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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 20th Sep 2013 - Tim Martin, Punch, Spirit, Wagamama and William Reed

Story of the day:

Tim Martin – VAT campaign is building huge momentum and will gain more publicity for the sector than any other event in 30 years: JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin has argued that momentum is increasing around the campaign to reduce VAT in the sector to 5%, and Tax Parity Day, on Wednesday 25 September, when operators will reduce their prices to show the benefits of lower VAT, will gain more publicity for the sector than any event in 30 years. Writing in today’s Propel Friday Opinion, Martin says: “The government and the public yearn to revive moribund high streets and our proposals will provide a massive shot in the arm in this sphere, especially in poorer areas, where customers struggle to afford the price differential created by the current tax regime. Pubs, restaurants and coffee shops provide about a third of the outlets for successful shopping centres, so our VAT proposals will do far more than even Mary Portas could contemplate in this vital area of the economy. Momentum is building in a huge way and Tax Parity Day, thanks to the work of Jacques Borel’s Vat Club, seems certain to gain far more publicity than any event in the last 30 years. This is a call to arms – the time has come to support fair taxes for pubs and restaurants. 10,000 pubs closing down in the last few years is a clear sign that the current tax regime is unsustainable. The status quo of supermarkets paying a fraction of pub taxes per pint must end now. It’s time to support Tax Parity Day and join the VAT Club, if you haven’t already. The times are a-changing, and as Bob Dylan put it, we’d ‘better start swimming or we’ll sink like a stone’. Let’s heed those wise words.” (See the separate Propel Friday Opinion e-mail for the full article.)

Industry news:

Propel Multi Club Conference to provide tax pointers: Andrew Ball and Mark Allwood, of Haysmacintyre, will examine the top tax pointers applicable to multi-site operators at the next Propel Multi Club Conference on Thursday 7 November. The event takes place at One Moorgate Place, London.

M&C Report publisher pays £12m dividend: William Reed Business Media, publisher of M&C Report, Restaurant magazine and the Publican’s Morning Advertiser, paid a £12m dividend in its most recent financial year to 31 March 2013. The company, which is controlled by trusts linked to the Reed family, saw trading “ahead of expectations through better cost control than was anticipated”. Underlying Ebitda was £3.29m (with an adjustment of £1.9m for exhibitions revenue), up 39% on £2.36m the year before. Turnover was £22.3m, down 19% compared to £27.4m the year before, when turnover was boosted by the timing of biennial exhibitions. Profit before tax was £358,000, down 85% from £2.36m the year before. Ebitda margin declined to 5.9% from 11.6% in the previous year. The company has net cash of £11m. William Reed said: “The company’s future plans are consistent with its agreed strategy with the objective of offsetting the decline in traditional magazine revenues by growing digital, high value data and face-to-face revenues.”

Suzy Jackson to step down from the Hospitality Guild: Suzy Jackson, a former Punch Taverns director of central operations, is leaving her post as executive director of the Hospitality Guild at the end of this month after two years setting up and leading the body. A spokesman said: “She has been the energy behind the Guild’s milestone early achievements including the launch of the Guild’s careers web portal, the work with the pub perceptions group, and the launch of the Young Hall of Fame – a recognition scheme for talented young people working in hospitality. Most notable has been her contribution towards setting the vision and securing the funding for the development of Hospitality House, an iconic training and meeting hub for the industry, which will be launched next month.” David Fairhurst, chair of People 1st, one of the Guild’s founding partners, added: “Suzy’s entrepreneurial skills, leadership and passionate commitment to the hospitality industry have helped drive the Guild forward significantly during the last two years.”

