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Fri 2nd Dec 2022 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Scotland – back to the future, how to stay on track, minimum wage, people metrics at the heart of hospitality success
Authors: Paul Chase, Amber Staynings, Alistair Scott, Hayley Kyle

Scotland – back to the future by Paul Chase

One of my favourite characters from the late 19th/early 20th century alcohol prohibition campaign in America was a formidable lady named Carrie Amelia Nation. This lady was a fierce opponent of alcohol and all the places that sold it, and she was an early advocate of direct action. Her party piece was to walk into a saloon in her full-length black dress and bustle, bonnet and shawl, and produce a short-handled axe with which she would energetically set about the bar – smashing the bar top, back fittings, tables and chairs.

In Carrie Nation’s later years she visited Britain, where she spoke to packed audiences in theatres in London and managed to find time to smash up a couple of pubs – just to stay in practice. She then announced her intention of travelling to Glasgow to carry on the prohibition struggle. Unfortunately for her, news of her travel plans and her reputation had preceded her, and she was greeted at Glasgow railway station by around 3,000 angry and drunken Scots who clearly had not yet seen the light. It took a baton charge from the Glasgow police to rescue her from the baying mob, and they put her up for the night in a teetotal hotel.

Fast forward to the present, and I am tempted to believe that Carrie Nation has been reincarnated in the form of Nicola Sturgeon. I say this because hard on the heels of the abject failure of the minimum unit pricing measure introduced in 2018, the Scottish government is consulting on the introduction of a comprehensive alcohol advertising bill. Space prevents me from giving you full details, but with gratitude to eminent and distinguished licensing lawyer Stephen McGowan, here are the main proposals, summarised from a much longer blog written by him:

Sport sponsorship
The first part of the consultation asks us whether we should prohibit all alcohol sports sponsorship in Scotland. Prohibit alcohol branding on merchandise (i.e. shirt sponsorship) and ban wider sponsorship (i.e. on boardings/hoardings). Accredit venues which are more family friendly, where they have agreed to restrict alcohol – even going so far as to suggest venues should place a limit on the number of drinks people can buy and ensuring live TV does not show people drinking in the crowds. Many sporting authorities have already responded with extreme alarm over these proposals. No doubt they are making those views known in responses to the consultation. 

Event sponsorship
This part of the consultation starts by telling us there is no evidence at all as to whether sponsorship of events – by which they mean music, cultural events and so on (as opposed to sporting events) – by alcohol has negative outcomes. Nevertheless, unhindered by any expressed desire to wish to proceed with probative and proportionate policy-making, they plough on and ask whether there should be a prohibition on alcohol sponsoring all events across Scotland. This, if enacted, would end alcohol sponsorship of musical or cultural festivals as well as local community led events. Heaven knows how you organise a beer festival.

Public places
Perhaps the most incredible proposal within this consultation is the suggestion that there should be a complete ban on any and all promotion/advertising of alcohol in public places. This notion is suggested not, it would seem, as an intrinsic goal, but on the basis that it might be quite difficult to create a more nuanced law. Consider the following paragraph: “Given the difficulties around defining places as places children and young people frequent, as well as the likely impact of alcohol marketing on adults too, a prohibition of alcohol advertising in public spaces may be the best course of action.”

Here we have the government saying that, because it might be too complex to prohibit alcohol marketing under defined circumstances, they should just go ahead and ban it altogether. We are looking at alcohol being treated as a substance that must be hidden from plain sight from the entire population. Notwithstanding the acceptance of difficulties here, they go on to propose examples of places and environments where advertising and promotions might be banned, such as near schools or nurseries, on public transport or bus stops and train stations, and even leisure centres.

In-store alcohol marketing
This section is a good example of how parts of the consultation are framed through lived experience. Here we are presented with the following two lived experience quotes:
• “When you go to the till, you pass the big alcohol bit” (9-11 year old)
• “Alcohol is right at the counter… it’s a trigger for me, so I have to avoid it. I don’t go there. If I haven’t got milk, I have to wait until I go to the [big] shops.” (Lisa, one year sober)

We are being encouraged to see these proposals subjectively, through the eyes of these two contributors. We are invited, therefore, to see the proposals not as they might affect the wider population, and not with any causal evidence, and certainly not as how the proposals might affect the alcohol industry or the people who work in that industry. We are instead invited to look at these proposals only through the lens of harm experienced by a few individuals. 

