What We Learned at the Propel Multi-Club March Conference

What We Learned at the Propel Multi-Club March Conference

Last Wednesday we were lucky enough to sponsor the Propel Multi-Club March 2018 Conference. With a line-up of industry experts delivering talks on a variety of topics, we were eager to hear what they had to say.

The talks were of a high quality, with speakers combining their experiences with opinion on the current market and what the future holds. The event was chaired by Propel’s very own Paul Charity, whose questions to the speakers gave us plenty to think about. Here are the key points that we took home with us.


Nervous Time for Hospitality


With stories of struggles within the casual dining sector prevalent in day to day news, it was right that the day kicked-off with a talk on the current challenges and opportunities in the market.

Discounts, high levels of competition, and business rates were reoccurring themes highlighted by speakers as causes of the challenges we are experiencing within casual dining. As most people are aware of the challenges being faced, Ian Edward, an expert on mergers and acquisitions, shared his knowledge on what actions businesses should take to counter them.

With his working background, Ian focused on how an organisation should best prepare to sell. Ian advised to ‘cut or improve their tail of failing sites’ to attract investors or buyers to purchase a healthier business. With more and more competition in the sector, high streets are becoming heavily congested with casual dining sites. However, Ian was full of praise for S4Labour client, Loungers, commenting on how they have bucked the trend by opening sites in areas overlooked, areas such as the Market town of Hinckley.




There is no doubt that Deliveroo has impacted the hospitality sector, whet her it has been for better or for worse was up for discussion at the Propel Multi-Club Conference. Deliveroo was mentioned by many of the speakers, sharing stories of their experience with the food delivery company. James Hacon, Group Brand Strategy Director at Thai Leisure Group, spoke highly of Deliveroo and the positive effect that it’s had on their businesses. James explained that Thai Leisure Group offer Deliveroo drivers free food in an effort to keep them close to their venues, leading to improved delivery time and service; many people in the room seemed keen to take his advice on-board. On the other hand, in a discussion with Propel’s Paul Charity, chairman of Mitchells and Butlers, Bob Ivell, argued that Deliveroo couldn’t work in many of their sites, such as the ever-growing Miller and Carter steak restaurant, as you can’t transport a steak as easily as a pizza.



Yasha Estraikh, of Piper.

Yasha Estraikh, of investment company, Piper, reported on the findings of an exclusive survey of UK food service operators, which  revealed the effects of the growth in food delivery on their businesses. Overall, reading of the survey was not happy. The main issue operators found with Deliveroo was the cost; Deliveroo take around 30% on all food they deliver, resulting in very little left for the operator. Other issues included, such as loss in restaurant footfall and drivers being disruptive when collecting food, ruining customer experience in the restaurant. Despite the negativity, there were positives raised, such as the increase in breakfast sales – particularly on the weekend.


Importance of Cost Control


After a delicious lunch, we all returned to our seats for a talk by Tim Barrett, analyst at Numis, on the unprecedented current cost environment in the food service sector. Tim began by asking the audience to raise their hand if their labour costs had risen within the last 12 months, and nearly everyone in the room raised their hand.

Tim highlighted the introduction of Business Rates, National Living Wage, and the Brexit result as causes of a significant rise in costs across the sector leading to many businesses struggling or closing.

Despite the gloomy nature of the topic, Tim was hopeful for the near future. He urged operators to avoid the common inclination to increase food and drink prices for customers to regain profit margins as this can have a negative effect on business. Instead, Tim suggested operators should look to cut costs where possible, with a strong nod towards labour scheduling systems, such as S4Labour, as a solution to gaining control of business costs.


Franchise and Growth


Continuing the theme of optimism and growth, we enjoyed talks from Nick Taplin, Chief Executive of Black and White Hospitality, and Max Hilton Jenvey, Global Head of Franchise for Chopstix.

Both speakers emphasised the importance of branding in their growth. Max told the story of how Chopstix revolutionised their in-store appearance and branding, to make themselves more attractive to the customer and a popular proposition for a potential franchisee. Both Max and Nick stressed the importance of uniqueness and simplicity in their product; by providing a relatively simply offering, delivered at a high standard, leading them to stand out in a crowded market, gain higher customer satisfaction, and keep control of their costs. 

Nick, business partner of Marco Pierre White, spoke enthusiastically about bringing destination restaurants back into hotels. Much like Loungers bucking the trend of site location, Nick wants to keep the Marco Pierre White restaurants off the high street, and in doing so, differentiates their restaurants from other chains. The success of this and their overall brand was evident, their sites are performing well, their books are selling, and a film about Marco’s life is set to be released in 2019. 


Max Hilton Jenvey speaking about the franchise model of Chopstix.


