4 Ideas to Inspire your Valentine’s Day Offering

Valentine’s Day is a big one for the sector. With everyone heading out to bars and restaurants to enjoy some quality time with loved ones, it is one of the busiest and most profitable periods for Hospitality. In 2021, despite lockdown restrictions, CGA reported that 70% of Britons were still planning on getting a special meal on the 14th.  Every year operators find different ways to get their hands on Valentine’s trade through unique and memorable experiences, whilst growing consumer confidence. Our like-for-like sales report revealed that in 2022, sales were up by 60% on the 14th compared to the preceding Friday 7th. So, what are other operators doing to drive footfall and sales that could inspire you this year? S4labour has been on the lookout for some fun and affordable offerings being run in 2023 by some big names in the business. We’ve found 4 ideas to inspire some fun this Valentine’s.
  1. Valentine’s Variety Show at Big Penny Social
Big Penny Social are presenting a night of live performances, ensuring guests stay at their venue long into the evening with an array of tasty food and drink offerings. Click here to find out more.
  1. Dine Out at Inamo
London-based restaurant inamo, which serves pan-Asian and Japanese cuisine, has put together a full menu for the 14th. They are offering three Valentine’s cocktails, as well as a selection of sushi, Asian tapas and v-day desserts. Dedicating a special menu to the night will draw the attention of those looking to do more than just the average meal this year. Click here to find out more.
  1. 3 Course Special at Bistrot Pierre
Holidays are a great opportunity to capitalise on your USP. Bistrot Pierre are bringing their French roots to the customer’s doorstep, offering a selection of French dishes and a glass of Veuve Devienne, which is likely to catch the attention of anyone looking for a Parisian evening of love. Click here to find out more.
  1. Valentine’s Brunch at Harper’s Steakhouse 
Everyone has a different idea of how they would like to spend their Valentine’s day – many operators will keep it traditional, banking on making sales in the evening with a dinner menu. Harper’s Steakhouse is offering a 2 for £14 Brunch deal until 5pm on the 14th, which will not only attract an entirely new group of customers to the evening crowd, but ensure all trading hours are maximised. For those who prefer to make a night of it, they’re even offering romantic overnight stays, taking the stress out of who’s driving. Click here to find out more.

Be Your Best – A Reason to be Optimistic in 2023

As we go into 2023, it would be easy to begin the year on the back foot. There are significant head winds facing not just our industry – the whole country feels like it’s in the weeds. Next year we will go into battle with a recession, the cost of energy crisis, shortages of staff, upward pressure on the supply costs and the downward pressure on customers discretionary spend. These are just the challenges we know of, and yet, we expect more. Headline news would suggest that 2023 could be a year of inevitable, unstoppable, and relentless doom. But it won’t be. Not for everyone. There is still huge opportunity for those who rise to the top, the best in our industry will still face the challenges, but they will have the experience, tools, and tenacity to succeed.

As a business, we are conscientiously optimistic about what we will achieve in 2023 and while never complacent. We are optimistic about what our customers are going to achieve in 2023 too and there is good reason why.

For the past 12 months we have spent a great deal of time and energy better articulating and refiring up our “purpose”. It hasn’t just been a self-indulgent corporate retreat exercise, it has been pivotal to everything we do, and the framework for all of our plans. All businesses need to innovate, but it is useful to keep returning to those first principles that led us to transform the industry as we have. “Be Your Best”, has emerged as the philosophy that has fed the products we build and the internal culture of the whole organisation.

Be Your Best is a significant statement of intent for our customers. We know that there are going to be only two routes to operate next year. The first will be to burn through cash, taking on debt and relying on a swift return to better days. There are few who have the cash to weather this storm, fewer still who have investors patient enough to plug the red holes for too long. The second route for our customers is to be the best at what they do, consistently. We have had the privilege of working with a lot of the best operators over the last 10+ years, the likes of Oakman Inns, Brunning & Price, Liberation Group, Revs have all been entrepreneurial early adopters of S4labour and are all the best in their areas. Moving forward, our challenge and focus is to have a development roadmap that supports our current customers and as many new ones as possible to be at their best. We have found that the typical S4labour customer has also been an innovator in the industry that has made them stand out, these are the people who are already looking to be the best.

In January we will be rolling out the biggest update to the S4labour system. Having put the philosophy of supporting operators to be their best at the centre of every brain storming session, every stand-up meeting and every round table discussion, this inevitably bleeds into every line of code.

