Arena Autumn Event 2019

The importance of brand reputation in an ever-competitive market

​The Arena Autumn Event 2019 delved into the power of the brand in an ever-competitive market. The exciting programme of expert dynamic speakers explored how strong, recognisable brands are pushing boundaries and disrupting the market to gain the crucial competitive edge to deliver growth. A strong brand needs protecting, so they also discussed the importance of reputation management, particularly when standing out from the crowd, and reputation recovery if a brand is damaged in some way.

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Attendee List


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Event Review

FOCUS ON THE BASICS was the unanimous advice given by our six speakers at the Arena Autumn event on the topic of ‘the importance of brand reputation in an ever-competitive market’ 

Guests enjoyed coffee, pastries, Aqua Libre and Purdeys courtesy of Nescafé Azera, Délifrance and Britvic Soft Drinks before heading into the Livery Hall at Haberdasher’s Hall for the day’s programme of talks. 

Fiona Speakman, Client Director of the Food Team at CGA began the day with an interesting overview of the casual dining market over the last five years. 

Interestingly, despite the recent wave of closures, Italian is a firm favourite for British consumers, with Franco Manca being one the fastest growing brands.  The top emerging cuisine trends are: Burmese, Peruvian, Filipino, Pacific Rim and Scandanavian.

Across the market, brands that are doing well focus on quality, service and food range.  Trust and word of mouth play a key role and the quality and range of drinks are as important as the food to consumers when choosing where to eat. 

She warned operators to use discounting with caution, due to ‘voucher culture’ lowering expectations on price.  For long-term sustainable growth, operators need to focus on food, service, quality and delivering a great experience.

Andre Johnstone, Business Development Director at Wagamama shared the guiding principles behind ‘Kaizen’, which is all about doing better than the day before. He warned that in this fragile, volatile market it’s a case of ‘innovate or die’.

Convenience is the biggest driver of change.  But, convenience is functional, so how do you translate that restaurant energy into delivery – will it undermine the experience? It appears not, with delivery growing at an astounding rate.  In 2025, it’s expected to be worth $200billion worldwide. 

Wagamama has opened its first dark kitchen this year.  The bright, purpose built kitchen has been created specifically for delivery food and has opened up new geographical locations and sales opportunities for the brand.  He pointed out that delivery is a great way for consumers to try Wagamama food without committing to the full restaurant experience. Today’s delivery customers could become tomorrow’s restaurant customers. 

On the theme of innovation, Andre also talked about Wagamama’s new brand; Mamma Go, which stretches the brand outside of the traditional sit-down meal to provide convenience. 

Marcel Khan, CEO of Thunderbird shared a lively story of his journey from ballet dancer to restaurateur or “burger slinger”, as he likes to call himself. 

Spending six years at Five Guys, Marcel launched the US’s fastest growing restaurant chain into Europe, opening one store every three weeks to 90 stores.  Prior to that he spent 10 years at Nando’s UK, where he helped grow the brand from 42 to over 260 sites. This followed other restaurant experience at Planet Hollywood, Loch Fyne and Belgo Group. 

Thunderbird is his latest project and he’s clearly very passionate about the product and brand, using the philosophy of “Happiness is not just a mood but a work ethic”.  This philosophy was what won Nando’s the Best Employer in the UK and Marcel claims that operators often forget about their people. 

He’s ripped up the rule book of “when the going gets tough, the tough get going or work harder and better than the rest” and instead, focuses on happiness. It fuels success. 

Thunderbird Chicken may be in ‘wing to wing’ combat with other operators but human-based decision making is at the core of what Marcel and the team do.  He says to any brand; if your food is good and your people are happy, you’ll be ok. 

Paul Whyte, Managing Director, Best Food Logistics shared with the audience how he turned around a heavily loss-making business in just two years. 

Dubbed by one restaurant chain as the “best of a bad bunch”, Paul knew something needed to change (fast!), so he took the time to really understand what both the customers and employees wanted.  He did it the old-fashioned way and spent quality time actually talking to people to understand what makes them happy. 

To turn the business around, he quickly learned he needed to; stop losing clients, add value and create ambassadors. 

So, how did he do it?  Again, by going back to the basics.  Customers wanted their deliveries on time and employees wanted to feel valued and happy to go to work.  Those were the differentiators. 

