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Thu 13th Nov 2014 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

‘Market rent only’ option ‘unlikely to happen’ says Punch chairman: Punch Tavern’s executive chairman, Stephen Billingham, told City analysts yesterday (Wednesday) he did not believe the so-called “market rent only” option, allowing pub tenants to abandon the beer tie, would make it onto the statute books as part of the pub industry statutory code. The Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland, chairman of the Parliamentary Save the Pub Group, and MPs from the Labour and Conservative parties tabled an amendment to the Small Business Enterprise and Employment Bill at the weekend that would allow tenants, after negotiation, to pay an assessed “market rent” and buy their beer from wherever they choose. Mulholland claimed the amendment would stop pubcos charging “unfair and unrealistic rents and rip-off prices for beer”. At a presentation to analysts on Punch’s 2014 preliminary results, Billlingham said: “My current view is that the market rent option for pubs is unlikely to happen in the legislation. That doesn’t seem to be where we’re going. The government has said that they don’t want to get involved in economic intervention in the pubs sector – they’ve actually ruled it out. Where the government is heading towards is a statutory code on how we conduct ourselves. While we think that’s unnecessary, we are willing to work with the government to make the code work effectively.” The market rent clause is due to be voted on at the report stage of the Small Business Bill on 18 and 19 November.

Industry News:

Keith Knowles and family pay tribute to Franca Knowles, MBE: Beds and Bars chief executive Keith Knowles and his family have expressed their ‘heartfelt gratitude’ for the outpouring of tributes to Franca Knowles, who sadly passed away on Friday 7 November, 2014. A statement said: “Franca passed surrounded by her family, after fighting a brain tumour for many years. Born in the Dutch town of Beesd, Franca had a simple and humble upbringing before training with Holland’s Horeca sector – championing uniform excellence across the hotel, restaurant, and cafe industry. In 2008 Franca was awarded an MBE by HM the Queen for services to skills training in the hospitality industry and to charity. Franca was also recognised for her outstanding work in the sector with a number of NITA awards, the 2010 title of Companion from the British Institute of Inn Keeping, and a 2013 induction into the Top 100 Club of The Most Influential Women in the Industry, at the Women 1st Shine Awards. Her work in devising the Beds and Bars Footsteps training scheme was the key catalyst in winning the Investors in People Gold Champion status. Franca spoke four languages, was a qualified teacher in dressmaking, and fabrics, and held a certification as a reflexologist, in addition to qualifications in psychosynthesis, and psychology. She loved the saxophone, piano and guitar, skiing and boating, cooking, and gardening. Most of all she loved her family – her husband, three children, and a wonderful dog. They were the centre of each other’s lives.” Paying tribute to Franca, Murray Roberts, managing director of Beds and Bars said: “A big part of Franca will always be with us in Beds and Bars – her love of people, her compassion, her tireless work as People Director and her now famous words – live your life. The world is a lesser place without her, but a better place because of her. Please join me in sending all of our love to Keith, Chesca, Jan and Luke.”

Luke Johnson – businesses need to wage war on costs: Sector investor Luke Johnson has argued that an on-going war needs to be waged against costs in business. In his Financial Times column, he said: “There are always a thousand excuses as to why costs cannot be cut. Managers are too embarrassed to ask for lower prices from suppliers; they are too squeamish to make surplus workers redundant; they lack the resolve to challenge how money is spent; they are comfortable with the status quo; they are too lazy to examine in detail where expenses arise, and find intelligent ways to reduce them; and they are too scared of losing customers to re-engineer products so as to generate a fair return. Costs come in every shape and size, from travel and office equipment to software and utility bills. An attitude of mind should be developed which questions every line, every contract, and every quoted price. Small items can add up to big numbers. More can almost always be done with less, if circumstances require it. Waste does not simply damage financial outcomes; it is a moral issue.”