One of the proposals in this section is that alcohol should not be advertised, or even seen, in window displays, so that no alcohol can be visible from outside the shop. This takes us backwards, to a period where it is assumed there is an inherently corruptive element to simply seeing alcohol in a window display. 

There are many businesses that specialise in selling alcohol. If these proposals are taken forward, you are looking at a blackout of store fronts of premises such as dedicated off-sales, or retail units for local distilleries and breweries. Craft beer shops will be under rules akin to the restrictions on licensed sex shops, but with less colourful wording on the black vinyl stretching across the windows. Oh, and good luck with the local brewery setting up a stall in the local farmer’s market.

They even take us into territory where alcohol must be seen in the same context as tobacco: “Where alcohol is displayed behind the checkout, this could be required to be in a closed cupboard, like tobacco products.” I am almost surprised not to see a reference to plain packaging here (although note the comments below on content of advertisements).

They also propose that aisle-end displays be banned and that mixed aisles be restricted, so that alcohol is not in the same aisle as some other product. All of this suggests that the Scottish government seems to have satisfied itself that there is evidence of unfettered patterns of impulse buying. They go further and explore the shop within a shop idea, and ask: “Do you think we should consider structural separation of alcohol in Scotland to reduce the visibility of alcohol in off-trade settings (e.g. supermarkets)?”

There is no suggestion as to how any such restriction would be imposed on existing retailers. There are huge licensing implications here, of course. Any change to alcohol displays would mean a variation of the premises licence, meaning new architects plans, and might also mean a loss of product range and physical works having to be carried out. What of premises whose entire premises is one big alcohol display, like a working distillery with a retail shop or visitors centre?

Brand sharing and merchandise
Not content with proposing a complete ban on all alcohol advertising in all public spaces and the shuttering of shop-fronts, they go further and suggest there should be a ban on the sale of all alcohol-branded merchandise altogether. No more hats or mugs. No more t-shirts. No more craft brewery hoodies. In the context of this consultation, these have become walking billboards.

The Scottish government go further still and present a case that even alcohol-free products should be banned as they are, in essence, gateway brands to expose people to the alcoholic variants, because of the use of the same names and logos: “This demonstrates the need to carefully consider restricting these other distinctive and identifiable elements associated with the alcohol brand, in addition to restricting use of the alcohol brand name.”

Print advertising
If you have been reading closely so far, you may agree with me that what we are looking at here, when you combine these proposals, is the almost complete eradication of the public presence of alcohol. It is no surprise to see, therefore, a proposal that alcohol advertising in all newspapers and magazines should simply be banned altogether. Online advertising, TV advertising and radio advertising all face a ban. Here again, the consultation documents tell us that people watch TV and may therefore be exposed to alcohol advertising. That being so, restrictions should be considered. 

Restrictions on content of advertisements
Not content with removing alcohol from visible public society, if any residual advertising may remain, the government wants this to be controlled so that only state-sanctioned attributes can be referred to, such as geographical origin and certain factual criteria. This can be summarised in the following sentence: “By removing the attractiveness of alcohol in the advertising, we begin to change the culture around alcohol.”

Towards the end of the consultation, the government suggests that a new regulator may have to be set up to deal with the enforcement of all of this. Who is going to pay for that? The industry? The taxpayer? What might this new regulator look like? A Scottish Alcohol Advertising Standards Commission? Is this the body that will issue the accreditations suggested earlier, as well as taking action to ban adverts or shutter window displays? All of this remains to be seen. Wales next? Who knows!
Paul Chase is director of Chase Consultancy and a leading industry commentator on alcohol and health

How to stay on track by Amber Staynings

Are you facing your busiest trading period with despair over the forthcoming rail strikes? For many UK hospitality businesses, optimism is in short supply again. If you are going to be hit by a loss of customer footfall when you need it most, how on earth are you going to mitigate this year’s losses (let alone make a profit?) 

In my view, there are some important and effective measures which will help you navigate a way round these obstacles. Taking these actions now will help you stay on track and give you the best chance of staying profitable in the face of yet another challenge to our beloved industry.

My top tips to help you beat the impact of rail strikes on your venue

• Get ahead: Pull a report for those strike dates and filter by booking size. Call everyone now. 

• Don’t overthink, act: Offer alternative dates and times. 

• Empathise: Think about how tough this is for your lead Christmas booker. Help them find a solution. 