As a result, we feel we have built a system that ensures our customers are their best, in every shift. Better at driving sales, better at engaging and retaining staff, better at getting teams to the floor rather than behind the desk and ultimately, better at making the right decisions, faster. All these things are opportunities to beat the gloomy head wins facing the industry, and all are reasons to be optimistic for our customers in 2023.

Be Your Best is a mantra that is also at the heart of our people and culture plans. We know that to support our customers to be their best, it is essential to support our own teams to be their best. That goes for every single person we employ and bring on the journey with us. We know that to ensure we deliver a product that supports customers to be the best, we need to have our innovators, our developers, our customer success, and support teams all at their best too. It’s tempting to have all our people answer the phone with, “Hello, how can we help you be your best today.” Possibly a step too far into the world of cringey, but it’s the mindset we have got to.

There will be businesses that fail in 2023, and even the best will find trading hard, but those who manage to be their best, will thrive and we very much look forward to helping them get there.

What We Learnt at Propel

Last week I attended Propel’s quarterly multi club conference, ‘New Ways of Working’ to catch the latest industry insights. Unsurprisingly, the consensus swayed closer to concern than confidence for the sector’s future. From discussions around inflation and VAT, to workforces, consumer confidence and Government support, the multi club was full of talking points as pressures bottom out.

The first thing I wanted to write about was the main talking point – the big energy bills. On the opening ‘Money Talks’ group, one panellist said, ‘the best will survive and thrive”, suggesting costs and inflation are not as much of an issue for the top 25% and that businesses aiming at richer markets in the South-East of England will likely do better. But what does this mean for the smaller operators? If we look back at the last two years and the relentless toll they had on the industry, can we look forward now at the effects of VAT and see these businesses fighting another two years? The truth is, we don’t know what will happen. We know that consumer confidence is lower, there’s an issue around labour, and inflation in energy of 500 or 600% certainly won’t make it an easy fight.

Is Government intervention a viable consideration or a hopeless dream? One speaker suggested that the new Prime Minister could have a positive effect for the sector, noting how during the pandemic, Hospitality’s importance to the economy was recognised. This attention from the Government did a lot in the way of exposing how many people are directly and indirectly employed by the sector. The sense I got was an extremely cautious optimism, with the hope of help underpinned by a message to not rely on the Government and assume that the support could fall away, and costs will flow through.

Whilst these concerns are ever-present and should be talked about, the discussions around labour took centre stage for me. All of these issues in one way or another circle around the fact that we are a people-based sector. It is an indisputable truth, and one that will be the sector’s saving grace. When we talk about people, we are talking about customers, but equally, we are talking about workforce. Running a high-labour business is becoming more and more complicated, and it will begin to hit returns and margins. In a sea of cost crises and demand impact, now more than ever it is crucial to tackle struggles around labour availability, costs, and retention. Alleviating these concerns should form the foothill of every business plan.

The fundamentals haven’t changed: the team experience influences the guest experience. Consumers are less forgiving about service – they are out less and so now more than ever operators need to ensure excellent service. I found that Turtle Bay appeared to really take this message on board. Recruiting hard and building a workforce with a ‘One love Culture’ that centered on diversity, inclusivity, retention, and development was their core competence, and this freedom within a framework works wonders for business.

Many operators may ask: what steps can I take towards creating a culture of happiness for my staff and customers? My advice would be to start with the basics: understanding your trading patterns and organising your rota accordingly makes the world of difference. Staff are not overworked and feeling the stress of an understaffed team, and customers are not experiencing long queues and bad service. Opening up platforms for your staff to express their thoughts and feelings at the end of a shift creates a culture of honesty and safety in the workplace.

As Alex Reilley, Chairman of Loungers suggested, we need to make “commitments to change” – it is too easy to assume you lose people because of pay, and actually, it’s about letting people challenge you. That should be the real employee-value proposition.

48 Hours at Casual Dining

Casual Dining 2022. Coined the definitive event for publicans and restauranteurs. After exploring this labyrinth of 200+ incredible suppliers for two days, I’m compelled to say it lives up to the name.