Five new companies signs up with customer experience firm HospitalityGEM, boosting revenue by £60,000 in a month: Five new brands are investing in customer insights with the guest experience management expert HospitalityGEM, boosting revenue by £60,000 in a month alongside service expansion with other clients. An existing client, Wildwood, which has 22 restaurants, has signed up to use HospitalityGEM’s online guest engagement and interaction portal GEMdirect. HospitalityGEM’s new clients include PizzaLuxe, the gourmet pizza brand owned by Paul Goodale and Laura Pabon; Fred’s Food Construction, a New York-style diner launched in partnership with Tesco led by Goodale and the serial entrepreneur Daniel Gestetner; Flat Planet, the London-based wheat-free flatbread concept launched by John Vincent, one of the founders of Leon; the Levant Group, which includes Comptoir Libanais; and Spielburger, the latest launch from the Everyman Cinema Group, with monthly GEMvisits. Steven Pike, managing director of HospitalityGEM, said: “It’s been an exceptional month for HospitalityGEM as we’ve secured some great new clients alongside a real increase in revenue. We see this as a clear indication that more and more operators are realising the importance of managing the guest experience rather than leaving it to chance.”

McDonald’s celebrates 40th anniversary of first UK site today: McDonald’s is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its first UK site, in Powis Street, Woolwich, south east London today. The Daily Telegraph reported a number of little-known McDonald’s facts to mark the occasion. The company wanted a West End site, but the only landlord who was selling properties was Burton’s, the menswear chain. The first three McDonald’s in UK are all former Burton’s shops. The price of a Big Mac in 1974 was 43p. This is the equivalent of £3.91 in today’s money, more expensive than the current price of Big Mac in central London, £2.89. In the past 12 months the chain sold 126 million cups of coffee in Britain, second only to Costa, and more than Starbucks. Its bestselling item is not the Big Mac: in the UK it is medium fries. A bacon roll is the only item on the menu that is unique to McDonald’s UK. McDonald’s in India has at least five unique items, including the Chicken Maharaja Mac, with chicken burgers instead of beef, so as not to upset Hindu customers. Back in 2006 McDonald’s had nine UK restaurants open 24 hours a day. Now the number is 567, as demand for early breakfasts and late meals from shift workers has increased. UK sales have grown on a like-for-like basis for 34 consecutive quarters.

Starting a micropub ‘ideal second career for middle-aged man’: Running a micropub is the ideal second career for a middle-aged man who has taken early retirement, lost his own local pub and wants something enjoyable to do with his time as well as being his own boss, according to micropub pioneer Martyn Hillier. Hillier, who set up Britain’s pioneering micropub, the Butcher’s Arms in Herne Village, Kent, in 2005, and later founded the Micropub Association, told the Cask Matters website that it costs around £5,000 to convert a shop and set up a coolroom to store the beer. “They won’t make you wealthy,” Hillier said, but he revealed that he makes around £20,000 a year profit. He estimated that the country’s existing micropubs, which are expected to pass the 100 mark by the end of this year, have a combined turnover of at least £6m. Hillier suggested it was easier to get a licence than it was before 2005, it should be “fairly easy” to get change of use from a shop to a pub, and even those who may object to the change of use, as they did to a planned micropub in Derby, can then become its regular customers once they recognise what a micropub has to offer. He also suggested that every microbrewery should have at least ten micro pubs as an outlet for its beers.

Company News:

Whiskey Whiskey Tango aims for six sites as it adds second Star Pubs & Bars pub: Whiskey Whiskey Tango, led by Chris Wilkie and Karl Tisch, has set a goal of growing to six sites after securing a 20-year lease on the Wilton in Fulham, south west London with Star Pubs & Bars. It is their second leased pub with Star Pubs and their third site in south London. The pub, which is being renamed the Captain Cook, opens this week after a joint £500,000 refurbishment. It is the largest investment site in the south of England for Star Pubs in 2014. At the Captain Cook, downstairs rooms have been knocked through to form one open-plan trading space, a theatre-style kitchen has been installed and a dining area created. A barista coffee bar using Star Pubs & Bars’ Kimbo coffee deal has also been added. Heineken Smart Dispense has been put in and the pub will serve three cask ales as well as Theakston’s new craft beer, Theakston’s American IPA. A wide selection of bottled beers from Heineken’s world beer list will be offered including Monteith’s. A second phase of development is being undertaken by Wilkie and Tisch to add eight letting rooms above the pub, six of which will be en-suite. The duo expect the rooms to be ready at Christmas time and plan to market them to weekday workers in London as well as visitors to the capital. Wilkie and Tisch are looking to expand further in South London, aiming to add another three sites to their group over the next five years. Wilkie said: “Freeholds in London are almost cost prohibitive and having to compete with developers for sites pushes prices up further. We prefer the leased model, as it reduces risk and provides a lower cost way of operating pubs compared to freeholds.” Wilkie and Tisch said they were attracted to the Wilton because of its location in an up and coming area of Fulham and the opportunity it presented for creating multiple income streams. “Multiple income streams are another good way of reducing risk, and Star Pubs & Bars has been extremely supportive and flexible to work with allowing us to fund and undertake the refurbishment of the letting rooms with our own contractors,” Wilkie said. Chris Jowsey, trading director at Star Pubs & Bars, said: “We are committed to developing long-term relationships with our lessees and are delighted that such skilled pub operators have chosen to take another site with us. Nearly half of our investment in 2014 has been with multiple operators such as Chris and Karl. They tend to have a very clear vision for the sites they take on and specific financing requirements. We are able to accommodate both needs, enabling them to stamp their individuality on design schemes and creating tailored commercial agreements that are right for them and the site.”