• Find the silver lining. Can you cross sell to your other locations on different dates, which might turn out to be more profitable for you and better still for the customer?

• Take shortcuts: Collins users should use area search tool for available spaces across their venues. 

• Go above and beyond: Send out a mailer highlighting alternative and best travel options to site. 

• Last ditch attempts: January/February vouchers! 

• Walk-ins: Encourage walk-ins on those days for your local customers. Some modest incentives should do it.

• Plead: Be open with the impact of these rail strikes to your business. At a time when hospitality is suffering yet again after years of unprecedented challenges, “we need you” messaging is a must for all hospitality businesses. 

I have seen for myself a number of venues able to turn loss into profit by prioritising their local customers (including corporate businesses and smaller enterprises) more able to get to their favouite local pub, bar or retaurant. Similarly, the trend towards 6pm dining is working to the advantage of hospitality businesses, helping to offset the normal demand for evening dining as well as giving locals more opportunity to use other forms of transport when rail strikes bite. It’s clear now that people will still want to go to their favourite pub or restaurant less often, but viewing it as an affordable treat. 

I know that attracting and keeping these customers is a challenge many venues will overcome if they have the right strategy in place, coupled with the determination and vision to see it through. According to a recent tweet from UKHospitality, the rail strikes are set to cost the sector up to £1.5bn in lost sales. Following my tips here will help keep venues on track, especially when combimed with a marketing campaign focused on local trade. 

It may not be full steam ahead for many, but the determination of all of us who care about hospitality to do whatever it takes will keep businesses on track and ready for a spring sales offensive. 
Amber Staynings in the founder and chief executive of strategic sales and business development experts Bums on Seats

Minimum wage by Alistair Scott

The recent government statement was not the best news for the hospitality industry. Having been battered with coronavirus, staff shortages and energy increases, we are now being hit by another hammer blow. As wages are nationally increasing by 5%, the government has decided that the minimum wage should go up by twice that. With the wage percentage in food-led businesses at over 30%, this is an automatic 3% reduction in margin, when there is precious little, if any, margin left to play with.

But there is probably little point moaning about it. The political capital in demonstrating care for the least well off is entirely understandable, and I agree with Tim Martin’s comments that as an industry, we need to be demonstrating how great we are. All we can and should do is run our businesses as best we can, and aim to improve a little bit every day and every week. So, what can we do about the labour cost increase? I like to think of labour management in five areas.

Firstly, deployment, which means matching supply of labour with sales demand and not having staff standing around with nothing to do or running at half speed. Businesses are usually pretty good at determining the right number of staff required at peak. What they are less good at is reducing staff numbers before and after the peak. This is a very rich source of opportunity. It requires staggering start and finish times and getting away from the five-to-close shift that is all too prevalent in our industry. 

Secondly, something I call people productivity, which is about ensuring staff are kept busy and playing an effective role day-to-day. Too many businesses still rely on a quick “I’ll do the bar, you do the bar section and you do the restaurant” – shift brief over. Rather than this, we should be considering tasks that need to be done when you are quiet and jobs that may require extra support when not all staff are fully occupied. Spending time focusing on team behaviour works, but we do not consider it as often as we would like or hope.

The next area is business productivity, where we ask how do we utilise process, design and technology to make the business as productive as we can and reduce the need for overspend? I think often our attention is focused only on whether we offer order at the bar, app-based ordering and payment or even delivery bots, and less on the simple things like layout. Giving attention to improving on the little things means that slack tasks are completed during shifts rather than after, and staff can go home earlier. 

The fourth area to consider is support tasks, and how these and other admin-like work can be kept to a minimum, leaving only value-added tasks. Tasks such as kitchen prep, ordering or management meetings are vital to the functioning of the business and need to be done at the right time in the right way. Holding a management meeting on a Monday is likely to bring senior staff in on the wrong day, and moving it to a Friday may be a smart move. 

Finally, I like to look at hours worked and how we ensure that we are only paying for the right number of hours worked and being fair to our staff in the process? I was brought up in this industry on timesheets and trust, and to move to a more regimented and controlled process has been a hard personal journey. But the real problem is that while most of your team are fair, it only takes one who abuses the system for the rest to resent it and then join in. It feels to me like more robust recording of hours is a future we should all embrace.

