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Fri 22nd May 2020 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Maintaining morale from a working from home set-up, thank you, six weeks to go with any luck and how technology can help you reopen your restaurant  
Authors: Adam Keary, Ann Elliott, Alastair Scott and Nick Popovici

Maintaining morale from a working from home set-up by Adam Keary 

There’s no doubt none of us expected to be in this position at the beginning of 2020, and all industries are having to adapt to a new working from home set-up during the lock-down. We all know the hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis, as we’ve seen independent bars and cafes through to global restaurant chains close for the foreseeable future. The ripple effect of this lock-down is wide and deep. When we usually go out we use taxis, buy new clothes, get our hair done etc, and of course consume, sometimes, beer! For us at Camden Town Brewery, where 80% of our business relates to the on-trade, we’ve had to make some big decisions. How do we operate when only 20%, by volume, of our customers are able to operate?

I believe it’s crucial for us to be ready for the ending of lock-down and to be ready to support the hospitality industry when pubs, bars and restaurants can reopen. Therefore we need to keep going, with a third of our staff furloughed, a third still brewing in our breweries and the remaining third working from home.

Working from home isn’t easy. We’ve had to test and learn to find out what works best for us as a business and our team as individuals. We’ve had a few mishaps along the way, but by trying out different approaches and not being afraid of getting it wrong, I feel confident we’re getting there.

We’ve found having an open line of communication has been an important part of keeping up team morale. We’ve been very transparent with how the business is performing and encourage people to speak up if they have any concerns to ensure everyone feels heard. Having daily check-ins is also key to being across their mental health and any issues they may be struggling with. It’s easy for someone to say “I’m fine” or say nothing when working remotely. However, as employers we’re obliged to make sure no one is suffering emotionally. 

Let’s start with one of our failures. At the beginning of lock-down, we paid for some very technical “crisis communications software” that in theory would allow us to immediately communicate to the entire beer team at the press of a button. More than just an email, our employees would receive text messages, calls, etc and we would receive confirmations to make sure the message had been received. It sounds brilliant – assuming you send the right message! So when an accidental test message went out to the whole company reporting a “major incident” you can imagine the ensuing chaos. The obvious response would be to send a second message, cancelling the first. However, when this too is a mistake and actually asks them to urgently contact their manager, we ended up with an entire business in chaos. We had a lot of concerned calls, but once we’d reassured everyone and updated the software, it’s now turned into a good story.

Since working from home I’ve also realised how many incidental meetings I would have casually in the office, passing through the kitchen or on the way back to my desk, so I’m making an effort to dip into different Zoom calls to keep that communication going. The general response to this has been really positive, although I have learned when a managing director calls an employee spontaneously it has a tendency to send the fear of God through them.

Zoom has become a part of our everyday lives, and so too are the kids, partners, dogs that randomly appear in the background. I think this is great. The reality is we’re in our team members’ homes now and so they shouldn’t feel guilty or try to hide the typical goings on that happen. We embrace the background noises and camera-curious kids – it’s all part of the nature of working from home.

We’ve created a “jobs board” as a way to support and share the workload for those who may be picking up extra work. If someone is super busy, they can post tasks and those with some spare time can pick it up, no matter their title or job description. Introducing these new ways of working has helped us to maintain Camden’s community atmosphere, with everyone chipping in despite their job role. 

It’s also just as important to ensure team morale is kept high with non-work-related activity. Most hospitality companies are incredibly sociable so it’s important to switch this aspect to online. We’ve been trying our best to do what we can to keep Camden, Camden. Since the very beginning we’ve always done a Friday lunch where we provide lunch for the entire team, giving us an opportunity to pause and connect with one another. As it’s important to our culture, we’ve tried to move this virtually by sending out Deliveroo discount codes and encouraging meals together over Zoom. We also have beer delivered for everyone to enjoy a virtual Friday desk beer together, as well as sharing Spotify playlists to recreate the fun office vibe. 