Eggs on the rise on UK menus: The use of eggs is on the rise on UK menus, research house Technomic has reported. It said: “With diners now viewing eggs in a more balanced light, UK restaurant operators increasingly are taking advantage of the opportunity to show how this low-glycemic, protein-packed, most-humble of ingredients can steal the show. The number of egg-based dishes on menus at UK chain and independent restaurants in Technomic’s MenuMonitor database rose 18%, to 177, from the second quarter of 2012 to the same period this year. Quiches/frittatas and a variety of speciality omelettes in particular saw growth. Non-hen (for example quail and duck) eggs and free-range eggs are showing up more often on menus, too, speaking to diners’ interest in ‘foodie’ fare as well as their concerns about animal welfare and ingredient sourcing.”

Milton Keynes adopts late night levy after no trade representatives attend crucial meeting: Milton Keynes licensing authority has overturned a sub-committee recommendation not to introduce a Late Night Levy. The committee voted by five votes to three to reject the recommendation in favour of introducing the levy on May 1, 2014. The levy will apply to premises selling alcohol between 1am and 6am. A spokesman for John Gaunt and Partners said: “The Milton Keynes police commander addressed the committee and answered questions from the committee explaining that while the levy would not put anymore police on the streets of Milton Keynes, it would be used to fund Safer MK and police initiatives to make MK a safe place to go out. With no trade representatives present, disappointingly, there were no representations from the trade to counter any of the arguments made against the recommendation or refute any of the claims made as to the merit of the levy.”

Cask Ale Week to launch with Cask Report: Cask Ale Week, running between 27 September and 6 October, is to launch with the Cask Report, briefing next Thursday, 26 September between 20pm and 4.30pm at Brew Wharf, 14-16 Stoney Street, Bermondsey, London. Cask Report author Pete Brown will be presenting the report findings, giving insight into the market and key issues affecting the industry over the past year and discussing implications for the future. There will also be a session on craft beer presented by CGA. Anyone wishing to attend should email

Christie + Co – £12bn of distressed assets to be sold now the recovery has begun: Property agent Christie+ Co has reported there are £12bn of distressed assets to be sold now the recovery has begun. Chairman Philip Gwyn said: “It is our experience of past recessions that recovery commonly starts in London and ripples out across the country. We believe this process is now under way. Most encouragingly, our regional network has seen a resurgence of demand for lifestyle businesses, including country and coastal locations serving both local and visitor customers. As predicted, we have benefited from a pick-up in the marketing of larger portfolios as instanced by our instruction to sell The Menzies Hotel portfolio and the Convivial London Pubs portfolio. We are aware of £12bn of portfolios of trading business in our sectors, the subject of distressed loans. We anticipate that the workout of these situations will continue both this year and next.”

Tim Foster – ‘this is the most vibrant and creative period I’ve seen in the sector’: Tim Foster, co-founder of innovative four-strong pub operator Yummy Pub Company, has argued that this is most creative and vibrant period he ha witnessed in the sector. In his blog, he added: “Who is recording the openings of new pubs? I’m sure, somewhere, those crafty little number crunchers at CGA or the like are. Maybe Mr Charity and his hotshot little team at Propel are secretly squirreling away the details? Maybe the M&C Report duo are? Come on, this is the most vibrant and creative I have ever seen my industry, in the very short time I’ve been involved - the details are there, somewhere!”

Company news:

Irish Independent – JD Wetherspoon set to buy two Irish pubs: The Irish Independent has claimed that JD Wetherspoon is set to buy two pubs in Ireland at around €1.5m (£.27m) each. The newspaper reported that agent Bill Morrissey is currently completing the sale of the 40 Foot in Dun Laoghaire and the Tonic in Blackrock, Co Dublin to Wetherspoon’s. Deals totalling more than €14m have been done for 13 Dublin pubs this year and most of those have been bought by private buyers rather than major companies, according to research by the newspaper. Morrissey recently agreed a deal for the sale of the Thomas Read pub on Dame Street in Dublin, with the sale price believed to be between €2.5m and €3m, comfortably over the €2.2m guide price. 

