A host of tireless restaurant operators, expert hospitality gurus and innovative food brands all descended on ExCel London last week for the lunch! and Casual Dining Show 2022, two of the biggest events in the industry’s calendar.
We were there demoing our digital ordering kiosks – you might even have scored a pair of coveted Vita Mojo socks if you were lucky.
We’re passing on three key insights we learnt from talks throughout both shows. They’ll give you a peek into the mindset of operators and the state of the industry during a particularly turbulent time.
1: There’s “lots of s*it going on”…
…but “fixing our mindset to the future” is the way through it for the industry. That’s from Pizza Pilgrim’s head of operations, Charlie Warren.
There was a golden thread of optimism running through the show’s panels, talks and interviews, but there was no hiding the shared experience of an industry in the middle of a tough time. According to Kate Nicholls – OBE and CEO of UKHospitality – the industry as a whole is at its “lowest ebb right now”. Skyrocketing energy bills, rent, price of goods and wage inflation are squeezing one end of the vice, with decreased spending and footfall from customers squeezing the other.
But Nicholls’ talk – headlined Unleashing Hospitality – reflected her confidence in the industry bouncing back from this low ebb. She rounded off by reiterating that by future proofing, and given the right support from the government, hospitality could “get back to delivering 3% growth, and reinvigorating communities and the national economy.”
There were similar sentiments of looking ahead and powering through elsewhere in the show. Peter Martin, founder of Peach 20/20, stressed the importance of valuing customer experience during economic hardship. Slim Chicken UK’s head of operations Emily Hawkley also emphasised that “there’s no point trying to fit what we’ve done before into the modern world”.
The stats shared by experts throughout the show told the same story of tough times versus optimism:
83% of business leaders expect a drop in footfall in the latter half of 2022
Footfall increased by up to 90% in August 2022
20% of revenue is being lost because of the labour shortage
The industry is growing at over double the rate of the general economy
Long story short? Florian de Chezelles, Co-Founder of The Salad Project put it simply:
2. Labour is hitting the industry hard
Emerging as the star of the show that no-one really invited was the labour shortage.
Kate Nicholls shared that restaurants are losing out on up to 20% revenue thanks to a shortage of staff. That’s a cripplingly high number that’s constraining growth for an industry in dire need of it.
From a high-level perspective, operators agreed on two significant issues feeding the shortage.
Firstly, the hard to swallow fact is that people don’t want to work in hospitality right now. According to Nicholls, only one in five restaurant workers would recommend a job in the industry. Richard Latham – Regional Director of TGI Fridays – stressed that the biggest challenge right now is a struggle to find “quality people that want to join the brand.”
The answer? An industry-wide effort to improve the reputation of hospitality as a viable and long-term career option; that’s according to Shereen Ritchie, former Managing Director of LEON. Nicholls agreed, supporting a push in the media to change the narrative around the value of hospitality as a career.
The second problem is retention, and operators were in agreement that the answer lies in workplace culture and wellbeing.
Along with Charlie Warren and Richard Latham, Operations Manager at The Rum Kitchen Joanna Wojcik stressed the importance of looking after staff during The Restaurant Operations Panel. When asked about their main priority as leaders right now, all three agreed that building culture is at the top of their list. Warren emphasised that workplace culture “propels well-being”, and can be essential in making your staff feel valued, a big help with retention.
Nicholls echoed the importance of taking care of staff mental health, especially within the stressful, uncertain environment they’re working in right now. She also recommended that operators re-evaluate the way they do things to ensure they’re making life as easy as possible. That can mean rethinking culture or investing in tech that simplifies tasks.
When John Brooks – Operations Manager at Leon – was asked what advice he’d give to other leaders in the industry, his answer was simple: “Make your people feel valued.”
3. Tech solutions need to enable, not distract
There were plenty of lively discussions about the place of tech in the current landscape throughout the show. The importance of investing in holistic tech solutions that save time and automate processes was brought up consistently. As a complete digital ordering and kitchen management platform, this was music to our ears.
Delivering a perfect experience is crucial at a time when customers are having to be more choosy about how they spend. Tech’s place in this is to “automate the mundane” rather than creating more work according to Kate Nicholls, leaving your staff free to focus on more important tasks.
Brands at the cutting edge of hospitality tech also emphasised the benefits of placing value on customer experience whilst embracing digital. The co-founder of HOP – early adopters of the Vita Mojo kiosks – Paul Hopper explained how they went from seven tills to zero. This change was fully embraced by their customers thanks to the careful consideration of journey.
47% of business leaders plan to increase investment in tech in 2022
57% of customers believe tech advancements will improve their experience
Stats from Peter Martin ‘The State We’re In…And What Do To About It’
Operators agreed that embracing digital was crucial in making it through the industry’s low ebb, with Richard Latham admitting he’s sometimes “stunned” by the archaic systems that certain other brands use. TGI Fridays have seen the value of digital through their ordering app, which has increased repeat spend “by 35% at least.”
Charlie Warren rounded off The Operators Panel by alluding to the tendency of tech to get over complicated and inefficient. “The question,” she said, “is how can we make it more of a one stop shop?”.
Restaurant tech can be a one stop shop, and it can work holistically with your operation. We should know, we built it.
Curious to learn more? Get in touch for a chat.