In addition to working to maintain internal morale, we’ve also been working on a number of charity campaigns to show our support to the wider community. Last month we launched our virtual pub THE BRE.WWW.ERY BAR in partnership with charity Hospitality Action. We hold events weekly on Instagram Live to raise funds for our friends in the hospitality industry through Hospitality Action’s Covid-19 Emergency Fund. We also wanted to do something to show our support for healthcare workers. We were getting so many requests from hospitals for beer to replicate their weekly team pub visits, and although we were happy to provide them with beer, we wanted to do more. So, we rebranded our Camden Hells to Camden Heroes, where all proceeds will be donated to NHS charities, and NHS workers across the country were able to claim a six-pack on us. We never anticipated it being so popular, and our stock sold out in hours across the three releases on our web shop.

As well as the mental well-being of our staff, it’s also our responsibility to look out for their physical health, which is why we enforced a travel ban as early as mid-February. While this caused a few moans and sighs in the office, we felt we needed to take immediate action to reduce our travel within the business and therefore decrease the risk of coronavirus spreading. In this current climate you might have to make a few decisions that may upset staff, but in the long-term are for their benefit.

While working remotely, it’s easy to feel like you’re alone at home staring at the same four walls, so in these unpredictable times it’s essential to keep the community spirit alive and provide as much reassurance to staff as possible. Before this, the hospitality business was a huge thriving part of our everyday life, and it’s the responsibility of the whole industry to pull together to support it. The way we continue to react to the closure of pubs and bars over the coming weeks will secure the future of the hospitality industry and ensure we can all come together and enjoy a well-deserved pint once it’s all over. 
Adam Keary is managing director of Camden Town Brewery

Thank you by Ann Elliott

I am missing the heartbeat of hospitality. I am missing the joy of meeting up and sharing food and drink with industry friends who have the same passion and excitement about the sector as I do. I miss the buzz, the laughter, the chatter, and the hearing of wonderful stories about investment, growth, openings, and innovation. It’s the people I miss the most – the lovely, wonderful, kind, creative, generous, collaborative people who make my working life so brilliant. 

Rosy glow and memories? Absolutely not. For every dull meeting or presentation I have attended during my career, there have been hundreds of great ones that have made my heart sing and filled my head with a shed load of opportunities and ideas. I know sometimes (much of the time probably) working with me is a complete pain – often on to the next idea without really finishing the one we were all working on. I know that. I can only apologise but after being in the sector for so long, I don’t know how else to be. It’s one of the reasons I love working in such a dynamic and joyful industry.

The thing is there is an incredibly amount of inspiration to be taken from talking to everyone in this sector. I work with such a wide range of companies along the supply chain – growers, bottlers, manufacturers, distributors, contract caterers, pubs, restaurateurs, technology firms – that it’s so easy to build on ideas, be creative and consider alternatives. I find most people are collaborative and willing and happy to work with others, as long as their competitive advantage is not undermined, or their commercial arrangements compromised. 

Newcomers are welcomed, entrepreneurs applauded, innovators saluted – and the bad eggs are weeded out very quickly. Operators share information on great suppliers and suppliers share information on great operators. No one wants to see outstanding companies or individuals fail. It’s one reason why this crisis is so difficult. Not only are chief executives likely to see their own businesses suffer, they may also see their friends going through very difficult times and that’s often just as hard to take on board. When times are bad then this industry pulls together. Competitors email one another to wish others luck or to say they are there for them. I see this happening time and time again when I’m asked for the contact details of someone doing well – just so others can WhatsApp them to say: “Well done.”

I have seen incredible acts of generosity and thoughtfulness in these grey, but not quite dark, times. Many technology companies have waved fees and given their software for free. Food and drink suppliers have donated food to the numerous wonderful “feed the NHS” initiatives. Distributors have been on hand to deliver without charge. Operators have set up shops, click-and-collect and delivery from scratch in no time at all in order to help their customers get the food they need. It’s been the right thing, but not always the most profitable, thing to do.

There has been incredible selflessness at the heart of these initiatives driven by the desire to put others first. Many people in this sector are working harder than they thought possible – harder than they have worked before. Many have given so much without being asked. What a wonderful sector. 

