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Fri 1st Mar 2013 - Antic London, JD Wetherspoon and Pret A Manger

Story of the day:

JD Wetherspoon seeks to hire landlord’s insurance analyst after saving £1m by comparing insurance charges: Managed operator JD Wetherspoon is looking to hire a ‘landlord’s insurance analyst’ after finding that landlord’s insurance charges were much higher than the market rate. Last year, the company found that it could save between 25% and 75% by securing its own cover compared to the rate it was charged by landlords. Wetherspoon saved around £1m after securing new deals with around three quarters of its landlords – but may well have overspent by many millions in previous years. Founder Tim Martin said at the time: “We just noticed that we were paying a lot more for insurance in pubs where we were tenants than where we were freeholders. We’ve gone back and got our own quotes and shown them to the landlord – they’ve been between 25% and 75% lower than the average.” Martin reported the great majority of landlords had been co-operative on the issue. Now Wetherspoon is to hire an analyst to ensure the issue doesn’t recur again. The analyst will manage the leasehold estate’s property insurance to include reviewing and analysing building insurance invoices and reviewing levels of premiums across the estate and comparing them against alternative quotes. The position will also ‘compare renewal insurance premiums with previous premiums (and) contact landlords by phone and correspondence to challenge excessive premiums and commissions’. The position will work closely with the company’s legal department to ‘escalate matters where necessary’ and ‘prepare monthly reports on levels of insurance premium renewals to be presented to board’.  

Industry news:

Propel Multi Club Conference fully booked: The Propel Multi-Club conference on Tuesday, 19 March, which is free to attend for multi-site operators, is now fully booked. Propel managing director Paul Charity said: “We have an enormous turn-out of operators and now have a waiting list. Our next event is on Thursday 20 June and we would encourage operators, especially those who missed out this time, to reserve their two free places for the next one to avoid disappointment.” Speakers for the March event are Paul Pendola, of foodservice insights consultancy NPD Group, Deutsche Bank leisure analyst Geof Collyer, Chris Edger, Professor of Multi-Unit Leadership at Birmingham City University, Colin Sadler, managing director of Marston’s Pitcher & Piano brand, Chris Gerard, who oversaw the roll-out of Vintage Inns at Mitchells & Butlers. Steve Cash, brand operations director of Harvester, David Prokupek, chief executive of US better burger concept Smashburger, David Wilkinson, of insights and research firm Technomic, Iain Donald, founding partner of Individual Restaurant Company, and Luke Johnson, of Risk Capital Partners.

Mike Lloyd – Barclays sent us bust in four years: Sarumdale director Mike Lloyd has given a full account of the process that led to the profitable company he co-owned with Rodney Hall being placed in administration last year in the wake of a costly interest rate swap product being sold to the company by Barclays. Writing in this week’s Propel Friday Opinion, he states: “We had fallen from a healthy, profitable company to a company in administration within four years solely as a result of the “structured cap and collars”, sold to us as a condition of finance. We were and remain devastated by this and are attempting to start a new business within the licensed trade, not least because the licensed trade has been our working life.” (See separate Propel Friday Opinion e-mail for the full article.)

Medical experts call for pan-UK strategy on problem drinking: A coalition of medical experts has called for a pan-UK strategy to combat problem drinking and a 50p minimum price for a unit of alcohol. The Alcohol Health Alliance, which commissioned a report by Stirling University, said it was time for a “no-nonsense” and consistent approach that should also include a ban on advertising and tough rules on sales. The most radical suggestion was the idea that there should be restrictions on where and when alcohol could be sold. The Stirling University report argued this could include a ban on sales after certain times in the evening and separate tills in supermarkets for alcohol. Sir Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said it was essential the UK governments worked together on the issue. He added: “The report provides a blueprint for action now and in the future.”

