How the power of the people could help the hospitality high street

A three-minute read by Jane Sunley, Author and Founder Purple Cubed.

The hospitality industry lets out a collective sigh every time the news breaks that another high street restaurant chain is in crisis.  So why are some businesses, such as Honest Burgers, in double-digit growth whilst others are entering into CVAs? There are countless reasons, many of them economic, and getting the right product is clearly absolutely crucial. However, some of them are people related and that’s what I’ll address here.

Put simply, the world has changed and continues to change at an unprecedented pace yet according to the New Statesman, the UK is currently undergoing the longest period of wage stagnation since the Napoleonic Wars.

Today’s consumer eats out more than ever before, According to Deloitte’s UK casual dining report, the average 18 year old eats out 28 times a year, at 40 this dips to 18 and for the average 60 year old just eight times a year. Younger generations think differently – take tourism for example. Whereas the traditional tourist is still booking his hotel and hire car, the newer thinkers are looking to Air BnB and Uber for their accommodation and transport needs.

So what does this mean for the high street? People are looking for experiences over ‘fuel’; they want authenticity, provenance and sustainability. They’re naturally promiscuous as consumers and so require constant innovation, genuineness and premiumisation to create loyalty.  You can’t claim ‘fantastic, robust Italian dishes with authentic ingredients’ and then source your produce from the same wholesale supplier as cheap and cheerful pub chain, Wetherspoons.

There are some fundamental of success such as the right locations, good marketing, good financial controls, forecasting consumer demands and so on. And of course rising product costs, spiralling rent and business rates, undercapitalization and the occasional greedy investor have severely challenged the high street restaurant industry, though I believe it’s the people that truly make or break a business. Over Purple Cubed’s 18-year lifespan, we’ve witnessed this so many times first hand.


Business founders exude ‘what we are and how we do things around here’ from every pore; the ‘soul’ of the venture, if you like. Then, as the business grows and they step back this becomes diluted. Steps must be taken to not only clearly define ‘the magic’ though also put a plan in place to ensure it remains clearly embedded, people are enabled accordingly and encouraged to evolve it as things change. This way workplace culture will shape the decisions that are taken and employees can remain engaged in a clear purpose and values they believe in. A strong culture helps preserve the authenticity of the brand and prevents it from sliding into mediocrity. There’s a reason Honest Burger keep making those rosemary fries freshly every day even though it’s tricky and time consuming, rather than taking the advised route of buying in frozen like everyone else.


Many a high street business has suffered due to poor or misguided leadership. It’s important to establish ‘how we lead here’ and recruit, onboard, assess and develop against that. Otherwise it turns into a ‘free for all’ and people simply don’t know where they stand. Senior leaders must understand that the business model is changing and they must change with it, though always authentically, as this article explains. Which brings us on to…


Successful chains need to dedicate time and attention to understanding what lies at the heart of their experience, which will differ by geographic location and innovate in ways that will improve their offer. This sounds obvious though in practice seems to be forgotten too frequently. Many organisations say they want their people to innovate and then don’t have the open communication channels and managerial outlook to handle it. Those on the front line are closest to the customer; they hear feedback every day and they’re usually the first to know a) how to make business improvements b) what customers are looking for c) what customers think. However, the manager and / or ‘someone in head office’ often believe they know best and so people stop speaking up, become disengaged and simply ‘do their jobs’ until something better comes along, rather than providing the discretionary contribution that business needs.


Whatever the concept, the vast majority of consumers want to enjoy at least a positive and welcoming experience. If employees aren’t engaged this is highly unlikely to happen. The outcomes of the 2019 ‘Best Employers in Hospitality’ survey provide valuable insight into how to do this. It’s also worth noting that on a practical level, labour should be scheduled as accurately as possible. It’s irritating for the consumer if there are too many or too few team members and similarly disengaging for the teams. Whilst it’s impossible to forecast with 100% accuracy, there’s plenty of labour scheduling software out there to be able to come close.

Pret a Manger is arguably the most admired and evolving brand on the high street – and has been for more than 25 years – surely it’s no coincidence that they’ve combined great products, contact innovation and authenticity with a people-centric approach from day one?

Business may be tough for some, though why make it tougher by failing to harness the power of the people. For advice on how to become improve the employee experience, boost employee engagement and become a great place to work, contact us here.

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2019-07-05T11:22:38+01:00 July 5th, 2019|