I will continue to miss the buzz of having a beer with friends. I miss the sociability of a girl’s night in the pub, of a family Sunday lunch in a local restaurant and a pizza before the cinema. I miss the joy of discovering a brilliant new restaurant or finding an old restaurant being just as good as I remember it. While Hello Fresh is proving a great alternative to my very average/non-existent cooking, it can never beat the joy of eating wonderful food cooked and served by talented and caring teams.

I will continue to miss the anticipation of sometimes feeling so excited about a new place that I can hardly wait to get there or looking through a new menu and wanting to choose it all or finding hospitality so charming and relaxing I just want to stay and keep drinking and eating.

I can’t wait for it all to start again, whenever that is. In the meantime I relish the joy of being part of something bigger, more joyful and more together than I thought possible in a crisis like this. Thank you.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliotts, the leading integrated marketing agency in the hospitality and leisure sector –
Elliotts is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Six weeks to go with any luck by Alastair Scott 

As the days and weeks start to merge, the ups and downs have been quite large, but I have now settled into a much more relaxed state of accepting the closure period and using the opportunity to improve the business at Malvern Inns. Yes, we are losing money. Yes, I am not earning anything, but I like to think at some point it will all be back to normal.

Business interruption loans
Our three sites are in three different companies and we have three different banks. NatWest were first out of the blocks – quick, efficient, and offered us the loan we asked for of £85,000. Lloyds were second and we had to battle a bit harder to force the process but it has offered us £120,000 – a little short of the £170,000 we were seeking but nevertheless welcome. We have a third business where we could apply for a bounce back loan but we want to wait until we know we need it and also maximise the advantage of the one-year interest free period. Finally, we have a holding company that lends to the businesses, and the bank there is Santander. We will again wait until we know what we need as we have enough cash to restart the business.

Interest rates charged are very different. NatWest is charging 6% on the debt, Lloyds 2% and Santander has a flat rate of 4% on loans repayable over more than four years. While this initially seems very attractive it is worth thinking about it another way. The government is guaranteeing 80% of the loan and charging 0.1%. So the effective interest rate on each of the loans is almost five times the headline rate. Therefore NatWest is charging 30%, Lloyds 10% and Santander 20% on its part of the loan. Normally we would be a bit upset but I am sure this will get looked at by the government. Nevertheless, we now have the cash in the bank and we really can start to think about how we operate in the future.

Closure costs
Our closure costs run at about £10,000 a month. About half of that is interest on debt, which we clearly need to keep paying to avoid default. The other half splits between energy costs and other ongoing fixed costs, including my own business, S4labour, where we have halved the cost to our customers.

Other contracted suppliers have been a bit tougher. Some have offered us 30% off despite not using them at all. Our till provider has offered us a zero charge for three months but wants to extend our contract by three years. The variation is understandable when people need to make different commercial decisions for different reasons, but still some have frankly upset us to the point where we will replace them when we can.

Our food and drink suppliers have all been amazingly supportive in holding our trade debt. We are now trying to make sure we can restart with the right credit terms for the business as the impact on cash flow of any reduced credit terms could be significant. How we manage these relationships will be key for both parties.

Social distancing impact
We are lucky our sites are large, in dormitory villages, and have big gardens. In a world where home-working increases we think we are net beneficiaries. We have worked out our “social distancing” capacity is 120, 120 and 60 covers versus 170, 170 and 100 normally. This is only a reduction of 30% and is actually higher than we expected, and that is before we have factored in back-to-back dining, where at least in theory the distances can be narrowed. We have written our social distancing internal and external plan and are ready to publish at the right moment when we feel our customers are starting to think hard about when they can go for Sunday lunch. 

We can never be comfortable we have enough cash, because the opening levels of trade are so uncertain. Capping covers for us actually only means we only cap sales on a Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday, but on average that will automatically reduce our trade by circa 25%. At 25% lower sales we don’t make a profit, but while there are no rates we don’t make a loss either. Having calculated this for our own business I can see the challenges where the economics are less favourable, either through a higher cost base, or a less optimistic view of sales because of location or trading area. It will be a longer haul for those businesses and a real challenge to make a profit without some major interventions from landlords or government.