Groupon chief executive quits – with remarkably honest letter to staff: Groupon chief executive Andrew Mason stepped down yesterday and sent his staff a remarkably honest account of the reasons. He said: “After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding – I was fired today. If you’re wondering why, you haven’t been paying attention. From our material weakness to two quarters of missing our own expectations and a stock price that’s hovering around one quarter of our listing price, the events of the last year and a half speak for themselves. As CEO, I am accountable.”

The Sun follow up its halt the beer duty escalator campaign: The Sun has followed up its campaign to halt the beer duty escalator by printing a page two photograph of MP Andrew Griffiths delivering a barrel to the Treasury. The Sun stated: “George Osborne came under massive pressure from his own MPs — and The Sun — yesterday to halt a beer tax rise. Thirty-one Tories signed a fresh petition demanding the Chancellor freeze the hated beer escalator, which hikes duty by 2% above inflation, in next month’s Budget. The Sun’s Emily Ashton joined MPs Charlotte Leslie and Andrew Griffiths as they took the message to the Treasury in a barrel. In all, 60 MPs have signed. Beer tax has soared by 42% in five years and now makes up a third of the cost of a pint. Brewers claim it has helped to shut 5,800 pubs.”

ALMR – alcohol consumption study is misleading: The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) has claimed a University College London study that claimed levels of excessive drinking may be higher than previously thought is misleading. Strategic affairs director Kate Nicholls said: “If Britons are bingeing then they are bingeing on sobriety. Against every measure – not just self-reported behaviour – consumption is down and the sales data is clear and unequivocal. As a nation, over the past decade, the amount of alcohol bought and consumed in this country is down by just under 8%. What is more telling is that the volume of alcohol sold through pubs and bars – where units can be measured and consumption monitored – is down by almost a third, and the amount of alcohol sold through the off-trade has increased by 25%. People may under-estimate the units they pour themselves when they are drinking at home, but this is HMRC data on duty paid at point of production. So unless there is a huge illegal production capacity and illegal market - bigger than anything government has previously estimated - the assumptions made in this research are simply unsustainable. There is a very real danger of taking international assumptions based on emerging markets and applying them to a mature market, such as the UK, which is in long term decline.”

Papa John’s – quality pizza is a good market position: Papa John’s, which prices just above its main competitors in the US, Pizza Hut and Domino’s, has reported competition for cautious consumers remains intense in the US, but that it is positioned to build on the double-digit growth in profit and revenue it achieved in 2012. A spokesman said: “Value and choice are going to remain for some time, but the pizza category not only is resilient, but also a great value in an environment like this, and we believe a quality positioning will continue to serve us well. People are going to make a choice for something that’s better.”

Open Table launches “Places I’ve Eaten” app: Open Table, the online restaurant reservations, has launched a new Facebook app, “Places I’ve Eaten.” The new app makes it easy for people to share their dining history, favorite restaurants and wish lists with friends on Facebook. The app also enables people on Facebook to see where their friends have dined, see their own and their friends’ ratings, share recommendations, tag friends with whom they’ve dined and make reservations. 

Company news:

Antic London opens the Effra Social in Brixton: Antic London, the operator of 24 pubs in London led by Anthony Thomas, has opened a new site, the Effra Social in Brixton. The building was formerly the local Conservative Club, who had owned it since the late 1800’s, closed last November. Manager Jennifer Allen said: “It is not trying to be retro, it is retro. The Effra Social will very much resonate with anyone who enjoyed a bottle of coke and a packet of Golden Wonder or Smiths crisps when out with their parents in the glam days of the seventies. It deserves to be used by the many not the few and I hope that we can ensure that it is. We were the only prospective purchaser wanting to retain its use, so it could very easily have been another regretful loss to the Brixton landscape. Whilst close to the hustle and bustle of the town centre, it is far enough removed to be a bit more sedate, a bit more grown up. Providing a convivial and interesting place to go will be key to putting this lovely space on the map, whilst ensuring we retain the essence of what we have been lucky enough to become custodians of.”

