Chris Clawson, head of operations
Number of sites and employees:
Six sites; 80 employees
Major trends this year and implementation:
It’s been another big year for gin so we have maintained our uber-popular gin wall with rotating gins from some of the best distilleries in the business, with a key focus on London. East London Liquor and Renegade to name but a couple of the popular London brands. Rum looks set to be the new gin so we launched a rum wall at our Battersea and Edgware Road venues, The Crown and The Green Man, which has had a great response from our regulars. Veganism is on the rise and we’ll be launching a vegan burger alongside some new homemade condiments that has also seen growth this year.
Biggest selling menu item(s) this year:
The Juicy Bastard remains one of our best-selling burgers but we’ve seen a sharp increase in brunch and tapas dishes. Our slow-cooked brisket on the Philly burger has been a great hit.
Engaging your team in menu decisions both on food and drink provides you with buy-in from an early stage – what bar person won’t upsell a cocktail that they had a hand in? Our last burger special was called the ‘Magda’ burger after the staff member who came up with it. We’re big fans of finding out what the staff and customers want to eat, it makes our jobs easier! We currently run a ‘build your own burger’ offer on the tables – you get a snapshot of what your customers want and build up a database of emails by offering a prize for specials used.
Allergens are a real hot topic at the minute, as they should be. We have signage in the pubs and on the menus, and I’m thinking of putting it on the staff t-shirts next month – all fairly simple methods of communication and the vast majority of publicans will be doing this already. Staff training is the key, though: make them aware, train them on how to tell the customers but, most importantly, train them on what to do in the worst case scenario because you never know and it could save a life.
In terms of pricing, we’re all waiting for the Brexit elephant in the corner to come out, so sourcing UK products and nailing down a UK-based supply chain makes good sense; it won’t just be labour that we’ll struggle with in the sector. Brexit’s a tricky subject but I find it difficult to have a 10-minute conversation with anyone in the industry without it veering in this direction. Staff is the key issue and the hardest to predict; I plan to continue to hire the best person for the job despite where they come from until the government tell me otherwise. As members of UK Hospitality, we get regular updates and we keep a keen eye on the progress. Supply line I touched on before – we grow some amazing fruit and vegetables over here and the breweries in the UK are second to none, so it’s a great time to start nailing down your core range to UK-based suppliers.
I’m still very traditional when it comes to customer service so I haven’t yet bought into online loyalty systems or consumer-facing tech, but with the rise in delivery and tablet-based back of house functions, we did recently start putting our daily checklists on Trail. It means, as we expand, I can still keep an eye on all the sites and how they’re getting on, but it will be a long time before they pull me out of the bars and stick me behind a desk.
Takeaways and deliveries:
We work with both Uber and Deliveroo and it’s been great – incremental sales and a new marketing device all in one. One of my kitchens did 15% of its food in delivery last week! If you’re not delivering food by now, get on that bandwagon; it’s only going to get bigger and you don’t want to be left out.
Brunch is a huge growth area right now in unison with bottomless everything, so if you’re doing that next year then you’re quids in. More and more people are looking for flexible working situations – the number of laptops open in pubs and cafes at the minute is on the increase and some very wise folk are taking advantage. Creating a space that can be the office, the night out and the restaurant all in one will be key in 2019 and we plan to be at the forefront – watch this space!
Next year’s trends:
Rum will certainly continue to go from strength to strength, so expect to see more London distilleries getting onboard. People are already very conscious about where their food comes from and that’s only going to become more important moving forward, so also expect to see a lot more provenance on menus alongside carb substitutes and more vegetarian and vegan options than you can wave an aubergine at! We are currently looking at all-day dining concepts, as we live in an age of people getting what they want when they want it and we’re happy to oblige.
Hear from all of the industry leaders we spoke to for 2019 Menu Development Initiatives in the December issue of Pub & Bar.