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Fri 3rd May 2013 - Living Room, McMullen’s and TGI Friday’s

Story of the day:

Nine great crested newts cost McMullen’s £25,000 at £2m “Chicken & Grill” site in Tattenhoe, Milton Keynes: Hertfordshire based McMullen’s has revealed that the discovery of nine great crested newts has caused delays costing £25,000 at a £2m “Chicken & Grill” opening in Tattenhoe, Milton Keynes. The company hopes now to open the re-developed site in time for Christmas – newts allowing. Managing director Peter Furness-Smith told Propel: “The Chicken & Grill concept has been successful with the seven sites so far averaging some 1,200 customers a week. It’s a simple but great value pub food offer based around a rotisserie oven but serving the usual pub favourites. We try and keep things simple but offer full table service, which customers increasingly expect. Training and the personal development of our teams is essential and part of the management culture, which is why we are recruiting now for a November opening. Work has been held up by nine great crested newts which have cost the company £25,000. It is interesting that our politicians are quick to blame businesses for not investing or paying enough tax but happy to sit on the fence and allow nine newts to hold up a £2m development and at the same time deprive the exchequer of around £250,000 in lost taxes (VAT, rates, beer duty, energy taxes, corporation tax etc.) let alone postpone the creation of some 40 jobs. Priorities are clear in austerity Britain!” The Milton Keynes site is the company’s eighth Chicken & Grill, following on from the successful recent opening of a newly acquired site, The Britannia in Marlow and the development of an existing McMullen’s pub, The Sun at Hoddesdon.

Industry news:

In today’s separate Friday Opinion e-mail: Paul Charity on creating a service culture, Professor Christian Edger on getting premium and value to coalesce, Ann Elliott on reasonable expectations of social media and Alastair Scott on the late-night food opportunity.

Customers see Wi-Fi provision as ever more important: High street retailers who offer free Wi-Fi look set to reap the benefits with one in seven people insisting Wi-Fi access is crucial for them to consider entering a coffee shop while one in ten have changed venue because of a lack of internet access, according to a new study published by O2 Wi-Fi. A quarter of Britons say they are more reliant on high-street Wi-Fi now than they were two years ago and 25% anticipate using it more frequently in the future. One in five say they feel frustrated – even angry – towards a business if it doesn’t offer free Wi-Fi. Users are also becoming more focused on the quality of the overall Wi-Fi experience. Only one in five thought having to sign-in with a username and password to get online was acceptable.

Technomic – are UK pub and restaurant chains anti-social?: Technomic executive vice-president Darren Tristano has asked whether UK pub and restaurant chains are anti-social given limited use of social media sites: Tristano stated: “A recent survey from Aspect Software, an American customer contact firm, found that most UK companies don’t interact with consumers via social media. This isn’t to say they don’t have a social-media presence at some level: 72% of UK company respondents indicated that they use social-media sites, according to a story on the survey from marketing think tank Loyalty360. But they’re using sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn as billboards only—posting company news without engaging customers (and potential customers) in conversations, the survey found. That’s a major missed opportunity. Interacting with consumers through social media, whether by answering their questions on Facebook or replying to their tweets, can send the message that a brand is responsive to and in touch with its audiences. This evolved use of social media is dynamic rather than static.” He praised Pret A Manger and Wagamama for their social media engagement.

Technomic – pizza on the rise on UK menus: The number of pizzas on UK restaurant and pub menus rose to 347 in the first quarter of 2013 from 309 a year earlier—an increase of 12.3%. And speciality pizzas – restaurant originals – recorded even stronger growth, rising 21.5% to 96 menu items this spring from 79 last year, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor database.

Company news:

Harvester at Donington Park set to be first motorway licensed pub restaurant to open: one of four Harvesters set to open before the end of July: A Harvester site run under franchise at Donington Park services on the M1 will be the first licensed pub restaurant next to a motorway in the UK when it opens for business on 21 May, beating a proposed JD Wetherspoon planned for Beaconsfield services next to the M40. It also means that it will be the motorway’s first waitress service restaurants since Little Chef and Red Hen back in the 1990s. Gary John, Mitchells & Butlers property director, said last month: “We are pleased to be partnering Moto to open a pilot Harvester franchise at Donington. Motorway services present a new market for us and we are keen to explore the opportunities for growth in the sector.” Harvester will also open at Whiteley, Fareham on 23 May, West Bromwich on 25 June and Glasgow Fort on 23 July, which will be the 210th opening for the brand.

