apps and social media cannot mainly be used to send a promotion or talk about a new item. You need to engage in conversation with consumers. And a touch of craziness will create differentiation from all the other operators who are also developing their communications toolbox. Technology is supposed to give staff more time and cut their stress (and the stress of consumers) so operators should use the extra time they create to train their staff in how to build bonds with consumers. And we all know how much a decision to come back to an outlet is influenced by a friendly member of staff – and how much bad service is a turn-off.

Everything for everyone Consumers are busy. We don’t take our meals at fixed times any more and we want to easily find what we are looking for, no matter what time of the day it is. And while extending opening hours and developing untapped dayparts is hard to do, it is certainly more and more necessary, in addition to a strong core business obviously.

Adaptable to everywhere Consumers travel more than ever and also work from home. They need easier access to



QS Burger

‘Human’ customer relationships



QS Pizza/Italian

Chart 3: % visit growth YE Nov 15 vs 14 -6.0%




operators. At the same time, large locations with high footfall are either busy or too expensive. Operators need to find a new way of thinking about expansion. They need to locate wherever their customers are. A good solution is to open smaller premises or new “micro-sites” that offer a narrow menu to suit the smaller environment. Of course, it can be difficult to make progress in all these areas as they may require some serious investment and cannot be done overnight.

2016 should be another positive year There’s no question 2015 has been a satisfactory year for the foodservice industry with a much wider set of growing indicators: most age breaks, channels (even some independent-driven channels), regions and dayparts. However, the rise was still quite small at 1.2% and not at the level that is needed for foodservice to reach the highs it experienced in 2008. With the economy in good shape and slow inflation, expect 2016 to follow a similar story. There might be some good uplift coming from the UEFA Euro 2016 (especially if British teams are successful) and from the Olympic Games. There are, however, some uncertainties (such as Brexit and terrorism) and limiting factors (global economic uncertainty and possible slower economic growth in London). In a nutshell, the key to success will be agility, keeping an open mind, thinking ahead, and constantly identifying what is going to appeal to increasingly demanding consumers. But not all the work has to be done by operators. Manufacturers have to help operators understand consumers, create a strong experience and get access to technology. The success of the industry will come from an increasing partnership between operators and manufacturers.

East Midlands West Midlands South East North East

Cyril Lavenant is the director of foodservice for the UK for the NPD Group ¡ ¡ SPRING SPRING 2016 2016 ¡ ¡ PROPEL PROPEL QUARTERLY QUARTERLY

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Decisions, decisions! Elliotts managing director James Hacon explains how diners make their choices – from deciding to eat out to sharing the experience


rom my time in operations, I know there is no such thing as a “normal” customer – everyone walking in your door has their very own preferences, expectations and quirks. Of course when I jumped the fence to marketing it became about trying to understand how groups of people make decisions – going back to my A-level days, you could say a little more sociology than psychology! It was this ever-growing quest to understand people and their behaviour that led us to undertake a piece of research late last year entitled “How Diners Make Decisions”. In this research we looked to delve head first into every decision a diner makes from the moment they’re inspired to dine out to the decisions around who to share their experience with and how. This works on the principal of the extended customer journey I’ve shared before. I’m sure you’ll find the resulting insight as interesting as we did.

Inspiration What we needed to find out: How does a person first hear about a restaurant? Why does one stand out above another? Where are people looking for their inspiration? What marketing most influences a decision? Definitely of no surprise is that consumer recommendation of someone else through word of mouth is still the most common way they inspired to try a restaurant – so nothing new there. Exterior signage was really vital, with 51% of decisions on where to dine being made on the go. Many of these people highlighted being on the fence and, while other marketing and brand interactions in the past are certainly influencing the decision subliminally, the customer is still very much swayed by the frontage and how the venue is presenting itself. Of additional interest to us was the level of understanding of investments from consumers, often being aware of whether a site is comparable to another. This is an important factor to consider when rolling-out a new look of an existing brand. The dreaded voucher was high on the list too with more than 60% of consumers saying they have been influenced on where to dine this way. When delving into this further, this is most prevalent within the mass-market casual dining pack, where there is considerable overlap, at times lacking individual identity – as the perception is the experience will be much of a muchness. The opportunity is to utilise offers on a more individual basis to drive incremental visits, not to compete alongside your competitors with a generic offer.

