Hospitality is a big old place and sometimes it’s a good idea to take a look away from hotels at what’s going down – and winding up – other parts of the sector.
Last week we went to Propel’s annual conference-with-summer-party, which featured people from pubs, people from restaurants and people selling buns. Really a lot of buns. More buns than Watership Down. There was the CEO of PizzaExpress, a co-founder of Wahaca and the latest managing director of Bill’s.
From the outside, it looked very much like a hotel conference; kicking off with some performance data and closing with a hand-wringing about recruitment. But that’s where the similarities ended. For one thing, no-one was wearing a tie. And not just because it was a stinking hot day – some people were not wearing clothes which would sustain a tie. Some were wearing shorts. Fortunately there was plenty of coffee, from duelling coffee suppliers, which stood in very handily for smelling salts.
The issues raised were similar: teams, environment, technology, but with very different angles. In terms of teams, one pub boss said that workers were now being paid weekly and that they were thrilled to announce they had team turnover of 76%. Something to cheer the hotel sector: the full team in a pub is being renewed in significantly less time than it takes to regenerate your liver. The liver you very much need under that level of stress.
One might think that, in this environment, replacing team members with technology might be a priority but, not unsurprisingly for a sector where it’s not too easy to encourage everyone to order via an app, there was not much take-up. Understandable, but then AI barely got a mention, which was very odd indeed for anyone who has spent more than 20 minutes around the hotel sector.
The environment got a look in – although the most popular phrase was ‘we’re on a journey’ and not ‘we’re twitching with fear about stranded assets’.
All this led us to have thoughts about the longevity of each sector. Pubs and restaurants are more exposed to the whims and fancies of the guest (or ‘fads’ as one speaker put it) and must respond accordingly. We can see the waves of fad making their way through the high street as we walk down it. Bubble tea, craft beer, chips in tin buckets, no sooner are they on the menu than they are being memed.
It would be unfair to say that a shorter lifespan influences the thinking of the pub and restaurant sector when it comes to its role in the climate debate. We heard a great deal about changes being put in place. But it would be fair to say that hotels (and their chums, ‘planes) have more of a hand in the changes we are seeing, so more of a need to act.
Pubs and restaurants also offer a product which is a treat. And, as one speaker noted, it’s better to ensure that the meat you serve is ethical rather than no meat at all, because you won’t have a successful business if you base it on cauliflower, because cauliflower is never a treat, no matter how much cheese you put on it. We paraphrase.
Hotels are here for the long term. They are owned by family offices. Some of them go back hundreds of years. The only fad they might indulge in is an unusual chair at reception.
Hotels have much to learn from pubs – most notably pubs with rooms such as Fuller’s, which offer truly effective competition to Airbnb – but despite all being hospitality together, we can take pride in being the sober older relative. The one who cleans you up after too many bubble teas and craft beers. The pub is a public house, but hotels are a home from home. And that’s serious stuff. That needs a tie.