Rupert Clevely steps down at Geronimo: Geronimo Inns founder and managing director Rupert Clevely has now formally stepped down from the role He tells those emailing him: “After many happy years building, selling and running Geronimo Inns, I have stepped down from my every day executive role as managing director. Youngs has kindly asked me to remain on the board of Youngs as a non-executive director. I am delighted that my long time confidant and friend Ed Turner has taken over my position. Jo remains as design consultant to Geronimo. All good news!”

Pesto in the Pub opens most southerly site so far: Pesto in the Pub, headed by Neil Gatt and Sara Edwards, is to open its most southerly site so far in mid-June. It will co-invest £450,000 with Punch Taverns to open at the Axe and Compass in Fiveways, Wolvey, near Hinckley – it’s been closed for two years. As with the other pubs in the group it will offer original Italian dining combined with open fires, real ales and a relaxed environment. Pesto in the Pub offers “piattini”, a range of 40 small-sized dishes offered by the chain, costing from £4 each. It will be the first Pesto site in Leicestershire.

Upham Brewery plans 30 pubs estate as its expands brewing: Upham Brewery in Hampshire has opened a state-of-the-art expansion of its brewing capability producing 9,000 pints. The brewery already operates three pubs – with two in Hampshire – and hopes to be running as many as 30 within five years. Having served its first pint in 2009 in a small-scale brewing operation, Upham beers are now sold in more than 200 outlets across Hampshire, Sussex, Wiltshire, Dorset and Berkshire, including in Majestic stores and the Co-op. Director David Butcher said: “We would like to become a regional champion for our beers. Our expansion is great news for the pub industry, which is having a pretty torrid time – we are hoping to buck the trend. I would encourage people to support a local business which is providing a fabulous quality product.”

Indian restaurant entrepreneurs win go-ahead for new restaurant and 40-bedroom hotel: Indian restaurant entrepreneurs Abdul Rashid and Mannan Abdul, who operate a number of sites in Gloucestershire, have won planning consent to open a 40-bed hotel and restaurant to open in Shurdington, Gloucestershire. Tewkesbury Council planning committee voted in favour of plans for a 40-bed hotel and associated restaurant at Chargrove House. The site based on the edge of Cheltenham was formerly home to the Chargrove Business Centre, but has been empty in recent years.

Sentry Pubs to opens 12th pub – a £200,000 co-investment with Punch Taverns: Sentry Pubs, which operates 12 pubs across North Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, is to open its second Punch Taverns pub, in a £200,000 co-investment. The Green Man in Willington, Derbyshire, situated on the canal bridge close to Willington marina, is to reopen on 16 May to focus a new home-made menu has been created featuring a range of quality, traditional pub classics. The pub, now boasts a new bar and improved drinks range featuring four cask ales, two of which rotate according to customer demand. “Considering the pub’s location, we could see its potential and shared Punch’s vision to create a quality venue for the local residents to enjoy a bite to eat and a quality drink,” said Denise West, area manager for Sentry Pubs.

Qdos Entertainment to sell York restaurant: Qdos Entertainment, the world’s largest and longest established producer of pantomimes, has instructed Colliers International to sell one of its assets, The Tanglewood Restaurant, in York. The Leeds-based Licensed and Leisure team of Colliers International has been instructed to sell the restaurant on Malton Road at a guide price of ‘offers around £750,000’. Qdos Entertainment is a Scarborough and London-based entertainment group which operates 10 theatres and concert halls across the UK. The business employs over 2,000 staff at 18 sites, which include 13 food and beverage outlets including The Tanglewood and the award-winning Copper Horse Restaurant and Cottages at Seamer near Scarborough.

InnBrighton pub makes Jay Rayner 20 best restaurants of the decade list: A pub in Brighton run by InnBrighton, the south east multiple headed by Gavin George, has made food critic Jay Rayner’s list of the 20 best restaurants of the decade. Rayner raved about Brighton’s BBQ Shack at the World’s End in his Observer column back in 2011, declaring chef John Hargate the best exponent of authentic Texas BBQ he had ever come across in the UK. George has paid tribute to the management team at the World’s End, headed for the last six years by manager Richard Hilton. “This is a great example of how the freedom promoted by InnBrighton’s pub management model not only allows but positively encourages exciting things to be created,” he said.

Game Bird Inns sells Somerset’s Manor House Inn: Game Bird Inns has sold The Manor House Inn to an unnamed regional multiple with three sites off an asking price of £695,000. The Manor House Inn is a 17th century Grade II Listed pub built by Sir Ralph Hopton in the affluent and picturesque village of Ditcheat. Agent Christie + Co said the unnamed group has been looking for opportunities to expand its portfolio and believes The Manor House Inn provides an opportunity to invest in a business with strong trading figures and an opportunity to increase the number of letting bedrooms. Nicholas Calfe, of Christie + Co, added: “It attracted several interested parties indicating the continuing demand for quality freehouses in affluent village locations like Ditcheat.”

