Our ‘Future of Food’ article series seeks to reveal more about some of the major trends, developments and issues facing various industries on the food sector. In this article, we’re going to look at the catering and hospitality industry in particular, and what changes are having an effect the restaurants, hotels, pubs and other businesses in this industry, as well as casting an eye to the future.
The catering and hospitality industry is one that appears to be faring reasonably well in the current economic climate, especially when compared with the wider retail industry. This is, of course, primarily down to the fact that physical outlets such as restaurants and hotels simply do not face the same competition online as physical retail outlets. We’ve seen a great many city centres in the UK transform from centres of retail, to centres of leisure instead. Indeed, since the 2008 downturn, growth in employment in this industry has been one of the highest.
However, certain areas of this industry are challenged, with pubs a particular issue. 2018 also appears to be the point at which the market has peaked - this year was the first in eight consecutive years where there were fewer restaurants than the previous year. Much of this is blamed on Brexit, and its result on exchange rates in particular.
Around 3 million people in the UK are employed within this industry, which is almost 10% of the entire UK workforce, making this a very significant portion of the economy. Around 4% of GDP comes from hospitality. It is easily affected by both overall economic trends and technological developments.
The subject of plastics is one that has featured very heavily in the news throughout 2018, and it seems likely that this will continue as the negative effects of single-use plastics in particular are made more and more apparent to the general public. 2.5 billion single-use cups are thrown away in this country every single year, with many millions of straws and other items also going to landfill. This creates a huge amount of waste, much of which cannot be recycled, meaning it sits almost indefinitely in landfill. Most straws for instance are not biodegradable.
The catering and hospitality industry is one of the largest contributors to these problem plastics, particularly when it comes to straws in hotels and restaurants, and cutlery in takeaways and food stalls. Given public feelings, it is not unlikely that the government may make moves to curb the use of single-use plastics wherever possible, in a similar way to carrier bags. Indeed, the EU has already discussed banning certain items for sale, and this may or may not become UK law, depending on the agreements that follow the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
It’s therefore going to be prudent for businesses to make their move to sustainable products as soon as possible. Many already are, with ingenious plant-based plastic alternatives in use for things like cutlery, and of course paper straws have always been an option. It’s very rare that a single-use item cannot be made more environmentally friendly.
Earlier this year, polling company Kantar revealed that more than a quarter of evening meals consumed in the UK did not contain any meat or fish, and this is something that’s expected to rise. Exact numbers of vegetarians and vegans in the country are hard to establish, but it doesn’t seem unlikely that up to 10% of people in the UK are either vegetarian or vegan. There’s been a growing trend in the take up of this dietary choice, but what’s interesting is that there’s also a very significant portion of people that could be branded ‘flexitarians’ - or those who simply wish to reduce their meat consumption where possible. This is driven foremost by the ethical considerations around the use of animals for food, but the severe impact of the farming industry on the environment is also a large factor.
How does this affect the catering and hospitality industry? The simple fact is that businesses are going to have to cater increasingly to those who want to eat less animal products. With around a quarter of British people now either looking to reduce their meat intake, or not eat it at all, there has to be serious consideration made. Businesses that don’t adapt are likely to lose out to those that do - especially when up against vegan or vegetarian-specific restaurants. Such menu options can no longer be an afterthought on the menu; with the likelihood that any group of diners will contain a vegetarian, not catering to them properly can easily result in significant loss of custom. Similarly, hotels would be wise to offer vegetarian breakfast options - but this can’t be limited to pastries and cereals.
There’s little doubt that this will be a challenge for many businesses; coming up with vegetarian (and especially vegan) dishes is often considered tricky, but the rewards should be worth it. Thankfully, these trends should be reflected in the supply to catering businesses, with many meat alternatives now widely available. Lab-grown meats are touted to be the next major food technology development, and indeed some high-end restaurants have already offered these as a real event piece - it will be exciting to see where this leads as prices for the technology come down.
The connected world seeks to remedy many of the everyday delays customers encounter, and ordering and payments are certainly included within that. The last few years have seen significant developments in how we order and pay for things, from the simplicity of booking things online, to the revolution of contactless. The catering and hospitality industry above other food-related industries needs to be acutely aware of these developments.
The first point is that contactless is now virtually mandatory for those running food stalls and other mobile catering units that take payments. Customers simply don’t carry cash in large amounts any more, so card payments are absolutely essential, and contactless should be included within this.
In restaurants, apps are turning ordering dynamics on their head. Major outlets such as Wetherspoons now allow customers to order and pay for their food using an app from the comfort of their own table. It’s not something that all businesses will want to pursue due to the lack of face-to-face contact, but other brands such as Frankie & Benny’s have gone halfway and now allow customers to pay for their meal using the app, removing the need to wait for the bill to be presented. The benefits of systems like these are plain to see in this industry - they reduce staffing needs and can potentially speed things up, increasing customer satisfaction as well as turnover of tables and therefore revenue.
To conclude, two major themes are running through the food world, in catering & hospitality in particular. The first is that of sustainability and moral choice. It’s driving customer attitudes towards what they consume and what they buy, and that has to be taken into account by businesses. People are no longer content to consume without thinking about the potential impact. The second is technology - as you might expect - businesses must stay on the forefront in order to keep a competitive edge over competitors, who are finding ways of doing things more efficiently.
Virtual College offers a number of online food safety courses that may be beneficial for businesses in the catering and hospitality industry, looking to stay ahead with their knowledge and skills. Click here to see our food hygiene training courses and more.