In a world of clickbait headlines and sensationalised news, it seems for some restaurant critics the way to join in the game is to review mass-market brands. I’m sure their editors love no more than a big high-street name getting slated with the ferocity and disdain their readers love, and in their minds the patrons of such run-of-the-mill establishments would hardly understand, writes James Hacon.
Mass-market brands are such an easy target one feels compelled to question the motives of reviewers.
I take great exception to the unfair way some of these critics take aim at mass-market brands. Not because I can’t relate to some of the points being raised but because it’s often not put in context of the market that branded outlets are seeking to serve. It’s easy to be class-ist and elitist when visiting high-end restaurants several times a month but you’ve got to remember the majority of the population don’t visit this type of venue. Mass-market brands are serving millions of people each day. They are the norm for most people dining out in the UK. Do they deserve to be challenged? Yes! Does anyone in those businesses get out of bed each morning planning to do a bad job? Of course not! Restaurants are hard businesses to run.
All I’m asking of critics is some appreciation of the fact there are people behind these brands who work hard and there are people on the floor of these restaurants who work equally as hard and care passionately about what they do. There are also millions of people out there who love the service, food and experience they deliver each day. It adds joy to the lives of the people they serve, a place to socialise, enjoy time with their family and friends, to try something new or even just a break from cooking for the night. Perhaps not award-winning, but important nonetheless.
All said, work definitely needs to be done in this area. In these tough times we have to continue to work harder, even when we know the rewards aren’t as high as they once were. We need to focus on great hospitality, not just the bottom line. In reality we are having to find a new normal for our business levels. For most brands, that’s not going to be significant growth. There are clearly ridiculous hurdles placed before us by legislation that make this business even harder, which we need to work together to fight as an industry. That is why I would encourage you to join UKHospitality.
If there is one benefit from the turmoil of the past few months it’s that we have almost certainly seen a refocus on hospitality and standards instead of a drive towards exit, which seems to have distracted so many leaders for so long, perhaps fuelled by many looking to make their fortune or a statement from their final hurrah in the industry.
More widespread is a narrative of reducing the technical complexity of dishes (if consistency is a problem). It also means evolving a service model that combines efficient, great service with technology to overcome the difficulty of finding great team members. The goal is using technology to support a leaner, better trained, better rewarded workforce. When adding in the pressures of Brexit that are likely to reduce the availability of talent further, it is even more reason why owners need to commit to training great team members to deliver great food and drink to a consistently high standard.
That means committing to even more training and upskilling. We know this is costly and, again, I wholeheartedly support the work of UKHospitality in driving an agenda that asks government to support this – and the promotion of our important industry as a career. We don’t need to wait, of course. Clearly there is scope for work to be carried out immediately by brands to reinvest in broader skills training and committing to skills, not just shipping produce in from central production units.
As easy as it is to bash us as a branded sector, the broader industry relies on branded outlets and big players. We are where many chefs and managers start their career before heading out on their own as entrepreneurs and driving the cycle that will keep our sector fresh. Let’s make sure we keep the sector vibrant and not always take the easy route but the one that proudly continues to deliver great hospitality.
James Hacon is managing director of Think Hospitality, which advises multi-site brands on growth, brand and development strategy as well as investing in early-stage concepts with a bright future