Research and booking Next up came the researching and booking stages. Once someone has the idea in their head, how do they, if at all, delve deeper into the site and ultimately book a table? The first learning here is how often consumers are viewing menus on a mobile device. While there is definitely a broad acceptance that mobile optimised websites are important, it is still commonplace to have a PDF menu rather than a specific page designed and optimised for mobile – something that needs to be addressed to ensure you convert those browsers to bookers.

The second key insight at this stage was the importance of an easy to use mobile booking engine, preferably with oneclick booking capability, as a third of customers are regularly booking a table on their phone, often on the go. As a sector it’s probably time we addressed live online bookings within service, as the modern customer is busy, time-poor and is often making decisions at the very last minute. The hotel sector has seen this trend develop over a number of years, with last-minute bookings being made within minutes of check-in – I’ve witnessed first-hand consumers sitting outside booking on their phone before walking in to pick up the key.

Experience Delving into the actual experience at the restaurant, we were also interested to discover how people were influenced in making decisions on what to eat too. The key takeaway is 25% of customers admit to being influenced by staff and I must confess, I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to tacking on an extra side order or two at the slightest nudge from a friendly waiter. Men were much more likely to be influenced by a server or a special during the experience, while woman were more likely to have preselected their choice before the experience.

Sharing Almost all those who participated in our research highlighted that they actively shared information about their dining experience with others, whether positive or negative. There is nothing new here, linking back to the inspiration stage, we know people are heavily influenced by word of mouth, so you’d expect people to want to get involved in creating it too. As we all know, during the past ten years the increased use of social media and review sites has seen this word of mouth move online, but this research suggests it is maybe not as impactful as you would think, with only a quarter of customers sharing their dining experience. Interestingly men are far more likely to share socially, while women are more likely to share in person. As you’d expect, the younger the consumer, the more likely they are to share digitally. Something to consider when developing your online influencer and reputation management strategies.

The power of insight As you’ll appreciate this article is not exhaustive, but the research was – what I’ve shared is a top-line to help provide insight. We use this type of insight in conjunction with individual data from our clients to help them make decisions. While it’s great to use industry-wide insights from articles like this to guide thinking, we’d always recommend correlating it with bespoke research specifically relating to your brand and customers.

James Hacon is managing director at Elliotts agency, which helps to make hospitality and leisure brands more successful through insight, marketing, PR, digital and design ¡ SPRING 2016 ¡ PROPEL QUARTERLY



National Living Wage need not be hard labour Technology can help offset the introduction of the new minimum hourly rate, says Intelligent Business Systems managing director Gareth Powell


he forthcoming introduction of the National Living Wage on April Fools’ Day 2016, which pushes up the minimum hourly rate for workers aged 25 or over from £6.70 to £7.20, is no laughing matter for the hospitality sector. The industry is bracing itself for one of its biggest challenges in recent times. Several operators, including Whitbread, which owns Premier Inn and Costa Coffee, have gone on record saying they will have to increase some prices to accommodate the changes. Whitbread is not alone. Surveys published last year by the Resolution Foundation and M&C Allegra Foodservice reveal about three quarters of hospitality operators feel labour costs will be adversely affected. A third of operators claim it will have a significant impact. Another report by property advisor Christie & Co anticipates a 3% higher wage bill hike than the current median salary in the restaurant sector. On the plus side, more than 60% of leading chief executives questioned in the M&C survey believe the new National Living Wage legislation will boost staff retention and recruitment. According to Resolution, three out of ten employers across all business sectors in the UK would look to recoup much of the additional costs through increases in productivity. Whitbread chief executive Andy Harrison is one boss looking to do just that, saying decisions about what prices would be increased had not yet been made, and that improving productivity would be a priority. From our own conversations with our clients, the percentage number of businesses wanting to increase productivity is much higher within the hospitality sector. Although our multi-site clients instinctively always want to deploy technology in its widest sense to improve efficiencies, the new National Living Wage provides an extra incentive: (technology in its widest sense means not only embracing core EPOSbased hospitality management solutions but also integration with other technology apps to add functionality and value).


