We were privileged to sponsor the Propel Multi Club Summer Conference that took place a couple of weeks ago. The day presented a range of insightful talks from industry leaders and entrepreneurial talent, whilst the evening offered a chance for networking with peers, new and old.
Exploring untapped markets, expanding at carefully considered rates, and the importance of brand flexibility were a few of the reoccurring themes.
Being the first to offer Peruvian cuisine in the UK was a big risk, but when you can deliver a concept as passionately as Martin Morales does his Peruvian heritage I think he was only ever destined to succeed. Martin compliments his two unique restaurant concepts, Ceviche and Andina, with cookbooks, self-produced music, art galleries and even a play – prompting a fellow audience member to turn to me and ask, ‘does this guy ever sleep?’.
When asked what advice he would give to a larger operator, he quoted his Peruvian grandmother from who he inherited his love of cooking, ‘here we cook with love’. No matter how many projects he takes on, it is always the quality and freshness of his food that will be his priority. Martin openly admitted that he prefers to eat in his own restaurants over any others, and that love and passion for his own product is what I believe makes Martin so successful!
The importance of brand culture was a key focus from HGEM, as they delivered interesting statistics around outsourcing delivery, and whether this could help or harm your business. Concluding that, wherever possible, you should form relationships with delivery teams, teaching them your brand culture so they deliver your brand as well as your food.
Expansion was a common theme throughout many of the talks, all accompanied by the caveat that growth must be considered, not rushed. Andreas Karlsson perfectly summarised this as he talked us through how Sticks ‘n’ Sushi prepared for their move to the UK by ‘working fast, with a great deal of patience’. Choosing the perfect site for their debut restaurant took time and deliberation as they sought out a similar audience to their successful Danish sites. Wimbledon appeared as the perfect choice, combining a neighbourhood feel with the flurry of tennis tourists, and so was born ‘Fish on Grass’.
Andreas spoke about the importance of adapting and adjusting a site to fit its unique audience, paying tribute to where you are. Each Sticks ‘n’ Sushi location is bespoke designed to complement its surroundings and suit its customer base.
Matthew Kirby agreed that flexibility of a brand can be the key to success as he spoke of the various opportunities and difficulties of trading in motorway service stations, Chozen Noodle has been designed to be just as successful out of 80sqm unit as a 12sqm. Realising that ‘no-one wants to eat noodles before 11am’ also played a big role in Chozen Noodle’s success. To optimise sales, Matthew recognised they would have to adapt the brand to suit this audience. The motorway station units now serve coffee and croissants in the morning, before switching to the traditional Chozen Noodle menu for lunch.
Ted Robinson admitted to the audience that they had never intended for Grind to serve cocktails, continuing the theme of adapting a brand to suit the market. It was the high London rent that initially inspired this idea, as they realised the financial benefits of staying open later. Ted enlightened us of their trial and error process as they first offered a separate day and night experience, before realising they were alienating both audiences simultaneously. Realising the potential of Grind was to deliver a hybridised offer has been the key to their success and awarded them their ‘genre busting’ title. Had they not realised this was not just an additional revenue stream, but in fact Grind’s USP, Ted is confident it would have never become the ever-growing successful brand it is today.
Gavin George took us on a journey through history as he introduced us to the ‘unknown knowns’ of the classic British Pub. By understanding and amplifying the obvious, and yet often undervalued joys of a pub, the Laine Pub Company has created an enhanced experience.
Laine Pub Company sites intensify the escape from reality by introducing immersive games, giant car racing tracks, and virtual reality headsets. Gavin also touched on the importance of choosing an appropriate location. His enhanced offerings are often suited to locations further out from town, as they require more costly space and their uniqueness will draw customers out to them.
A memorable analogy from Andreas’ talk put healthy business growth into perspective as he spoke of the importance of not aspiring to grow like a sumo wrestler. Yes, the sumo wrestlers grow faster and bigger than the rest of us, but they also die 20-30 years before us. So, if you want sustainable growth, you must ‘work fast, but with a great deal of patience’.
James Baer, of Amber Taverns, gave fascinating insight into the sustainability of the wet-led pub model. The strengths of the Amber Taverns’ management model lie in the mutual relationships with their operators.
Managers can focus on their customers, offering that personal touch punters crave from a community pub, as Amber Taverns take care of compliance and other timely admin duties. Offering value for money beer and full Sky/BT Sport packages are a couple of other ways James suggests the larger pub companies should be doing to help ensure a sustainable future for the tenanted wet-led pub.
Matt Coles, of Morar HPI, led us on a journey as he discussed fascinating trends in the next generation’s alcohol consumption. He introduced us to the different alcohol-free alternatives currently available, and predicted what it will take to become a market leader in this relatively untapped market.
Despite the majority of ‘lifestyle abstainers’ stating their teetotalism was to maintain a healthy lifestyle, sugary soda and fruit juices still ranked as the most popular alternative. This appeared not to be a pro-active choice, but the result of a lack of awareness of the various substitutes.
Matt concluded this thought-provoking session by predicting a rise in popularity of aromatic tonics with this new ‘just say no’ generation. By striking a balance of sweet and savoury tonics can equally be enjoyed with a meal or throughout an evening. The presentation of a tonic also plays to the adult soft drink market, as they are often served with herbs or fruit peel twists, giving the same impressive flair as an alcoholic cocktail equivalent.
A common mistake made by some operators, according to Zonal’s Peter Edwards, is to oversimplify the online booking process. Despite GDPR regulations, there is still a lot of data you can and should use to improve your customer’s experience just from their booking. We should make it easy for the customers, remember their patterns and speak their language.
A brief sales pitch amongst some fascinating insight, Peter spoke of the importance of having a back up system for phone reservations such as Zonal’s voice recognition software. On average, a site misses 10 phone calls a day resulting in not only lost sales but tarnished relationships with those potential customers.
James Hacon solidified this idea as he relayed his learnings from the Propel/ALMR Study Tour to New York, many brands have home-based freelance booking coordinators to ensure 100% of calls are taken and efficiently processed.
Table reservations should be synchronously used as a tool and a first impression, Peter concluded. A booking platform, online or by phone, can form the crucial first impression of your brand for a new customer, so it should provide the same experience as you would expect of your maître d’.
The last few years have seen an increased reliance on food banks, Angela Malik shared how the mayor of London is looking to tackle this as food becomes part of his social fairness and equality agenda. The new London Food Strategy will focus on improving the availability of quality food for all, at all stages of life. Impoverished areas see higher levels of obesity as individuals opt for cheap junk food options, the #AdEnough campaign is the mayor’s first step of many to tackle this.
It was a privilege to spend the day in the company of so many inspiring hospitality professionals. The talent and diversity within our industry was clear to see, and we look forward to seeing what is next on the horizon.