These five buckets are all relatively big areas of opportunity for every business. We should all take a look at our businesses through a lens of inefficiency – I see it all the time, and not just when I am doing consultancy work. Sometimes it is easier to go and watch someone else’s business and then apply the same critical outlook to our own businesses. But the inefficiencies are there in our businesses. Our challenge, then, is to spot them and turn them into business benefits.

Of course, this requires more focus, better-trained teams and better systems and processes. But, as labour vies for being the biggest cost in the business, even before product, the efficiency of this may be the only way to survive. I hope that over the next few years, all businesses start to utilise software to help manage their labour that little bit better, and I plan to dedicate separate articles to each of these topics in an aim to help businesses find areas of improvement.
Alastair Scott is founder and chief executive of S4 labour, the people, productivity, and payroll business, and also chief executive of Malvern Inns

People metrics at the heart of hospitality success by Hayley Kyle

The end of the year is already upon us and it’s that time of year when we’re gearing up for the bumper Christmas period, albeit one of the most stressful and challenging. Sadly, this year’s mood is somewhat jaded for many operators. The bleak economic forecast and inflationary pressures are doing their best to dampen our spirits as we scrutinise our metrics for the year ahead and tighten our belts.

Despite all that, we must remember that people don’t go out to eat and drink out of necessity. They do it because they really want to treat themselves, their friends or family, whatever the occasion. And more than anything, they want to have a great experience, and your people play a huge part in delivering that. 

When I think back to the era when I worked on the floor, we turned up because we loved being there. We wanted our customers to have the best experience from the moment they walked in through the door. You knew you’d had a great shift when your customers had had the best time, whether it was a family get together, a romantic dinner or a birthday celebration. You’d read the room, tailor your efforts, and your customers would walk out with a smile on their faces. 

That mattered more than anything, it was truly motivating and created an enchanting buzz. I would love to think that human desire will never disappear. But at times like these, when we’re worried about the costs and challenges, it’s important not to lose sight of this most basic element of hospitality.

Hospitality from the heart
Happy teams that have a real desire to make guests happy are a crucial part of success in hospitality. Sure, recruitment is more challenging than ever, but casting a wider net and welcoming those who you might not have previously considered such as students, the neurodiverse, returning mothers and older workers could be the key to success. Flexibility, recognition, fair compensation and a good training plan can make all the difference with potential candidates who have that vital ingredient: hospitality from the heart.

Back in the day, I remember getting hired after doing a successful trial shift. It was a great way to prove myself, and also for the manager to see a candidate in action, to see if they really do have a hospitality heart. Resources are tighter today, and it may be more difficult to have someone shadowing or observing in practice. But it could be a great opportunity for us to give hesitant candidates a taste of the business and get them hooked on the hospitality spirit.

Anyone who is a supplier to the hospitality industry, like MAPAL, knows that our teams also have to be happy and motivated to be able to really support our customers. I see a huge connection there, and we’re part of the cycle. If we don’t look after our teams, we can’t offer the services our customers need and help them get the best out of technology. And that goes for whether we are helping bars, restaurants, cafés, hotels, food supply or back of house operations – no matter which tool they’re using.

Measuring people metrics
We’ve been talking a lot about metrics recently at MAPAL while creating our latest white paper, Hospitality KPIs: metrics that matter. The traditional KPIs from the P&L will always be carefully monitored, especially in relation to cost and profit. But we discovered that, overwhelmingly, the metrics that matter most right now do, in fact, relate to our people. Maybe the fact that we are now valuing them more than ever is one of the positives of recruitment crisis, but the mantra of all the industry experts we spoke to is, essentially, “happy teams mean happy customers”.

Metrics like the eNPS score have now moved to the top of the table. This reflects how much your employees would recommend your company. The higher the score, the more attractive your company is to potential candidates. We’re now working hard to provide our customers with tools to improve this metric through employee recognition features and the ability to extract praise for employees from customer reviews. And at the end of the day, a higher eNPS will have a knock-on effect on your NPS (how likely your customers are to recommend your brand).

One quote from the white paper really struck me. It was from Danny Meyer’s theory on “enlightened hospitality” and he felt that “technology should be used to amplify your ability to use your heart”. I couldn’t agree more, because hospitality businesses can’t run on technology alone. It gives you powerful data and enhances your ability to make better decisions. But it’s only supplementary: hospitality success comes from the heart, and people are at the heart of hospitality.
Hayley Kyle is director of customer success UK at MAPAL Group

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