This week I had the pleasure of going to a prison in Brixton to lunch with Clink, the charity set up to train offenders in hospitality who are within six to eighteen months of finishing their sentences. Clink run four restaurants in Brixton, Cardiff, High Down and Styal and they also have a presence in 7 prisons, where they operate bakeries and gardens, growing produce for their prisons and even keeping chickens! I was first introduced to Chris Moore, CEO of Clink, by Paul Hegarty at the Publican Awards this year, and I very much believe that as part of our outreach to employ more UK nationals, the Clink would be a very good partner for many in our industry. The facts speak for themselves. There are 84,000 prisoners in the UK, but only 4,000 are women. 49.6% of prisoners re-offend, but for those who come out with Clink’s hospitality training, that is cut to just 8%. I visited the Brixton Clink restaurant, which requires you to leave your belongings in a locker and go through full security before entering the restaurant. Whilst this may be an unconventional dining experience, the food itself was excellent and the surroundings and décor were just like that of a high end restaurant. There was no alcohol and you have to eat with plastic knives and forks, but the standards of service and presentation of the food are superb. The Clink trains chefs and front of house staff up to NVQ Level 2. They also prepare them for the world of work and life after prison. When you leave prison, there is no requirement to have somewhere to stay. You are let out with £40 and the rest is up to you. With the Clink, ex-offenders are not only ‘work ready’, but they are looked after in the community. So, what can our industry do to help Clink? Whilst they are a charity looking for donations, they are also looking for offers of work. If there is accommodation to go with it, so much the better. This is where our industry can really help. Clink are clear that they do all the necessary checks, and they will give you all the information about an ex-offender you are looking to employ. Most importantly of all, they firmly believe that many of their ex-offenders will be exceptionally loyal to their new employers for many years. Why? Because they have been offered a second chance. For more information on Clink and how your organisation can support them, visit their website here.
Once again, I had the privilege this year of judging The British Institute of Innkeeping’s (BII) Licensee of the Year award, an inspiring competition for every licensee in the industry. The quality in the competition this year was extremely high. 250 entrants were whittled down to 50 who received mystery customer visits. From there, the remaining 12 entrants faced a tough round of individual interviews including Sue Allen of the BII and Ashley and Kelly McCarty of the Olde Sun Inn at Colton near York. The Chairman of the BII and three trustees picked the final six, who were then put through their paces in front of an industry panel, which included me. The final six were all very impressive and inspiring. We saw: Marc Duvauchelle, a proud Frenchman who manages the Old Customs House at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth. Marc has a background as a restauranteur and has already won the Fullers Griffin Trophy and features on the new Gunwhalf Keys television advertisement as a key attraction. His philosophy is about quality, whether it be an order for pint of Pride, a chateaubriand or pie and mash; they all have to be exceptional. Using chalk boards to advertise his best expensive dish often leads to it selling out within an hour! One of his greatest frustrations is the effect of the British weather on sales. Lee & Kerris De Villiers, licensees originally from South Africa, who operate the Pig and Whistle pub owned by Ram Pubs (Youngs) in Wandsworth. They have benefitted from investment which has transformed the look and feel of their pub, helping them to grow their business by 25%. Their new marketing plan includes a Tequila cabinet (which they operate free of tie) and a cabinet with chilli sauce from all over the world. Their support and sponsorship of a South African rugby team has also paid dividends in terms of numbers of customers and revenue. Their major concern is increased business rates and how this makes their Sky subscription more expensive too. Kim Barker, who runs the Ship Inn, a tenancy owned by St Austell in Pentewan, Cornwall.Operating a pub in a village with many holiday homes, Kim has used events such as bingo, quiz nights and even a beer festival to attract people to her pub. As she says, you don’t have to be local to be treated as one and that certainly rings true, as after ten years of running the pub she decided to have a party with many of the ‘seasonal locals’ coming down to celebrate in November. Chris Norfolk, a chef by background who runs a Punch pub near Worksop in Derbyshire, the most northerly pub to enter the competition this year. In his entry Chris noted how he runs ‘a proper country pub’ featuring muddy boots, horses, dogs and shooting. He has ran