Improved performance The benefits are obvious. Avoiding duplicating data entry provides remarkable labour efficiencies and staff cost savings. Similarly, creating bespoke automated reports saves accountancy staff valuable time and energy compiling data and producing Excel reports, allowing them to focus on other activities. We have numerous cases where changing reporting methods improve working practices. For instance, we worked closely with the Inception Group’s management team to create a series of bespoke business intelligence reports to help improve the group’s performance. Inception’s senior operations manager Thomas Foulser said the reports have helped it identify the reasons for stock loss, have given it a much better understanding of best sellers, and allowed it to manipulate menu layout and pricing to maximise profitability. Additionally, it has also managed to implement a clear and more efficient ordering and invoice reconciliation system using StockLink. The increased clarity of the cost breakdown of products has allowed Inception to rationalise its product offering, leading to noticeable cost savings.

“Although our multi-site clients instinctively always want to deploy technology in its widest sense to improve efficiencies, the new National Living Wage provides an extra incentive” A similar approach has been adopted with Rick Stein’s ten UK food outlets, where a broad range of operations had at one time four different EPOS systems. These have been consolidated into one IBS solution eliminating duplication of data entry and providing management teams with bespoke reports relevant to each business stream. Martin Glinski, Rick Stein’s head of operations, is also keen to develop upselling opportunities via loyalty and gift card


schemes to reward and thank customers. One benchmark for productivity is speed of service, especially in the food-to-go sector. Last year we installed EPOS-based technology in Itsu’s UK stores. Feedback from the client said its stores have saved seven seconds per transaction compared with their previous system. Wave and pay for transactions under £20 is even quicker, taking literally three or four seconds. We have also added new products to our portfolio to give clients even better tools to do faster business. A new kiosk service style, launched in 2015, complements our table and QSR touchscreen, simplifies purchasing and speeds service and food delivery. It gives hospitality operators queue-busting self-service areas similar to major UK supermarkets and multinational food-togo brands. With April just around the corner, there is no better time or incentive to review how your technology can work more effectively for you, if you haven’t done so already. At regular client review meetings we take a pro-active response to challenges such as increased staffing costs. We’re always up front with clients about what can and cannot be achieved, together with any cost and timescale implications. If new functionality is to be added or written, we also make sure installations and training are meticulously planned to ensure the minimum disruption to day-to-day operations. This is very much a two-way process. If clients, and potential clients, share their ambitions, strategies and objectives with us, we can outline how technology can help them achieve their goals. Then the secret to the whole process is advance planning and allocating sufficient time and resources to make sure technology genuinely improves productivity and efficiencies to minimise the impact of the new National Living Wage.

Gareth Powell, is managing director of Intelligent Business Systems –

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Paving the way to success with effective training HospitalityGEM managing director Steven Pike explains how to develop a managed learning programme that will enhance the experience of guests


e know from guest feedback one of the key ingredients leading to a positive experience is the confidence and competence of the staff serving them. Effective training with the necessary skills and knowledge can empower team members to offer guests a fantastic experience and engage with them on a personal level, as well as delivering brand standards consistently. Guests want those serving them to give the impression they are both good at their role and they enjoy it. Their movements, actions and communications need to be effortless, rather than looking like they are trying too hard. When it comes to the training required to achieve this, it should begin with making sure staff understand your standards and processes so the experience “flows” and that, as a result, the team member is able to interact with guests in a more individual way. Operators need to have a clear programme in place to ensure training covers all the necessary skills and processes, that it engages learners, and it has a good balance between theory and practice. Role-plays can give staff the opportunity to practise what they have learnt so they can build their confidence at an early stage. Structured training in hospitality tends to be quite limited, covering just the essentials such as compliance, and then everything else is done “on the job” with staff members learning as they go along and even having to “self-teach” some aspects. In my view, there is a lack of investment in development pathways and actually trying to retain people in the business. This doesn’t help to improve the general view of hospitality as a transitory job choice rather than a dedicated career path. There are some operators doing a great job here though – Wagamama particularly sticks out for me: it’s doing very well at creating aspirational pathways and then integrating these with its culture, giving people not just something to work towards but a reason to do so. When an operator is building a new training programme or even enhancing an existing one, it’s worth reflecting on the very high staff turnover figures that are common to many hospitality businesses, then considering the competitive advantage that could be gained from being able to hang on to the best people for longer. This changes the perspective from just thinking about ticking the boxes on compliance training to one more focused on development pathways and the things that make people sticky to an organisation. Once that perspective is established, training managers should define a handful of different pathways based on key job types (front-of-house and back-of-house are the two main ones) and then map out some key milestones along the way that people can identify with in terms of their own career development. They should then explore what training activities may help people to acquire the skills necessary to progress to each milestone, and the format that may best suit those activities. However, when doing this, make sure that what you do is aligned with your company culture and values, as this is what will really make you stand out and feel valued by the employee. There are various ways to achieve this but the chances are that you may benefit from the development of training materials that are bespoke to your business (perhaps with the exception of compliance training where it is usually safer and more cost-effective to buy off-the-shelf).

