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Fri 26th May 2023 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Sit down, meeting expectations, key sustainability learnings from the US restaurant sector, a system for success, we promise to keep ‘doing well by doing good’
Authors: Phil Mellows, Ann Elliott, Elbha Purcell, Charlie Elek, Jon Dale

Sit down by Phil Mellows

A headline caught my eye the other day: “CBI banned alcohol-only events after staff party, says ex-chief”. The last thing I want to do is embroil myself in the awful things that seem to have happened at the Confederation of British Industry, but this makes it sound like employees had no choice but to drink alcohol at social events, which would be unusually disturbing.

Reading the story, however, it turns out that the ex-chief is referring to occasions where there was no sit-down meal with a seating plan. Presumably non-alcoholic beverages were available, and perhaps even canapes, or one of those awkward buffets where you have to juggle your plate and your glass while trying to make witty conversation. The headline tells us more about the BBC’s headline writer, perhaps. 

Still, there is an echo here of those curious days when we emerged, hesitantly, from full covid lockdown into the tiers, if you can remember that far back. The ex-chief made her decision in 2019, but the underlying attitude that informed it emerged on a large scale towards the end of 2020 with what became known as “Scotch Egg-Gate”.

Pubs in tier 2, covering most of the country, were obliged to serve a “substantial meal” to customers if they wanted to sell them alcohol, and the question was whether one scotch egg or two constituted “substantial”. 

All very dull and pointless, but the apparently arbitrary regulation was based on deeply embedded, unspoken ideology that, I argued at the time, finds its roots in the 19th century temperance movement.

To put it crudely, the suppression of the drink trade was a way of controlling unruly working classes; of maximising their productivity, free from drunkenness, hangovers and unwholesome distractions in general.

Interestingly, workers themselves participated in self-control, signing the pledge and campaigning against alcohol in large numbers. A lot of the energy for temperance came from below, but that’s another story.

Its real purpose was made explicit in the First World War, when David Lloyd George declared drink to be a bigger enemy than the Germans – because it threatened production, and that of munitions in particular.

The alcohol trade was severely curtailed to pursue the war effort but, unlike in the United States and elsewhere, outright prohibition fell off the agenda thanks to a great British compromise that significantly transformed the way we drink.

Inspired by an experiment in Carlisle, where pubs were nationalised to curb drunkenness among workers at the nearby Gretna munitions plant, brewers saw an opportunity between the wars, amid falling beer sales, to “broaden the offer”, as we say now, by introducing food (with table service) and entertainment, drawing in women and families.

Not every pub was fully “improved” in this way, but our whole image of the public house developed into a sort of hybrid between the traditional all-male, all-wet boozer and a more inclusive, community venue.

So, by the Second World War, pubs had, in sharp contrast to the First World War, become the heroes of the home front, seen as holding together fractured communities and lifting morale.

That role was reprised during the covid crisis, but pubs had never fully become restaurants and stored the potential to be unruly in their essential conviviality. The wet-dry split was exposed and vertical drinking became a threat once more. 

This time around it was because these gatherings could, in a way not clearly defined, help spread disease in a way that sitting around a table could not. But underlying that vague reasoning was the old fear that working people may not quite be under control. They needed to be tethered to a table, and a “substantial meal” was a way of doing that.

The regulation, indeed, urged pubs to operate “as if they were a restaurant”, and it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that we’re talking about class here. There are people who go out to eat in restaurants and there are people who go out to drink in pubs. The covid rules were drawn up by the former to stop the latter moving about in such an unpredictable way. In short, the message was “sit down and shut up”.

All a long way from the scandals at the CBI, of course, but it’s interesting to find a similar idea surfacing. A suspicion that there’s something unseemly and dangerous going on behind the public bar doors is always lurking beneath those public proclamations in support of the great British pub that generally come from people who don’t drink in pubs – unless there’s a photo opportunity.
Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist

Meeting expectations by Ann Elliott

When I first set up my agency in 2001, my office was in my garage. This was fine, though not exactly prestigious. Not an office to invite clients to, no matter how well I knew them or how informal they were. I could never quite rid myself of the thought that it had been a garage, then a storeroom, then a children’s playroom in its earlier iterations. I loved the freedom of having my own business, but my converted garage didn’t quite hit the image I wanted for serious business meetings. If you work from a converted garage, no matter how nice it is, you might feel the same sometimes.