hotels and large branded pubs in the past, but is clear that his pub is not restaurant in disguise. As he says himself – “we are pub serving good food, sourced locally and made by me and my team.” Training is key to his mode of operation and his major concern is control of electricity costs. Mark Shaw is the owner of the Castle Inn at Castle Donnington, Leicestershire. Once a closed pub bought some years ago from Punch, Mark has grown the Castle Inn from a zero-turnover business to a thriving pub complete with a restaurant, bar and wood fired pizza oven. The latter of which can cover their costs quite quickly, but do not take up too much space and work particularly well for community pubs. Alex and Tanya Williams, tenants at the Polgooth Inn near St Austell. Alex and Tanya have developed their garden (which is not far from the Lost Gardens of Heligan), specifically to grow produce for their pub. It has been a huge success so far growing cucumbers, fresh herbs and fruit which have all been used in their kitchen. There were infrastructure costs to create it, but it now very much pays its way. A great way Alex and Tanya encourage families to come to their pub is to run pasta courses for children in the winter months. The courses themselves are not-for-profit, but they result in more regular customers. A pub at the heart of their community, Alex and Tanya managed to persuade all 140 properties in their village to display Christmas lights! Whilst they think about whether they might, with the help of St Austell, extend their kitchen, they have decided to invest in a pizza trailer to test demand. Their greatest challenge is to recruit and retain staff who understand the benefits of a career in our industry. During the panel sessions I found it particularly interesting to see what the finalists saw as their biggest challenges. All the finalists listed finding pub chefs as a real challenge, although they had a variety of ways of trying to solve this, such as providing accommodation and offering courses like ‘game in a day’ and sausage making. No one felt that the National Living Wage helped staff retention; almost all had to pay more to keep good staff, but as they are all excellent licensees, good training and support achieved loyalty and longer service for a good length of time. Business Rates were also a key theme and there was huge support for anything that could be done to reduce the very high costs faced by our sector. Quite rightly Alex and Tanya were crowned BII Licensee of the Year. I interviewed them both at a conference a couple of years ago, delightful, full of energy and welcoming, they thoroughly deserve the award and I am sure they will be great advocates for our industry, as well as the BII. I am also very honoured to have been made a Companion Member of the BII. It is a great organisation for individual licensees and one that the BBPA is very keen to support.
The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) has responded to the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee inquiry on Brand Britain: Promoting and Marketing British food and drink. Beer is the third largest Food and Drink Export category, exporting to over 120 countries, but the BBPA believes that more can be done to promote British beer around the world. This includes more involvement in the early stages of project development, to Government adopting multi-year budgets for exports which gives companies sufficient time to plan and budget. There needs to be a greater understanding of cost and availability in individual markets which can identify brands best suited to these countries. The BBPA believes that DEFRA and DIT should convene a meeting of Estate Managers and Chefs from key third country markets to do a Food and Drink promotional course in the UK. This event would allow embassies and consulates to understand food and drink matching, as well as opportunities for British exporters to speak to key decision makers in these markets about what is on offer, where and at what price. There is also a need for a proactive promotion of the British beer brand, but both ‘Craft is Great’ and ‘Heritage is Great’ are too narrow a description to convey the excellent range of British Beer. There has been considerable success with inbound trade missions which matched UK brewers to Canadian buyers. It is best practice which could be developed for other markets. BBPA Chief Executive Brigid Simmonds comments: “British beer is an export success story, but with the right support it could achieve our stated aim of increasing exports by £100 million over the next five years. There needs to be a more innovative and joined-up approach from Government which engages with the industry, builds on best practice such as inward missions and provides flexible budgets which works for the industry in promoting British exports. “British brewing is a world class industry which already exports to 120 countries round the world. The Export Strategy is a key feature of our website and we are keen to work with DEFRA and DIT to grow British beer exports and build a unique British beer brand.”