Leon opens 20th restaurant, gears up for 12 openings in 2015: Healthy eating brand Leon, led by John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby, has opened its 20th restaurant, located in Victoria Place at Victoria Station. The new opening seats 72 and follows recent openings in Farringdon and Tottenham Court Road. The company is planning to open a dozen sites in 2015. The company stated: “We’ve always believed we can be the future of fast food. Restaurants that are conveniently located and which serve boldly flavoured, natural food that is affordable and doesn’t make you fall asleep and wake up fat. So next year is a big test for us. With the 12 new openings, we’ll be creating 799 new jobs (maybe 800).” Co-founder and chief executive John Vincent said: “What excites me so much about a new opening is feeling the positivity, optimism and energy in the team as they build towards the big day and as they open their doors for the first time. I can tell you that when you’re walking in to a Leon on its first day, you are meeting a bunch of people who feel like it’s their opening night on Broadway.”

Douglas Jack reports ‘upgrade potential’ in Fuller’s results: Numis Securities leisure analyst Douglas Jack as issued an ‘Add’ note on Fuller’s shares with a Target price of 1110p ahead of interim results tomorrow. He said: “We forecast PBT being up 5% to £19.0m, driven by strong like-for-like sales and selective expansion. Due to these two factors, we believe the risk to forecasts remains on the upside. We expect to at least hold our forecasts (2015E PBT: £35.3m / consensus £35.3m) which are based on cautious assumptions, in our view. With a minimum of seven new managed pubs scheduled to open in 2015E (and this excludes a recent coffee shop opening), vs four in 2014, we believe forecast risk remains on the upside.”

New World Trading Company to open fifth Botanist in Newcastle in December: New World Trading Company will open its fifth Botanist in Newcastle upon Tyne on 15 December. The opening of the 8,000 sq ft venue will create up to 100 jobs. The Botanist will be on two floors of the Monument Mall development, in the city centre, which has undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment under its owner, Hammerson. The Newcastle venue will have views across the city centre from a rooftop terrace. It will mark the chain’s expansion into the north east of England, alongside its four existing operations in Leeds, Deansgate in Manchester, Chester and Alderley Edge. An investment of £75,000 will be dedicated to staff training.

Starbucks rolls out new lines in Christmas gifts: Starbucks is rolling out new lines in Christmas gifts in the United States this year, including a limited edition sterling silver Starbucks gift card. The card, which comes preloaded with $50 to spend in Starbuck outlets, retails for $200. Other new items include the Starbucks Dot Collection, cups, mugs, glasses and other drinkware available with more than 100 different designs on, all featuring the Starbucks “green dot” logo, and all costing under $20. The company has also brought out new designs in its Starbucks Card collection. Last year, it said, one in eight US adults received a Starbucks Card during the holiday season. A new limited-time holiday drink has been added to the line-up this year as well: Chestnut Praline Latte, made from espresso, steamed milk and flavours of caramelised chestnuts and spices, finished with whipped cream and spiced praline crumbs. It joins the chain’s regular holiday drinks, Caramel Brulée Latte and Peppermint Mocha, and Eggnog Latte, brought back in response to customer demand. Starbucks is offering one free holiday beverage for every holiday beverage of equal or greater value bought between November 12 and 16 from 2pm to 5pm.

