As a Labour victory looks likely to be determined by a left-leaning younger electorate, Peter Martin considers the implications for hospitality businesses when serving and employing this increasingly influential demographic 


A Labour victory in the coming General Election will mark a major shift in British politics - and in a way that many people have perhaps yet to anticipate.

It will mark an important generational switch that is likely to influence Government policy for years to come - and by inference business.

Once social class was the main determinant of how people were likely to vote. Now it’s age.

Speaking to Tom Johnson, managing director of Trajectory, the influential insights agency, which has produced a fascinating report called Millennial Nation, he pointed out that Millennials, the generation now aged 28 to 43, were on the verge of displacing Baby Boomers, the 60 to 78 year-olds, as the largest demographic cohort in the UK by number.

More pertinently, Millennials, along with the under 28s (or Gen Z), will largely vote for Labour. 

Even at the last election, while 64% of over 65s cast their vote for the winning side, the Conservatives, only 27% of 25-to-34s and a mere 19% of 18-to-24s backed the winning party. It looks like being very different this time around. 

As Tom Johnson observes: “When that [a Labour victory] happens, it will be the first time since they came of age that Millennials have made their voices heard at the ballot box. So, for better or worse, the Millennials are taking over.”

When it comes to policy making, it’s natural for political parties to focus on the needs of their core voters. For the Tories it’s been older people. Labour can be expected to do the same, but this time the spotlight will shift to the aspirations and concerns of Millennials first and then Gen Z. It’s about keeping your base onside.

For the older end of that demographic, children, mortgages, rent and jobs are going to be major concerns. For the younger end, climate change, the sustainability agenda, housing, student loans and mental well-being kick in.

For the hospitality sector, it means that Government policy should also be more focused on measures designed to benefit the bulk of its customer base as well as its front-line teams. Within that there’s likely to be both good and bad news for business - but the shift will be towards the young, or at least younger parts of society.

We already know that younger staff want more flexibility at work and for their employers to be more proactive in green issues. Those areas are only likely to become more entrenched, not less - and even backed up by legislation.

When it comes to consumers, recent CGA data shows the under 35s are the ones more likely to be spending more on going-out, despite the cost-of-living crunch, and more importantly they make-up over half of those that are going out to eat and drink more often.

One important take-away from the Trajectory report, with implications wider than just politics, is that the young adult ‘pre-family’ lifestage is expanding. People spend more time in a phase of life before having children, marrying or buying property. At the same time, the family/parental lifestage is shrinking. People are having children later, and generally fewer children overall.

But as Tom Johnson says there are limits to this generational shift, as “the economic centre of gravity isn’t going anywhere”. But there are nonetheless important implications for brands, businesses and policymakers as Millennials start calling the shots.

How indies can win - don’t compromise 

It’s undeniably true that the upheavals of recent years have taken a much greater toll on independent pub, bar and restaurant businesses than on multiple operators. 

Site closures is one obvious measure. Even now, with the decline in numbers of licensed premises seemingly bottoming out, latest figures from CGA show that independently-owned site numbers dropped by over 2,000 in the last year, compared to a decline of just 156 for group-owned sites.

Similarly, while 65% of groups said they were enjoying increased revenues, only 25% of independents could say the same, 49% still seeing falling sales.

It’s been hard for everyone, but some are getting through it. So, it was a pleasure to be on stage with last year’s BII licensee of the year Joe Buckley, from the Tollemache Arms in Northamptonshire, to learn how he had worked through the tough times (not least setting up a drive-thru in his pub car park during lockdown) to now get back on the road to growth.

I interviewed Joe along with Joycelyn Neve, who is now re-energising and looking to expand her Seafood Pub Co from its North West of England base after some tricky times. What characterises both is their determination, creativity and undaunted enthusiasm. They are involved in their communities and know how to communicate with them. They remain inventive and ambitious entrepreneurs.

They have also learned much from their experiences of recent times, which has bred an unwillingness to compromise, whether that’s on the quality of their offering, particularly their food, or just as importantly on their business objectives.

Seafood Pub Co now has seven pubs, and will add more. Buckley is also open about looking to take on another pub to grow his business. Needless to say, both are being bombarded by agents with offers of sites to buy or lease. Few tempt them, although both admit that a few years back they might not have been so disciplined at turning down locations that don’t fit their operational criteria. These days, both are looking for bigger sites with potential to expand.

I also interviewed Mark Derry, executive chairman of Heartwood, at the same conference. He too is on the growth trail, and he definitely wants larger sites - with enough kitchen space, around 100 restaurant covers, 30 in the bar and another 30 or so outside. Yes, he wants even bigger locations - and isn’t going to compromise either.

There’s another truth here as well, that scale matters whether for an individual location or a business overall. It also means that smaller businesses, or to be precise smaller sites, are going to continue to find it difficult to survive. Closures of smaller pub sites, with little obvious potential for growth, are likely to continue.

Of course, this begs the question that perhaps we should measure the success of the pub sector in square footage rather than site numbers. But that’s another story.