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Wed 9th May 2012 - TGI Friday's, Wear Inns and Ember Inns

Story of the day:

UK design company hired to repeat TGI Friday’s UK success in the US: Design and brand development company Harrison, headed by veteran pub and restaurant designer Philip Harrison, has been hired by Carlson Restaurants Worldwide to work on TGI Friday’s site evolution in the US. Harrison, which oversaw the hugely successful re-invention of TGI’s Friday’s design in the UK, is working on a new-build TGI Friday’s at a shopping mall in Nashville. The ambitious new-build follows success with the smaller scale re-modelling of two TGI Friday’s sites in Long Island. Harrison told Morning Briefing: “The first UK TGI Friday’s site we worked on was in Birmingham. It was a shell due to smoke and water damage. We embarked on a journey aimed at dialling up some of the old values of TGI Friday’s, a chance to re-connect (with customers). The Island bar is still powerful but we pulled it forward, as well as creating an open kitchen. When it landed it succeeded in re-engaging with a younger, single market as well as families. The US guys liked what they saw and asked us to do the same with the brand over there – re-engineer it. I think we’ve begun to see a net export of UK ideas – rather than an import of ideas. I’ve begun to see a lot of UK-influenced design ideas in the US (restaurant market) – you can see people have been over here and looked at things.”

Industry news:

Sector EIS schemes receive disappointing response: Industry sources suggest sector Enterprise Investment Schemes (EIS) launched in the past few months have had a disappointingly low uptake. The major exception is City Pub Company East and West, the EIS scheme launched by Clive Watson and David Bruce, which was over-subscribed for its £3.75m target. Other EIS schemes seem to have struggled to raise cash. One source said: “The financial people I’ve spoken to say they have been amazed by how slow it has been. A lot of people seemed to be hanging on to their cash ahead of pension rules being changed. Others seemed to be wary about pub retail property. It’s a bit difficult to explain why it’s been so slow.” Another source said: “We’ve raised some money but not as much as we’d hoped – we got off to a reasonable start but then it slowed down.” The maximum that can be raised under an EIS scheme has changed repeatedly in recent years. The maximum was due to rise from £2m to £10m this financial year but was revised down to £5m in the budget last month.

Tim Martin – we must create an intellectual platform: Tim Martin, founder of JD Wetherspoon, has argued that the industry can win its argument for reduced VAT if it creates an “intellectual platform”. In a letter referring to a debate on the issue at last week’s Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers conference, Martin said: “(Stonegate chairman) Ian Payne, reflecting the views of a number of pub owners, said it was not worth campaigning for lower VAT since there was not a "snowball’s chance in hell" of winning. However, … if we can bring to public attention the fact that pubs pay VAT on food but supermarkets don’t, and people believe, as we do, that the disparity is unjust, it creates an intellectual platform for arguing that other taxes affecting pubs, such as excise duty, should be reduced to compensate. My experience of arguing against the introduction of the Euro in Britain over a decade ago, supports the view that the public, and eventually the government, can be persuaded by sensible and reasonable debate. Our main argument is tax equality for VAT, but arguing for this also helps related arguments for other taxes.”

Landlords drop length of leases: Landlords are being forced to lower the length of leases, according to the largest independent study of commercial property tenancies. The study, which is due to be released next week, will reveal a fall in lease lengths to a new low of 4.8 years on average. The study by the British Property Federation (BPF) and Investment Property Databank, reported “an increasingly polarised market has developed over the past year, with some long-term deals on prime property, but also a tendency for some occupiers to opt for a ‘stop gap’, rather than more medium term leases”. BPF chief executive Liz Peace said: “In uncertain times it is quite understandable that occupiers are opting for shorter leases. The long term trend has, for some time now, been towards a shorter lease, but this has been accentuated over the past year by economic circumstances. Anyone thinking of starting a business in the current climate will find some good deals in the market and the widespread provision of rent free periods, even on shorter leases, and also high incidence of break clauses.” BPF said 32.9 per cent of the retail landlords included in the survey were prepared to offer rent-free provisions. On the high street, the average length of leases for retail units fell from 7.7 years to 7.6 years.

High praise from former Michelin editor: The former editor of the Michelin global food guide has praised British restaurants for raising their standards of cuisine and service. Derek Bulmer said British restaurants had shown immense improvement in the 33 years that he has been in the business. He noted that during the first year that the Michelin Guide published its edition in Britain, only 25 stars were awarded. In 2011, the number of stars awarded had grown to 143. Bulmer said he remembered eating “ordinary food” with ingredients taken from the freezer, but this is now a thing of the past. He said fresh ingredients were now being solely used in the food served from both small pubs and big restaurants in the UK.