The Beauty of British Hospitality 


With great minds sharing their experience and knowledge of the sector, it was hard to not feel a sense of pride and excitement about British hospitality. Sarah Bridge, founder of the aLadyofLeisure.com, shared her fondest memories of her travels across the UK. Sarah stressed the importance of operators striking the right balance between going the extra-mile and being overly-attentive. For example, we were told the story of when she a swarm of bees entered her room at the Manor House, Castle Combe, causing distress, she was moved to another room, and later found in there the gift of two jars of honey from their very own hive with a cute message saying that ‘we (the bees) are sorry we disturbed you earlier. Next time you visit we promise to bee-have!’. It was a pleasure to see that the ‘personal touch’ is still alive within British Hospitality. 

We were lucky to hear Paul Wells, Chairman of Charles Wells, recount the journey of the Charles Wells pub estate. What was pleasing to learn from Paul, was that despite some of the challenges Charles Wells has experienced in the past, they had undergone European expansion, their family values remained, and they maintained a focus on localism. Paul spoke passionately about their journey of opening pubs across France; showing how the core aspects of British pubs, such as good quality cask ales, were popular across the pond. Paul got us excited for the future of Charles Wells, hinting at more experience based culinary experiences within sites, such as their pizza, pots, and pints offering, bringing the Kitchen into the restaurant.

With stories of struggles within the casual dining sector rife within the news at the moment, it would have been wrong for speakers to overlook challenges and issues. However, the overall message was that we are in the latter phase of the storm that we are presently enduring, and operators should be starting to look up again. It was clear that the people in the room were looking to achieve tighter management of their businesses, which would lessen the effects of a challenging market. Despite the current nervousness in the sector, talks on growth, branding, and franchising certainly whetted the appetite for the future of hospitality.



What We Learned at the Propel Multi-Club March Conference

Our Advice On How To Fall In Love With Valentine’s Day

Hospitality venues can look forward to Valentine’s Day as an opportunity for increased footfall and boosted sales. However, Valentine’s Day isn’t always a day that managers love. Here’s our advice on how to make this year’s event a success.
Boost Sales

Valentine’s Day is a great way for operators to drive increased sales. Being a special occasion, food menus should be specially made for the day. Create one-off dishes and consider adding more expensive ingredients to menu items that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to serve. Bubbles must be on the menu, obviously displayed to the customer, and possibly part of a promotional offer. Ensure that you offer a range of sparkling wine, from accessible prosecco to high-end champagne. This will allow you to quench the thirst of your guests’ cork-popping desires, whilst not pricing them out of the experience.

Don’t be afraid to over-do the site atmosphere – guests will want something special. Dim the lights, ensure tables have lit candles, play appropriate music, and don’t shy away from clichéd rose petals.

As customers will be willing to spend the extra cash on Valentine’s Day, you should make sure that they receive the highest level of service on the night. This year Valentine’s Day falls on a Wednesday, so it’s important to staff appropriately for the increase in sales. You may have to rota members of your team on for the Wednesday night which may go against their usual working hours. Aim to try and get tables filled via prior reservation so that you can deploy the correct number of front and back of house staff to deliver the best level of service.

See how S4Labour can help you to rota the right staff numbers on to deliver great customer service and not over-staff during busy periods.

Help your staff to be best prepared for the night. They need to be looking their best and working their hardest to deliver memorable customer service. Make sure that they have manageable table areas, don’t rush their customers, and upsell as much as they can. Guests will be more likely to tip generously on Valentine’s Day and this can be a great incentive for your staff to be on top-form.

Despite the apparent opportunity for increased revenues, Valentine’s Day can be a tough date for some operators. For many it proves to be hard work for not a lot of return. Seating tables of two can limit the numbers of covers that most restaurants can serve in a night, especially if your site has fixed, larger tables. Because of this, it’s important that reservations are staggered so that guests aren’t rushed, but still optimising covers. 

Take a Different Approach

Know your market, don’t feel obliged to put on a dining experience if that’s not what you specialise in and if it’s not what your customers are looking for. There are two big-ticket Champions League football matches being played on Valentine’s Day this year, Porto v Liverpool and Real Madrid v PSG. With many pubs marketing a Valentine’s Day themed evening, publicans may find big profits from marketing themselves as a destination away from the schmoozing and a home for exciting football and great beer.

If you’re worried about not standing out this Valentine’s Day, then give something different a try. Hosting a special event could boost footfall in your site and leave lasting memories with your customers. A speed-dating event on Valentine’s Day could be an exciting and different way to spend the 14th February for those who otherwise wouldn’t partake in the festivities.

S4Labour’s event tool is a great way to ensure that you have the right people, in the right place, at the right time to deliver great customer service and not running the risk of over-staffing.

With hospitality sites being ideal destinations for couples on Valentine’s Day, it is important that you market yourselves well. Social media campaigns and promotional offers will be sure to help you get numbers through the door and drive sales, whether you plan to offer nothing but romance, or an alternative evening’s entertainment.


What We Learned at the Propel Multi-Club March Conference

Our Advice for Business Success During Dry January

After a few too many pigs in blankets and countless celebratory Christmas drinks, January is viewed by many as a chance to kick-start a healthier lifestyle and reduce spending on food and drink after an indulgent festive period.  