Balancing act In terms of training styles, often the best approach is a blended combination; e-learning is good for setting guidelines, offering games to help staff learn and then testing retention, while “on the job” or group sessions are great for practising scenarios in a real-world situation. It’s not that one’s better than the other; each brings something different to the learning environment and it’s about getting the right balance. Operators need to think about accountability for training too. It’s often the case people only do training if they’re told they have to, which suggests they don’t see a close connection with their own personal goals. There’s scope for getting team members, and particularly managers, to take greater ownership for their own career development. But the format of the training needs to be both engaging and relevant for this to happen. Whether you choose to outsource your training or deliver it in-house depends to a large extent on your internal capability. There will always be a market for outsourcing certain training, particularly when it comes to some of the essentials such as food hygiene or health and safety, as you benefit from the supplier’s economies of scale and regular updates. But where you can miss out, unless you have a very close relationship with the provider, is in getting across the cultural differences that make your business what it is and which get it noticed among the competition. Some of this may come from the passion of people who work for you. However, some operators are complementing this with branded and customised e-learning materials designed to reinforce that culture and form part of a clearer career structure that is managed in a way that reinforces brand loyalty among staff. It is now possible to get training materials you can update at any time without any specialist skills – getting more value from any upfront cost. We are seeing an increase in the use of userfriendly tools such as Articulate Storyline, which can be used for rapid e-learning development in-house or in conjunction with a specialist. Furthermore, through using a highly configurable learning management system such as GEMacademy, companies have more freedom regarding where they source learning from (whether electronic or instructor-led), how it is blended into unique programmes, and how performance can be tracked across a multi-site estate. I think a best-in-class training provision is one that views training as a long-term process, where career pathways are properly mapped out in the context of the guest experience journey, where they are integrated with the company’s culture, and where progression along the pathways is effectively managed. Materials need to be engaging and interesting, whether they’re online or face-to-face so team members can enjoy learning but also recall and apply what they have learnt. When operators can genuinely say they have achieved the above, the result can be clearly seen in the feedback we get from guests on their experience. In summary, here are five top tips: 1 2 3 4 5

Invest time to develop clear training pathways so you’re looking further than just compliance Content is king – get the best quality content and you’ll engage your learners Integrate what you do and how you present training into the context of your culture and identity Use a system to manage delivery and tracking of training Give managers ownership to take responsibility for the completion and application of training on-site

Steven Pike is managing director of HospitalityGEM HospitalityGEM is the UK’s leading expert in Guest Experience Management (GEM). The company provides hospitality operators with tools for intelligence gathering, guest engagement and staff learning, working closely with them to help generate revenue growth through effective GEM. HospitalityGEM services include mystery guest visits, online feedback, social advocacy, performance analysis and learning management. Clients include Wagamama, Brasserie Blanc, Malmaison and Peach Pubs. For more information, visit: ¡ SPRING 2016 ¡ PROPEL QUARTERLY


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LT Management Services Limited (LT) manages around 1,000 licensed retail and foodservice properties including restaurants, hotels, nightclubs and both managed and tenanted pubs, across the UK. LT provides a range of services to cater for the needs of each client, including full financial back office services, procurement, payroll, IT, telesales, credit control, operational support and caretaking services for closed premises. The company has been able to grow to the largest of its type in the UK through its policy and practice of open book management which assures the clients, ranging from property-owning companies through to banks and insolvency practitioners, complete transparency of all costs associated with its business. With its substantial buying power, LT passes on to its clients keen pricing for all goods and services supplied into client estates. Just recently, for example, LT won the contract to manage 43 Rileys Sports Bars for the new investor. Working with administrators has meant that LT has created a complete set of systems and controls that are centred around cash management, facility maintenance and compliance. LT also supports its clients with sales and marketing support and strong operational processes and practices. LT will react quickly and take on new business at short notice when required and will manage businesses for

