Johnson, who heads up private equity firm Risk Capital Partners, was keen to instil a sense of positivity in delegates during his speech which followed a drinks reception and three-course lunch at the networking event at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park hotel.
“In general, the hospitality industry has completely defied the sceptics over the past five years,” said the entrepreneur. “I can recall countless times in 2008/09 when people were saying: ‘It’s discretionary spending, watch it being cut’.
“But that basically hasn’t happened, they were wrong, we were right.
“Of all the industries I’ve been involved with, the hospitality sector offers the most opportunities for those who want to start their own business and become successful. The vibrancy of the dining scene now in Britain means the market is full of possibilities for those who really want to make a go for it.
“Ours is an endlessly evolving market, which means innovation must be at the heart of things if you are to continue to prosper.
“This innovation can take many forms; it might be migration from a more traditional meal to informal dining; eating in shopping centres or leisure parks; specialising in small plates; food and wine pairings; breakfast and brunch.”
Having started out in hospitality when he was just 18, 50-year-old Johnson went on to point out the importance of young people in driving this innovation, claiming that ‘organisations that are dominated by geriatrics will not evolve and prosper’.
“I’ve come across many senior managers who for many years have comfortably navigated their time at the top, but they’re now finding it impossible to adjust their thinking.
“This country cannot afford to become a theme park for ageing baby boomers, obsessed by nostalgia, dreaming of glory days from the past, clinging to power and wealth like grim death.
“Young people understand technology better. They are also more optimistic; there is less cynicism and bitterness among the young. Someone at the start of their career is built to embrace change.
“Outdated structures must adapt, and those who resist are condemned to decay. You should mentor the young and feel it a duty and they should take a risk where they possibly can by promoting them early. Experience absolutely matters, but so does imagination and vitality.”
Drawing on his experience working as chairman and part-owner of an array of big-name brands and iconic restaurants including Pizza Express, Strada, Giraffe, Le Caprice and The Ivy, Johnson went on to reveal his belief that great service is what really makes an outstanding restaurant.
“Over the years I’ve found that it’s not actually so much the products you serve which guarantee success in this business - it’s the service you deliver to customers. It generates repeat custom and word-of-mouth recommendation.
“But despite all that, it’s extraordinary how bad service can still be in Britain, even at expensive hotels and restaurants - over two-thirds of all complaints relate to poor service.
“Good service doesn’t actually cost more to deliver than shoddy service. And it is an obvious way in these challenging times to gain an edge and take share from rivals, without requiring significant additional capital investment. But it does require constant effort and a skilled team and the right leadership.”
In addition to Johnson’s speech, the drinks reception and lunch, foodservice analysts Horizons presented their ‘seasonal digest’ report,revealing the highs and lows of 2012 and considering what will be ahead for the industry in 2013.
For more information about Arena and yesterday’s networking event, visit www.arena.org.uk