Renowned for its keynotes from big names with invaluable industry insight, Casual Dining shares tales, tips and most notably, a projection of hope. Mark McCulloch, founder of Hospitality Rising UK, the biggest hospitality recruitment campaign going, delivered his drive to “Rise fast, work young.” The consensus amongst operators is that hospitality work is being treated as a stopgap and more needs to be done to attract and retain staff. Only 1/5 young adults consider hospitality as an option after leaving education, and only 2/5 employees in the sector would recommend it as a job. It’s clear there are a finite amount of people in the recruitment pool. Likening his idea for increasing recruitment to the shape of a hockey stick, Mark alluded to getting people into the industry at entry level, ensuring there are opportunities for them to rise quickly in the company. The more room there is for workers to rise, the higher the retention rate. Mark’s second point to ‘work young’ was not a reference to age, but rather a mindset. The idea is simple: be fresh in your approach to your business and your staff. Consider unconventional marketing ideas, increase your online presence, and save time and money by utilising the technological innovations in the industry. Lead according to the demands of your business and its staff, and not the blueprint from way back when. This modernising of the mindset is already happening. The CGA Business Leader Survey 2022 revealed that 47% of business leaders are planning to increase their investment in technology this year.

Alongside the discussion of growing the recruitment pool were talks of growing businesses. 38% of business leaders are actively looking into the option of business acquisition in the next 12 months, up by 20pp compared to Q1 last year. These figures are a testament to the industry’s perseverance, creativity, and passion.

To swim in a sea of incredible people, products and innovations for two days was certainly the highlight of my week. S4labour’s partners were out and about in full force; the team and I caught up with the folks at Zonal, Airship & Toggle, Tenzo, Apicbase, Tevalis and Vita Mojo. Having so many of the industry’s incredible minds in one room is a special occurrence, and one I hope to make more regular.

For S4labour, Casual Dining is and will continue to be one of the most important events of the year. As a company that is run by hospitality people for hospitality people, the opportunity to be face to face with operators is of paramount importance. Not only do these events remind business owners of the support we will give to them, but it reiterates to us how important our role is in supporting the industry.

It may have been my first time attending Casual Dining, but I certainly hope it won’t be my last.

Get to Grips With Your Daily Labour Spend

Following significant challenges over the last two years, hospitality is endeavouring to bounce back as restriction-free trading sees a new dawn for consumer demand. However, significant challenges are well documented, such as rising inflation, perilous utility costs and staff shortages, are already stuttering growth, as operators continue to navigate uncertain times.

According to a recent UKH, BBPA and BII member survey (May ’22), energy and the price of goods are first among the cost issues for members impacting margins. Furthermore 1 in 3 members are struggling to meet overheads or debts. Trade campaigning to reform business rates, training investment, access to people and a cut in VAT are being lobbied via targeted campaigns from our three main trade bodies.

The third factor negatively impacting margins is labour costs, an area which always has been and likely to remain operators’ highest variable cost. Indeed, people costs look to steadily increase due to legislation (National Minimum Wage/ Living Wage/ rising NI). However, labour is controlled differently across the industry – partly because hospitality is so diverse but also because knowledge, systems, training and management styles all vary across larger companies, multiple and single operators. This leaves an inconsistent approach and smaller multiple operators; leased, tenanted and single site operators seem to be missing out – generally the operators with the highest cost burden in relation to revenue.

Larger operators (bigger pub companies, well-known pub and restaurant brands) have managed their labour costs, historically by week and over recent years, daily, as part of their KPI’s. How much labour is invested each week is another conversation, with some operators keeping investment tight, others choosing to spend more, investing in service for more sales. Interestingly there’s evidence of increased labour investment (when operators have enough people in the first place) during this period of lower footfall for many but there’s a spend per head and premiumisation opportunity.

 S4labour enables single site operators, as well as larger multiples, to view their labour and revenue spend in-week via a till link, hence full visibility of labour costs – by day and by hour. Visibility of labour may prompt shift changes, moving hours to suit weather patterns, unexpected events or enables daily reaction to review sites (Google/ Trip Advisor etc) about service. The ability to move team hours around the rota, to suit trade fluctuations ensures ‘Slack’ hours (too many people) are re-scheduled to ensure minimal ‘Stress’ (not enough people) during service. Forecast till revenue helps guide the future, while reporting an accurate labour performance in the past – from previous days till data, previous weeks and against last year for a like-for-like view.

Bigger operators are using versions of this technology via their head office teams – now it’s time for multiples, leased, tenanted and Free Houses to have access to a labour tool which suits smaller businesses. A digital rota saves time – time which can then be used to manage people around service peaks and troughs, for more sales. Teams also like to view their shifts via a modern, simple app – with additional functionality to swap shifts if needed – it’s a modern, professional way of working with your teams and ready for all the new people that will hopefully be attracted to our industry.

S4labour are launching a campaign for operators to ‘Get to Grips with your daily labour spend’ – the 3rd highest but controllable cost. Operators currently spend time and investment controlling food and drink margin, food GP, drink yield and wastage – the industry is historically tuned to those areas. Spending a few minutes monitoring labour hours versus revenue and allocating accordingly is a much bigger prize. It’s also a data driven approach using site specific till data, while being really simple to implement and making a huge difference.

