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Thu 19th Apr 2012 - Animal Inns, visitor numbers and top menu dishes

Story of the day:

Entrepreneurs buy The Animal Inns Group: Entrepreneurs Jez King and David Cappendell have bought the four-strong Norfolk-based Animal Inns group for an undisclosed sum. Animal Inns runs The Mad Moose, Norwich, The Hunny Bell, Hunworth, near Holt, the Wildebeest Arms, Stoke Holy Cross, Norwich and Mackintosh’s Canteen on Norwich’s Chesterfield Plain – one freehold, two free-of-tie commercial leases and a Wellington Pub Company venue. Animal Inns, which employs 85 people and has a turnover of £3.5m, was owned and managed by Henry Watt, who is staying on with the business in a consultancy role to oversee development of the brand. Watt set up his first restaurant 20 years ago, Hector’s House which he sold with a second business, The Aquarium, in 2000. Jez King, who has been working with Animal Inns over the past two years as a consultant, told Morning Briefing that the plan was to invest in the businesses in the coming year before starting to look at further acquisitions. “It’s a fantastic business with great potential,” he said. The acquisition has been funded by King and Cappendell, with some additional funding from Barclays Bank. Cappendell trained as a chef with the Roux brothers before helping to set up Slug & Lettuce and later setting up Metro Bar and Grill, which grew to four sites before being sold. King has additional interests in two other businesses. He runs Momo Leisure, the company that operates Jongleurs venues, with David Elphick. The company has sites in Nottingham, Bristol and Birmingham – and is set to open above the Sports Café in London’s Haymarket on 12 May. He also runs Old Sarum Hotels with Gary Morse – they both worked at Laurel Pub Company around a decade ago. Old Sarum runs two sites – the Cathedral Hotel in Salisbury and the Castle Hotel in Devizes. King added: “It’s that part of the cycle where landlords are very receptive and will do deals.”

Industry news:

Increase in tourism this year unlikely: An increase in UK visitor numbers in this Olympic year is “against all the odds”, the chairman of Visit Britain has claimed. Christopher Rodrigues said that any country that holds a major global event sees a decline in visitors and tourism spending that same year. He told the London Evening Standard: “Let’s be absolutely clear about this, a flat year of year-on-year growth would be a good outcome. A flat year would mean that we’ve done well against all the odds, all the history.”

Cameron defends pasty tax: David Cameron has defended the so-called pasty tax at Prime Minister’s Questions. Liberal Democrat Stephen Gilbert asked him: “The Prime Minister will be aware that there is no VAT chargeable of caviar, yet the Government is proposing to put VAT on the Cornish pasty. Can he tell me why it’s fair?” Cameron replied: “What I think is unfair is that products sold in a fish and chip shop which are subject to VAT, those same products can be sold in supermarkets not subject to VAT. I don’t think that’s fair and that’s why it’s right to redraw the boundaries.”

Filling the car costs more than the weekly shop: The AA has claimed that families are now spending more on fuel than their weekly grocery bill as petrol prices reach record levels. The motoring group reported that pump prices hit a new high of 142.48p per litre this week while diesel is also near its high of 147.88p per litre. The cost of filling a family car with a 50-litre tank is around £71.24 while an average household with two children spends £70.10 on food and non-alcoholic drinks per week. A two-car family is now spending £22 more to fill up than at the start of the year.

Academic calls for more tax on unhealthy food and drink: Mike Rayner, of Oxford University Department of Public Health, has called for increased VAT on fizzy drinks, chocolate and even pasties. He told the BBC: “There is now lots of evidence that manipulating food prices could promote healthy eating.” He argued a start could be made with fizzy drinks that would add 12p to the price of a can of cola. He said the move had the potential to reduce obesity case by 400,000 a year and save 2,000 lives annually.

Horizons names top ten menu items: Food service insights firm Horizons has named the ten dishes that appear most frequently on menus in the UK, according to its Menurama menu analysis service. The list in number one to number ten order is: beefburger, pizza, fish and chips, chicken burger, rump steak, chicken curry, sirloin steak, grilled chicken, roast chicken and, in equal tenth place, beef lasagne and sausage and mash.

US restaurant sales climb in March: Restaurant industry like-for-like sales in March remained consistent with gains posted in February, but operator outlook improved to its highest level as restaurant operators expect a strong April, according to the latest NRN-MillerPulse survey. Industry like-for-like sales increased 4.2 per cent in March, compared with the near-identical 4.3 per cent gain reported in February, the survey found.