By motivating the team and using Big Data to understand buying habits, Best Food Logistics now delivers to 52% of all restaurant chains in the UK and is in profit.  There are no temporary staff and the 9000-strong team makes 2,400 deliveries a week. 95% of deliveries are now on time or within the hour (previously, it was just 38%). 

Paul echoed the other speakers in that the key to business success is making people happy.  It’s about “filling hearts with joy”. 

Mark McCulloch, Founder of Supersonic Inc highlighted how important reputation is for a brand; it’s all you’ve got.  It can take 20 years to build it and five minutes to destroy it. 

He said that doing the right thing is always the right thing.  But, it’s often the hardest thing. 

Mark took a look at Jamie’s Italian, Byron, Carluccio’s, Prezzo; they’ve all made efforts to repair their brand.  But, he pointed out, that what they’ve failed in the main to talk about is how they are focusing on their food rather than amplifying other areas of why people should visit and revisit. An Instagram picture of a flower arch over a restaurant door is not enough to bring the customers flocking… 

Mark took us through a list of 23 behaviours of great brands which included; born from a passion; have the best and craveable products; grow slowly; stay relevant; have fun; put people first; tell true stories; have your own language; give back; put people first.  

He said the fundamental mistake most operators make is putting too much focus on the logo of a brand.  Change is not cosmetic; it comes from within. To succeed, brands need to go back to basics and focus on food as the No.1, closely followed by employee engagement. 

Malcolm Muir, Head of Consulting from Venners wrapped up the day’s speaker programme.  He gave us a fascinating insight into the life of auditing services for the hospitality industry. 

Again, going back to the basics, echoed through Malcolm’s speech.  Basic food safety and allergen awareness are a huge area of focus at the moment, driven in part, by the recent incidents reported in the press. 

He gave the example of ice cream parlours placing an ice cream containing nuts at the front of the fridge, so that it has to be lifted over nut-free ice cream for serving, potentially causing contamination.  He also showed us some recent audit diagrams, highlighting various allergens, which caused a few gasps in the audience. 

There’s still a clear knowledge gap and basic fear of allergens across operators.  He advised everyone to look at the free allergy training

Prior to lunch, the winner of the Kraft Heinz ‘Hospitality Heroes’ award was announced.  Congratulations to Leo Kattou, senior sous chef at Simpson’s Restaurant. Leo has organised and cooked at several pop-up events, raising £11,000 for the Help Refugees charity, recently grew his hair, shaved it off and donated it to the Little Princess Trust and following the passing of his good friend Matt Campbell at the London Marathon, he has gathered family and friends to run in his memory. 

Part of Leo’s prize includes joining the Arena Board, helping to shape the strategy for the next generation of hospitality professionals. 

Huge congratulations also go to the two finalists; Sam Ross, Catering Assistant – City of Glasgow College, BaxterStorey and Oliver Darrington, Groups and Conventions Manager, The Landmark Hotel. 

Guests then enjoyed Via Vai prosecco and canapés set in Délifrance a la folie! tartlet shells and cones.

The three-course lunch began with a starter of Ham hock terrine, pickled mushrooms, mustard mayo and rye bread soldiers, followed by Fillet of cod, lobster mash, nutmeg spinach, roasted tomato and red pepper salsa.  Dessert was Apple and yuzu crème brûlée served with cardamom ice cream, followed by Tea and Nescafé Azera coffee. 

The fantastic lunch was paired with two excellent wines, courtesy of Unity Wines; Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling and Les Mougeottes Pinot Noir IGP D’Oc and a range of Britvic Soft drinks.

Event Timings

8.30am Arrival and coffee
8.55am Welcome by Lorraine Wood, Director of Arena
9.00am Keeping up brand momentum: Fiona Speakman, Client Director of the Food Team, CGA
9.30am The power of delivery: Andre Johnstone, Business Development Director, Wagamama
10.00am Joy as a competitive advantage: Marcel Khan, CEO, Thunderbird Chicken
10.30am Leveraging simple technology to transform profitability: Paul Whyte, Managing Director, Best Food Logistics
11.00am Networking and coffee
11.30am When the going gets tough - brand recovery: Mark McCulloch, Founder, Supersonic Inc
12.00pm Protecting brand reputation at the 'shop floor': Malcolm Muir, Director of Consultancy, Venners
12.30pm Who will be our Hospitality Hero? 57 Hospitality Heroes winner announcement
12.45pm Canapes and drinks reception
1.30pm Three-course seated lunch with wine
3.00pm Closing speech by Steve Norris, Chairman of Arena
3.15pm Close