Newmarket nightclub sells within three days of going on the market for £2.1m: The freehold of De Niro’s, a nightclub in Newmarket, Suffolk, has sold within three days of it going on the market for £2.1m. Phil Parsons, from the estate agency Clarke Phillips, said that talks have begun for what the nightclub building will be used for. He said: “We had lots of interest in the building since the time it went on the market, and an offer has been agreed. The deal was tied within about three days of it going on the market. There are discussions going on with the council and the person who is buying the property, but they do not want to be named at this stage.” The 24,000 sq ft property is billed as “formerly one of East Anglia’s largest nightclubs”. The nightclub is relaunching later this month as a cocktail bar called Aura, described as “anything but just another bar”. A spokesperson for Aura said: “People can expect cocktails and premium products. We are having booths built inside. We will be bringing an Essex feel to Newmarket.” Aura is due to open on 29 November.

Mitchells & Butlers to re-open Orchid site in Southend as a Toby Carvery next month: Mitchells & Butlers is to re-open a former Orchid Group site, acquired in June, the Half Way House, in Eastern Esplanade, Southend, Essex on 9 December as a Toby Carvery. The site traded previously as part of Orchid’s Great British Carvery estate.

Wigan Pier Quarter plans are unveiled as famous Wigan pier nightclub is demolished: Plans to transform the Wigan Pier area have been announced as the former Wigan Pier nightclub building was demolished. A ten-year plan has been developed for the whole area to become known as the Wigan Pier Quarter, which will include the building of a major performance venue, a retail development, 70 car parking spaces and new canal boat facilities. The building that once housed the Wigan Pier nightclub was due to be demolished earlier in the year but problems securing the neighbouring building have delayed the work. Wigan Council will announce a development partner in the next few weeks who will oversee work on the Wigan Pier Quarter, which includes the canal and mills around Pottery Road.

Northern Ireland hospitality group Beannchor Group unveils plan for ‘no expense spared’ Belfast nightclub: Beannchor Group, led by Bill Wolsey, has unveiled plans for a “no expenses spared” nightclub in former bank buildings in High Street, Belfast, just off the burgeoning Cathedral Quarter. The Sixty6 cocktail bar and nightclub opens on 4 December above the National Grande Café, and represents a £400,000 investment by Beannchor. It completes a total investment of £1.1m by Beannchor in the National Grande venue. Sixty6, which covers three floors of the Grade B listed former National Bank building, will “conjure up the glamour of a classic Victorian’s Gentleman’s Club, bringing upper levels of the building back to their former glory”, according to the company. Original features, including high ceilings with intricate cornices, carved wooden pillars, original doors and a distinctive wrought iron and stone staircase, have been restored. Sixty6 (named after the 66 High Street address) is the latest addition to the Beannchor portfolio, which includes more than 50 pubs, hotels and restaurants across Northern Ireland.

Stonegate Pub Company re-opens Blackpool’s oldest pub with additional handpulls: Stonegate Pub Company has re-opened the oldest pub in Blackpool, after a refurbishment to include an extended handpull cask ale offer. The pub, on Whitegate Drive, is the longest continuously licensed premises in Blackpool and dates from the 1700s. The historic feel to the pub has been maintained, with existing features and furniture kept, Stonegate said. The Saddle Inn, which already had a good range of cask beers, has added more handpumps. As well as award-winning national ales, the pub will serve locally sourced beers from Lancaster and Lytham breweries. Two handpull ciders will also be on tap, while “meet the brewer” evenings, to taste local cask ales, are planned for the new year.

Luxury fashion brand Jigsaw to open in Milton Keynes with on-site cafe: Landlord Hermes Real Estate has reported that Jigsaw, the luxury British fashion, clothing and accessories brand, is to open a 2,656 sq ft store at Centre:mk. Jigsaw, on Silbury Arcade, adjacent to Kurt Geiger, House of Fraser and The White Company, is the latest addition to Centre:mk’s line-up of leading aspirational brands. The new store’s design is inspired by the brand’s Duke Street Emporium, which opened in April, and will include a cafe, after the success of the Emporium’s artisanal cafe, which is run by Fernandez and Wells, has proved popular with shoppers in the West End of London.