Opening sales
We have had a good debate on opening sales. The industry consensus seems to be a third of customers will stay away for fear of the virus. It seems a third will stay away because they are home-working, not going into city centres and as a result of social distancing restrictions, which means trade in city centres could drop by two thirds of pre-virus levels. As an operator of large country pubs though we, perhaps optimistically, hope the third that aren’t going to city centres will stay at home. We think they will want fish and chips, burgers, steaks, and most importantly an amazing Sunday lunch, so we might end up at the same levels we closed at, even with social distancing. I am always the optimist! But we are now starting to build rotas on this basis and see what our team requirements are. We need to understand and be fair to staff and let them know if we are letting them go at the end of the furlough period.

How we make our sites better
We are also looking at how we can open differently and get our sites to a higher level of performance. Of our three sites only one is achieving the sales and conversion levels we aspire to. One is great at conversion but in our view is 10% off where it should be in sales. The other is about 30% off where it should be in sales and rubbish at conversion; we are viewing this site as a great opportunity to reset our cultures and attitudes, as well as adjusting the menu to the predominantly female customer base that we have and set off with amazingly well-trained staff. This is a great opportunity to get done some of the things we have never quite got round to, or maybe should have done better in the first place.

Our five-point reopening plan
We have created a five-point plan we are applying to all our sites in order to open better than we closed. This splits as follows:

1. Getting the pubs looking better than ever and doing all the tasks that are easy to do while closed
We aren’t spending a lot on this. A bit of re-painting and upholstery, a few new pictures and polishing every floor in sight is our focus, but we don’t want to have anything that looks unclean or unsightly when we open. We also want to make sure all those annoying jobs are done, such as an Altro repair behind the bar and replace chairs that have gone a bit saggy. We are now about to start and this makes it all feel a bit more real too.

2. Preparing for opening and adjusting this for social distancing requirements
While this will be a moving feast, we hope over time we are covering most of the bases. Of course there will be a challenge from staff – some who might feel uncomfortable about the environment. We will do our best but in the end people will need to be near others – if only for a short time. Our biggest debate in the past 24 hours is how to handle the pass, which is about the only point where for us there is face-to-face working.

And of course there are customers, some of whom may be scared and others who might be a bit blasé (whether we are leaving external toilet doors open or having a person on the door to ensure people don’t meet at the door are considerations we are making), but the truth is the world is moving fast and any decision we make now may well need to change, so the key message is to be fleet of foot and be able to make fast decisions. Our biggest challenge will either be an outbreak among staff, or a potential outbreak among staff, which means significant amounts cannot come to work, and so how we segregate teams is another of our many challenges. We aim to communicate to our customers well before we open, which will hopefully give people the confidence to come and visit us and know we are doing the best we can.

3. Having a good menu process and running menus effectively for each pub
We don’t know what the state of our suppliers might be when we open, or indeed what the prices might be, so we are expecting to have shortages of items and have to be very flexible on our menu. Equally we may be able to open outside only and we may have days where no one comes, and we certainly can’t afford to waste food. So we may need to freeze our normally fresh fish, or order in smaller pack sizes. Either way, being fast and flexible will be essential. We are also moving our menus to big blackboards to help both menu changes and also remove a potential risk.

4. Keeping staff updated and how we treat them during furlough 
There are several threads to this challenge. The first is holiday pay, and we have chosen to pay holiday pay during furlough so no one restarts with any holiday accrual. This is a significantly lower cost than waiting and well worth doing once you understand the rules.

The second is terminating any staff we don’t want to run with when we reopen. Again we have chosen to get on with this early and have already put all this into action for both staff we need to give notice to and staff we are making redundant. On a more positive footing we are also engaging with staff on a very positive note, which leads to our training plan.

5. Training (and recruiting) the team so we open and run better than we ever have 
One of the opportunities the furlough process gives us is to re-train our teams relatively cheaply. We can train teams as long as we top them up to minimum wage, and so a few hours training come a lot cheaper than before. So we are pulling all our teams in over the next two weeks to design and agree a personal training plan that we can then deliver to them ahead of opening, so we have a team that is better trained than ever; this is very exciting for all of us. Whether it is how to better run a shift, making a better cup of coffee, or resetting how we run the kitchen, these are opportunities we are grabbing as fast as we can. 

