“I’ve got good news and bad news…which would you like first?”
We all know it takes a special kind of psychopath to ask for the bad news ahead of the good, but today’s Arena ‘From Re-Opening Roadmap to Recovery’ webinar really was a tale of two acts, top-loaded with bad, but tinged with some thumbs-to-the-troposphere optimism, arriving a little while after the interval.
My clumsy example falls down a little, as proceedings were truncated by a sobering encore. So, let me rephrase: “I’ve got bad news, encouraging news, and moderately bad news-that-left-unchecked-could-potentially-spiral-into-terrible-news…which would you like first?”
Let’s start with the doom and gloom – things have been bad. Very bad. And CGA’s Director of Hospitality Operators and Food, EMEA, Karl Chessell – who it must be said is anything but gloomy or doom-y – was here to give us the bald facts.
His and CGA’s analysis of UK business leaders had uncovered that there were 9,397 fewer openings in 2020 when compared with the previous year. By the end of 2021, operators are also predicting marked shortages in both back of house and front of house staff, an issue that is already beginning to bite for the delegates on Arena’s panel, Mel Marriott, managing director of Darwin & Wallace bars and Will Lees-Jones, managing director of JW Lees Brewery (so much so that Arena is planning to dedicate an entire webinar to the subject in the coming months).
Both Will and Mel talked of “knackered” teams, and a battle for staffing with competitors offering little more than a pound an hour as a fillip – a poaching practice that Will attested would lead to a “staffing nightmare”. Mel surmised that the end of the furlough scheme in autumn could mean greater clamour for hospitality jobs but added that currently “we need a bigger supply of people”. Both bemoaned Brexit with Will calling it “a disaster” and Mel talking of “horrendous” import and export logistics leading to shortages for things like cocktail ingredients and bottles of rose wine.
On technology and the rise of table service via apps, Mel was sanguine, saying: “Our [ordering] app has saved our bacon, and meant we can operate with fewer staff in busier periods…” while Will sounded a cautionary note, adding: “I’m all for technology but if you really like table service – and lots of our customers clearly do – you’re going to have to pay a little more for it”.
The panel agreed that this is a precarious point in the pandemic, with time between the originally planned freedom day of June 21st and the hastily rescheduled July 19th being described as “business critical” for so many. There is positivity, however. CGA’s Karl spoke of 4 in 5 operators feeling optimistic about the next 12 months of trading – the highest number for more than 6 years. Some 33% of consumers reportedly now feel more optimistic than they did a year ago, with 27% pledging to go out more vs. pre-Covid, and 65% coming to the single-Dad-style realisation that they must ‘live more in the moment’ than they did before this hell storm erupted. All good news for hospitality. And while I wouldn’t necessarily accuse Will and Mel of sunny over-optimism, their realistic enthusiasm and clear love for an industry that has had to roll with its fair share of punches lately really shone through, as did Karl’s assertion that “fresh ideas and fresh investment will undoubtedly contribute to the growth and success of the industry moving forward”.
It’s clear that we’re not out of the woods yet and that a significant sting in the tail is almost certainly around the corner. The rents moratorium was described as “kicking the can down the road” and could lead to further closures, while the staffing issue could turn into a full-blown crisis, not just because of Brexit but also challenges around face-to-face training in culinary colleges and mass disruption in the lives of university students, whose reliance on hospitality jobs is well documented.
Karl was good enough to leave us with some short, medium and long term trends, courtesy of CGA and they made for interesting reading.
- Pedestrianisation of streets and al fresco dining – Once just the preserve of Alan Partridge, councils and operators have seen eye to eye on pedestrianisation, with London’s Soho, Manchester’s Deansgate and Edinburgh’s George Street eschewing traffic for a more continental feel. Massively weather dependent, however. How many of us will be sinking Aperol in the snow come February, unless it’s in a large and rather expensive heated outdoor hut – the rise in prevalence of which has been marked since mid 2020 and will continue to grow, albeit in the short term.
- Localisation – 80% of consumers are initially focusing their visits to pubs and restaurants within reasonable walking distance (25 minutes). This is greatly benefitting suburban operators who in turn are adapting their menus to include more premium food and drink.
- Growing appeal for non-traditional dayparts like brunch and afternoon tea.
- Sustained demand for omnichannel opportunities – brands with decent equity branching out into the worlds of delivery, retail and foodservice.
- Sustainability – now more than ever, people care more about what they eat, about ingredients, food miles, about their own personal impact on the climate and that of their chosen hospitality outlet.
Thanks to Arena for another great webinar. To find out more about Arena and other forthcoming events visit https://arena.org.uk/