Former Bel and The Dragon manager plans £350,000 investment with backing from colleagues: Ben Smith, former manager of The Bel and The Dragon in Reading is to invest £350,000 on turning The George, in Windsor Road, Wraysbury, Windsor, into a ‘destination’ eating venue. He said: “The place hasn’t worked for the past ten years. Even though it’s had everything tried on it, it has never been an owner-operated business. No one has ever gone in and run the business. The whole place has suffered from a lack of love and lack of investment.” Smith has attracted investment from former colleagues at The Bel And The Dragon, and all investment has been sourced privately.

Palmers of Bridport gets go-ahead to restore iconic Jurassic Coast pub: Brewer and retailer Palmers of Bridport has got planning consent to refurbish the historic Anchor at Seatown. Fears over land stability and locals objections to increasing traffic have been obstacles in the past but now West Dorset District Planners have agreed the pub can put in new kitchens and toilets – two years after the application was submitted. The work will mean the seaside pub will be shut for six months from October this year while work is done. Jayson Perfect, Palmers Brewery tenanted trade director, said: “The Anchor Inn at Seatown is a historic beachside pub, one of the only pubs right on the shoreline of the Jurassic Coast. It’s one of the most visited places in Dorset. The refurbishment and improvements to the kitchens and toilets are needed to cope with the existing number of visitors during the tourist season. Our aim is to improve customers’ experience when they visit, not to enlarge the operation. We want locals to enjoy coming to their local pub and visitors to go home with great memories of West Dorset.”

JD Wetherspoon applies to open pub in Chapeltown: JD Wetherspoon has submitted plans to renovate a Chapeltown pub, The Waggon, into a new opening. A previous attempt had been made to start the refurbishment but it would have involved major structural work to transform the building into a two-storey pub as the first floor was deemed structurally unsafe.

Pret A Manger – average customer spends £4.55 on lunch: Pret A Manger has reported that the average customer spend on lunch is £4.55 on lunch. The most popular option is the tuna baguette that costs £2.99. The other two in the top three are the £3.65 chicken Caesar and bacon on artisan bread and the £3.25 ‘posh’ cheddar and pickle on artisan bread. The £4.55 spend normally comprises of two different items, such as a sandwich and a bag of crisps. A survey by office search firm, Officebroker.com, found the typical worker spends £7.81 a day on their lunch, drinks and other work-time snacks. Those who bring in their own packed lunch and snacks as well as making their own tea and coffee spend an average of just £1.50 a day.

Young’s defends plan to turn Bull and Gate in Kentish Town into a gastro-pub: Music fans and conservationists have joined forces to fight plans by Young’s to turn The Bull and Gate pub and music venue in Kentish Town into a gastro-pub. An application lodged at the Town Hall shows parts of the Highgate Road pub will be demolished and remodelled to create new kitchens and a restaurant area – bringing to an end four decades of live music. In a design statement, architects working for Young’s say an “under-used, back-of-house area” will become kitchens and a dining room. They plan to demolish outbuildings and build a patio and glazed pergola. A spokesman for Young’s said: “There are plenty of music pubs in the area. Young’s do operate music pubs that are viable, and ones that are not in areas saturated by music pubs. We do not believe The Bull and Gate is, nor will be, a viable music pub. It is all good for those against the removal of the music airing their views. However, it is often the case that if they used pubs more often, less of them would have to close or change their ways. Young’s are fighting the pub cause and will continue to invest in their future.”

