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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Tue 12th Feb 2013 - Balthazar, Luminar and Whitbread

Story of the day:

Nightclub company Luminar reports ‘progress’ in first year – and 13 refurbishments planned for 2013: The UK’s largest nightclub company Luminar, which operates 56 nightclubs, has reported “progress” in the 14 months since it was acquired out of administration. Chief executive Peter Marks has described the company’s first six months as “difficult” as it strived to reverse the downward momentum caused by the administration process. However, the company began to show positive signs in performance from management action from September onwards, helped by nine refurbishments. Company moving annual total Ebitda has increased for each month since November, with December producing a 6.6% increase in like-for-like sales. Total sales were up 20.9% in December thanks to the re-opening during the year of closed sites such as Guildford and Crawley. The company had to negotiate around 46 lease assignments with landlords in the wake of administration. That process is nearing completion with terms agreed on all but five - it expects to agree terms on the remaining five with just “one or two” others still uncertain. Marks said: “The first year has had its trials and tribulations. Buying a business out of administration comes with a lot of headaches – setting up new accounts with suppliers, getting credit terms, and negotiating with landlords. The downward momentum during administration was quite seismic and turning around the business without capital investment was difficult. We applied a volume-income-profit approach to every session at every nightclub. We sought to create volume first, then drew back on the offers to create income from which profit flows. The process was slower than we originally envisaged and it was September and October last year before we felt things were moving positively for us.” A “granular” session-by-session, venue-by-venue approach has had some very positive outcomes at sites. Marks mentions venues in Halifax and Hull that ended the year “brilliantly” after regaining their status as their city’s busiest nightclub. On negotiations with property landlords, Marks said: “We have to get flexibility from landlords to continue and we have been trying to work very closely with them. We’ve said, ‘We’re going to run the business as well as we can, show you what we are taking and making and, hopefully, agree a way forward’. On leasehold premises, you can afford to spend around 10% of turnover on rent and other property costs – when the cost is 15 or 20% of turnover, you are probably not going to make money.” Luminar will focus this year on “maximising the potential” of each sites, aided by a step-change in the refurbishment programme to include 13 sites at the moment. Marks would like to expand the refurbishment programme to 18 sites, which would set the company on track to refurbishing one-third of the estate each year. He argues that one of the problems for Luminar was the average age of site refurbishments was 6.5 years at the point of administration. “We need to get that average down to three years. The returns have been phenomenal – payback on investment within a year or two - where we have fixed our businesses through refurbishments, not least because the broader high street has become uninvested.” Another challenge Luminar has set itself this year is “stretching” its proposition by using the second and third rooms in its large sites to create a more ‘credible, alternative’ offer aside from the mainstream one. Marks and his team were touring venues in London’s Shoreditch last week, scouting for inspiration and ideas. “We think there is a great untapped market for a more ‘credible’ offer, catering for people a year or two older than our core audience who we often lose to independent bars. It makes more sense to stretch what we offer at Luminar rather than go in a completely different direction.” There will also be a focus on improving the mainstream customer offer with VIP areas, booth seating and wider use of technology. One innovation just introduced is the first ever weekly and monthly saver tickets that provide customers with discounts through a bundled offer – as used elsewhere in gyms, casinos and cinema chains. 

Industry news:

Big demand for places at Propel Multi-Club conference on Tuesday 19 March: More than 200 places have been booked for the first Propel Multi-Club conference on Tuesday 19 March after the launch of the speaker programme last week. The full-day event includes a section on brand longevity. Colin Sadler, managing director of Marston’s Pitcher & Piano brand, will review the history of the 25-year-old Pitcher & Piano brand and explains how it has been re-energised by the company. Chris Gerard, who oversaw the roll-out of Vintage Inns at Mitchells & Butlers and founded Innventure, will give his thoughts on brand evolution, longevity and innovation - the company has combined a coffee shop and restaurant at its latest site in Saffron Walden. Steve Cash, Brand Operations Director of Harvester, which sells around 30 million meals a year, looks at how Harvester has stayed relevant during the three decades since it was founded. Multi-site operators can book up to two free places by e-mailing
Cambridge pub planning rules fail to protect “restaurant”: A plan to build 12 homes on the site of a former Cambridge pub have been approved at appeal. Campaigners claimed the decision on the plot where the Dog and Pheasant once stood in Chesterton High Street “drove a coach and horses” through new rules designed to protect the city’s pubs. This is because an inspector found that prior demolition of the building – which was not prevented by the new regulations – meant the protection no longer existed. The appeal decision also ruled its most recent use had been as a restaurant, Saigon City, and not as the mixed-use pub and restaurant which residents claimed. Colin Brown, agent for the developers, said it was a “victory for common sense”. He said: “The property had operated as a restaurant for many years and was therefore not caught by the council’s interim planning guidance note on public houses. The inspector agreed with this interpretation and accepted this is a suitable redevelopment site for housing.”

