Here are ten insights from the expert speakers.
1 ‘People still want to go out’
CGA by NIQ’s data gives us some positive omens for the year ahead. The CGA RSM Hospitality Business Tracker shows 13 months of like-for-like sales growth in a row for managed groups, and the Business Confidence Survey from CGA and Fourth has recorded a steady rise in optimism. Costs are still high and some businesses remain vulnerable. But the most encouraging sign is that consumers are eager to spend when they can. Peter Martin said: “People hate being miserable—they want to go out… we have good demand.”
2 ‘It’s an asymmetric market’
Peach 20/20 founder Peter Martin kicked off the Summit with a tone of cautious confidence about the future. He called it “an asymmetric market” with growing gaps between the winners and losers. The Hospitality Market Monitor from CGA by NIQ shows indies have struggled, bearing the brunt of a 31% fall in Britain’s licensed premises in 20 years, while well-resourced groups have stemmed their losses since Covid. “Brands with scale are doing much better… they’ve got more financial resilience to get through the difficult times,” Martin said.
3 ‘F&B is outperforming the economy’
There were more grounds for guarded optimism in an overview from Ross Walker, chief UK economist and co-head of global economics at NatWest Markets. GDP is flatlining and we may get a mild recession in the first half of 2024. However, with inflation and interest rates likely to have peaked, spending confidence should pick up. What’s more, hospitality is ahead of the curve. “The F&B sector has been outperforming the economy as a whole… consumers haven’t fundamentally changed their behaviour [of eating and drinking out],” Walker said.
4 ‘It’s tough out there… but deals are still being done’
Panellists at a session on funding for growth agreed that it’s not easy to secure investment and borrowing. “It’s definitely tough out there… there are a lot of reasons not to invest in the UK right now,” said Ashton Crosby, co-founder and MD of Capdesia. “But deals are still being done… [and] valuations are somewhat more sensible than they were a few years ago.” Seasoned investors know it’s still a great place to be, said Sarah Willingham, CEO of Nightcap PLC. “Finding new money is harder than ever… The people who are picking up the phone are the ones who have been around the block.”
5 ‘A shake-out brings opportunities’
The best growth plans are organic, the panel decided. “It’s all about growing EBITDA, like-for-likes and people. Cash is king,” said Rod McKie, executive chair of New World Trading Company and non-executive chair at Megan’s. For distinctive and well-run concepts, the future is bright. “I’m a natural optimist… it’s not all doom and gloom. We’ve been through so much trauma that we’re really match fit-now,” said Jane O’Riordan, chair of Caravan, Turtle Bay and Red Engine. And problems for some businesses mean potential for others, said Chris Miller, founder and CEO of White Rabbit Projects. “We’re going to see more shake-out… but that leaves a lot of empty units and a host of opportunities for new concepts doing exciting things.”
6 ‘Restaurateurs are the ultimate entrepreneurs’
The Summit’s head-to-head with Jack Gibbons, CEO of FB Society and one of America’s top restaurant and bar leaders, highlighted the dynamism of hospitality on both sides of the Atlantic. “Restaurateurs are the ultimate entrepreneurs… we deserve a lot more credit than we get.” We should all remember how exciting it is to grow a business and travel to gather ideas, he added. “The journey is always more important than the destination. If you enjoy the journey, that’ll be the best part of your experience.” British leaders wanting inspiration from the US can sign up for the Atlantic Club’s next Stateside tour, in Nashville in May.
7 ‘Hire people smarter than you’
Jack Gibbons shared some of his secrets of success, including a relentless focus on the fundamentals of hospitality, a culture of continuing improvement and good recruitment. “Always try to hire people smarter than you…it’s going to raise the performance quality of everyone around you.” He advised start-ups to incubate their concepts in food halls and suggested established businesses should expand directly overseas rather than through franchise. “If you can get the right returns then you’ll never have to franchise, because money will flow to you.”
8 ‘Businesses won’t get certainty for a while’
A day after Suella Braverman left government and David Cameron returned to it, the politics slot of the Summit had plenty to talk about. Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality, highlighted big issues to watch—especially business rates relief and reform—but said turmoil was likely to continue. “Every business wants certainty, but we’re not going to get that for a while.” UKH continues to lobby hard on the sector’s behalf but needs all businesses to sign up and strengthen its hand. “We need to get hospitality properly recognised and not seen as a cinderella industry,” Nicholls said. “We create the bullets to fire—we just need you to pull the trigger.”
9 ‘Looking after our people is key’
The Peach 20/20 Leaders Summit wrapped with a panel of leaders tackling two big people issues: recruitment and consumer habits. Attitudes to work have changed since Covid, and businesses need to work harder than ever to retain top talent, said Sunaina Sethi, co-founder and people director at JKS Restaurants. “Knowing how to look after people and internal progression are so key now.” Ed Davenport, founder of Incipio Group, mentioned the need to improve the sector’s reputation for careers. “People have got to enjoy where they work—that’s pivotal… We need to show them how great hospitality is as a place to work,” he said. Marcello Distefano, MD of the San Carlo group, agreed: “We need to educate people about how big the journey can be in hospitality and what you can achieve.”
10 ‘We need to coax people out’
The leaders panel also looked at big shifts in consumer behaviour, like going out earlier in the day, the growth of Saturday visits ahead of Friday and a squeeze on young people’s spending. Helen Charlesworth, MD of the Stonegate Group, said: “The 18 to 25 late-night market is tough and the student pound isn’t going as far… we’re trying to create that sense of FOMO and coax them off the couch.” To do that, venues need to deliver consistently high quality and good value experiences, said Ed Davenport. “Customers need to be reassured they’ll get memorable moments.”
For more news and insights from the Peach 20/20 Leaders Summit, click here.