So, I became a member of the Institute of Directors (IOD) and held most of my meetings there. It was convenient, everyone knew it, you could hire meeting rooms and the service was good. It also had fabulous showers, which were very handy when getting ready for those black-tie industry events that used to be held at The Grosvenor. If truth be told though, looking back, it was very traditional, old-fashioned even. Not exactly hushed tones, but not far from them. By implication, I too felt old-fashioned and hushed when I worked there.

So, in time, I just let my membership lapse. I don’t remember it ever costing a fortune, but it was just one of those moments when you receive your renewals email and think “why?” The shower option did make me think twice though, it’s not quite the same trying to fit into a little black dress for a big event in the Caffé Nero loos. Nice as they are, by the way, before Gerry Ford sends me an email!

Then it dawned on me that I really didn’t like meetings in cold, anonymous, corporate receptions and equally cold and uninviting interview rooms. My idea of hell, and not the place to form close bonds with anyone. I was often surprised though that the people I was meeting didn’t always like that either and were quite happy to meet elsewhere. A coffee shop? Yes, that would be fine. A pub? Even better!

For a time after that, I alternated between the Parcel Yard, a Fuller‘s pub in King‘s Cross, and Drake & Morgan, also in King‘s Cross, for meetings. In both, it was possible to be flexible – any time of day, any size of party, different food types and varying degrees of privacy. I liked the fact that over time, I got to recognise the team members and it felt more personal.

Before covid, I had also joined Soho House and worked hard to convince myself that it really was worth the fee, even though I only went to the house in Dean Street about twice a month and the farmhouse in Oxfordshire, twice a year. I gave that up during covid. Through that period though they were amazingly kind, considerate and generous to me.

I was reminded of all those meeting venue headaches when I met Martin Robinson, chairman of Parkdean, Travelodge and Burger King UK, and an old friend, for a coffee in a hotel lounge in Mayfair this week. I loved catching up with him of course, but the place reminded me a bit of the IOD. A bit stuffy and slightly too formal, though trying hard, and guests trying not to speak (or laugh) too loudly. I wish hotels like this would just get their act together for the informal meeting occasion.

That afternoon I had another meeting in another hotel, the Soho Hotel, and it was just perfect. In fact, all the Firmdale hotels are perfect. Food and beverage is not an afterthought. The company knows people use it for meetings and so don’t treat them as a bit of an inconvenience. The teams there are professional, friendly and alert. My go-to choice, but probably my second choice, if I am honest.

When I am having business meetings twice a week in the same venue, then I know it’s my first choice go-to place. The one I automatically pick when someone asks: “Where should we meet?” is Caravan in Fitzrovia. The King‘s Cross site is just as good, even though I have to clamber on and off the chairs in the coffee area, which always looks somewhat undignified at my age.

It would be hard to find a better meeting place, and it’s miles away from a converted garage or an impersonal office meeting room. Things have changed for the better.
Ann Elliott (she/her) is a portfolio non-executive director and board advisor

Key sustainability learnings from the US restaurant sector by Elbha Purcell

I’ve had a whirlwind few days. Fresh from launching our new sustainability consultancy arm, Knowledge Labs, the Nutritics team headed to Chicago for the National Restaurant Association Show. This was my first visit, and let me tell you, it is enormous!

The show brings together more buyers, suppliers and manufacturers than any other hospitality sector event in the world, and is attended by tens of thousands of professionals from across the industry. We were amongst 2,160 manufacturers and suppliers showcasing their products and services, and one of more than 800 companies making their debut at the show. 

The US is slow to catch on to sustainability 
We spoke to hundreds of operators about how Nutritics helps hospitality businesses in the UK calculate and understand their environmental impact, and it was startling just how little awareness there was around sustainability in general, let alone the opportunities that exist for restaurant brands that act with purpose. From “mom and pop” establishments to multinational giants, most operators still view sustainability as a “nice-to-have” rather than a key tenet of their business.  

Four key stakeholders driving the sustainability agenda
As director of Knowledge Labs, my job is to work collaboratively with operators to develop food-related sustainability, compliance and well-being strategies, and help them on their environmental, social and governance (ESG) journey, whatever stage they’re at. And while most US operators appeared to be behind the curve on sustainability, it was immediately apparent when speaking with more purpose-minded operators that the stakeholder groups driving their sustainability agenda are the very same ones influencing the work we do with our partners in the UK – consumers, employees, regulators or investors. 

