Owners' & operators' forum notes

Notes from our virtual forums

3 Novermber 2021

Agenda

- Insight & trading update;

Christmas party bookings, Reduced trading days, Pet policy.

- Fundamental change to the fresh food experience.

- Sustainability.

- Get together & drinks (London, 24th November @ 4pm).

Insight & trading update

After a storming summer allowing most to "put some money in the bank", the latest overview on trading from the Collection is that "it's fine, but weird times, and everything feels like hard work". With costs going up everywhere, not just in the UK but overseas too, where are the price points going to end up? Especially with VAT rates, the consequence will be inflated costs passed directly to our customers. Having to put prices up 'a little' already, where London based businesses may be able to pass this cost on to customers somewhat easier, our pubs and inns being predominantly located in the countryside are mush more likely to notice the effects.

Customer demand is still strong and trade is steady for both accommodation and F&B. The Pheasant at Neenton, currently running at a 3 week lead time to get a table booking, but having to turn away business due to staffing while they continue to operate with 2 chefs when they need 4. Also closing off OTAs not offering value for the commission they charge, and focus is being more selective with partners for the foreseeable.

Christmas party bookings

Suzie at Peach Pubs seeing their room bookings remain busy, but Christmas party season seems to be very different this year as Corporate party bookings are slow. Especially with big parties and takeovers, they are having to be more creative with their marketing to focus on 'departments', as feedback is concerned for whole business get together could result in large scale isolations with covid outbreaks.

Reduced trading days?

Ideally everyone would have a bigger staff pool, to allow for rest to reduce fatigue and stress in the teams, but the reality for now is continued difficulties being recruitment and retention of staff, especially chefs.

Dan at the Beckford Group shared how they took a non profit making site, to now making a profit, by closing the doors for 2 days a week - a reduced trading model compresses everything, from staff rotas, resting the teams, to even allowing for extra in salaries. This seems to be an occurring theme, with Sam closing both the Crab & Lobster and Purchases on Monday and Tuesday nights, and closing the Halfway Bridge from Sunday to Tuesday, plus shutting Christmas eve and day when historically they remained open.

This has been received well by the staff, who are welcoming the break as it allows them to be off at the same time and glad to be able to spend with their families after a busy summer.

Pet policy

With dog ownership having risen in lockdown, more sites are looking at accepting pets in the main bar and some bedrooms. Feedback from the forum for those that have updated their policies to allow for dogs, have seen a rise in positive reviews online as a direct result.

And for those having already accepted dogs, the majority charge £10-15 to cover additional cleaning costs, and some restrict to selected bedrooms that have hard floors specifically to accommodate. But have never really heard of any big issues with pets, and any minor issues are dealt with at the time.

Free sausage for doggie breakfast? Beds in rooms (or ask them to bring their own)? Whatever the offering -"if you're going to do it, like everything, do it well" Dan.

David has been busy reviewing all of the Epicurean Collection website entries to make sure they are up to date and showcasing your latest offerings. Whether you've gone to the extremes of adding more bedrooms, or simply updated your pet policy, make sure to keep us updated. Make sure to check out your entry and get in touch (david@epicurean.club).


Fundamental change to fresh food experience

There is a growing segmentation in the hospitality industry - casual dining and the reliance on centralised kitchens and food as a commodity is fundamentally different to the fresh, local, bespoke experience offered by the Collection. And these high street chains are no longer cheap. As Dan noted, his local curry house is now very expensive - and that is using mass produced sauces; Michelin starred kitchens have larger teams than a high end pub, but the process and structural costs are not too dissimilar - and they command a huge price tag.

As prices begin to naturally align to the offer - taking into account the increased costs of preparation, ingredients, rising wage and utility costs and so on - communicating the value proposition will become even more important.

Pubs and inns have always been a cornerstone of the local community; they support local communities and economies. As Sam noted, his message to everyone is that he is just a custodian of his pubs, operating them for the local community. When it changes hands, someone else will look after it, but the pubs will still be around long after he is gone.

The message needs to focus on this love for the local and custodial spirit. And with that, it is the bespoke offering of the food, the love, care and attention to detail that goes into the entire offering - from drinks and food, to the building, gardens and service - passion and pride.

By aligning with the correct partners and brands whose audiences share a similar understanding of the value proposition and similar desires, we will all be able to grow this share of the market and ensure that guests understand and are willing to pay for the quality offering.


Sustainability

None of us want waste, that's a key part of daily operations already. But looking at the near future where we are going to see sustainability being a real focus in the hospitality sector. Consensus from the forum is we as a collective need to be forward thinking to set ourselves up to be ahead of the curve and start working in the right way. From buying produce sourced within a 25 mile radius, listing the right drink brands in the bars, to cleaning products that are eco-friendly - "being weary of those self-claiming they are eco-friendly, making sure they actually do the job at hand" John.

Electric vehicle charging points are still being considered across the Collection, general thoughts are holding back for now as the technology advances mean an installation could be out of date in a couple of years and at a cost of circa. £2.5k it's a large investment. However, there are options that offer free charging point packages including installation and kickback (email us to find out more: marketplace@epicurean.club)

Epicurean Club have had discussions with the University of Bristol to provide the Kitemark for b-corp pubs with rooms, including the support for our pubs to achieve this.


Next forum call

Our very first in person forum - casual meeting and drinks!

- 24th November @ 4.00pm

- Belfour St Barts, London

Participants

John Pickup (Pheasant at Neenton)​, Dan Brod (Beckford Group), Alex Clarke (Red Lion, Hinxton and Black Bull, Balsham), Suzie Ayling (The Peach Pub Company), Sam Bakose (The Sussex Pub Company), Matt Parry-Hann (The Epicurean Club)​, Kezia Miller (The Epicurean Club)​, David Hancock (The Epicurean Club), Alice Gabriel (The Epicurean Club)​, Tom Benfield (The Epicurean Club),Sofia Lukies (The Epicurean Club)

Apologies

Edmund Inkin (EatDrinkSleep)​, Michael Ibbotson (The Durham Ox), Thomas Robinson (Rose and Crown), Victor Buchanan (White Swan Inn, Pickering)

Previous call notes