Foodservice and hospitality operators are renowned for running innovative and creative businesses to enhance the customer experience. Taking place within Searcy’s 30 Euston Square rooftop event space, Arena’s Summer Event 'A New Era of Innovation and Creativity' showcased and celebrated the innovative and creative thinking in our sector.
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Searcy’s 30 Euston Square rooftop event space was the perfect backdrop for Arena’s Summer Event: 'A New Era of Innovation and Creativity'.
After catching up with familiar faces and making new connections, the morning started with a fascinating and engaging presentation from Kateline Porritt, Head of Trends at Egg Soldiers. So, with Nescafé coffees and Délifrance pastries in hand we settled down for an inspiring showcase that celebrated the innovative and creative thinking in our sector.
Through Difficult Times Comes Innovation
To begin with Kateline first explained the four pillars that influence change and how our economy, environment, technology and of course people influence change. Reflecting on the economy, Kateline described what has become ‘Hospitality Hunger Games.’ Increased costs have meant operators have had to look at ways to keep overheads down and yet still need to draw people in to eat. They are doing this by adding value through exceptional skills, service, catering for all-day parts, as well as ensuring they appeal to all consumers, from solo diners to groups.
These drivers have led to hospitality and retail businesses expanding and diversifying. Rather than shy away, brave and exciting steps are being made to tap into new opportunities and innovate the eating out experience.
I’ll leave it to the Chef
To begin with operators are now focusing on one offering being done well. With quality, consistency and experience the priority, we are seeing singular specialities, expensive items removed, smaller menus and more affordable seasonal offerings coming in.
Automated LA based salad bar, Sweet Greens and casual dining fresh pasta restaurant, Flour & Grape were two operators Kateline celebrated for making brave moves. Flour & Grape removed their best-selling truffle pasta due to costs and explained openly to their customers why.
At the other end of the scale – and excitingly - there is also the trend for omakase. Where the menu changes daily based on the ingredients available and the chef’s choice. With prices starting from £300 at Taku, this simple operation is driving high value through outstanding skill and quality.
No Till Shock
Simplifying operations has led to some operators introducing set menus and tasting menus. Rather than be a negative, this change benefits both the restaurant and consumer. By limiting menus chefs can hand select dishes that best work for profit margins but equally ensure that the courses and dishes highlight the restaurant at its best. With consumers watching their spend, knowing the cost of a meal upfront – save the drinks bill – means greater confidence with eating out.
And it is this confidence which Kateline believes will benefit the delivery market eventually. Recently it has slowed down with consumers dining out more, but the fear of till shock could mean consumers return to their Saturday night takeaway the longer the cost-of-living crisis goes on.
The new ‘Retality’
Following lockdown and flexible working, consumers have been moving out of the cities, especially London. As a result, we have seen bakery operators Pret a Manger and Gail’s Bakery make big moves and expand into market town locations as well as service stations. This diversification is leading to a new ‘retality’ where hospitality and retail is merging. Excitingly we are seeing the likes of Pasta Evangelists thinking outside the recipe box and offering delivery, takeaway, and collaborations with luxury retailer, Harrods.
The Rise of Motorway Services
With more electric cars appearing on our roads, we will be spending far more time at service stations to charge up our vehicles. Kateline explained how the coffee-to-go facilities and fast-food offerings we are used to will, overtime, no longer meet our needs. These extended periods at service stations will mean that food expectations will increase, and consumers will look for a better and wider food offering. Interestingly the Moto group has already introduced shower and shaving facilities, we could even see soft play areas to entertain children while cars are charging.
It's More than Just the Food
As foodservice operators, we need to think about more than the food. Value is equally important, and consumers want to feel that when they spend their money it’s worth it. This can be achieved in several ways; through exceptional service such as Wild Honey who rather than finish desserts in the kitchen, bring it to the table where fresh honeycomb is crumbled over the dish. Novelty is also working for operators and thankfully it doesn’t need to be complicated for kitchens. Artisanal Gelato Vivoli in Florence has become an Instagram sensation and must-eat destination, by taking the classic affogato, and pouring the espresso in the centre of a creamy bowl of gelato.
Make Mini Experiences Big
Katelin also encouraged operators to think about the courses they offer already, bread bowls can be a side-thought but could become a course in themselves. Restaurants are giving care and innovations by using unique flavoured butters such as seaweed or ditching butter for beef fat. Breads are being given a makeover too with crumpets, bagels and cornbread making an appearance. Equally, making experiences fun can also add to the value experience, burgers now have a a side of gravy to dip, making it messy and memorable.
After the inspiring morning session and list of innovative operators to eat at, guests enjoyed the excellent hospitality of the Searcy’s team with Tosti Prosecco courtesy of Unity Wines & Spirits, canapés courtesy of Délifrance and networking. This was followed by a stunning three-course lunch whereby Nutritics showcased the carbon footprint of our menu and was accompanied by wines from Unity Wines & Spirits. The delicious three course meal was completed with coffee courtesy of Nestlé Professional.