clients on either a short term temporary basis or for the longer term. LT has been able to grow turnover and improve margins in most of the businesses that it has been asked to manage on behalf of clients. With a dedicated recruitment resource available, LT seeks to appoint strong managers into all clients’ units with a view to maximising performance. Hands on operational management and strong head office financial controls ensure that the client’s financial performance is maximised. What we do: We run managed and tenanted pubs and bars, restaurants, hotels and nightclubs on behalf of owners, banks and insolvency practitioners. We provide everything from business development solutions, independent business reviews on sites or whole businesses to closed site management and caretaker services.


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Analysing data for insight can have a real Silver lining Forget about ‘big data’, what restaurants need are big insights – as a US statistician demonstrated, says Fishbowl chief analytics officer Mike Lukianoff


Start ‘small’ to go ‘big’ Start by levering your “small” data purposefully to help make some tangible decisions. Detailed POS data is a tremendous source for uncovering consumer buying patterns, but for most restaurants it’s not used much beyond accounting and basic reporting. The purchase detail can be used for testing new products, determining prices, assessing promotional effectiveness – even identifying if you have a thief. Once purchase history is available, it can be linked back to customer experience scores, social media profiles, loyalty programmes, marketing engagement levels or simple surveys for even more robust analysis.

ne of the most hyped phrases of the past few years has been “big data”, and while the phrase appears to be near the end of its hype cycle, the value of leveraging data for insights cannot be understated. Devices, sensors and social media sharing are creating more data every day than was produced in most of human history combined, but it’s meaningless Identify your highest value questions unless it’s transformed into actionable insights. Restaurateurs need One of the biggest problems I see in technology and analytics to pay close attention, because the mobile and social nature of these implementations is that the purpose and potential benefit of the new data sources has tremendous relevance to bricks and mortar, initiative is not clearly defined. Clearly plotting out objectives, a experience-based businesses. We now have unprecedented ability roadmap to get there and define what and how you will measure it, is to understand customer needs, wants and opinions at a scale never essential in creating a long-term programme that can be self-funding before imagined. This opens the door not only to the potential for through the revenue it can generate at costs it can save. Be careful better targeted marketing and direct communication, but in helping not to be enamoured by slick features and visually appealing user with every complex question your business faces from new product interfaces that may not contribute to moving your business forward. development and pricing, to assessing new sites. And because the Start by listing the business questions that have the highest potential scale of data is so enormous, the capacity it has to help predict for return for your business. Many of our clients initiated their data behaviour over time is like nothing we’ve ever seen. analytics strategy with price optimisation, not because it was the most A high-profile example of how things are changing can be seen exciting, but because the financial opportunity in price optimisation in what Nate Silver has done to analysing election polls. Silver is is measurable and the resulting analytics database is an excellent the controversial statistician who successfully predicted all 50 states starting point. In addition, continue to review your strategy as new in the last US presidential election by using the published results data sets come into play for your organisation. of 22 standard polls (none of which he conducted). He applied Strong executive level sponsorship his own analytical techniques to these polls and turned a series of “snapshots” of voter sentiment into an accurate predictive model. Implementing a robust research and data analytics programme His efforts have made him a rock star in the predictive-analytics requires a culture of data-based decision-making, and that world and a punching bag for the traditional pollsters who starts with top leadership. There is no denying great got it wrong. So, why should business people care that business instincts are a key ingredient in success a non-traditional data analyst like Silver predicted the in business, but if perception in the organisation “On the flip side, is that research and facts aren’t part of the outcome of an election? while these data decision-making process then even the best As someone who helps restaurants use stats programme cannot be successful. An effective and data to make better decisions, I can tell sources are relatively programme requires many talents and tight you how Silver did what he did is infinitely more cheap, the talent co-ordination across departments. Expect important than what he did. What he revealed needed to transform resistance, often from unexpected people in about the present and future of research on a them into actionable the organisation. Having leadership support very public stage – the New York Times – should should alleviate some of that resistance and information is have everyone questioning whether their current reinforce the required culture for success in the research methods of revealing consumer insights scarce” journey to data-centric decision-making. have any relevance at all. Here’s why. At the root of this transformation is the emergence Align yourself with the right partners of ready access to massive amounts of public and private There are very few restaurant companies large enough or capable data. This is a big change for the market research juggernauts. of building and executing a big-data/big insights solution Traditional research business models were built on creating and end-to-end, so finding the right partner is critical to success. In monetising data by either creating consumer panels or random considering the right partner you will need to consider more sampling. In both cases the goal was getting the chosen few to than just the technology they offer (which should be flexible to complete structured surveys (usually by phone, live interview, accommodate a variety of data varieties), you’ll need to be sure or paper survey submission). Companies such as Gallup helped they work well with multiple technology providers (including create an industry that was built on randomly interrupting POS) and have the ability to help you turn data into insights and people at dinner time by calling phones that were tethered to action. Simple dashboard and reporting solutions can just result walls (remember those days?). In the not so distant past, most in bigger and faster data dumps and won’t help with translating research and analysis was based on a small sample set of the the data into better decisions. Be sure that whoever you choose total universe of customers. We accepted large margins of error, has a strong understanding of industry dynamics and can help because it was still the best answer available at the time. contribute to applicable insights, not just data access. Times have changed. Today, a simple survey can be deployed Because of mobile and sensor technology, the digital age in seconds and there is a daily deluge of unstructured consumer has finally come to restaurants around the globe. Harnessing the commentary. It’s coming from social media channels, review data they produce will be the key to unlocking transformational sites and blogs. The data is endless and cheap and customers or disruptive changes in every aspect of restaurant operations, are willing to share, but at their convenience. On the flip marketing and supply chain. The change is inevitable, the question side, while these data sources are relatively cheap, the talent for industry leadership is whether to lead, follow, or get left behind. needed to transform them into actionable information is scarce. What’s more, the new paradigm in insights is a tough fit for the traditional research companies. They simply don’t have the Mike Lukianoff is chief analytics officer at talents, techniques and technology required to extract insights Fishbowl – from masses of data. So how can restaurant chains get started? ¡ SPRING 2016 ¡ PROPEL QUARTERLY


