As a series of conference speakers made clear, collaboration will be crucial in rising to the challenges and opportunities the sector face as it moves into 2022. Here are 10 of the top takeaways from our inspiring speakers.
1 Consumer behaviour has changed
Peach 20/20 kicked off with a consumer-focused panel to discuss some of the new habits and preferences of diners and drinkers—and the good news is that their interest in eating and drinking out is undimmed. CGA group CEO Phil Tate said that while managed groups’ rolling 12-month sales were still just short of 2019 levels, a return to pre-pandemic patterns is in sight.
We’ve gone 18 months without our sector and it’s really reinvigorated consumers’ appetite for it.”
But consumers are also returning to venues with higher expectations than ever, he added. They are planning their nights out more carefully, and looking not just for good food and drink but for full experiences. The Alchemist CEO Simon Potts said trading had also become more evenly spread throughout the week: “Every evening is an occasion of some sort now.”
PizzaExpress’ chief customer officer Shadi Halliwell added that new channels like delivery, supermarket products and at-home meal kits were flourishing, and this, coupled with lockdowns, had helped to wean people off discount culture. “It’s helped us acquire customers rather than buy them.”
2 Tech take-up has soared
Several Peach 20/20 speakers noted a dramatic acceleration in the adoption of apps and other digital solutions, by operators and consumers alike. But with that have come challenges—like making sense of the flood of data that digital interaction generates. As Azzurri Group CEO Steve Holmes said:
People have more opportunities to digitally raise their hand… but the challenge is how we use that information to provide a better experience.”
And tech shouldn’t be used just for the sake of it, said Simon Potts: “You have to be sure it is making your business better.” Phil Tate agreed: “Data’s very important, but insight is essential… it has to be embedded in the business.”
3 It’s time to rise to the sustainability challenge…
An urgent session on sustainability agreed that it’s time for action as well as talk on hospitality’s environmental impacts. “The public mood has shifted on this… and it’s affecting our sector,” said Peach 20/20’s co-chair Peter Martin, pointing to data that show nearly three quarters (72%) of people take sustainability credentials into account when they choose where to eat out. Pressure is coming from within companies too, said The Restaurant Group CEO Andy Hornby. “If you’re not acting [on sustainability], your customers and your team won’t forgive you.”
To solve the problem, you first need to properly measure it by collecting data, he added. Don’t be put off by the size of the challenge, because small steps can add up to big change. “If we break it down into chunks, I’m optimistic we can make progress.”
4 … And it has to start with collaboration
Better sustainability has to be achieved collectively rather than individually, the panel agreed. That means working with partners across the supply chain—which accounts for most of the carbon footprint of pubs, bars and restaurants—and pushing them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “If we don’t find a way of working together with our suppliers, we won’t make progress,” said Peach Pub Company CEO Hamish Stoddart, who added businesses should share tips and best practice via initiatives like Net Zero Now. Seoul Bird founder Judy Joo focused on food waste, and ways to share it via charities like City Harvest, which redistribute over-supplies to those who need them. “You have to do this now—there’s no excuse,” she said.
5 Hospitality has a diversity problem…
The conference tackled another serious cross-industry issue: the lack of diversity, especially at senior levels. “It’s really important that we have this conversation now,” said Tortilla chair and Peach 20/20 co-chair Emma Woods. Greene King CEO Nick Mackenzie gave an honest appraisal of his business and the need to bring in people from a much wider variety of backgrounds.
Our priority is to create a business that’s properly inclusive… It’s the right thing to do, but it also improves the business as a whole.” He is starting by collecting diversity data, setting up employee-led groups and mentoring programmes—and above all listening to under-represented voices. “If you’re making this change it takes a long time, so you have to have a real strategy in place.”
6 … But together we can change it
The diversity panel also welcomed a couple of inspiring founders of organisations driving change: Tea Colaianni of WiHTL and Lorraine Copes of Be Inclusive Hospitality. As with sustainability, collaboration and harnessing the energy for change is crucial, Colaianni said: “All of us have a responsibility to go beyond signing charters and act… together we can make a difference and get a truly diverse industry.”
Copes suggested that surveys of employees are good starting points for change. “The reality is that if you’re a person of colour in hospitality you generally occupy a junior role,” she said. “Our mission is to accelerate race equity and equality across the sector… and getting comfortable talking about this is an important first step.” With CGA data showing that only a quarter (25%) of team members feel very confident that their employers can create an inclusive workplace, there is clearly a long way to go.
7 Talking to government with one voice works
Another area where cooperation and coordination work is in fighting the industry’s corner within government. This has been very effectively done through UKHospitality since Spring 2020,
CEO Kate Nicholls said constant vigilance was needed. “We’ve done well in making sure the government gets it… and the reason we got cut-through is that we had a united, strong voice.”
Issues where lobbying will be needed in the months ahead include the staff shortage and the need to get tourists and office workers back into cities—especially London. “Unless you change mindsets around international travel and business events, London’s recovery will be put back,” Nicholls said.
8 Understanding what brands mean is key to growth
An international session at Peach 20/20 heard from Nicolas Boudet, president international and SVP global development at Wingstop. He said brands with global ambitions need to know what their concepts mean to people, and adjust their positioning in each market. Relentless focus, and playing to your strengths—in this case chicken wings—are important too. “We’re not trying to be everything for everybody—we want to do our thing really well,” he said.
9 Growth and disruption go on
Despite recent challenges, hospitality businesses are as ambitious and innovative as ever; as Peter Martin put it: “There’s been no loss of appetite for expansion and doing new things.” A Change Makers panel spotlighted examples of that, like Manchester’s open-air food hall Escape to Freight Island, which won the Best Destination / New Opening at the 2021 Hero & Icon Awards. With 50,000 square feet and a turnover of 5,000 covers on a recent Saturday, director Justin Crawford called it “A big beast that needs a lot of energy… it’s like a rolling festival”—though he didn’t rule out further openings in the future.
Other forward-thinking operators on the panel included Mowgli founder and CEO Nisha Katona, who said her growing TV profile was secondary to building the business. “Growth comes down to your coffers… the TV can highlight the food, but it’s also representing people like me who don’t come to this industry with any pedigree, and I hope it encourages them to take the plunge [into hospitality]. If it incidentally helps Mowgli as well, that’s great.”
10 This is a people business
Wingstop’s VP international technology Jenni Doyle told the Change Makers session that tech, and the understanding it can provide, was instrumental in growing the business: “Our technology stack is really important to us… we test and learn a lot.” But all operators need to balance online engagement with human interaction.
Eve Bugler, COO of Loungers, which has seen a surge in at-table app ordering and payment, said: “The change in behaviour is exciting… but the challenge is how to recreate the warmth of hospitality in the digital space.”
This was a reminder that hospitality is first and foremost a people industry. “We sometimes resist the move to digital ordering, because people want human contact… there’s a balance to be had between digital and service from a human being,” said Rachel Belam, head of food and beverage leasing at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield. To achieve that, businesses need to hire great teams, said Eve Bugler. “We need to stop being so apologetic about working in our industry, and promote it as a great place to be.”
For more news and insights from Peach 20/20, click here.