Leaders from across the hospitality industry met at The Caterer Summit to share insight into building sustainable businesses, both commercially and environmentally. Janie Manzoori-Stamford reports
The Caterer Summit, held at the National Gallery in London, brought together leaders from across the hospitality spectrum to talk about building sustainable businesses.
Two-Michelin-starred chef Clare Smyth, celebrity general manager Fred Sirieix and CGA chief executive Phil Tate were among the inspirational line-up ready to share their advice for building a strong business model supported by an ethical outlook.
A view from the top
"This is the market of no second chances," said Phil Tate, chief executive of CGA. "The consumer can be loyal, but the moment they have an experience that doesn't quite deliver, they'll go somewhere else that does."
Tate made these remarks as he shared the results of The Caterer's Hospitality Business Leaders survey, which collected insights from 500 top industry bosses.
According to the research, confidence was high among business leaders in regards to their own operations (70%) though less so when it came to the wider market (53%).
Meanwhile, concerns regarding consumer confidence ran especially high (88%), while one-third of business leaders believed that consumer footfall will decline.
"Right now you're probably feeling really depressed," said Tate. "But this is perception and not reality. Consumer footfall is not flat; it's actually starting to kick up into growth. The reality is, consumers have never had it so good. They've never had so much choice and quality."
This, said Tate, meant that consumer were especially fickle and demanding. Each consumer has roughly seven and a half eating and drinking out brands within their repertoire.
But the influx of choice in the marketplace has seen consumers churn a third of those brands every six months. This figure increases to 50% every six months in London.
"Loyalty is dead in this market because experience is king," he added. "We have a massively engaged on-trade consumer who is coming out into the marketplace and looking for great experiences."
Top tips for running an environmentally friendly business in 2020
The Caterer's expert panel, chaired by associate editor Janet Harmer, provided some top tips for running an environmentally friendly business in 2020.
"The purpose of business is to find commercially viable solutions to problems. So the question becomes, which problem do we want to solve? Don't get too lost in the breadth of sustainability. Pick an area where you can gain traction and make some change. Once you've done that, think about how that plays out on your menu and what one dish does that best. Then unleash the creativity of your team to push that in the sales mix."
Andrew Stephen, chief executive, Sustainable Restaurant Association
"There's so much innovation going on around this subject right now. We should be doing it to do right by the planet, but really there's no ‘should' about it. Why wouldn't you? It's interesting, it's beneficial to your business and to the planet, it's a huge part of your employer brand, and I would say that those operators who don't wake up and take their business on this journey will find it forced on them soon. Carbon tax is surely coming, so why wouldn't you get your house in order now, while there's slightly less pressure on you?"
Sue Williams, general manager, Whatley Manor, Wiltshire
"Just having a little bit of consciousness is a great starting point. If you're aware [of sustainability] as an owner/operator, it will naturally filter through because the more you talk about it, the more it will become the norm. And facts and figures are great too. I banned takeaway coffee cups at Tredwells. I told my staff they were not allowed to bring them in, not least because we have a coffee machine they can use, but I also worked out they could save around £700 a year. It's about putting it into terms that are really understandable."
Chantelle Nicholson, chef-patron, Tredwells, London
"Sustainability is not a trend, it's a necessity. People can see it as us having a trendy chef who's putting sustainability on the menu, but that's always going to be our way. We always have to keep looking for ways to engage with our membership, whether that's through sustainable cocktails or natural biodynamic wines with our sommelier. Our members absolutely love that educational piece, from a food and beverage perspective. It's about being brave and constantly innovating."
Joel Williams, chief executive, the Conduit, London
Maximising profit through flexible staffing
Things are changing," according to Viktor Calabrò, founder of on-demand staffing service Coople. "We're going into a field in which we have absolutely no idea what will happen tomorrow. So how do we cope with changes at a speed that's never been seen before?"
By this, Calabrò means that parts of the hospitality industry are moving away from a permanent workforce model that typically could be planned up to two months in advance, towards one that is now ‘hyper-flexible'.
Fluctuating and less predictable operations lead to swift changes in demand for staffing resource with very little notice. But this is not the only reason operators should consider flexible staffing options, according to Calabrò, who outlined the way the industry has also evolved from the employee perspective.
A growing number of people are seeking to make their work fit their lifestyles, rather than the other way around.
"It's a challenging situation but, at the same time, an opportunity," said Calabrò. "For some areas and some tasks a permanent workforce model is good, but there are other areas where you will want your resource to go quickly up and down accordingly."
So how can an operator deal with fluctuating output levels when staff input levels remain static and are usually planned two weeks in advance?
"First, you need a tool that allows you to cope with this flexibility at speed," said Calabrò. "Typical HR tools are fine for planning you want to hire people within just a few hours for something very specific, you need a shortcut. You need to make sure the whole process, including recruitment and training all the way down to the admin level is very slick.
"We've built a tool, which is essentially Excel on steroids, that helps operators to achieve these results easily, quickly and reliably, and helps both sides of the marketplace."
Money talks but employee engagement is better heard
What are the key priorities for business when it comes to retaining and inspiring staff? That was one of the questions that James Stagg, deputy editor of The Caterer, put to this panel.
For Michael Rabone, head of human resources at Rick Stein Group, pay conditions mustn't be ruled out, but company culture and ethical working are equally important.
"We've had to make sure we're socially responsible, doing the right thing and making sure that our charity and community time is an active part of the way we work," he said. "There are so many factors to the way our people judge us and pay is just one part of that."
Andi Hirons, people and projects manager at 2019 Best Employer Catey winner the Grand Brighton, agreed. She pointed out that company culture can set you apart from your competition when it comes to recruitment.