Over 3 million people have said that they plan to give up alcohol during the first month of 2018 as part of Dry January: a government-backed initiative to reduce the UK’s alcohol consumption. Dry January took-off in 2013, aiming to improve people’s health, reduce the amount of money spent on alcohol, raise awareness of the negative effects of alcohol consumption, and fundraise for their partner charities.

With almost a fifth of British adults pledging to avoid alcohol, and many more counting their pennies, January can be a difficult month for hospitality operators. After a busy December, footfall and sales will be reduced in most sites, but with intelligent management, this time of year does not have to be damaging for your business.

To combat a likely decline in visitor numbers, operators must consider fresh strategies to bring customers through the door.

The average Brit is predicted to spend more than £200 on alcohol during the week prior to Christmas, meaning consumers’ purse-strings are likely to be tightened in January. Attracting customers into your sites with promotions and entertainment is key to minimising the effects of the looming January lull.

Attractive promotions can provide an incentive to venture out of the house for food and drink, even when cost-saving is a high priority. Modelling their offer on January sales in department stores, JD Wetherspoon have offered a price reduction on a variety of their alcoholic and soft drinks from 3rd-8th January for the last fifteen years, helping to keep the January blues at bay for their 900 sites.

As well as Dry January, general trends suggest that more and more people are turning away from alcohol. Research predicts that consumers will choose soft drinks over alcoholic drinks, even during the Christmas period. However, a third of consumers don’t think that there are enough premium soft drinks available at pubs, bars, and restaurants. With a rising demand, along with the typically high yield that soft drinks bring, licensees can offset the effects of Dry January by increasing the range of non-alcoholic drinks available.

Avoiding alcohol doesn’t require losing the taste and atmosphere that comes with drinking out. No or low alcohol is the fastest growing category in beer, with sales doubling in the last ten years. Mocktails can also be a great way to boost January sales, providing customers with exciting tastes without the guilt that alcoholic cocktails may bring.

Rising numbers of health-conscious consumers, along with those suffering from Christmas guilt and possessing hopeful New Year’s resolutions, mean that it is important to increase the number of healthy dishes, such as salads, on the menu. Being high-yield menu items, these dishes are also attractive for managers looking to boost profit margins in January. However, many customers still want warm and indulgent food during the winter months, so it is important to offer balanced menus.

2017 saw a rise in entertainment-led food and drink venues such as escape rooms and mini golf bars. In addition to revising food and drink offers, a great way to boost sales this January would be to host a range of events, from movie nights to live comedy, to convince customers to venture out to your site.

S4 Labour’s event feature is a great way to ensure that labour deployment remains correct during periods of unfamiliar trading patterns that events may cause; this will lead to the smooth running of events and happy customers.

It is important that news of any January promotions and events is shared on social media, as this is a great way to get people through the door. Show off the exciting new products/events that you’ve got on in January with #TryJanuary, the Morning Advertiser’s campaign which looks to rebel against the idea that January will be a quiet month for hospitality. With most operators now using social media to market themselves, failure to do so can leave you behind.    

As well as driving increased sales through new products and events, managers can also boost January’s profitability by turning their attention to internal processes to increase efficiency 

Effective labour scheduling is the number one way for managers to increase efficiency in January. Managers should consider greater use of split-shifts, staggered start times, and shorter shifts. The effects to trading patterns brought on by trends such as Dry January and healthier eating require greater consideration of labour deployment within sites. With the expected fall in late-night drinks sales, managers might want to consider redeploying staff from the bar to other areas of the business or from evenings to daytime hours.

S4Labour provides a site’s previous year’s food and drink sales. This feature acts as an advisor to a manager when forecasting their sales, leading to the S4Labour graph suggesting labour deployment that will be reflective of January trading patterns. By splitting sales by food and drink, the graph reflects changes to requirements by trading area.

Encouraging staff to upsell in January will make a big difference to business. With customers less keen to part with their money in January, it is important that staff are active in driving sales. A good way to encourage staff to upsell is to implement a reward scheme for the number of starters and desserts sold with main dishes during busy food-led periods of trading e.g. a Sunday afternoon. Not only will this increase staff interaction with customers, leading to greater customer experience, but will also encourage staff to play their part in boosting revenue.  

January is a good time to focus on tasks that are not directly linked to serving customers. With key dates such as Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and Easter fast approaching, January provides a great opportunity to get ahead with the planning and marketing of events and promotions on social media. This preparation will help to boost sales after a quiet start to the year. As well as preparation, a quiet trading period will provide a good opportunity to catch-up on any tasks, such as cleaning and décor work, that may need doing after a busy festive period.  

Whilst January may be a daunting time for many operators, it has the potential to be a healthy month for the business as well as the customer. The introduction of new and exciting items on the menu that cater for a health-conscious market, alongside attractive events, will allow hospitality venues to remain appealing during the first month of 2018. An active presence on social media with effective marketing and planning will ensure that the hard work to boost January sales won’t go unnoticed.

Get in touch today to find out more about how S4Labour can promote the health of your business in January and all your round.