Thinking about the perfect concept for the 2020s
Packing for a recent trip that never happened and cost a fortune, I noticed that a lot of my clothes are from Gap. Even relatively recent purchases. So in a week when they closed all 81 of their stores in the UK, you might be forgiven for asking what Charlie McVeigh knows about trends. I will leave the reader to draw her or his own conclusions and plough on regardless to the topic of the week.
Talking to Propel Editor Mark Wingett, I said I didn’t want to write yet another article which began ‘As we emerge from this Pandemic…’ so we agreed that a wider, potentially more cosmic piece was required this month, a drawing back of the velvet curtain to afford a tantalising glimpse of hospitality perfection, in one concept. In short, what will be the perfect F&B business for the remainder of a decade which has started so apocalyptically?
It seemed a fun and reasonable challenge during the phonecall, but in fact there are a hundred answers to the question. There are a lot of buzz words around at the moment, a lot of trends being chased. Experiential, QSR, multi-channel, digital kitchens etc. But in the end, have the underlying challenges really changed? For the thrusting entrepreneur looking to conquer the F&B business, are we not asking the same broad questions as we were in what seemed at the time to be the dark days of 2019?
Can we be different and better? Could our brand story and reputation inspire customers and staff to try and then stick with us, ultimately telling their friends how marvellous we are?
Will the experience our business offers allow us to create value through margin such that substantial profit is possible while funding growth in unit numbers and same-store sales?
How can our new concept be cash-generative in most macro-economic scenarios, even a Pandemic?
Do we have a clear understanding of what we want to be great at and why we will be best-in-class at our price-point and market segment? Do we have a plan which the customer and team will understand as to the evolution of our business so that the brand or reputation continues to be fresh, exciting and directional, year after year?
Can we invest in our team, systems and technology to maximise productivity and allow greater product, service and margins in the long term? Can we put listening to staff and customers at the heart of the operation and adjust the plan to reflect those learnings while not losing sight of who we are?
Could the operation of our brand and system permit the possibility of franchising in a manner that the customer would not notice that the unit wasn’t being managed in-house? Could our brand work in most markets and in more than one country?
Terrifyingly, the answer to all these questions had better be yes or you probably won’t get out of the starting blocks if the aspiration is to build a large hospitality business from scratch.
This is not to mention the warp-speed evolution of the market caused by lockdowns which has thrown up specific new challenges for the mid-2020s:
Are we building a brand which is powerful enough to cut across and through the delivery aggregators such that white label or even in-house becomes a possibility? EG Domino’s.
Have we got a major digital and social media presence and, more importantly, do we know how to drive fans and followers ‘down the funnel’ to become engaged members of our loyalty program?
Does that loyalty program project the brand, and is it felt at every stage of the customer journey in a positive way which enhances the experience for customer and staff, driving efficiency and increased sales?
Have we been able to adapt our physical spaces to service multiple channels without prejudicing the experience for dine-in customers?
Post-Brexit, can we automate our food production to the point where kitchen staff can be phased out and/or require little or no technical training?
In rebuilding the UK’s high streets and town centres, can our brand be famous for being part of the solution, not the problem? Ditto for our customers’ and teams’ welfare and mental health?
In reality, the questions in this piece and likely many more apply to all past, present and future concepts that aspire to scale. There is unquestionably a future for the traditional nightclub, caff and chicken shop, at scale. Just as there is for all the different varieties of pub, bar, eatery and competitive socialising venue.
The answer to the question is easy to articulate and unspeakably hard to execute. The ideal concept for the 2020s is the one that can look you in the eye and say YES, with clarity and confidence, to the tough questions and then head straight out there and deliver, every damned day.