Grand Union rings design changes at latest opening: Grand Union Group, the London bar operator led by Adam Marshall and 50%-owned by Luke Johnson, has rung design change at its eighth opening, Grand Union Chancery Lane, in central London, a Star Pubs and Bars site. Marshall told Propel: “We had 380 people on our guest list and 350 turned up which created a fantastic launch night with people partying till 1.30am and on a school night. The new Grand Union represents a step change in design creating a contemporary ‘London boozer’ at ground level and downstairs housing a boudoir-like den of excess from the 1920s with raised levels and tables for girls to dance on hanging from chains in the ceiling. Trade has been very strong since opening.” The company is in negotiations on a ninth site, a free-of-tie venue in The Barbican. Grand Union would like to open a further three sites in 2014.

Spirit opens second premium pub: Spirit Pub Company has opened its second premium London pub after the successful conversion of the George pub in Belsize Park, North London, a Taylor Walker site, earlier this year. The Cricketers in Kew Green, South West London, a former Chef & Brewer re-opened as part of Spirit’s Premium Pub Company segment last night. Spirit operates a second Chef & Brewer site nearby and the pub’s location, the company said, made it ideal for the move upmarket. The pub, which has seen a £260,000 refurbishment, has been renamed as a nod to the rich cricket history in Richmond borough.

InnBrighton to reduce prices at its two flagship pubs for Tax Parity Day: InnBrighton, the 45-strong pub operator led by Gavin George and Gary Pettet, is to reduce prices at two flagship pubs in Brighton, The Mesmerist and North Laine Brewery, in support of Tax Parity Day. George: “These are two of our busiest sites.” 

Sussex brewer buys new pub: Lewes-based brewer Harvey & Sons has acquired a new pub. The company said: “We are delighted to announce that we have acquired the Grade II Listed public house The Bridge Inn, in the heart of Newhaven town centre. We are very excited to be taking over this public house and look forward to reopening it shortly.” Last year, Harvey’s re-opened its previous acquisition, the Lincoln pub, at the top of the High Street next to Lewes Crown Court, as the Rights of Man in honour of Lewes resident and philosopher Tom Paine. Turnover at Harvey’s in 2012 dropped to £18.4m from £19.3m the year before. Pre-tax profit was £2.2m, down 8% compared to £2.39m the year before. The company said: “Beer volumes have once again declined in comparison with the previous year and as a result operating profits have gone down by 3.7%.”

Young’s pub granted licence to conduct weddings: A South London pub has been granted a licence to conduct wedding ceremonies on the premises. The County Arms, in Trinity Road, Wandsworth, decided to apply for the license after couples choosing the pub for their wedding receptions began enquiring whether they could get married in the building too. Joanna Kersley, the pub’s events co-ordinator, said: “With the economic climate, people are being more careful with their budgets as well. People become attached to their local pub, why not extend that to your wedding day.” The County Arms, a Young’s pub close to Wandsworth Common, can now be used for both weddings and civil partnerships.

Wagamama adds Hampshire site: Wagamama has secured a site in Winchester’s Jewry Street. Versant Development has applied for planning permission for a change of use of Century House, a Winchester Family Church site. It is understood the restaurant would be 5,000 square feet, seating around 100 people. The managing director of Versant, Frank Mountain, said: “They have been looking for years and they have to find the right site and they have found it now.”

YO! Sushi to add Heathrow site with innovative ordering system: YO! Sushi is to open a new restaurant at Heathrow Terminal 2 in June 2014, offering pod seating and an innovative service that will mean airline passengers will be able to pre-order their food online before they arrive, ensuring their order will be ready for takeaway as soon as they come through security. For those wanting to dine in, hot food or bespoke orders will be relayed by tablet to place the order directly with the kitchen. The restaurant claims an exclusive range of set menus to give passengers the option of a “wellness meal” before their flight, supposedly providing customers with the optimum amount of nutrition before getting on a long haul flight. Alison Vickers, business development director at YO! Sushi, said: “We are delighted to be expanding our Heathrow offering as our existing site in Terminal 3 has been a key factor to the success of the brand in the UK. Our fun, fresh and fast menu options are proving a hit with international passengers who are strapped for time so our Terminal 2 restaurant design and service reflects this.”