Living Room launches menu with props: The Living Room brand, operated by Eclectic Bars, has launched a “dramatically different” menu which will see customers served plant pots, giant fishbowls and mini BBQs served straight to their tables. In the first new food menu under the operation of Eclectic Bars, encourages customers to “eat with their eyes” and rethinks traditional ideas about how food should be presented. Menu items will be brought to the table in a theatrical way using props such as fish bowls, miniature BBQs and traditional clay plant pots. A new ‘grazing menu’ for the bar has been introduced, giving groups of customers a wide selection of small dishes to nibble on as they enjoy a drink. These light bites and smaller meals are perfect for any time of the day and all produce is fresh and locally sourced wherever possible. “We have seen a real trend for more casual dining recently so we have embraced this as an opportunity to maximise the bar experience and offer,” says Mick Horan, head of operations.

TGI Friday’s to open second restaurant in Bristol: TGI Friday’s is to open a second restaurant in Bristol – at the Cabot Circus shopping centre. American-themed TGI Friday’s has announced it is opening a branch with space to seat 270 diners at the shopping centre next month. The company, which already has a restaurant at Cribbs Causeway, will be opening one of its biggest branches in the South West in Cabot Circus. The new 7,500 sq ft restaurant will be on the ground floor of the shopping centre, next door to the new DW Sports Store.

JD Wetherspoon applies for alcohol licence at Beaconsfield service station: The plan by JD Wetherspoon to open pub at Beaconsfield service station, off Junction Two of the M40, first revealed by Propel, has moved a step closer with the company applying to South Bucks District Council for an alcohol licence. If given the go-ahead, it would be the country’s first licensed pub at a motorway service area. The council is likely to rule on whether to grant permission for the licence by the end of June.

New boutique hotel brand launches first site: The House Collection has opened a first site in a planned group of boutique hotels in Ely, Cambridgeshire. Close to the city’s cathedral, the 21-bedroom Poets House – already listed in The Times Top 20 Cool New Hotels for 2013 – offers a 60-cover restaurant, the Dining Room. The hotel is located in three neighbouring Grade II listed properties built in the early 1900s. It is planned as the first of a group of small hotels with a maximum of 45 bedrooms.

Cheshire restaurant boss gets eight year directorship ban: Kismet Miah, who ran The Red Fox Indian Cuisine Limited, a restaurant in Tarporley, in Cheshire, has been disqualified from acting as a director for eight years, after he failed to pay a fine for employing illegal workers - and closed down his business instead. Mr Miah, 49, of Duddon, in Cheshire is banned from acting as a company director from 3 May 2013 until May 2021. The disqualification follows an investigation by The Insolvency Service. Mr Miah’s restaurant, Red Fox, started trading in May 2010. The UK Border Agency (UKBA) visited the restaurant in July 2010 and discovered that Mr Miah was employing five illegal workers. The UKBA imposed a penalty of £25,000, which Mr Miah failed to pay. Instead, he transferred £68,162 out of the company’s account and then placed the restaurant in liquidation on 6 September 2010, leaving assets of just £6,592 and debts of £63,924. The investigation also showed that the company records Mr Miah gave to the liquidator were inadequate.

Flagship Red Hot World Buffet site serving 8,000 customers a week: The flagship Red Hot World Buffet in Nottingham’s Cornerhouse development is serving an average of 8,000 customers a week since it opened in January. The 27,000 sq ft restaurant is located in the former Works nightclub location at the complex. Co-owner Helen Dhaliwal said: “These spectacular early trading figures are really pleasing, on a personal level as well as for the business.”

Baffito’s Bar & Pizzeria named as Sky’s ‘ultimate sports venue’: An unique Italian sports bar in Warrington, Baffito’s Bar & Pizzeria, has won Sky’s ‘ultimate venue’ title for its ability to create a friendly atmosphere that caters for all and providing the ideal environment to enjoy live sports and entertainment. The Warrington venue boasts a 108-inch HD screen and regularly shows more than one live sporting event to make sure they cater for all sports fans. Director Peter Thompson said: “Our venue itself is fairly unique. The layout is great – we have three main areas which include the sports lounge, restaurant and function area, and they all can be used to watch live sport when the big events are on.”

Gastrodome pioneer to make London return: Joel Kissin, who pioneered the opening of a succession of London gastrodomes in the 1990s in partnership with Sir Terence Conran, is to open a French bistro called Boulestin in St James’s Street in September. It will be a more modest opening that restaurants like his Mezzo opening in Soho which offered 700 cover – it will have 60 seats.