Some operators we met realised that younger, environmentally-conscious consumers are increasingly likely to prioritise brands they believe are trying to have a positive impact on the planet, and felt businesses that fail to act risk getting left behind, becoming irrelevant to an entire generation. These brands also realised this trend is likely to be reflected in recruitment. In the US, the proportion of hospitality workers under the age of 25 is three times higher than the national average, and strong green credentials can be a way to not just attract talent, but to retain existing teams.

Improved access to capital is now a well-established rationale in the UK for developing sustainability strategies, but this only seemed to be a priority for a handful of operators we met. Europe accounted for around 85% of all global ESG fund assets in 2022, but Wall Street ESG funds still total a massive $286bn, presenting a significant opportunity to savvy chief financial officers who realise that cutting Scope 3 emissions is a great way to demonstrate proven environmental performance in their ESG reports, while also getting ahead of the curve on the Securities and Exchange Commission’s proposed Scope 3 emission disclosure regulation. 

UK leads the way on sustainability
After talking to operators about sustainability for four days, the difference between the UK and US markets is stark. There’s no organisation with the clout of UKHospitality championing the cause, and no equivalent to the Zero Carbon Forum where operators can share knowledge and best practice. Change will eventually come, most likely driven by brands like KFC, McDonald’s and Burger King, where the link between responsibility and profit in their UK businesses will become clear. However, until then, there’s a real opportunity for operators with a great offering and a strong purpose platform to offer a clear point-of-difference to consumers, employees and investors, and crack America. 
Elbha Purcell is director of Knowledge Labs, Nutritics’ expert sustainability consultancy arm

A system for success by Charlie Elek

At Propel’s Multi-Club conference in March, I had the opportunity to meet a fellow managing director who was starting to introduce the entrepreneurial operating system (EOS) model into their business. EOS is something I’m hugely passionate about, but is surprisingly under-used in the hospitality industry.

Looking back on Lucky Voice’s successes over the past year, I’ve realised exactly how much we owe to the EOS model in helping to increase efficiencies, bring the team together and fulfill our vision. For any business leaders who perhaps feel they have hit a ceiling, I want to share how this operating system has helped improve communication, transparency and accountability within the leadership team, and developed a stronger sense of trust and engagement across the wider business.

Our journey to becoming an entrepreneurial business
Let me be clear – Lucky Voice was still performing well in the times before EOS. We had a great brand, great people and some great successes, but there were some flaws in our ways of working. Meetings didn’t always have clear agendas and overran, and our objectives weren’t always specific enough, making them harder to track. We knew things needed to change to take the company to the next level.

One of our directors heard about EOS at a conference, so our leadership team went away and read “Get A Grip: How to Get Everything You Want From Your Entrepreneurial Business” (Gino Wickman and Mike Paton), which tells the story of a fictional small and medium-sized enterprise facing similar challenges to us, and how it implemented this system. Something clicked, and we all agreed that EOS was the solution we were looking for.

Making changes from the top down
The EOS model essentially forces you to prioritise six key components of your business – vision, data, process, traction, issues and people – and provides practical, actionable ways of working to help realise them. We work with an EOS implementer, Andy Stevens, who has been instrumental in coaching us through the initial process.

Setting it up requires reviewing your leadership team and identifying which functions need to take “seats” at the management table, and which should be removed. Many people find this the hardest part of the process. It really pushes you to vet your current team with everybody in the room, asking face-to-face whether they get it, want it and have the capacity of the job. 

We created an accountability chart – a map of the personnel in the business along with their roles and responsibilities – and a breakdown of who we would need to hire in the next year should we achieve our goals. This also supported with our overall recruitment process, giving real clarity on the strategy we need to take moving forward.

This is when we formed the team as it currently stands, bringing more people into the strategic decision-making within the business. We now have all the relevant department leads kept up to speed and directly involved in those conversations, so they’re ready to go away and implement the plans straight away.

We looked ahead to where we want to be in one year, three years, and ten years – and these targets act as our “north star”. We talk about them all the time. In fact, every single new Lucky Voice employee is given a copy of “What The Heck is EOS?” (Gino Wickman and Tom Bouwer) before they start, so we can seamlessly invite them on the journey, clarify the part they have to play and explain what the rewards will be.