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Giving an agency a great brief I

was a client for 23 years, briefing agencies constantly. I have led an agency for 15 years. My experience as a client has very much affected how I like our agency to work. The very best agency I had was called Dig for Fire, which was based in Sheffield. It was a below-the-line agency where Lowe Howard Spink ran our television campaigns. During that time at Whitbread, I looked after a brand called Trophy bitter. Even in the 1980s it was a bit of a challenging brand to market. Its biggest competitor was Tetley bitter and that was a legend with its band of Tetley Bitter men storming all over the north. Trophy’s own stronghold was the northern working men’s club market. We had to try to make a difference in this market place using really effective promotional activity to engage our stockists, encourage them to sell the brand instead of its competitors, and to sell more. Dig for Fire knew this market and it constantly suggested ideas to us – and I mean constantly. One day it came to me and suggested we run an evening of greyhound racing, which would then be televised across all participating working men’s clubs. I really had no idea if it would work or not but I trusted it. It sorted out everything – I didn’t really have to do a thing apart from brief the operators. It was a huge success. We won stockists and we drove sales – not just for the evening but also for the rest of the year. I worked with Dig for Fire for more than 18 years in every role I had at Whitbread and for the first five years after setting up Elliotts. It never let me down. So how did I brief agencies like Dig for Fire when I was a client? How did we manage to motivate it to go over the top for us?

Use a small and select number of agencies I only ever worked with a small number of trusted and reliable agencies (probably with the exception of our PR agency, which changed constantly for some reason). It was always critical to me as a client to have agencies that I liked working with and delivered results. This just couldn’t be about me and my relationship with the agency chief executive – it had to be

about relationships all the way down the line. Any break in those lines meant the overall relationship wouldn’t work.

Encourage them to work together Easier said than done, but I really didn’t want agencies that bitched about one another, which tried to steal work from one another, or refused to talk to one another. This took some time I have to say. It didn’t come naturally to many of them. We literally forced them to spend time with one another and with us. And we didn’t pitch them against one another.

Give them retainers

Elliotts chief executive Ann Elliott explains how to get an agency to go that extra mile

I know. I know. Who gives retainers nowadays? But then we did and they worked. I never felt guilty asking any agency to work hard or to go above and beyond. A retainer should make an agency feel secure but never complacent. It should make it want to do more and to prove its worth. Giving it a retainer tied it into us and meant it couldn’t work for our competitors.