Joel Kissin to bring Boulestin back to London: Agent Davis Coffer Lyons (DCL) has completed a new deal which will see Joel Kissin, the former restaurant partner of Sir Terence Conran, bring classic French restaurant Boulestin back to London. On behalf of London Fine Dining Group, DCL has sold the lease of the former L’Oranger restaurant at 5 St James’s Street, Mayfair, to the new Boulestin which will comprise a luxury 60-seat French bistro, a private dining room seating 36 and Café Marcel, a 30-seat casual dining space offering lighter fare. The 3,700 square foot property is set over basement, ground and parts of the first floor, is set to reopen in Spring 2013. Although not officially part of its London estate, the property sits within The Crown Estate’s St James’s area, which is currently undergoing a £500 million investment programme. Josh Leon, Associate Director at Davis Coffer Lyons, said: “St James’s is already a world renowned destination for shops and restaurants, but this deal is one of many recent developments in the area which is serving to enhance and refine the area for the long term. Joel Kissin is credited, alongside Sir Terence Conran, with changing the face of the London restaurant scene. He will be the perfect accompaniment to the recent deals for San Carlo Cicchetti on Piccadilly and Philippe Le Roux’s Villandry on Regent Street, who marked the first wave of new high calibre restaurateurs arriving in St James’s.” Boulestin restaurant was previously located in Covent Garden, and closed in 1994 after 70 years.

Admiral Taverns reports year of progress: Admiral Taverns has reported turnover rose 8.7% to £96.2m in the year to May 2012. Ebitda per pub rose 5.9% to £28.3m and £8m was invested in the estate. A total of 259 pubs were sold in the period, reducing the estate by 17.4%. Chairman Jonathan Paveley said: “The increasing level of cashflow generated from operations enabled the group to significantly increase the level of annual capital expenditure in the pub estate, such that in the period £8m was set aside, of which £5m was devoted to expansionary projects, designed to develop and drive trade to our pubs – as opposed to normal running costs, such as repairs and maintenance. This raised level represented a near 300% increase on the previous year. The average rent per Admiral pub is below £20,000 per annum. This is materially lower than many peer group companies, partly due to the nature of our pubs, but also as a result of the sound financial position of the business and its balance sheet, which means we are able to identify appropriate, sustainable rental levels based on a realistic assessment of the future performance of the pub, and not driven by group debt obligations.”

Travelodge sets out marketing priorities for 2013: Travelodge will concentrate its marketing efforts on improving its website and using digital marketing tools this year before producing a full blown television campaign and new strapline for 2014. Sales and marketing director Catriona Kempston told Marketing Week: “We are building a brand from the bottom up - focusing on the website, the hotels, our positioning and building up to TV next year.” The Mr Sleep teddy bear character, who has featured in campaigns since Spring 2010, has been retired and the strapline “Sleep Tight” has also gone. Kempston reported that the company’s website is in need of an overhaul with the introduction of rich media content including video of bedrooms. It will also look to widen its sales channels, including pushing mobile transactions via PayPal, and will seek to improve its email programmes. She added: “Research is showing that customers are more demanding. The goalposts are changing. Customers are trading down rather getting into hotels for the first time. They do not want to compromise on what they previously enjoyed - they just want something for less money. That’s why it’s important to us to have a good quality bed.”

JW Lees plans 16-bedroom annexe to Chester pub: North west brewer and retailer JW Lees has unveiled plans to build a new 16-bedroom hotel annexe to Boathouse in Chester. JW Lees, which owns the popular pub on the banks of the Dee, have submitted a planning application to Cheshire West and Chester Council. Planning agent Lister Carter said the business currently relies solely on pub trade and the brewery wanted to expand and be able to provide overnight accommodation. The plans involve building the timber-clad hotel annexe to the rear of the existing car park.

Arran Brewery expansion plan thwarted by government grant refusal: A brewery that planned to create 77 new jobs has had its expansion plans put on hold. Arran Brewery’s bid was hit after Scottish Government Minister Fergus Ewing turned down the company’s grant application to expand the brewery on Arran and build a new bottling facility on the mainland. The brewery was looking to create ten jobs on Arran and a further 67 on the mainland, but the project was dependent on the government providing a grant to support the expansion on Arran.

Domino’s directors net £38.5m from share sales: Two Domino’s directors have sold shares in Domino’s UK, netting a combined £38.5m. Stephen Hemsley, the non-executive chairman sold 1,790,462 shares at 518p each, netting £9,274,593. Nigel Wray, a non-executive director, sold 5,675,000 for 518p each, raising £29,396,000. 