Continuing the innovation and creativity theme, post lunch the panel discussion featured Daniel Clark, Merlin Global Account Director, Aramark; Laura Tighe, MD for Health, Care and Retirement Living, Elior UK, Greg Bramwell, Director of Food and Beverage, BaxterStorey and Craig Cunningham, former International Operations Director for Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group. Hosted by Kateline Porritt, the session explored the similarities and difference between these diverse sectors when it comes to innovation, but first what challenges are they facing.
The Tech Movement
To start Daniel provided a fascinating insight into the world of theme park catering especially the UK versus the USA. From how the weather can influence what we want to eat, to finding the sweet spot for queuing and serving times. Daniel spoke about the significant role technology has played, with ordering apps helping to bring in automated systems and speed up service.
Laura spoke openly about the perception healthcare catering has and highlighted how it can vary from patient, staff and visitor dining in hospitals to the higher end residential care homes. The greatest challenge of all - creating a daily offering that works across such a diverse range of consumers, whilst also factoring in individual nutritional and medical needs as well as residential dining and assisted leaving. Interestingly healthcare catering is also benefitting from technology, with pre-payment dining by family members to avoid the stress of money management for residents.
Think Like a Consumer
The panel then discussed how the retail and hospitality experience is blurring when it comes to innovation and creativity. Greg encouraged operators to think like a consumer and not as a caterer. Now more than ever consumers need to connect with brands, including restaurants, and that means building a culture that appeals. He encouraged the room to learn from customer feedback and engage with them, echoing Kateline’s views that hospitality is moving into the entertainment area when it comes to experience.
Innovation Starts from the Inside
When it comes to innovation, self-reflection is needed and a close look at team management. Rather than think ‘what our guest or consumer journey looks like?’ Craig believes companies should think ‘what is the team journey’? The panel agreed on the importance of sharing success but also supporting with the negatives to create a safe work culture. Laura reflected on the challenges of the healthcare sector when it comes to recruitment with difficult hours and challenging working environments. Equally the leisure industry is challenged by a financially motivated gen Z who are contracted annually, making it difficult to create a strong and long-lasting culture. Everyone agreed that building and investing in a strong workplace ethos is key.
After reflecting on the challenges faced, it was then interesting to hear how these sectors are innovating and the similarities between them. The panel agreed with Kateline that creating mini moments and focusing on ‘food campaigns’ rather than concepts are the best approach, with Greg emphasising that success starts with engaging your team and having that passion to bring in customers.
Though diversification is needed for businesses to flourish, caution should also be taken. Craig shared his experience of using a third-party delivery provider, highlighting the importance of operators being mindful that whoever they partner with those businesses must fit with your culture and share your ethos. Though going it alone can be challenging to begin with, sometimes doing it in-house can be the best approach.
Although it is hard to predict, it was fascinating to hear what the panel’s strategy is for the future. For healthcare it is thinking about what the over sixty-fives want now, as well as in 20 years’ time as they age and their needs change. With so many people nervous about going into care following Covid, demand for assisted and communal living is growing at a rapid rate and catering operations need to adapt with it. Laura added that technology will also become increasingly important as the iPhone generation get older and how they will want to interact when it comes to food.
Embracing Technology Cautiously
The panel agreed that technology needed to be embraced and is essential if hospitality is to stay ahead. However, there is a balance between food and tech, as a result operators should still lean on their teams to get a 360 view of what is happening. For the panel technology had been invaluable in providing accurate data to improve operations and gain a true customer experience on the ground, rather than individuals on Trip Advisor.
Nobody comes to Work to Work
There was also a consensus that whether it be business or leisure there is a shift in food not just being fuel. With food becoming part of the occasion, people will pay for quality and an experience when they eat. Greg also agreed on the importance of experience in workforce feeding, highlighting that following lockdown employees now come to work to socialise and the need to provide a quality offering to encourage people to stay in the office longer was vital.
Interestingly, even with the cost-of-living crisis, the panel agreed that brands have a vital role to play in helping operators deliver on value and quality. From coffee to fast food, all agreed on the benefits that brands can have when it comes to consumer faith and the value perception that they can bring. From hospitals to theme parks, the panel agreed that brands and branded concepts worked for their catering business.
Feeling inspired, the Arena Summer Event ended; whatever the future holds hospitality has proven just how innovative and creative it can be and we can’t wait to see what happens next.
A big thank you from Arena to all those that contributed to the raffle. Just over £1200 was raised for Springboard.
Thank you to Gemma Felstead, Managing Partner – Foodservice at jellybean for this event review. jellybean is a multi-award winning, integrated, specialist food & drink agency that helps brands hit their sweet spot. With 36 years’ experience in hospitality and foodservice, they offer marketing, PR, social and digital services to some of the biggest and most dynamic names in the business. A long-time supporter of Arena, you can find out more about jellybean at www.jellybeancreative.co.uk.