"There are 1,125 hotels, restaurants, bars and cafés in Brighton and hundreds of people apply for our jobs, so there is a talent pool. But we all pay the same. We've been focusing on our employee branding and people choose to apply to our organisation because they know what they're going to get on top of their pay."
For Alex Head, owner and founder of London caterer Social Pantry – where 10% of the workforce is made up of former offenders – employee engagement and retention comes down to understanding what every member of staff wants to get out of their time with the business and delivering on training.
"Most people I interview tell me they want to work for Social Pantry because of the ex-offender and social enterprise elements," she said. "But it's also about being innovative. Whether that's through zero waste, food trends or employing ex-offenders, you've got to go above and beyond the basic pay packet."
Neil Pickering, customer and industry insight manager at Kronos, emphasised the need for this approach to employee engagement to come from the top of an organisation: "If you show your people they are important and add value, they're going to work for you rather than going for 20 pence more an hour elsewhere," he said.
"There's often a lack of investment in people that are flexible, certainly historically, for fear that you're investing time and training only for them to go and work somewhere else. But the percentage of working population is going down all the time, so we're going to have to share the talent pool that's out there."
Combating short-cycle turnover
"High employee turnover has been the status quo for so long that we've lost sight of how impactful it is." said Luke Fry, chief executiveof workforce management technology provider Harri. He added that around 50% of employees are leaving their roles within the first 90 days and, of those, around half leave in the first 30 days.
To tackle the issue, which he dubbed short-cycle turnover, employers need to hire better and nail the employee experience over their first 90 days in the job. And to do that, they need to regularly look at and understand key recruitment data.
This includes how much more effective referred hires are for business, pointing to Fuller's as a case in point. New appointments at the pub company that were referred by existing staff are 80% more likely to stay more than a year than those that weren't.
The speed with which candidates are moved through the recruitment process is another key factor. Fry said the ideal timeframe to get recruits from the point of application to the completion of their initial training is just seven and a half days.
After that, it's vital to understand when people are leaving and why, as well as the reasons people stay beyond 90 days, both of which can be supported by the use of technology.
"The pay-off is quite powerful," Fry said. "Unifying data from multiple systems can help predict employee turnover by understanding why employees are leaving as well as the multiple touchpoints that we as operators need to focus on to improve that first 90-day experience."
Seven secrets of service by Fred Sirieix
1 The basics are the same Whether you're working at the Ritz or a roadside café, all service touchpoints should be delivered in the same way.
2 See, smile, say hello People want to be greeted on arrival because they need to know you know they're there.
3 Establish trust In restaurants, trust turns into loyalty. If your customers trust you, they'll come back.
4 Customer-first attitude They're the reason we're here. If you don't look after your customers, they'll go elsewhere.
5 Have fun It's all about enthusiasm and being happy to be alive.
6 Customers need something to bounce off That can be silence or that can be conversation – you just have to be able to recognise that.
7 Be willing and able There is a way to get into people's heads or hearts every time they visit. Front of house staff have to be willing to do that.
An audience with Clare Smyth, chef-owner, Core
Core by Clare Smyth launched in London's Notting Hill in summer 2017 to immediate critical acclaim. It went on to bag two Michelin stars after just one full year and Smyth was named the World's Best Female Chef 2018, though it's worth noting that she prefers to be known for her talent rather than her gender.
Having achieved so much with her first solo venture already, The Caterer's editor Chris Gamm was keen to find out Smyth's priorities for 2020. Her plan is simple: build on what she has and keep her offer fresh for repeat customers.
"We're working on the constant evolution and refinement of what we're doing, while keeping the atmosphere and success that we've already created at Core," said Smyth. "We're relatively new and we have great regular guests. Everyone wants to eat there, it's great.
"But I want to extend that. So we're going to have to keep evolving and creating new things for our guests to come back for."
Changes to the restaurant's offering include a new tasting menu featuring Core classics and headline dishes, such as potato and roe with beurre blanc, and ‘lamb carrot' (braised lamb with sheep's milk yogurt) – two dishes that showcase a vegetable as the main ingredient and create luxury out of more humble produce, while meat or fish plays second fiddle.
"Everyone wants those dishes, but I wanted to do new food, so I needed a second tasting menu as well as an à la carte. It's quite a lot of work, but it means we always have something new for people to come back for. That's very important to us," Smyth explained.
"That evolution is key to where we're going but I don't want to strip out the fun, personality and atmosphere we have. It's a fine dining restaurant but one that has rappers visit; that 21-year-olds and 85-year-olds come to. I want to keep it accessible and comfortable and I think that's the way fine dining should be."
Practical advice for turbocharging your profitability
How can operators extend their margins in the face of economic headwinds without compromising quality? The Caterer's news editor Emma Lake convened a panel of industry leaders to find out.
According to Martin Wolstencroft, co-founder and chief executive of bar and restaurant operator Arc Inspirations, it's about being proactive.
"You can't drive profitability from your desk. Get out and speak to your team. Watch them in action to find ways that you can both improve service and cut costs," he said. "We look at every area of our business for ways we can cut out waste, both in terms of product and time, as well as missed opportunities for our customers to buy more."
For hotels and venues business Exclusive Collection, it's less about price and more about identifying opportunities within the sales mix.
"We drive income through experiential offerings, so we charge more," said managing director Danny Pecorelli. "We also look at our product mix to see what's more profitable. For example, we actively pushed membership at our new spa at South Lodge because that goes straight to our bottom line."
Meanwhile, Nisha Katona, founder of Mowgli Street Food, emphasised the importance of engaged employees.
"Hospitality marches on its people," she explained. "If your chefs are happy when your food turns out amazingly and if your people walk around filled with joy, then customers feel that. We want all our staff to feel nourished, purposeful and fulfilled in their work. I do, and I want them to feel the same way."