Jamie’s Italian to appoint first agency: Jamie’s Italian has appointed Oystercatchers to oversee the hiring of its first advertising agency. The intermediary has already approached agencies to invite them to pitch for what is understood to be a national brief promoting the chain. As well as the UK chain, Jamie’s Italian has restaurants in Australia, Dubai, Ireland, Russia, Singapore and Turkey.

North Bar to open two sites this year: Craft beer bar pioneer North Bar is to open two sites this year to add to its existing estate of four sites. The company is opening in Otley in mid-June and will open a site in the Leeds suburb of Oakwood later in the year. In today’s Propel Friday Opinion, director Christian Townsley states: “If we believe in the quality and integrity of a product and feel there’s a demand from our customers or that it fits in with our range, then we’ll sell it. We believe that it’s important to strike a balance between the obscure, limited edition products and bigger brands.” (See separate Propel Friday Opinion e-mail for the full article.)

Gordon Ramsay to leave Claridge’s after 12 years: Gordon Ramsay is to leave Claridge’s on 30 June after running the restaurant at the Mayfair hotel for 12 years. The original ten-year contract expired in 2011 when Ramsay was given two six-month extensions followed by a further nine-month extension expiring in the summer. A spokeswoman for Gordon Ramsay Holdings said: “We’d like to thank all our guests for the amazing support they have given for over a decade but felt the time was right to move on to new opportunities and investments.”

Bramwell adds three to operations team: Managed operator Bramwell has added three appointments in its operations team, including a finalist in the ALMR’s Operations Manager of the Year awards. Neil McKie will be responsible for the Bramwell pubs in Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. Darren Rumbelow will look after Bramwell’s pubs in central London and Jason McKeon will be responsible for the south west including The Redbridge in Andover, Bramwell’s most recent investment. Neil McKie was finalist in the ALMR’s Operations Manager of the Year awards in 2011. Gaining experience at TCG, Scottish & Newcastle Retail and Luminar Leisure, Neil joins Bramwell from the Apartment Group, the niche bar and restaurant operator based in the north east of England. Darren joins Bramwell from Inventive Leisure where he was area manager for Revolution bars for the Midlands and south west.

Star Pubs and Bars invests £500,000 in two Cheshire sites: Two Cheshire pubs, The Coachman at Hartford and The Culcheth Arms at Culcheth, are reopening following a combined investment of over £500,000 by Star Pubs & Bars and their new operators. The pubs, which are in prime central village locations, are being completely refurbished inside and out, upgrading them from wet led community locals to good quality pubs with a broad appeal providing excellent food, good coffee and Wi-Fi. Both pubs are being leased to experienced operators. Chris and Vicky Lane, who are taking on The Coachman, have 30 years in the sector while The Culcheth Arms is the second leased pub for Sharon Hutchinson who has been in the trade for 25 years. In line with Star Pubs & Bars’ investment strategy the focus of the projects is on creating multiple income streams and the sites are being re-laid out to make better use of the space and allow the lessees to maximise their food business.

Bill’s starts work on Oxford site: Bill’s Restaurants, owned by Richard Caring, has started work on converting The Grade II listed Northgate Hall in Oxford, formerly a drop-in centre for the homeless, with an opening in April planned. The Oxford City Council-owned property has fallen into disrepair in recent years. Operations director Roberto Moretti said: “We are spending about £800,000 on the building. We target sites which can generate a certain footfall and bring them back to life.”

Koh Thai Tapas to open fourth site next week: Koh Thai Tapas is to open its fourth site in Bath next Thursday. The chain, which was launched in 2009 and has restaurants in Boscombe, Bournemouth and Southsea, will be opening in Broad Street in the former La Tasca site. The concept takes the Spanish style of tapas and applies it to Thai food. Managing director Andrew Lennox said: “We are delighted with our success to date, and we are now thrilled to be bringing Thai Tapas to the historical city of Bath.”

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