Company news:

Former M&B Executive to launch labour scheduling system for hotels: Former Mitchells & Butler executive Alistair Scott is to launch a labour scheduling system for hotels after the success of a similar system for pubs and restaurants. Scott, who run Catton Consulting, currently has his S4 Labour system in use with 50 operators at around 400 pubs, a year after it was launched. Oakman Inns, the company led by Peter Borg-Neal, is the most recent company to sign-up for it. Now Scott plans to launch an adapted version, which includes a room-cleaning system, for the hotel market. 

Orchid to run wine festival at 100 pubs: Managed company Orchid is to run a ‘Grape Expectations’ wine festival through 100 pubs within its “Modern British” and “Independent Locals” this month and next. Customers will be encouraged to ‘Try before they buy’ when deciding on their grape of choice. Independent Local pubs will be encouraging engagement in customers through ‘fun fact’ table talkers. Olly Jakes, marketing manager for Free Houses, said: “We hope to inject some excitement into our wine offer and also make the festival rewarding for our pub guests through free t-shirts, badges, and of course wine samples.” Modern British pubs will be focussing on wine knowledge and food pairing, and have introduced wine wheels for customers. Customers who buy two large glasses of any of the wines on offer will get the rest of the bottle free.

Marston’s to open waterfront pub in Wakefield: Marston’s is set to build a new waterfront pub in Wakefield. The pub on the junction of Bridge Street and Doncaster Road, opposite the Hepworth gallery, is part of a major regeneration scheme already underway in the area. A planning report said the pub, which will be accessed from Barnsley Road, had been designed to “raise the profile of the waterfront area to visitors and boaters alike”.

Country pub sets up webcam in the kitchen: The Overstone Arms in Pytchley has set up a webcam in the kitchen so that people can Skype them, observe chefs via a webcam and even ask them questions. Owner Sue Withers said the camera points at the stove and the plating up area but in future they may feature the desserts section too. She said customers want to know how dishes are cooked so they can try them at home so they came up with the webcam idea. Most people who Skype the venue are not inside at the time. One man from New Zealand who used to live in Pytchley, across the road from the pub, Skyped them. Sue said: “I think he was a bit homesick.” She added: “A lot of the locals Skype us of an evening to see how we are doing.”

Spirit to trial franchise in its third quarter: Managed company Spirit will start to trial franchise models in its 530-strong leased division shortly, chief executive Mike Tye has told City analysts. The company will have completed an estate-wide review to identify the best option for each pub by the end of this month. Aggressive sales and plans have been developed and new pricing models will be introduced shortly. The company is currently selling around 80 bottom-end pub with 25 sold or in legals at the moment. A further seven leased pubs have been converted to the managed estate. Declining income from the leased estate was linked to 145 leases coming up for rent review, five years after they were let at the top of the market in 2007.

Domino Pizza’s largest Scottish franchisee targets German market: The operator of the largest Domino’s Pizza franchise in Scotland, Sean Geddes, with 11 outlets, is leading the push to expand into the German market. His first opens at Aachen, near the Belgian and Dutch borders, next month, with a branch following in Cologne in August and a third outlet before New Year. “Germany is a virgin market so we’ve selected Aachen because it’s near Belgium and the Netherlands, where the Domino’s brand is already familiar,” explained Geddes. “Aachen is a university town with about 45,000 students, and young people tend to be the first to adopt new brands.” One difference Geddes has noted about the Germany market is the speed at which the planning system operates. “It took only eight days to get planning permission for a store in Germany – it’s taken us up to two years in Scotland,” he said. Geddes said he thought saturation point in the Scottish market could be reached in three of four years so targeting Germany makes sense, especially with the economy growing and unemployment is low. He is investing £830,000 into his German business. In Scotland, his 11 stores turn over about £12 million. He plans to spend a further £1.5m opening four sites in Scotland this year. Geddes also operates the only portable Domino’s business in the UK, which has toured around music festivals selling pizzas to hungry fans.

S&M Cafe closes: The two-strong S&M Café chain has shut up shop after 12 years in business – the company had sites in Spitalfields and Islington. A message on the company website stated: “We have tried over the years to provide classic comfort food with integrity and to create interesting surroundings that we hope you liked.”

Lincolnshire chocolate maker Hames opens chocolate cafe: Hames chocolate company, founded 70 years ago, has opened a chocolate cafe in Skegness. The site will also allow the public to watch chocolate being made - and even make their own chocolates. Ted Hames said: “We wanted to create something that would appeal to families really, and give those eating in the cafe a bit of an experience.”