Next steps
One of our single biggest challenges will be getting our team to re-energise after furlough. Some will have gone fruit picking or picked up some work in a supermarket. Some will have learnt a language or developed a new skill. But some will have not done much at all and therefore not done enough. They may have fallen into a mindset where they have settled into a lower gear and will find it very hard to get going again. 

So we are starting early, assuming the build-up will be a challenge for some but it is our job to help them. The future is therefore more uncertain than I have known, and there are more challenges to be dealt with on the way, but as the boss I am actually feeling more excited and energised than I have for a long time. The thought of opening brilliant pubs again that I am even more proud of makes the enormous amount of hard work we face worth it. Good luck to you all.
Alastair Scott owns Malvern Inns as well as the labour management system – S4labour
S4labour is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

How technology can help you reopen your restaurant by Nick Popovici

Things won’t be going back to “normal” any time soon. The months ahead threaten tightening margins and a deflated, post-pandemic economy. The smart operator will need to make use of every possible tool at their disposal to make strategic decisions and cut costs. Key to this process will be choosing the technology for your restaurant, which will help your business in three main ways:
1. By opening up multiple ordering channels, ensuring a seamless, low-contact guest experience.
2. By streamlining operations and cutting costs, to help you balance the books.
3. By providing the data you need to continually improve your business.

So what technology will enable you to unlock these benefits? First and foremost is omnichannel digital ordering. Ignoring the jargon, omnichannel is worth getting your head around. Literally “multi” channel, it simply means providing seamless ordering experiences no matter where or how your customers order – mobile or desktop, click-and-collect or delivery, on kiosks etc. It’s a must-have for the ambitious hospitality brand, from a customer experience perspective, a healthy and safety perspective, but also for your own cost efficiency.

Equipping customers to order for themselves reduces the labour needed to operate and removes operational bottlenecks of waiting for the bill, or queueing at a till. A variety of ordering channels also increases the chances of any customer being both able and willing to order. Delivery enables you to serve customers unable to get to your restaurants, with delivery-only kitchens an approach favoured by many leading brands. Click-and-collect is a key channel for restaurants in accessible locations as it avoids logistics and costs of delivery but cuts time spent in-store drastically, raising throughput and reducing risks of contact.

Could these channels work for your business?

Whatever channels you introduce, make sure you get the user experience right. Modern customers value convenience above almost all else. If your ordering process is frustrating, unintuitive or time-consuming then many will be put off. Make it a top priority to get yourself an omnichannel system that looks great, is easy to use, as well as joining easily with your other systems.

The biggest challenges of the future restaurant is getting enough customers through the door. To maximise your throughput while keeping things safe, you will have to cut down on any time guests spend standing around, and ensure orders are fulfilled as fast as possible.

This means equipping your kitchen to run optimally with the right kitchen management system. Replacing the need for paper tickets and back-and-forth between cashiers and chefs, kitchen display screens make more of your operations communication digital and instantaneous. In addition to a clear and intuitive interface, good kitchen display screens need to work seamlessly with the rest of your technology in a single ecosystem. A great kitchen display system empowers your staff to fulfil efficiently, irrespective of how your customers order. 

The last piece of the technology puzzle, and arguably the most important, is your data. Transparency of customer habits, menu performance, footfall trends and operational time-frames is essential for spotting leaks in your operational pipeline, targeting your investment and making decisions which will transform your business. If your data is fragmented and hard to gather then you will struggle to find the time to properly review it, let alone take actions from it. However, when collected holistically across your restaurant system, data can transform your business. Combined with an effective CRM partner, data also turbocharges your customer relationships. Targeted marketing messages and personalised ordering experiences keep customers coming back for more, increasing their lifetime value drastically.

In summary, the future cannot be business as usual. An unprecedented (sorry, yes, unprecedented) set of challenges lie ahead for operators throughout the world. Don’t miss out on the benefits of automation, data and digital ordering, which will enable your business to reopen, survive and thrive in the months ahead.
Nick Popovici is chief executive and co-founder of Vita Mojo

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