Pizza Hut unveils new identity in the US: Pizza Hut is launching a new identity in the United States in what the restaurant chain says is its “biggest brand evolution ever”. The new look has been developed with the advertising agency Deutsch, and includes a new identity, box designs, website and staff uniforms. The Pizza Hut identity has been redrawn and the new tagline “The Flavour of Now” has been introduced. It is not known whether the new designs will be used in the UK.

Wok & Go to open Cardiff site: The noodle brand Wok & Go is to open its first branch in Cardiff, on a site at 92 St Mary Street. The brand, which opens its doors next Wednesday (19 November), serves a fusion of Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian, Chinese and Japanese food. Managing director Des Pheby said: “Cardiff is a fantastic location for Wok & Go and we can’t wait to open. We’re proud to offer healthy, good value food that’s freshly cooked in minutes.” He said he came up with the idea for Wok & Go while on holiday in New York: “I wanted to create authentic Asian cuisine for time poor people who don’t always have the luxury of waiting in a traditional restaurant. For me, the answer was tasty, healthy food cooked to order in minutes that customers could eat on the hop, at simple tables and benches, or take away in a box.” The first Wok & Go opened in Chester in 2008. There are currently 16 branches of Wok & Go in the UK and Middle East, with a further three opening in Bangor, York and Leeds and over the coming months.

Social Bite sandwich chain plans Scottish expansion: A Scottish chain of charity sandwich shops is hoping to open its first branch in the north east of Scotland, thanks to a £200,000 investment from the Scottish entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter. Social Bite already runs four stores in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The “social business” donates 100% of its profits to charity and helps people off the streets, with one in four of its workers formerly homeless. Founders Josh Littlejohn and Alice Thomson have revealed they plan to expand into Aberdeen and Dundee. Littlejohn said: “We’re looking to open a store in Aberdeen just after the new year, with Dundee following soon after.” The company is currently generating about £2,000 a month from its four branches for various charities, including Shelter, Microloan Malawi and eye care operations in Bangladesh. Alongside employing the homeless and donating to charity, Social Bite also offers a “suspended purchase” scheme, which allows customers to buy a meal for a homeless person to take up at a later date. Sir Tom Hunter said: “Josh and Alice are an inspiration and are at the forefront of the social enterprise movement in Scotland. I believe government needs to take a long hard look at how businesses like Social Bite can be incentivised further.”

Boutique hotel and restaurant plan in Durham is given the go-ahead: A Grade-II listed property in Durham built in the 19th century is to be transformed into a 43-bedroom four-star hotel and 29-room aparthotel as part of a £7.5m project after plans for the scheme were approved. Old Shire Hall was built in 1896 as the headquarters of the newly formed County Council, which occupied the property until 1963, before Durham University housed its administrative offices there until 2012. The plans were submitted by developer Kevin Brown to Durham County Council to turn the property, which has been empty since the university moved out in 2012, into a 43-bedroom four-star boutique hotel and 29 room aparthotel restaurant and bar, leisure club and spa and associated access, car parking and landscaping. The plans say that the impact on the historic fabric of the building would be minimal, while an effort would be made to “retain the significant features and reuse existing service routes” of the property. The approval means about 60 jobs will be created as part of the operation of the business. The application states: “In turn, the new hotel, bar, restaurant, spa and aparthotel are predicted to bring an additional £3m spend into the city with further benefits to the surrounding businesses.”

Whitbread to debut Premier Inn in Singapore in 2016: Whitbread is to open its first Premier Inn hotel in Singapore in the middle of 2016. Designed to meet the needs of the “rapidly growing economy travel segment in the region”, the 300-room Premier Inn Singapore Beach Road aims to provide guests with a “value-for-money experience”. It will feature amenities that cater to both business and leisure travellers, such as a swimming pool, a gym, and meeting facilities. The hotel will be near the cultural districts of Haji Lane and Arab Street as well as the Marina Bay Central Business District. It will also be the only international hotel within one kilometre of the Singapore Sports Hub.