Be honest and transparent I like to think I was fair. I just don’t think agencies would have worked with us if we weren’t. It was useful to be able to share results and figures with it so it was on board with helping us reach our targets. At the end of the day, this all comes down to trust.

Give them pretty tight briefs That sounds very odd but you know what I mean. In terms of briefs, I would give agencies: Overview – the nature of the brief Objectives – what I wanted to achieve with this piece of activity Considerations – anything I wanted them to think about which might have impacted the activity Timing – when I expected them to come back on the brief and the timing for the activity Budget – how much I had to spend It’s very interesting being on the receiving end of briefs now. They range from the ▲ ¡ SPRING 2016 ¡ PROPEL QUARTERLY


Insight eight-pager, all-in sort of brief, which takes you two days to wade through, to the ”I don’t really care what you do, I have £20,000 to spend with you in the next four weeks” sort of brief. Having a great brief that details your expectations is heaven for an agency. So what makes a great brief from an agency perspective?

3 What’s the background? Any information you can give us on the background to the business helps us build a picture. So does anything at all on the brand. But don’t give it too much or stuff that’s not relevant. It can be quite overwhelming.

4 What’s the opportunity/problem you want to address?

1 Starting with a great relationship Some clients, albeit thankfully very few, are rude, arrogant, demanding, selfish and inconsiderate. They seem to think being on the giving rather than the receiving end of briefs allows them to behave like complete idiots. I have a zero tolerance of this sort of behaviour. If you want to brief an agency so it gives you the very best of itself, then treat it as you would want to be treated. Most clients, however, take time to understand you as individuals and they get so much more out of their account team. They encourage the agency to spend time with it and they give their own time (relatively) freely. They encourage us to work in their sites, go out with operators, eat and drink in their venues or work in their offices. This great relationship really helps provide a great backdrop to the best possible briefs.

2 Clear objectives What do you want to achieve with this activity? We want to really prove our worth as an agency, to add value and to deliver superb return on your marketing investment. We cannot do that without knowing what you want to achieve or knowing how you are going to measure these KPIs. We do receive briefs that do not have any numbers in them at all in terms of objectives. This is the most challenging part of the brief because the objectives in a brief really need to be ascribed to that activity and not part of some bigger picture.

In this part of the brief, you need to tell us about the opportunity you want to exploit or the problem you want to solve. This does tie up with the objectives part of the brief but gives more flavour and colour.

5 What’s the pitch process? To be honest we don’t often receive this in a brief but its something I think we need to ask for. I would like to know: Is agreement of this proposal down to you? If not, who will be involved?

“If you can be brief, creative, and clear when you’re kicking off work with any agency, both teams will be 100% aligned on objectives”

What criteria are you going to use to judge who wins the pitch? What is the budget? What is your timing on this? Can I ring you to find out if we have won it or not? Occasionally clients give us a brief without being clear what they really want – they are just testing the water. Please don’t. Agencies love winning work from new and current clients and get excited by briefs. Don’t mess them about or you lose trust.

6 Considerations What might we not know that we need to know? There may be politics. There may be legislation about to happen. The operators might not want this activity to happen. Five agencies might have failed already. There may be people who are already working on bits of this brief. There may be big hoops needing to be jumped through. Tell us ahead of time so we are prepared.

7 Timings Again it’s about honesty and transparency. Don’t ask for a proposal in a week if you really aren’t going to get to it for two weeks. Don’t say the activity is going to start in June when you know in your heart of hearts that it’s really going to be August. And preferably don’t give us a brief if you really don’t know if it’s going to happen or not.

8 Budget It’s so much more helpful if we have a minimum budget to work to. I know clients think they get a better deal if they don’t give a budget but it’s much more helpful to have one. As someone on a blog stated recently: “If you can be brief, creative, and clear when you’re kicking off work with any agency, both teams will be 100% aligned on objectives, your agencies will appreciate the clarity, you’ll inspire more precise work, and you’ll set your client-agency partnership for success.” I couldn’t agree more.

Ann Elliott is chief executive of the leading sector marketing and PR agency Elliotts – Follow her on Twitter: @elliottsagency