George has his thunder stolen, and flapjacks are DANGEROUS!

All round the UK accountant-type folk were hovering over about-to-be-amended-spreadsheets, waiting for George Osborne to deliver his budget speech. They didn’t have to wait long because the Evening Standard leaked the highlights before the Chancellor had even risen to speak at the despatch box. But Jon Rutter and his team of professional stocktakers had to wait for the full published report before they could start adjusting the formulae they use in the tools of their trade that help customers with careful and sustained planning in the very competitive and demanding industry.

Once the news was out the Campaign to remove the beer duty escalator were over the moon. But those whose choice of tipple is wine or spirits were a bit bleak. The major pubcos and breweries were quick to announce that they would be passing the beer duty cut on to consumers and others like JW Lees would also not be going ahead with previously announced increases.

The wine and spirits trade made noises about the Chancellor’s “unfair and incomprehensible” move and hinted that it could be illegal. They are not happy. And the news that Chancellor George had now “gone Twitter” gave the platform for many to give him the benefit of their views on the budget. Some of the Tweets he received were not terribly complimentary.

Some Tweeters (or are they Twits?) seemed to cast doubt on whether the pubs would really pass on the price drop or use the line “production costs have risen” and keep the price the same. Readers comments in some newspapers also indicated that there was a wave of doubt growing. Perhaps the cynicism they displayed was because they had “heard it all before.” One reader, and he was supported by others, commented “when was the last time any of us bought a drink in a bar and the price didn’t end in a 0 or 5? This 1p will be swallowed up on to the pubco bottom line, not passed on to the consumer.” Only time will tell.

But while the debate on the budget was raging some chefs were contemplating the disturbing case of how they should possibly reconsider making their flapjacks. It seems that triangles are dangerous – well they have sharp corners, don’t they? That’s what the Castle View School in Essex ruled when a child was hit in the eye by a flying flapjack. “Make them square, in future,” the staff were ordered (as if squares DON’T have corners). It would probably be much safer just to scrap it from the menu altogether. Or issue warning notices on menus about the lurking dangers various dishes might harbour. Some dishes might even have to be renamed. But the danger then, is that the customers might not recognize what it is.

Like Tim Coffey in Bath who has been ordered to re-label his product because there’s not enough fat in it (0.2% fat difference, actually). It’s too healthy. It’s not ice-cream, it’s gelato, says the Council. Either rename the shop or advertise gelato – even though it looks and tastes like ice-cream. Passing a shop in Bath called “The-Real-Italian-Gelato-Company” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.gelato_all_39_italiana_a_01

Do children really say, “may I have a gelato, please Daddy?”

One wonders whether the cones the non-ice-cream is served in will also be ruled dangerous. Cones have a point at the bottom! Non-lethal. Unless they’re thrown at someone – like at a Council clip-board carrier.

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You’re not bringing that thing in here, Sir – take a number!

He sat across the table from me in the busy restaurant and reminisced. I could swear I saw a tear starting to form in the corner of his eye. “Those days, you could come in here and it would be an occasion. No music, just the gentle buzz of conversation from the tables and the waiters moving back and forth, the sound of cutlery on crockery and glasses being clinked together.”

“Now look at them all! Heads down, thumbs working at the phones and hardly a word spoken. I bet you find most of those people at that table are emailing each other while they sit there.”

Fred had a point. “Those days” that Fred was talking about was only 20 years ago. Since then the telephones have morphed from ‘bricks’ carried in briefcases to slim gadgets you can slip into a shirt pocket with technology that could virtually land a jumbo jet. But it’s not only the instrument that has changed. The whole way that people have been effected by this technological progress has changed the way we do things on a social level, too.

Internet shops became cafés as they dished out coffee in order to keep people there. More and more internet hubs sprang up as more people had the need to access the internet for business. And with the emergence of the smartphones, social media and trending favourites like Pinterest, the need for people to connect has become more pressing.

Mobile phone

Thank goodness for WiFi! Without it some pubs and restaurants would be empty. Michelle Perrett, writing in the Morning Advertiser, cites some interesting statistics on how pubs have become the ‘second office’ for many, thanks to the availability of WiFi. Internet connectivity was not what any landlord would have expected to have to consider a while back. But this aspect of running a business is the type of thing that customers who use stocktaking firms like Rutters now have to factor in to the equation of how to be efficient and stay ahead. Jon Rutter and his team of professionals continue, with careful and sustained planning, structure and foresight, doing what they can to ensure their clients stay ahead in the very competitive and demanding hospitality industry.

Many places now advertise “Free WiFi” – but obviously someone has to pay for it. And when the scale of the worldwide traffic on the internet in just one minute is considered, the result is staggering. 204 million emails, 6 million Facebook pages, 1.3 million YouTube videos viewed to mention a few. In one minute! The cost must be staggering too.

So it would seem logical that pubs, restaurants and other places where people gather to eat and drink should be up to date with technology so that at least patrons will feel they can stay in touch with their ever increasingly busy technological world from the comfort of their dinner table or seat at the bar.

Blokes like Fred who lament the passing of the ‘good old days’ are dying out. The sheer numbers of people using the new technology of smartphones, mini laptops, tablets and pads are fast outnumbering the old-school traditionalists. Despite the protestations of Fred and his ilk, it’s not going to change back, so those places without modern technology on offer might need to consider joining the trend.