Cafes replacing pubs as venues for young people to meet: Cafes are taking over from pubs as the place for young people to meet. The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) found that in 2003, 70 per cent of 16 to 24 year olds said they had a drink in the previous week. By 2010, the figure had fallen to 48 per cent. Jim Winship, director of the Cafe Society, said: “One reason for this drop is that young people are choosing to go to cafes to socialise as opposed to going out drinking. Indeed, cafes are fast becoming the social hubs in cities across the UK, regaining the position they once held.”

Glasgow City Council cracks down on restaurants’ home-made blowtorches: Glasgow City Council served 36 prohibition notices on restaurants across the city in the second half of last year for using homemade blowtorches to cook chapatis. Brian Devlin, executive director of land and environmental services for Glasgow City Council, stated: “36 prohibition notices were served as a result of businesses using non approved gas equipment, specifically, chapati flamers. A chapati flamer is a device used to scorch the surface of chapatis mainly for aesthetic effect. These devices are almost always ‘home made’ with a rubber hose attached to a piece of copper tubing with a flattened end. A simple butterfly valve is often the only means of controlling the gas flow and the device is manually lit by a taper.”

Seaside town receives million pounds for pier restaurant: Hastings has received more than a million pounds that will be spent creating a new pier restaurant. Hastings has won one of the largest slices of the government’s £18 million coastal communities fund with a £1.24 million grant. More than half of that money will be spent in setting up a Pavilion Restaurant bistro, cafe and bar to be run by the Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust. The café is set to open next year and will employ apprentices from Sussex Coast College Hastings in a scheme based around Jamie Oliver’s 15 restaurants.

Former multi-site pub operating MP buys a stake in a pub: Simon Kirby, Brighton Kemptown MP and founder of the multi-site pub company C-Side, now sold, is one of hundreds of people to buy a share in The Bevendean co-operative pub. He said: “Pubs can play an important role as a hub for the community and I am hopeful this will be the case here in Moulsecoomb. That is why I have been happy to buy a share to show my support for this worthwhile project.” The Bevy, in Hillside, Brighton, was closed down in 2010 because of antisocial behaviour. But a group of locals decided to raise £200,000 to reopen it and provide a sociable safe space. So far nearly £30,000 in shares and investment since the campaign opened in December.

Cost of a pint to hit a fiver by the end of the decade: A pint will cost nearly a fiver by the end of the decade unless ministers axe the beer duty escalator, according to The Sun. The newspaper stated: “Under the beer duty escalator, introduced by Labour in 2008, beer duty goes up by two per cent above inflation every year. The Coalition have ploughed on with the policy, claiming they cannot afford to overturn it. But projected figures seen by The Sun show the impact that decision will have on our pockets in the years ahead. By 2020 the average price of a pint of five per cent strength beer will be £4.86, a rise of 44 per cent. In London, where a pint already nudges £5 in some bars, the average will be £5.76.”

Barclays chief executive – we will change to regain trust: Barclays chief executive Antony Jenkins has this morning set out a strategic plan for the bank to regain trust. He said: “2012 was a difficult year for Barclays. In June we reached a settlement with various regulators regarding the bank’s misconduct in relation to Libor and Euribor. We know that we need to change the way we do business if we are going to regain the trust of our various stakeholders and begin to restore our reputation. The process will take time, but we are committed to transforming Barclays. We have defined our goal as becoming the ‘Go-To’ bank, an ambition for Barclays to be the instinctive bank of choice for all those with whom we engage. We want that choice to be both rational and emotional - because of what we deliver (our performance), and how we deliver (our values). We have today set out a new course for the future of Barclays. From today I am determined that no-one should be able to question our intent or our commitment to the path that I have set out.”