York nightclub to stay open after agreeing tough conditions: The Gallery nightclub, one of York’s biggest nightclubs and formerly owned by Luminar prior to adminstration, will not face a licence review after agreeing strict conditions. The nightclub has agreed: an earlier closure time during cheap drinks promotion nights; a maximum capacity of fewer than 600 customers, compared with the normal 775, during drinks promotions; a revamp of digital CCTV covering areas where public have access to alcohol and the front of the premises; the phased closures of bars during drinks promotions. Barriers would also be placed outside the club an hour before it is due to shut, with two members of staff in high-visibility bibs to be deployed every evening, and there will be more structured and robust door staff conditions, directing where and when staff should be on duty. Crime increased by 1,050 per cent at the premises last year in the wake of cheap drinks promotions.

Morning Briefing Diary:

Getting physical: It’s enough to produce a blush of slothful shame among those of us addicted to the couch. A swathe of sector figures are working hard on fitness levels ahead of one gruelling challenge or another. Wetherspoon chief executive John Hutson is preparing to run his fourth marathon this weekend. “I’ve had more injuries than I can even begin to bore you with in the last couple of years, but I am going to keep on running until you sponsor me!,” he tells Diary. Likewise, Garry Mallen, rent expert and boss of seven-strong GC Mallen, is pumping the pavements ahead of a marathon effort. “I’ve dusted off my shoes from last year and am raising funds for MACS, a very small charity doing immense work for children born with no or limited sight.” Meanwhile Phil Thorley, of Thorley Taverns, and his wife Lorraine have been spotted pounding the beach in Broadstairs in readiness for a slog around the London marathon. Phil says: "After finishing the London Marathon in 2008 I said I'd never do another, but when Lorraine beat my time by six minutes, what could I do?" Mental health charity Mind is set to benefit. And, last but not least, Beds and Bars boss Keith Knowles will be leading an industry troupe around London on his bi-annual Bridge Walk in June – this time the charity for injured rugby players will benefit. It’s exhausting just thinking about it.

Never going to give you up: Some pubs close without a flicker of emotion from the local community, others prompt prolonged grieving and obstinate denial. The Pheasant in Welland near Malvern falls into the latter category. When it closed in July 2010, locals maintained a nightly vigil for 13 weeks, gathering outside to maintain a community presence and protect it from vandalism. Almost two years on, they’re still agitating for a re-opening and have approached Pub is the Hub as part of renewed efforts to get it re-opened – and have launched an on-line petition. 

Welcome to ball pit hell: Pub indoor play areas seemed to fall out of favour amid horror stories about the things that can be found at the bottom of ball pits. But they like them over at Spirit Pub Company where they actually added two Wacky Warehouses in the past six months to bring the total number across the estate to 71. Chief executive Mike Tye told City analysts yesterday that their Wacky Warehouse play areas had more than 410,000 play visits in a year. “For some this might be their idea of a living hell. Personally, I think they’re one of the most exciting environments in our estate.” You can’t fault an enthusiast.

The vending machine that keeps on giving: Coca-Cola has come up with a publicity-grabbing stunt that’s definitely worth what it must have costs in free cans of carbonated burp-juice. As part of its Open Happiness campaign, the drinks company placed a drinks machine at a university in Singapore emblazoned with the words “Hug Me” rather than its logo. Instead of paying money, customers who squeeze the sides of the drinks machine receive a free can of Coke. As can happen in the digital age, footage went pretty much global.

Keeping it visible in the breastaurant sector: Tilted Kilt, the Scottish-themed Amercian bar chain that only employs kilted maidens in the peak of good health, has revealed its marketing strategy to drive sales through the Spring. Customers can vote via Facebook on which Tilted Kilt lovely they’d like to see appear on the chain’s annual calendar. Marketing manager Torie Steveson explains the complex thinking behind this: “It’s paying off for us because we’re so visual for obvious reasons. We get amazing amounts of engagement every year for this and we’re trying to maximise it.” Some kind of genius, no?

Water water everywhere, not a drop that’s free: TLC Inns boss Steve Haslam reports a rather threatening letter from Anglian Water containing a demand for a £2,990 deposit for the coming year’s water supply. The utility company claims that the deposit is asked for where there is a perceived risk of non-payment. A phonecall by Haslam to an Anglian Water paper-shuffler receives a rather nasty threat – bailiffs may be sent if the deposit isn’t paid. Thankfully, the stand-off is settled at the end of the phonecall with a last-minute suggestion from the Anglian Water factotum: set-up a Direct Debit up and there’s no need for the deposit. And they wonder why people get annoyed.

Indian lager scores publicity coup with Royal picnic: It looks like cask ale has been edged out of another potential showcase occasion. Heston Blumenthal has produced a five-course picnic meal for the 13,000 guests due to attend the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert. Hampers contain traditional British dishes such as coronation chicken and Eton mess with a Blumenthal twist. Every hamper has a voucher that guests can swap for - a glass of Moet and Chandon champagne or a bottle of Cobra beer. You’d have thought there’d be something brewed in London at least on offer.

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