Venison getting harder to find: Chefs could be in for a tough time trying to source venison as sales soar and deer farmers struggle to keep pace with demand. In spite of the recession, sales have soared by as much as 50 per cent, with one supplier reporting a three-fold increase over the past year. The lure of venison has been sparked by endorsements by the Prince of Wales and a growing number of celebrity chefs.

Recession has sparked intense period of menu innovation in the US: Veteran US trend watcher Nancy Kruse has reported that the recession has sparked one of the most intense periods of innovation the sector has seen. Speaking at the National Restaurant Association (NRA) show in Chicago, Kruse highlighted research from Chicago-based firm Technomic, which found that in a recent six-month period, the top 250 restaurant chains had introduced 1,521 new entrees and 1,726 limited-time offers.

Yum Brands chief executive argues that employee recognition key to success: David Novak, the chief executive of Yum Brands, has told the NRA show in Chicago that the key to success in the restaurant sector is to foster a corporate culture built around recognising employees for excellent performance and for their ideas. “As a leader or a coach, you have to start celebrating other peoples’ ideas more than yours,” he said. “The sooner you learn how to do that, the better the leader you’ll be. It’s more important for you to raise other peoples’ ideas to get them excited about how they can contribute.”

Government minister – minimum pricing “illegal”: Universities and Science Minister David Willetts warned David Cameron that a minimum pricing policy on alcohol is “very likely to be deemed illegal” under EU law, according to a letter obtained by Channel 4 News. The letter, sent four days before the Prime Minister outlined the measure, reminded Cameron that the Attorney General had already said the policy “carries a significant degree of legal risk”.

Food and beverage firms have a north-south divide: High street firms, including those in the hospitality sector, are operating a north-south divide with prices in northern cities considerably cheaper, according to a snapshot survey by the Daily Mail. The survey found a 19.2 per cent price difference on fish and chips between a JD Wetherspoon site in Hammersmith and one in Hull - £6.20 versus £5.20 for the same dish. The survey found north-south price differences for Beefeater, Domino’s and McDonald’s.

Company news:

£10m war chest for Wear Inns: Cleveland-based multiple operator Wear Inns has exchanged contracts on a package of pubs. Chief executive John Weir told Morning Briefing that he hoped the deal would be finalised by the end of this month, but until then he could not release any details of the number of pubs, their locations, or the vendor. He did confirm, however, that all of the units were freeholds in the company’s heartland of Yorkshire and the North East and they were wet-led community pubs. The purchase follows an injection of £10m into Wear Inns by Business Growth Fund (£8m) and NVM Private Equity (£2m). The company, which was founded in 2006 by Weir and industry veteran and former Pubmaster boss John Sands, owns 15 freeholds. NVM has helped finance the company since its start-up and so far has invested £4.2m.

Marston’s lines up “pioneering” Scottish pub: Dunbar is set to be the "pioneering site" for Marston’s first Scottish pub after councillors approved a licensing application for a pub and a 26-bedroom hotel. Marston's has been granted a provisional premises licence for a food-led pub and a neighbouring hotel on Spott Road, between Spott Roundabout on the A1 and the town's Asda supermarket. The £5m scheme follows the striking of a deal last year between the company and Dawn Developments. Peter Dalzell, managing director of Marston's Inns and Taverns, said: "This is an exciting opportunity for Marston's and one of our first developments in Scotland.”

Cozy Pubs acquires third site: Work started yesterday (Tuesday) on a £500,000 refurbishment of The Saracens Head Hotel in Great Dunmow, Essex. The work is part of a £1.75m to £1.8m investment by Cozy Pubs, which acquired the freehold interest in the pub from a subsidiary of RBS on 26 April. The Grade II-listed building will undergo a complete internal refurbishment to convert the 31 bedrooms into boutique hotel-styled accommodation with a 78-cover gastropub. Cozy Pubs’ director Timothy Doyle said The Saracens Head is scheduled to re-open on 31 May. He said the refurbishment will restore the original features of the pub and create a more modern feel. “It has been a bit neglected and we now want to hand it back to the people of Great Dunmow.” Food will be offered from 7am to 11pm every day and Doyle said the menu will be similar to the one offered at the company’s other two pubs – the Cricketers Arms in Rickling Green and The Eight Bells in Saffron Walden, both in Essex and owned by Punch Taverns. Cozy Pubs is run by Doyle, Paul Cutsforth and Leanne Langman – the sister of Peach Pub Company co-founder Lee Cash.