‘Smart tech’ should solve real problems, save time, or improve productivity – S4labour does all three:

  • Enabling daily visibility of labour – a large number of smaller operators generally manage a weekly rota and manage costs retrospectively, there’s now a solution for in-week labour cost visibility
  • Saves time via a digital rota,
  • Increases productivity via allocating hours to maximise service peaks and troughs, to maximise sales,
  • Forecasting becomes more accurate as more of the right people are in the right place for the right amount of time – all guided by operators’ own till data.

S4labour help sustainable businesses ensure longevity in these turbulent times – there’s no reason why smaller players shouldn’t be embracing the opportunity to ‘Get to Grips with your daily labour spend’ – to be on at least the same playing field as the bigger players.

The Power of Integrated Hospitality Tech

The world of hospitality tech is vast. There is a seemingly never-ending list of technologies that can fit into our businesses to help do things “better” than before. Over the last 10 years we have been spoilt for choice. There are solutions out there for recruitment, rotas, communications and team engagement. Not to mention solutions for payroll, produce orders, tracking financials, marketing and customer engagement. Our tills have all become more automated, more accurate, and more compliant. You want a robot serving your guests, juggling dishes whilst telling jokes? Not a problem. We even have excellent data guys like Tenzo and Tahola that pull all the data we have stacked into our businesses into one place, giving clarity and visibility of all the benefits gained from this technical revolution.

Is all of this technology a good thing? Is it good for the customer and, critically, is it good for our businesses? Clearly every business is different. Even though I don’t see my local traditional Italian rolling out waiter bots or my independent watering hole taking on a business analytics suite just yet, there is a different mixture of hospitality tech that is the right fit for most of us. This will depend on the scale, style and priorities of the business. However, most businesses have come to understand that doing nothing will likely result in being less efficient, less productive and being left behind our competitors.

When looking at what tech is right for your business, one of the key places to start is by considering what your priorities are. Maybe it’s labour cost saving, growing sales, marketing, or a smooth EPoS system. As technology has become better and more critical to our industry, so has its consolidation. There have been some excellent innovations in hospitality that tackle the unique challenges we face. Yes, there’s still a significant amount of innovation and solutions being developed. We’ve also seen some giants of the technology service sector who can offer most operators pretty much everything – all under one roof as a multi-purpose tech supplier. You can now get your schedules, payroll, tills, F&B platform, analytics and more from just one supplier. This sounds like a positive thing for the industry: everything you need in one place and on one bill. Big tech has recently been on the acquisition trail, snapping up some of the best and brightest prospects in the hospitality tech world. In the last year, we have seen hospitality’s leading providers in training, compliance and ordering brought under the same roof as event booking and labour planning platforms in one big tech.

The question to consider is: can innovation, value for money, customer service or user flexibility ever be improved by the consolidation of tech? Unlikely. Innovation happens when specialists in their field are given the freedom to continually perfect the areas that they excel in. Customers benefit most when they can form close relationships with their suppliers, acting as the external voice that feeds into the product development.

The consolidated approach works well for those who want the mediocracy of everything. The under one roof offering tends to give operators one outstanding product, but a disappointing “everything else”. An operator can get one incredible piece of kit, but they’ll miss out on the best of everything else. Take Yapster for example: it’s brilliant and integrated with everything. If you want the best for team comms and leadership, go speak to Yapster. Yapster is an independent business with the best-in-class tech. Even though you could get a product from a consolidator, who can put team comms and EPos on the same invoice, there’s a sacrifice. You’ll likely end up with a weaker team comms platform in your business and a mediocre EPoS.

S4labour is 100% focused on being the best people system in the market. There is no other leadership, development or account management team more ingrained and experienced in hospitality productivity than S4labour. Over half of the winners at this years Publican Awards use S4labour, showing just how the best in the industry, who value the productivity of their teams above other tech, use S4labour. S4labour is also integrated with everything else in the category of market leading products. You can have the best people system, integrated with the best till systems, integrated with the best ATS, forward pay, training platform, marketing, comms, tipping etc and seamlessly link it all with S4labour.

By taking a sidestep around the “under one roof” consolidations, you will find a sea of the best of the best and you won’t need to compromise on any part of your technological priorities. The wonderful thing about everything that doesn’t sit with the consolidators, is just how well it all works together and how good we have all become at making the customer experience seamless and integrated with each other. Hedging your tech suppliers really is the only way to ensure you get an uncompromised solution.

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