Fat Cat opens third site: The East Midlands pub and bar operator behind the Fat Cat cafe-bar chain is to open a third site under the Fat Cat name, the former Chestnut Tree in Mansfield Road, Sherwood, Nottingham after a £250,000 refurbishment. Next Friday (21 November), the site will re-open as Fat Cat Sherwood, with a new bar, an extended and refitted kitchen, new layout and furniture and a revamp of its beer garden. Work been carried out by the award-winning design and build firm Concorde BGW, and there will be 20 new full-time and part-time employees at the pub. Sam Wright, area manager for Fat Cat Sherwood, said: “The Fat Cat brand has been really successful over the last 20 years, particularly here in the East Midlands. We’re excited to be investing in and extending in the Fat Cat experience in Sherwood, as well as creating new jobs. The aim is to make Fat Cat Sherwood a place for everyone.”

Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts to expand evening menus to boost sales: Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts are boosting efforts to compete with bars and restaurants by expanding their evening and light bite choices to thousands of stores. Starbucks first offered beer and wine after 4pm at one of its Seattle cafes in 2010 and the Starbucks Evenings concept is now available in 32 cafes in seven markets around the United States This will increase to 40 by the end of the year. The format works particularly well near theatres and areas where people socialise in the evenings, the company said. There are also five choices of red wine, three white wines, a sparkling rose and prosseco. Starbucks’ evening sites also serve a variety of small dishes ranging in price from $3 to $5, such as bacon-wrapped dates, truffle macaroni and cheese, and flatbreads. Dunkin’ Donuts is also planning to sell more dinner-friendly foods in 2015. John Costello, Dunkin’ Donuts’ president, global marketing and innovation, said: “Though breakfast remains our core, today people are seeking all-day dining, and they want to eat what they want, when they want it and where they want it – that’s why we are so committed to menu innovation and giving our guests even more options that they can enjoy any time of day.” Dunkin’ Donuts introduced steak this autumn to make a steak sandwich and a wrap with eggs. Only 40% of Dunkin’s sales come after 11am, leaving a lot of room for growth. 

Sheffield bar chain to sell city’s first ‘home grown gin’ for a century: The eight-strong Forum Cafe Bars chain, based in Sheffield, is to sell the first “entirely home-grown” gin to be made in Sheffield for a century. The “native Sheffield gin” is the idea of Robert Jones, a former part-time barman and mixologist in city clubs who is now a student at Sheffield Hallam University. A £1,000 grant from a university-led bursary scheme enabled him to buy a hand-made copper still and a secret mixture of botanicals native to the Peak District. Jones said: “I was delighted that the panel decided to award me the grant, which was enough to buy the still and equipment for my first batch of gin. I also had some money left over which I spent on a trip to London to visit the ‘Ginstitute’, a gin museum run by the people who make Portobello Road Gin.” Jones has now secured premises at the Stancill Brewery, at Kelham Island in Sheffield, and hopes to bottle his first batch of gin later this month, which will be on sale in Forum Café Bars outlets.

Spirit’s Chef & Brewer brand teams up with star baker Richard Burr to find perfect pudding: The nation’s star baker, Richard Burr has teamed up with Spirit brand Chef & Brewer to launch the search for the UK’s perfect pudding. The ‘Proof is in the Pudding’ competition will give aspiring bakers the chance to design their ideal pud, which if chosen will be added onto a Chef & Brewer menu and appear in pubs up and down the country. Entrants will be given the chance to conjure up their dream pudding on the Chef & Brewer website and via an app on its Facebook page. Richard Burr said: “For me baking has always been about experimenting with different flavour combinations and unusual ingredients. We are on the look-out for pudding creations that are innovative, original and exciting – something that is going to stand out from the rest and really make you want to try it.” The Great British Bake Off finalist will then choose his top five recipes to go to a nationwide vote on the Chef & Brewer Facebook page and website. The overall winner will not only receive a KitchenAid Mixer but will also see their pudding featured on a future Chef & Brewer menu nationwide. Participants can enter the competition until Sunday 23 November by using the Proof is in the Pudding app on the Chef & Brewer Facebook page, www.facebook.com/chefandbrewer

Landmark Shropshire coaching inn on the market: Agent Christie + Co has been instructed to sell The Salwey Arms, an iconic 18th century Georgian coaching inn in Wooferton, Shropshire for £1,250,000. Situated just off the A49 on one of the main gateways to Shropshire, the Grade II listed character inn offers Bistro style dining in a range of beautiful dining rooms, a separate generously stocked bar, function room for up to 80 guests and five luxury letting rooms. The substantial detached building was redundant for a number of years until it was acquired by the current owners, Hugo and Cilla Lywood, in 2012. It was then extensively renovated to meet modern requirements.