Third site for gastropub duo: The duo running two popular gastropubs in the centre of Bath have just re-opened a third site on the outskirts of the city. Joe Cussens and Justin Sleath acquired The Hare and Hounds in Lansdown in February and invested “several hundreds of thousands of pounds” refurbishing the building, which opened last week. Cussens said: “We weren't looking for another site, but we just saw it was up for sale and we made inquiries and took it from there. It is just the location really, also the views are so spectacular and the pub just had so much potential. The building was in a really poor state of repair, the roof needed replacing and there was just a lot of work to do.” The new head chef is Daniel Moon, who has based the menu on dishes offered at the other two sites.

Ember Inns allows children in: Ember Inns, the chain owned by Mitchells & Butlers, is to allow children in and has launched a children’s menu. One manager Chris Taylor, of The Rose & Crown, in Scartho, Grimsby, said: "It's a good move that Ember Inns has made and it is a step into the future. The majority of people are very happy with the decision. People don't even know children are in because they sit in a designated seating area. We are averaging around 25 kids' meals a week – which isn't bad considering it's new to Ember Inns.”

Hook Norton targets Cotswolds pubs: Oxfordshire brewer and retailer Hook Norton has hired pub and hotel agent Colliers International to track down pub acquisitions in and around its Cotswolds heartlands. The regional family brewer is looking to expand its network of pubs in quality market town sites within an 80-minute drive of its headquarters, but Colliers has also been briefed to include a number of outlying towns including Worcester, Warwick and Northampton.

Ed Mason acquires fourth pub: Entrepreneur Ed Mason has bought his fourth venue – Whitelock’s in Leeds. Mason currently runs the Deramore Arms in Heslington, and two pubs in London – the Duke of Wellington and the 'craft beer' bar Mason and Taylor. He said: “I first started drinking at Whitelock's when I moved to Leeds in 1989 and it has always had a special place in my heart. We are committed to maintaining our Good Pub and Good Beer Guide listings, and working with the independent breweries of Yorkshire to maintain the pub's long-standing commitment to real ale.” The pub was owned by Chennell and Armstrong, whose directors have wound up the firm to go into retirement. 

Edinburgh restaurant forced out of business: One of Edinburgh’s best-known French restaurants has closed, bringing with it fears for the restaurant trade in the city. Jean-Michel Gauffre, owner of La Garrigue in Eyre Place, cited a decline in turnover for his decision. Gauffre’s other two restaurants - the original La Garrigue restaurant in Jeffrey Street and a recently purchased bistro in Leith - will remain open. Gauffre told the Scotsman newspaper: “It was just too ambitious to run three restaurants. It was getting too much. A lot of the industry is suffering – the amount of cash that people have to spend just now is getting tighter and tighter and the turnover at that restaurant was getting lower and lower. The really high class restaurants are doing well. People who go there have enough money to go out and pay the kind of prices that these places demand. Then you get the lower end of the market, which can afford to discount a little bit more. But for the ones in the middle – like mine – life is tougher. The competition is also getting better and better and your share of the cake is getting smaller and smaller.”

Eighty new Baskin-Robbins planned: US retail giant Dunkin’ Brands Group has plans to add around 80 Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlours in the UK by 2015. Three parlours opened in London last week featuring the brand’s new store design that includes lounge seating, digital menu boards, larger ice cream cake displays, and British-themed ice cream flavours. Currently there are around 100 Baskin-Robbins’ outlets in the UK.

Charles Wells aims for 20 John Bull pubs in France by 2016: Bedford-based brewer and retailer Charles Well aims to double the size of its estate of John Bull pubs in France to 20 by 2016. Its eighth managed site in France is due to open in July – it will be called The King Arthur and was formerly a jazz bar. Anthony Wallis, managing director of John Bull Pub Company, said: “The King Arthur has a great location in the centre of Lyon and our refurbishment programme is on track for its opening date. This is our first pub in Lyon and it will be a perfect fit for such a vibrant city.”

Real enthusiast plans first micro-pub for Derby: A real ale drinker is planning to open Derby’s first "micro-pub" – a tiny alehouse with a focus on cask ale but which has no music, no food and no television. Walter Scott wants to transform a former dry-cleaning business on Chester Green into a “cozy drinking bar” able to fit only 30 people.

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