On the 20th March, the RSM consumer markets team descended on the Northern Restaurant and Bar exhibition to experience all things in the Northern hospitality sector. This included meeting the 275 exhibiting suppliers, watching some of the 65 live demonstrations and listening to the various insight presentations and debates.
The RSM attendees. all of whom have a passion for the sector, consisted of representatives from our Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester, Preston and Chester offices, comprising the North West and East Consumer Markets teams.
The exhibition housed at the Manchester Central conference centre quickly became a hive of activity. The packed programme of events, included sessions titled ‘a feast of British Charcuterie’, ‘for the love of lager’, ‘the food porn awards’ and ‘Martini: king of cocktail past, present and future’ - it promised to be a good event.
Suppliers had travelled from all over the North of England to exhibit and I was pleased to see a number were representing my home county, Yorkshire. Nearly all factions of the bar and restaurant sector were represented in the exhibitor base., The line-up included award winning chefs, sommeliers, baristas and cocktail mixologists all demonstrating their skills, alongside restaurant fitout specialists, web designers and professional service providers, not to mention food and drink producers too.
One such producer, Bad Brew Co were well placed in the craft beer quarter of the exhibition hall and along with their co-exhibitors provided a great chance to learn more about the latest crazes in the world of craft brewing. Bad Brew Co, based in Dishforth, North Yorkshire have been brewing since 2014 and are quickly expanding across the UK.
Another exhibitor also close to my home and heart, was the Harewood Food and Drink Project and their small batch gin. Eddy Lascelles, a Director of the company explained they are based on the beautiful Harewood estate in North Leeds. The project uses the best estate grown produce and collaborates with local artisan producers. Their Greystone gin, named after an ancient carved rock on the estate, is made using local foraged mulberries and elderberries. The tasting notes refer to a sweet pineapple aftertaste. I’m not sure if my unsophisticated palette could quite pick this up, but it really is an excellent gin.
Post lunch it was time for the Bruntwood NRB debate. This was hosted by Jamie Campbell (Director at CGA) alongside guest panellists, Gavin Adair (Rosa’s Thai Café), Nadia el Hadery (YFood), Laurence McCarthy (The Russell Partnership) and Johnny Smith (The Clove Club).
The panellists shared their insight and experience of some of the latest trends and challenges facing the industry. As the sector continues to turn to technology to preserve margins and gain competitive edge, the panellists debated whether this same technology could take away from the customer experience. Can software replace human interaction? Can the traditional process of asking for the bill be replaced? How can software continue to reduce food and drink wastage?
Several impressive tech and software solutions were referenced. Particularly notable was software that removes the need for diners to wait for a bill at the end of the meal. Instead payment details are taken at the booking stage and diners are simply charged for the food ordered. I couldn’t help but associate this with the McDonald’s model and struggled to see this working anywhere but casual dining. Also mentioned were solutions for reducing food wastage from standard measure, whereby inbound dry product and bin wastage in the kitchen process is recorded. For multiple site operators this could allow much more detailed monitoring of margins and appropriate stock rotation. They left us with lots to think about across the full spectrum of the sector.
The finale for the day came from the most recognisable maître d’ in the business, Fred Sirieix the star of First Dates. Interviewed by Thom Hetherington, NRB CEO. Fred was just as charming as he is on TV, if not more so. He gave a potted history of his route into the sector and some of the key people who have inspired him over the years. In contrast to the technology session we’d heard just before, Fred explained why he believes the personal touch remains vital to providing great customer service. It remains one of the key topics friends and colleagues focus on when making a restaurant or bar recommendation. Can that really be replaced by a computer without diminishing the overall experience? It may have been Fred’s magnetism, but I couldn’t help but agree with him; for the time being there is no replacement for excellent staff and excellent service in a great dining experience.
With his roll neck jumper and sharp suit, melodious French accent and cheeky grin, it was clear some members of the RSM team had already fallen under Fred’s spell. In fact, so much so, that one of my colleagues just had to get a photo before Fred could make a hasty exit…..Sorry Fred.