Norfolk nightclub escape closure after agreeing a raft of new conditions: A nightclub in Dereham, Norfolk, facing closure after a series of alcohol-related crimes has accepted a rat of new conditions to stay open. Norfolk police’s Licensing Team requested the one-month closure of Splitz nightclub in Quebec Street earlier this year after reports of violence, drunkenness and anti-social behaviour. Breckland District Council’s Licensing Committee decided in May that the club’s licence should be suspended for a month to allow for 17 conditions to be introduced which included new CCTV cameras, more door staff, better training and an earlier cut off point for re-entry to the club. An amendment was made to one point where the club will impose a door staff deployment plan.

“Extortionate” rates bill spells end for Gloucester pub operator: The Union pub in Gloucester has closed with its landlord blaming an extortionate rates bill. The Westgate Street venue turned over £300,000 of trade in the past 12 months but landlord Richard White said its rates bill amounted to £400 a week, the same amount paid in rent to the owner, Enterprise Inns. White said: “We owed around £2,000 in business rates. What with the rent on top, these rates are extortionate.”

Costa Coffee to open ninth Gloucester outlet next month: Costa Coffee will open its ninth site in Gloucester next month, converting two empty shops in the King’s Walk shopping centre. Penny Mairoudhiou, a spokeswoman for Costa, said: “As the UK’s favourite coffee shop and one of the success stories on the UK high street, we work closely with planning departments across the country to open new stores for the benefit of their local communities, creating new jobs and providing attractive and popular social meeting places.”

Loungers faces cumulative impact policy battle in Truro: Cafe bar concept Loungers’ plan to open a £500,000 site in Truro faces a challenge from police over the town’s cumulative impact policy. Loungers was granted planning consent for the site last month which include dropping part of the flat roof at the rear of the building to create an outdoor dining area. Loungers managing director Alex Reilley told the local newspaper he believed the police were “duty-bound” to oppose the licence because of the cumulative impact policy. He added: “This would be an investment of about £500,000. There’s a robust economic argument for the premises to be allowed a licence.” Reilley argued that Loungers was food-led and would enhance the city rather than resulting in an increase in anti-social behaviour. “Our sort of operation is not the kind of place that attracts vertical drinkers and the kind of activity that causes the police grief,” he said.

Land Securities takes holding in X-Leisure to 95%: Land Securities has paid £104m for a 35.6% stake in the X-Leisure Unit Trust, the UK’s largest leisure fund, with assets valued at £590m. X-Leisure runs 16 leisure venues across Britain, including Xscape Yorkshire in Leeds, Fountain Park in Edinburgh, Parrs Wood in Manchester, Queens Links in Aberdeen, Riverside in Norwich, Tower Park in Poole, and Brighton Marina, all including multiplex cinemas, restaurants and bars and many with a health club, bowling and other leisure attractions. Land Securities executive director Richard Akers said: “Eighteen months ago Land Securities had no major standalone leisure assets. Today we are the UK’s biggest leisure landlord, with significant exposure to a sector which is seeing strong occupational demand. We have gained control of X-Leisure without paying a premium.” The company acquired an initial 12% holding in the trust in 2012 and bought a further 42% interest in January this year, together with 100% interests in the trust’s management companies, X-Leisure Ltd and X-Leisure (General Partner) Ltd. Another 5.4% was acquired in March.

