Dan Warne at Peach @ The Beach: Seven takeouts
1 Hospitality needs disruption
Warne’s experience has taught him that consumers want fresh, interesting and authentic concepts. But he also knows how hard it is for smaller businesses that provide them to get capital for growth. Those learnings led him to start up Sessions - an incubator that helps new concepts find their feet, scale up and stay fresh.
“Social media’s forcing change faster than ever before, and as a traditional, bricks and mortar industry we struggle to keep up … so you end up with operations that get tired and old quickly,” he told Peach @ The Beach chair Peter Martin in the head-to-head interview. “You can market them better but we feel the best way is to refresh the whole content and make sure it matches what consumers want.”
2 Brands need a digital and human element
Sessions uses data to great effect, Warne said. “It gives us a view of every customer who comes in… it helps us assess which operators can scale up.” But like several Peach @ The Beach speakers, he argued that it shouldn’t take away from traditional and interactive aspects of hospitality. “There’s a balance [that’s needed] of automation and the human.”
Sessions takes an omnichannel approach, and delivery’s one part of that mix. “Delivery is a channel and we’ve got to embrace it,” he said, but Sessions was about providing a comprehensive food solution.
3 Food halls have the fluidity people want
Warne thinks Sessions’ multi-concept venues like Brighton’s Shelter Hall - a short stroll along the seafront from the Peach @ The Beach conference venue - are ideal for people who want new things. “Food halls have the fluidity that consumers want… there’s lots of choice, you can change concepts regularly, and you can digitalise [the operations] easily.” Not everyone wants change, and familiar and trusted big brands are no less important. “Of course there’s still a place for longevity… there’s a balance.”
4 Restaurants are part of the multi-media mix
Boundaries between channels like social media and TV are blurring, and restaurants are an increasingly valuable part of the content universe. It’s led to a partnership with American author, TV personality, chef and influencer Eddie Huang, whose Taiwanese steam bun concept Baohaus is now in residence at Sessions’ Islington and Brighton venues ahead of a potential rollout. The synergy is obvious: Huang gets royalties and Sessions gets a ready-made market via his social media exposure. “We get a route to consumers and we don’t have to spend a fortune to take that route,” Warne said.
5 Data can unlock growth
Warne told Peach @ The Beach that apps don’t suit every consumer or every venue. But it’s ideal for people ordering from multiple sources within Shelter Hall, and the data that’s collected can show if brands are likely to fly. Seeing how different operators perform in different places also makes new openings more targeted. “The aspiration is that we have enough of our content operating platforms and brands in the market for us to get information about what content will work in what area.”
6 Messaging has to be simple
Sessions’ Neighbourhood venue in Islington has taken a while to get going, Warne admitted. “It didn’t work first time round. I’m happy to wear that… I naively thought we could run four brands from one kitchen, but it’s too confusing for consumers.” The proposition now, with a focus on pop-ups and big chef names like Eddie Huang and ramen king Ivan Orkin, is much simpler. “You’ve got to keep it straightforward when you’re launching something - it has to be easy for the consumer to grasp.”
7 Manchester’s next
Next up for Sessions is a 30,000 square feet Manchester venue, and Warne’s taking time to understand the market and get the concept right. “It’s going to take a lot of planning… we’re not in a rush.” He also knows it’s vital to find the right partners. “I’m obsessed with creating a great consumer experience… but the operational discipline is a different business. So why do it ourselves when there are thousands of red-hot operators out there?”
Peach @ The Beach was supported by event partners Airship, Bird & Bird, Casual Dining, CGA by NIQ, COREcruitment, Lucky Saint, Square, Toast, Toggle, Wireless Social and Zonal.
Our next conference and networking event takes place on 14th November at the Roundhouse, London. If you would like to join us, you can request an invite here.