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As if we needed proof that we care deeply about our beer and coffee. Leading the news this week was Alistair Boyce, the multi-talented Managing Director of The Backbencher GastroPub, who claims that the cheap booze from supermarkets and liquor stores are damaging Wellington’s Hospitality Industry. He claims that Wellington’s Hospitality Industry is in decline because people are buying their alcohol cheaply and drinking at home. He calls for new legislation that would set minimum prices for alcohol across the board to even out the playing field. I’m sure Mr Boyce is not the only one who has made this kind of grumble.

The Backbencher and Boyce are an ‘institution’ that many of us have admired and enjoyed since we were kids, and we tread carefully and respectfully forward when discussing the opinions of such admirable folk, but has Mr Boyce been spending too much time with trigger-happy legislators in recent years, and not enough time with some even more successful business mentors?

Whatever the case – thanks Mr Boyce for giving us booze for thought. Do we ALL need to be reminded that we are not merely in the food and beverage industry but in hospitality? Sometimes I wonder about all the empty talk about ‘service’ and worry that the real meaning of ‘hospitality’ has gone out of vogue amidst the daily vernacular of the industry’s owners and staff.

Yes, it is true – the alcohol market has become increasingly competitive, but we aren’t merely in the booze market – we sell hospitality; that’s an entirely different product all together. Mr Boyce argues that bars and restaurants cannot compete with the supermarkets and liquor barns because of the increased labour costs and the industry’s inability to buy in the same kind of bulk at discounted prices. Well the industry can, and does, benefit from a competitive booze market, and markets never stay the same – and that’s why even the best hospitality businesses need to revisit their business model and aspirations every few years. Even the successful and intelligent have to be shaken and stirred – especially the benchmark institutions.

The ‘classic’ business study Good to Great, by Jim Collins and his team, are at pains to point out that the most successful businesses in the world succeed, not because they have not endured difficult markets, they ALL did, but because they faced the brutal facts and addressed them with discipline and creativity. Because guess what? People go out for the experience not just to have a drink, and your booze margins should never be the sole source of your labour costs. What does your business really stand for … I bet it’s not to provide cheap booze. Rediscover your passion, provide excellent hospitality for your punters and, within reason, they won’t care they’re paying more for a drink compared to being home alone watching MasterChef on the homogenizing gogglebox.

There are extremely helpful movements in the current market as well – the pumping tourism numbers for example. We are aware of some hospitality businesses where profits are up 30% from last summer despite being sandwiched between a supermarket and a liquor barn.

It’s been a great week for learning; Stephen Mateer of the Lyttelton Coffee Company ruffled feathers this week by putting a sign up, “Don’t do Trim eh. You’re fooling ya self anyway”. Poor Mr Mateer found himself having to justify himself on national television … but what great publicity!

Despite being a rather ashamed trim-milk drinker, I will be making a point of supporting the Lyttelton Coffee Company for its admirable sustainable practices; the full milk from the Oxford farmer in the stainless steel drums – fantastic! Nevertheless, what can we learn here?

Mr Mateer was accused of being rude, an over-the-top claim, but in the interests of moving forward I couldn’t help but notice the Lyttelton Coffee Company’s ‘non-website-website’ with absolutely no information describing the company’s vision or sustainable practices. It’s understandable that Mateer is the, “don’t want to go on about it type” but perhaps the company’s lack of good communication is partly to blame for the misunderstanding? The company can’t just blame the media here. While excellent communication on a company’s sustainable practices is not only great marketing, it also performs an inspiring service for the local community and the wider industry. Lead by example please… but probably not by a mangled note scribbled on the back of a paper bag eh …full milk for thought? Hospitality is our game – we’re in the feel-good business, and in our view great hospitality is a virtue not just great business.

5/2/2016 Mrs Hospitality