Former Seagrams Distillers director Stephen Bloch banned for eight years for squandering cash assets of £15m: Stephen Bloch, the director of Centenary Holdings III Limited (previously Seagram Distillers), has been disqualified for eight years by the High Court of Session, Edinburgh, for denuding the company of cash assets of £15m over an 18 month period. Mr Bloch’s disqualification, which started on 12 April 2013 follows an investigation by The Insolvency Service. The investigation found that his squandering of the company’s assets included £8m in speculative investments and the unwarranted payment of £1m to himself and his associates, to the detriment of the company’s creditors. Claire Entwistle, Lead Investigator of Investigation and Enforcement Services Division of The Insolvency Service, said: “This is a very serious case of misconduct by the director. He deprived the company of substantial assets during the period in which he was a director and failed to have proper regard to the company’s creditors.”

Prezzo, Handmade Burger Co and Las Iguanas set for Wembley designer village: Three restaurant brands, Prezzo, Handmade Burger Co and Las Iguanas, have been confirmed to London’s first ever designer outlet in Wembley. The 350,000 sq ft centre currently under construction at Wembley City will open its doors for the first time at the end of the year. It has already had more than 50% occupancy on its 100 units, 85 of which have been designated for retail. All shops in LDO must offer between 30 and 70% off high street prices.

New Hungry Horse menu revamped to let customers “have it their way”: The new menu for Hungry Horse, the Greene King brand the company think can double in size to 400 sites, has been revamped to both widen its appeal to more eating out occasions, particularly at lunch time, and to give the customer more choice and control over what they eat. A spokesperson for Greene King said: “We have listened to our customers’ feedback and built this menu around their wants and needs. Although the Hungry Horse menu is well known for having a large variety of meal choices and good value offers throughout the week, we received feedback that said we had not previously catered for lunch time diners or had a wide enough selection of healthy options. Our latest menu aims to achieve this with our new lunch time meal deals and more choice of lower calorie dishes, as well as making all calorie information available on our website. The latest research has shown that lunch time dining out is becoming more popular again and this has given us the opportunity to expand our offer and great value for money to specifically cater for this occasion. There is also an increasing customer trend for personalisation of food and the introduction of ‘Lunch Your Way’ enables our customers to bring that to life. ‘Lunch Your Way’ allows the customer to choose how they want their meal to come as well as having an option to create a meal deal with chips or nachos and a drink for only £2.99 extending our great value into lighter dishes. We have also doubled the number of lower calorie dishes than on previous menus. The daily Big Deals remain on the menu with a few adjustments, such as the introduction of a Big Bombay Banquet to go alongside our popular Wednesday Curry & Pint deal.”

Ernst & Young set to earn £5m from Luminar administration; banks set for £90m shortfall: Administrator Ernst & Young has reported that it has collected £32.2m so far from the sale in December 2011 of the collapsed nightclub company Luminar to a consortium led by Peter Marks. A total of £15.9m was paid at the time of the sale, with the remainder of the total price of £33.9m payable on a contingent or deferred basis. Since the sale, £14.2m has been paid on a deferred basis. A further £3.7m of the sale price was contingent on the successful assignment of 46 leaseholds to the Marks consortium. To date, 23 assignments have been agreed, realising £2.06m of the contingent sum. A further 16 are still being negotiated. The Marks consortium has not been able to agree an assignment on seven sites and an eighth has seen the sum payable reduce, which means £1,063,000 will be uncollectable. A further seven sites are proving problematic to assign, accounting for £622,225 of the sum owed. Ernst & Young made a profit of £415,331 for the seven weeks it ran Luminar. The administrator has also set side £200,000 to pay for 19 personal injury claims made by customers when it was trading the business. A further 123 personal injury claims, totaling £1,900,000, from the pre-administration period, rank as non-preferential claims. The administrator has also collected £1,082,000 from the historic over-payment of rates, with a further 66 appeals in process. Lloyds Bank, Barclays Bank and the Royal Bank of Scotland were owed £122,400,000 by the company at the time of administration, suggesting a shortfall of £90m. From 27 October 2011 to 25 January 2013, Ernst & Young has incurred time costs of £4,695,000 – it has also charged £247,336 for pre-administration costs and expects to charge a further £250,000 for the extended administration set to end in April 2014. Ernst & Young reports that on the date of its appointment Luminar had 59 subsidiary companies. It said: “We are continuing to work with the directors of these companies in order to rationalise the group. A total of 31 companies have now been dissolved with a further 13 awaiting strike off.”

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