Increasing efficiencies in our objectives and tracking progress
EOS has encouraged us to be really clear about exactly what it is we want to achieve, and what actions should be set among the various department leads so we can get there. Our objectives are called “rocks”. We have individual rocks for each person, which then feed into overarching business rocks, and these are reviewed in weekly meetings – driving accountability and transparency.

There are processes in place to ensure these meetings are run as efficiently as possible. We now have clear agendas, which include a list of prioritised discussion points for each person in attendance, as we aim to “identify, discuss and solve”. Anything that can be solved quickly is completed there and then, and anything ongoing is added to the agenda for the quarterly meetings. This eliminates distractions and helps prioritising by saying, actually, we can reduce our list significantly here and now and pay the right amount of focus to the bigger issues during an imminent, dedicated time.

What comes next?
Since implementing the EOS, we have seen the business go from strength to strength. The 2021-22 financial year was our most successful ever, with revenue up by 22% and Ebitda up by 57% on 2019. Engagement with EOS across the business is fantastic. We’re more efficient, more transparent and more successful – so do come and find me at a Propel event later this year if you want to hear more about EOS. I promise I’m not on commission!
Charlie Elek is the managing director of Lucky Voice

We promise to keep ‘doing well by doing good’ by Jon Dale

As a business, we were delighted to launch our inaugural environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy – our “Punch Promise” – earlier this week. Although we are very much at the start of our sustainability journey, there has already been some significant work undertaken in this space by a number of people from across the business here at Punch.

Our “Doing Well, by Doing Good” programme underpins how we do things at Punch; it’s at the core of our strategy and is centred around four pillars – heart of communities; people and culture; patrons of the local; and modern, progressive pub company. We believe we have a responsibility not only to manage our own impacts on the economy, society and environment, but also to lead the way in understanding, improving and innovating our publicans and management partners towards achieving sustainable hospitality.

It has been a tough couple of years for the industry, with inflationary headwinds currently showing no sign of abating, but despite these continued pressures, we have acknowledged the impact of Punch’s footprint on the environment, and our commitment to a circular economy. We are therefore doing all we can to push the agenda, with a laser-like focus on working with diverse communities to build an inclusive, resourceful, responsible and environmentally-friendly business. 

Our Punch Promise
Over the past year, we have been shaping our ESG strategy and finalising our overarching targets. We decided to implement a strategy that aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), taking a holistic approach to consider not only our environmental impact, but our social impact too. The SDGs provide a globally recognised framework to which our commitment and ambitions align. 

We have identified four of the 17 SDGs that we believe are both relevant to our business and that we have the ability to contribute to. Each of these global goals are supported by an executive team “sponsor” to give us senior management oversight, drive our commitments and monitor progress against our targets. 

These four goals are: 
• Goal 3 - good health and well-being
• Goal 7 - affordable and clean energy
• Goal 8 - decent work and economic growth
• Goal 12 - responsible consumption and production 
There are a number of initiatives already underway in each of these areas, but to name a few:

For Goal 3, we have established key strategic partnerships with four organisations that includes, more recently, the Eden Project. In collaboration with the educational charity, we hope to develop a purpose-driven partnership centring on three core pillars to reduce environmental harm and mitigate residual emissions through biodiversity. 

For Goal 7, we have targeted a reduction in our energy consumption and are looking to green energy to support this transition even further.

For Goal 8, we are well underway with growing the number of schools and colleges we partner with to proactively support hospitality as a long-term career of choice.

And lastly, for Goal 12, we are putting the finishing touches to our supplier charter, which outlines topics such as human rights, environmental expectations, labour rights and business ethics to help suppliers evolve their own ESG journey with us. 

Pineapples with Purpose
My personal highlight is the collaboration across Punch Pubs & Co to make this all possible. I firmly believe that without this, our strategy would fall at the first hurdle. At the very beginning, we formulated our internal ESG working group – Pineapples with Purpose – comprising of team members from across all the business departments. This cross-functional group is responsible for driving and supporting the business with activities related to our strategy. 

The future
As we look to the future, we have many exciting projects already underway, and positive engagement across the business and industry, thanks to the likes of the Zero Carbon Forum, continues to grow.  We change for the sake of our business, but we also change for the benefit of our people and the communities we serve. And most importantly, we believe that these two goals go hand-in-hand. Together, we will keep “doing good”.
Jon Dale is strategic corporate affairs and ESG lead at Punch Pubs & Co 

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