Company news:

McDonald’s global sales fell by 1.9% in January: Global sales in January at McDonald’s restaurants around the world fell 1.9%, more than analysts expected. A rise of almost 1% in the US failed to compensate for sliding sales elsewhere. In Europe, sales fell by 2.1%, as the Eurozone’s debt crisis continued to hit consumer spending in Germany and France especially.Sales slumped by 9.5% in the region that includes Asia, the Middle East and Africa. McDonald’s cited a weakness in demand in Japan as one of the causes, as customers increasingly choose to eat at home. It is only the second time in nine years that McDonald’s has reported a fall in monthly sales - the last being in October 2012.

Whitbread boss – we will work with local partners in India: Whitbread chief executive Andy Harrison has reported that high property prices in Indian cites will mean the company will seek to work with local partners in developing Premier Inn hotels: He said: “So far we have invested in wholly-owned hotels in India with the aim of building the brand and showcasing the product. Apart from our existing properties in New Delhi and Bangalore, we are opening another hotel in Pune in the next six months, and breaking ground with one hotel each in Goa and Chennai. Since it will take too long to develop the business if we go for the fully-owned property model, we are planning to adopt a property-light model, wherein we will work with local partners but we will be the operator of the hotels. Land prices are also very high in most big cities of India. So, we think it is economically relevant and much quicker to work with local partners.”

Balthazar Boulangerie opens: The Balthazar Boulangerie takeaway, next door to the main Balthazar restaurant in Covent Garden, opened yesterday. It sells bread, pastries and viennoiseries, sandwiches, salads, chocolate and cookies. The Balthazar Boulangerie opens from 7am - 8pm weekdays and on Saturdays from 11am - 6pm.

Concern over the future of Chris Evans pub: Village residents have held a meeting after Chris Evans pub, The Lickfold Inn, was boarded up – three years after he closed the site. Evans bought the pub in 2007 but closed it in 2010 after claiming he could ‘no longer justify keeping the Lickfold open’ - it was boarded up a fortnight ago. An email to villagers from one of Chris Evans’s accountants, Kirit Doshi, said the disc jockey still looking for an offer on the pub. Chris Evans reportedly bought the pub for more than £1m. The asking price for the property is now in the region of £825,000.

SA Brains appoints first female brewer: Welsh brewer SA Brains has appointed its first female brewer in its 130-year history. Ffion Jones, who previously worked as the brewery’s assistant brand manager, passed her brewing exam last month and then last week started a new role as a brewer with the company. Jones told The South Wales Echo: “My colleagues quite like the dynamic, I think they quite enjoy it when I’m there. Before I started at Brains, beer wasn’t on my radar but since working here I think it’s a drink for everybody.”

Work begins on £7m leisure scheme in St Neots: Work has begun at the new £7 million cinema and leisure development in St Neots town centre. Constructed by Britannia and developed by Turnstone Estates, the 32,000 square foot project in Huntingdon Street will comprise an 18,600 square foot Cineworld cinema and four restaurants. Frankie & Benny’s, PizzaExpress and Prezzo have already signed up for 25-year leases.

West Country couple take third site: West Country couple Nigel and Anne Way have acquired their third site The Luttrell Arms in Dunster in Somerset, which entered administration in May. The Ways, who own The Royal Castle Hotel in Dartmouth and Seven Stars in Totnes, plan to refurbish the 15th century grade-II listed property after acquiring it in a deal brokered by joint agents Colliers International and Savills on behalf of administrators BDO. The Luttrell Arms was marketed at offers above £1m and a total of eight bids were received at an informal tender.
Thistle Pub Company EIS comes to market: A Scottish operator of seven pubs in central Scotland is putting itself up for sale. Thistle Pub Company III was set up in 2006 under an Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS). Thistle has built up an estate of pubs including The Steading in Edinburgh, The Clockwork Beer Company in Glasgow, The Dog House in Balloch, Loch Lomond and The Wheel Inn in Scone. The pubs are managed by Alloa-based Maclay Inns. In a statement to the stock market the investment company said that as the holding period under the EIS rules had expired it intended to seek an exit for shareholders during the first half of this year. It said if it fails to sell the company it would look to secure new management arrangements for the seven pubs. Thistle is chaired by Angus Meldrum, who has previously chaired Belhaven Brewery and Maclay Inns Group - and is a former managing director at Tennent Caledonian Breweries.

