“Last orders!”

EP’s Unusual Hospitality Stories

Stephen Moss CBE, founder and Chairman of the Springboard Charity grew BCP into the country largest airport parking booking service. But it is his time as Director of his family’s restaurant, Drakes at Pond Place, that Stephen helped change the face of hospitality.

Stephen was at the forefront of a movement, alongside other notable hospitality figures, that drove through a private members bill that became UK law. Impressive and so seldom achieved, it was a campaign driven by utter belief in doing what was best for the sector. 

Stephen owned and ran Drakes at Pond Place in Chelsea from the late 1970s to 1988 and was then a director and shareholder with Antony Worrall-Thompson, Richard Shepherd and Roy Ackerman CBE in One Ninety Queen’s Gate. It was during his time at the Michelin rated Drakes restaurant that Stephen realised that customers didn’t want to eat throughout the day because they couldn’t drink alcohol after 2pm. Wanting to extend the hours and increase the numbers, Stephen set about ensuring “Last orders!” was only called come end of the day.

“Last orders was 2pm back then and that meant our customers didn’t want a late lunch at the restaurant if they couldn’t drink any hooch. So, a few of us including Robert Carrier OBE, then Chairman of The Restaurant Association of Great Britain, and Roy Ackerman came together and decided to try and change the law. We looked at the pavement cafes of Europe and saw the advantages of extending drinking laws.”

“So we rallied others to support the bill and join us on a march to 10 Downing Street.”

The alcohol consumption laws at the time were an overhang from the First World War when Parliament believed mid afternoon drinking could interfere with the war effort. Under the Defence of the Realm Act drinking was allowed over luncheon and then again for supper; 6:30pm to 10:30pm.

Stephen, with his legal training knew they had more than a chance of success if they took a slightly different route to pushing a Private Member’s Bill through.

“We went through the Lords to begin with and Viscount Montgomery of Alamein introduced the bill. Once it got through, we then had the young MP Robert Banks lined up to present the bill in the Commons. We had to wait for a day when a certain well-known teetotal MP was not sitting and then took our chance and it got through and became law.”

It wasn’t all easy for Stephen and his colleagues, it’s very rare that Private Members’ bills become law. He needed strong publicity around an issue to affect the legislation indirectly. This is exactly what they did.

“It was incredible watching the draftsman write up the bill specifically for the restaurant sector in that it would only permit alcohol to be served throughout the day with a meal. So we rallied others to support the bill and join us on a march to 10 Downing Street.  Alongside many chefs and restauranteurs, we marched on 2nd April 1985 in our chef whites with Robert Carrier leading the way. We held up signs which read “The Victorians had more liberated drinking laws in their day!” and “Let’s get into the 20th century before its over!” There were around 200 of us and it really was huge fun.”

“It created a fundamental change which directly impacted on traditional split service shifts. No longer did the teams have to work lunch, take a long break and then work the evening again. There was much more flexibility all round.  It paved the way for legislative change to remove the requirement for meals to be served with alcohol so that the pub sector could then benefit. If there was any fear over what the change would bring, we were the example that it was all positive. It also naturally increased profitability of restaurants. It was a exciting time and we really celebrated afterwards.”

“I never cease to be amazed by the spark of light you see.”

Stephen shares this story today with the same enthusiasm he had back then and its just one of the many fine examples of where he has achieved positive change for the hospitality industry. In 1990, following a request by the London Tourist Board to help address the hospitality skills shortage in London, he helped found and remains Chairman of Springboard, a charity which promotes careers in hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism.

In the 1980s Stephen was frustrated that English food wasn’t celebrated and couldn’t attract English front of house employees because they didn’t find the sector exciting. It was therefore a natural alignment for him to help create the charity which was officially launched by then employment secretary Michael Howard in 1990 and held a central London location for for 21 years “on a peppercorn rent.” Today Springboard goes into schools and colleges, develops skills and supports sustainable employment.

When asked what keeps driving him, Stephen simply says, “I never cease to be amazed by the spark of light you see when someone from a disadvantaged or unemployed background is given the chance to change their life around. Building or re-building confidence through skills training and then watching someone fly is so fulfilling.”

This is clearly the fuel that makes Stephen continue to strive for greatness for the industry. He achieved real change by pushing through a law which has had reverberating positive impacts for the hospitality sector ever since. Stephen is a fine example of where someone, through sheer hard work and belief, can make real and powerful change.