Managed operator TCG joins Tax Parity Day campaign: Managed pub and bar operator TCG has pledged its support to the hospitality industry’s campaign for a reduction in VAT. The company has signed up as a member of Jacques Borel’s VAT Club, and will take part in Tax Parity Day on 25 September, when the price of food and drink will be reduced by 7.5% in all TCG’s venues. Tax Parity Day is designed to highlight the disparity between the UK’s hospitality businesses paying 20% VAT on all sales, while the supermarkets pay virtually no VAT on food. The VAT Club is campaigning for a cut in the VAT to 5% for the hospitality industry, arguing the increased business would boost economic growth and create jobs. TCG chief operating officer Nigel Wright said: “By taking part in Tax Parity Day we’re able to promote the VAT campaign to our diverse customer base, at sites ranging from the world famous Tattershall Castle floating pub on the Thames, to our local pubs and city centre bars.” Leaflets and posters in all TCG’s outlets will explain the reasons for the price reduction, and encourage customers to support the campaign by writing to their MP. Wright said: “The hospitality sector is a large employer, particularly of young people, and a major contributor to the Treasury. We think it’s fair to ask the government to show support for the industry, especially since projections show the cut in VAT revenue would be balanced by increased taxes generated by higher levels of trade and more jobs in the sector.”

Punch offering free pint for Cask Ale Week: Punch Taverns is offering pub-goers a free pint in over 700 of its pubs throughout England and Wales for Cask Ale Week. Anyone can visit the website ( from 23 September and enter the code PUN123 to receive their voucher and find out which pubs to spend it in. “We believe that big events like Cask Ale Week can only increase awareness of the nation’s love of beer and help encourage more consumers to recognise cask ale as one of the unique selling points of the Great British pub,” said Punch Buying Club director Andy Slee. “Our free pint promotion provides a great opportunity for customers to visit a local pub – it also helps to support everyone involved in the brewing process from Britain’s farmers and maltsters to brewers and local economies. We put a lot of support into cask ale and have over 1,100 Cask Marque-accredited pubs.” All participating Punch pubs have received a POS kit to support Cask Ale Week and the Free Pint Promotion, including ‘try before you buy glassware’. The voucher is valid from 27 September to 6 October.

Orchid embeds Red Tractor values with young diners: Orchid Pub Company is embedding Red Tractor values with its younger customers. The company has long-supported Red Tractor as one of the first pub companies to serve up British Farm Assured meats at its carveries. Now Orchid will be introducing the use of the Red Tractor icon in several different guises so children start making the association and understanding what it means. These include: Red Tractor themed kids’ play areas complete with Red Tractor slides; head chefs will go into local schools to plant Red Tractor kitchen gardens; Red Tractor toys will be available for children to play with whilst dining; a new interactive Red Tractor kids’ menu colouring competition linked with Facebook. Orchid marketing manager Olly Jakes said: “We want the next generation to understand the importance of British produce and to have real passion for supporting home grown food. To do this, we believe you have to start educating kids as young as possible.”

Four bids on table for Botanic package: Four bids have been tabled for a group of pubs in Belfast that were part of Kurkova, a company in the Botanic Inns group. The pubs were put on the market earlier this year after Kurkova, a subsidiary of Botanic Inns, went into administration. Offers for the Kurkova portfolio or individual sites, with a total guide price of £4.675m, were to be sent to commercial property agents Osborne King by 13 September. Local media reports four offers for the entire portfolio are being considered.

Oktoberfest beertents warned over short-measure steins: City authorities in Munich have ordered operators of beer tents at the annual Oktoberfest, which opens this weekend, to stop selling steins of beer that are massively short-measure. The big heads on the one-litre steins served at the festival mean drinkers are being underserved by as much as 20cl a glass, meaning they are being short-changed up to €2 (£1.67) a stein. Wilfried Blume-Beyerle, head of Munich’s local authority, warned brewers and those running the huge tents that they would be pursued “energetically” and face sanctions if they cheated customers by serving steins with the beer short of the one-litre measuring line. Only one in five steins served in 2012 had the correct amount of beer, the local council said. Although the problem has existed for years, Blume-Beyerle said the council would clamp down with renewed vigour punishing the tent’s landlord as well as the waiter, the Münchner Merkur newspaper reported. Under the rules the barman or waiter will initially be held responsible for serving customers short measures, and given a verbal warning. For a second offence, they will receive a written warning. If they continue to underserve they could be banned from working at the Oktoberfest. If more than three employees are banned from working in one tent, legal proceedings will start against the tent’s owners.

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