Faucet Inn re-applies to develop Camden pub: Faucet Inn, the London multiple led by Steve Cox, has applied again to develop accommodation above its Black Cap pub in Camden Town. Faucet has applied for planning permission to reduce the size of its first-floor bar by less than under the original plan to turn part of the first floor and all of the second floor into flats. A spokesperson for Faucet Inn said: “The ground floor will stay the same as it is. The first floor will only be slightly smaller and the terrace will remain, again slightly smaller. We are in the pub business – we are not property developers. If we were, we’d try and convert the whole building.”

Luminar gets licence reprieve of Preston nightclub with safety overhaul and £500,000 refurbishment: Nightclub company Luminar has avoided losing its licence at Preston’s Lava & Ignite nightclubs after boosting safety procedures and promising to invest £500,000 in a refurbishment of the venue. Police requested a licensing review of Lava & Ignite, in Church Street, after a number of incidents. But councilors agreed to adjourn a licence hearing at Preston Town Hall until 5 June, after hearing about its plans. Solicitor Jonathan Smith said Luminar had set in place an action plan, which included installing 13 new CCTV cameras and replacing all glasses at the club with hard plastic. He said more doormen were being employed, with a fixed doorman at a ‘hotspot’ at the back of the club, and that covert staff acting as customers were keeping a lookout for people stealing mobile phones and handbags. Mr Smith said free ‘bag drops’ were now on offer at its cloakroom and that a £500 reward was on offer to people providing information about thefts. A refurbishment is expected to start in the first week of June. The club currently has a licence to open to 4.30am seven days a week and welcomes more than 160,000 visitors a year.

Heritage pub goes into administration: The heritage Grade II listed Hoops Inn and country hotel near Bideford in Devon has gone into administration. Administrators Duff & Phelps confirmed they were appointed administrators of Madiran Limited, the company which runs the inn, last month. In a statement, Duff and Phelps said Madiran had been subject to a voluntary arrangement with its creditors from April last year. They added The Hoops has continued to experience difficulty trading and required a significant cash injection in order meet its financial obligations but was refused further financial help from the company’s lender Santander UK. It was then that Santander approached Stephen Clancy and Sarah Bell, from Duff and Phelps, regarding the prospective appointment. Clancy said: “We are currently undertaking an extensive strategic and operational review of the company during which we will continue to trade the business in the short term before a proposed marketing campaign is commenced later in the year.”
London restaurant set to open in New York: Zuma, the London-based restaurant chain, is to open a venue in Manhattan early next year. Zuma New York is a partnership between Zuma founder and chef Rainer Becker and real-estate moguls Rotem Rosen and Alex Sapir. “It has always been a personal dream of mine to open in New York,” Becker said.

Baker plans to expand to 60 shops: North west London baker Wenzel’s is planning to double the size of its current portfolio to at least 60 shops in the next two years. It currently operates 26 outlets across the north-west London region. Chief executive Peter Wenzel told British Baker: “We have a goal of expansion - we are opening up a much larger 15,000 square foot bakery at Easter, and then we will concentrate on opening up new stores. Within the next two years, we hope to have 60 shops at least and take it forward from there. We want to be the face of the high street in the future.” The company’s next opening will be in Stanmore in the next three weeks, with further sites planned for Greenford and Mill Hill. 

Costa Coffee is the big winner at Data Strategy Awards: Costa Coffee won the Grand Prix prize and trophies in two other categories at the Marketing Week Data Strategy awards. It won the award for Best Retail and Home Shopping for its Costa Coffee Club and the award for Best Use of Loyalty Marketing for its Costa Coffee Loyalty Marketing scheme. Sky won a highly recommended award for Sky IQ’s customer-centric direct marketing. 
Costa franchisee opens sixth site: Costa Coffee franchisee, Cuppacoff, has opened it sixth site in four years – the latest site is in Pocklington outside of York, converting a former C&N Wine off license store. Cuppacoff has outlets operating in London, Hull, and St Neots and are on site in Mansfield and Chesterfield. Partner at property agent WSB Adam Mobley said: “We felt this was a prime retail unit in a very attractive and prosperous market town just outside of York and one which would suit the brand extremely well. We believe Costa will complement the existing retail offering in this thriving market town.”

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