Or not. Maybe the new trend will be a pub with no micro-chips allowed! How about arriving at the restaurant and being asked to check your devices in to the lady at the counter? She will put your smartphone in a box and give you a ticket (make sure you don’t lose it), and at the end of the evening will return your phone to you with the screen proudly displaying the 16 emails, 4 friend requests and 11 notifications that have arrived in the interim. Together with the reminder that you have a dinner reservation at 7:00 – 2 hours ago.

This might be something that could take off!

Gum, posh hotels and marlin steaks … busy week!

Milton Keynes is trying to do a “Singapore” on it’s citizens. This will be really good news for those who have been tasked with trying to remove wads of used chewing gum from the roads, from under chairs, from lift buttons and various other inconvenient places. The cost of removing gum has risen so much that the proposal is that for anyone caught chewing it, they will be fined.

In Singapore there has been a ban for over 20 years on selling, importing or manufacturing the product. And anyone caught chewing it can be heavily fined. This must make for a huge adjustment for any Americans who are posted to work there. A concession the Singaporeans do make is that gum is permitted if one has a doctor’s prescription. I wonder what health circumstances you have to declare for the NHS to buy into this.

Rumour has it that negotiations are underway for bids to erect billboards at various main routes into the town declaring: ‘You are now entering a gum-free zone.’

The MK Council is also consulting on late-night levies after the deputy police commander had urged them to introduce this for anyone selling alcohol after 1am. Funds raised by the levy would be used by the SaferMK initiative and applied to projects they are involved with that seek to address alcohol related problems in the town.

On a happier note, the Publican Awards were handed out last night. The Grosvenor Hotel hosted the affair with Rob Bryden in attendance. The 1100 guests were witness to an array of awards from ‘Best community Pub Operator’ to ‘Best Business Initiative.’ These winners and highly commended participants would all testify that part of their success and achievement could be to the value they place in stocktaking firms like Rutters. With careful and sustained planning, structure and foresight, Jon Rutter and his team of professionals continue doing what they need to, to ensure that their clients are in the top echelon of the hospitality industry and as well placed as they can be to earn the awards and recognition of the Industry.

Great white shark off South Africa (courtesy Percy Tours)

Great white shark off South Africa (courtesy Percy Tours)

Pub landlord Kevin Gardner didn’t need the event at the Grosvenor Hotel to bask in the glory of his own trophy that he got a week ago. A long way from Wroxham Road, Kevin hooked and fought a 1,320lb blue marlin that he landed three hours later. Not one for selfishness, Kevin shared his catch with the many islanders on Ascension. And he seems to treat his regular patrons to his catches too, having brought them samples of fish he has caught on his other trips to ‘hook the big one.’ Any local at the Kings Head should be careful when he asks for a “fillet from your latest catch, Kevin.” THIS one was six metres long!

He says that his next quest is to snag a great white in South Africa. Someone had better tell him to be careful, the sharks in that part of the world have been known to turn the tables.

It’s voluntary – but it’s mandatory, too!

“As if there wasn’t enough red tape!” could easily be the cry from across Wales as they become the first country in the UK to have mandatory hygiene ratings on display in all pubs and food businesses. The Act will require food businesses to prominently display their ‘rating card’ and the Local Authorities will have the task of enforcing the scheme.

Cynical members of the population might suggest that this is another ‘tax’ or another way for Big Brother to keep watch on every move by over-regulation. The FSA have a section on their website dedicated to explaining what it’s all about with a helpful FAQ section that details the answers to the questions they feel people will be asking. The answers to the many stock-type queries are clearly written in ‘official-speak’ type lingo with innocuous phrases and correct terms like ‘encourage’ and ‘support’ and so on. It’s the type of material Rhod Gilbert would have a field day with if he took the trouble to read it.

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The ‘Scores on Doors‘ has begun, whether it is welcomed or feared. Soon there will be little green stickers with black and white numbers appearing on restaurants and pubs near you. The higher the score, the safer the food is to consume  (according to some local inspector). The carrot and stick thinking is that the lower the score, the more the incentive the owner has to ‘up his performance’ in order to prevent possible customers giving him the cold shoulder.

The inspector will be looking for things like how hygienically the food is prepared, cooked, re-heated and stored. He’ll also look at the conditions of the structure of building – cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation etc. One wonders how many of the traditional old buildings will fare, many of them listed, that have been home to pubs and restaurants for hundreds of years.

Another item under his scrutiny will be on how well the business manages its operation with regard to records and keeping food ‘safe.’ This aspect is where establishments and chains who use stocktaking firms like Rutters have got an advantage over those who are trying to play catch up. With careful and sustained planning, structure and foresight, Jon Rutter and his team of professionals continue doing what they can to ensure their clients are ahead of the wave in the hospitality industry. So when a situation erupts over food standards or labelling, there are well established businesses able to ensure the public have no concerns if they choose to visit and enjoy their hospitality.

But with all of this careful scrutiny going on and this ‘Scores on Doors’ announcement, how long will it take for all pubs, restaurants and food establishments to be graded? Will the public’s perception be that if there is no score yet displayed on their Local’s door, that it has not come up to scratch? Or will they all rush off to the FSA’s website to get clarification?

And are there enough local inspectors who have now been tasked with this rating assessment, to complete the job as well as continue with their other functions. Or is this another employment creation opportunity? If so, how will they be trained in this demanding field? Will the Local Councils have to find the funds to pay them out of an ever dwindling purse?

It won’t be surprising if someone asks the question: “If this is mandatory, why is it referred to as the voluntary food hygiene rating system?”

So, if it’s called something like “Scores on Doors,” it must be OK – because it’s a catchy phrase!