MA500

A year in the life of MA500 members

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Club: MA500 members have been to the north, east and south for this year.
Club: MA500 members have been to the north, east and south for this year.

Related tags National living wage Vitamin c

The national living wage, the EU referendum and 'beertails' topped the agenda this year at MA500 meetings. Here, The Morning Advertiser reflects on the fast-changing landscape of the UK on-trade, as experienced by those who attended the gatherings. Nikkie Sutton reports.

This year, MA500 members zipped across the country, covering the south, east midlands and the north, and getting key business-boosting tips along the way.

Things kicked off in Nottingham with speakers including the co-founder of fast-growing smokehouse concept Red’s True Barbecue, James Douglas, who urged delegates to remember to give something back to customers by way of a ‘thank you’ and to take a ‘pub banter’ approach to marketing.

Douglas also told delegates to use social media to engage with customers, rather than just broadcasting to them.

The national living wage (NLW) was on the everyone’s minds and MA500 members took part in table discussions following a panel debate on the new NLW and its impact on their businesses.

Almost half (46%) thought the NLW was a good thing, while 29% said it would be bad, and a quarter were unsure.

Attendees gave ideas on dealing with the NLW, which included negotiating harder with suppliers, being creative with labour scheduling, upskilling younger staff members, focusing on performance management and improving recruitment practices.

Delegates also learned about Nottingham’s night-time economy, which has bounced back from problems in its past and is now thriving, thanks to redevelopment and investment from new licensed retailers.

Following the investment, it is beginning to rival nearby larger cities such as Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester, becoming a more vibrant place for operators.

In May, the club travelled south to Soho, London, to find out why operators should take a chance on central sites.

Inception Group co-founder Charlie Gilkes advised members not to shy away from highly competitive areas such as Soho, despite concerns over rising rents, but to embrace them.

“Soho is very central,” he said. “A million people travel in and out every day and there’s a huge amount of footfall.”

Former pubs minister Marcus Jones took an industry-wide approach and called for greater clarity and guidance on assets of community value (ACVs).

He hit back at criticism of local councillors who, according to some, fail to see the benefits of the late-night economy at licensing reviews.

The predicted effect of Brexit

The big debate at the meeting took a topical turn as it surrounded the then upcoming EU referendum and how a ‘leave’ vote would affect the pub trade.

The debate was chaired by the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) chief executive Kate Nicholls and panellists included Yummy Pubco founder and British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) chairman Anthony Pender, and entrepreneur Luke Johnson.

Pender argued for remain and said without immigrants, kitchens wouldn’t work and customers wouldn’t get served. Johnson countered that the EU stifles economic growth with red tape.

The final trip of the year took delegates to Leeds in September, where ‘beertails’ were on everyone’s lips, both figuratively and literally.

New World Trading Company head of bars Nick Whitby talked about ‘beertails’ and delegates tasted different varieties.

One of the drinks was a Pacific Brunette consisting of Pacific Pale Ale, rosemary, lime juice, apple juice, gin, vanilla liqueur and cinnamon syrup.

Another was a Passionate Ginger which had Passionate Blonde cask ale, ginger, passion fruit, lime juice, pineapple juice and gin.

The last option was a Black Betty which included Beavertown’s Black Betty dark IPA, lemon juice, Woodford Reserve Bourbon, mint and blackcurrant liqueur.

Operators gave pubs code adjudicator Paul Newby a hard time at the Q&A session. When asked about his feelings over comments made regarding conflicts of interest on his behalf, he fought back by saying the criticism hurt. He said: “I have a professional background and I’m not used to being in the bearpit of politics, which is where I find myself now.”

■ The next MA500 meeting will cover tips from industry experts and the traditional study tour of fantastic venues in Birmingham on 16 February.

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