Wetherspoon gets town council backing for Barnstaple hotel plan: Plans for a hotel above a JD Wetherspoon pub in Barnstaple have been recommended for approval by the town’s council – but not by the Environment Agency. The company has submitted plans to North Devon Council to make use of the first, second and third floors of the Water Gate pub on The Strand. The scheme was discussed by Barnstaple Town Council’s planning committee last week, which recommended it for approval. A design and access statement submitted with the application said Wetherspoon had already spent £1.5m refurbishing the building after it took over ownership in 2008. However the upper floors were left undeveloped. The statement said: “It is only since then that the company has realised the asset it possesses, with scope for hotel rooms above this public house. The development will bring back into use unused floor space, provide employment for those involved in managing and operating the hotel rooms and represent a major financial investment in Barnstaple town centre.” The committee heard the Environmental Agency had objected to the plan as there had been no flood risk assessment submitted. The building lies within flood risk zone three, which is defined by the agency as having a one in 100 chance of flooding. The application is out for public consultation until 20 November and will now go before North Devon Council.

Horizons – Foodservice must adapt to changing customer needs: Improving profitability by responding to changing customer needs and spotting the next consumer trend that’s relevant to your business were some of the key themes tackled by speakers at Horizons’ latest Thought Leadership Forum, held last week at London’s Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Emma Read, Horizons’ director of marketing & business development, kicked off the thought-provoking session by reminding the audience of operators, suppliers and analysts, that while eating out penetration and frequency were up this year, average spend per visit was still below pre-downturn levels. “This is a very changing marketplace,” she said. “Horizons’ research shows there are huge opportunities in areas such as snacking and breakfast while smaller business units are being developed for locations such as transport hubs and shopping malls. The challenge is to stay in touch with customer needs and be able to adapt to the way the sector is moving,” she said. Consumer insight was one of the main themes of key speaker Paul Pomroy, SVP and CFO for McDonald’s UK. He gave a revealing account of the changes the company has made to its UK business over the past decade centered on a culture of continuous improvement. McDonald’s has broadened its menu, extended its opening hours to 24/7 in some outlets and given restaurants a fresh look to fit in with what customers demanded. “You have to keep changing. Competition entering the market keeps us on our toes and the business sees this as a good thing. We remain market leading in the informal eating out sector and that is down to our desire to evolve, whilst meeting the demands from our customers,” said Pomroy. An internal customer insight team now ensures McDonald’s is delivering what its customers want, while insight specialist RMS Revenue Management helps the company understand the relationship between pricing and customer behaviour. Max Luthy, of global trend watching company Trendwatching.com, tackled the issue of identifying trends and how to choose which ones to use in your own business model. He outlined brands that have been taken into new, sometimes surprising directions such as Moët & Chandon’s champagne vending machine and Airbnb, which has found success by appealing to consumer’s desire to save money, be comfortable and meet new people. True trends, he said, raise and change consumer expectation. “Deliver more than goods,” he urged, “service is still key. The last touch point you have with your customer is in the delivery. Truly customer-centric brands understand that delivery is just the start.” Kate Ringham, from the Oxford School of Hospitality Management, addressed the audience on using revenue management to drive turnover, raising the issue of price differentiation. “The important thing is to deliver the right product to the right customer at the right price through the right distribution channel,” she said. A lively Q&A session debated the issue of price differentiation, whereby customers are charged different prices according to time of day or location. Luthy and Ringham envisaged its growth in foodservice, particularly as consumers are used to it with hotel rooms, airlines, railway tickets and voucher schemes, while Paul Pomroy stressed how McDonald’s had deliberately kept its core pricing the same, offering value to its customers. John Oakes, chief operating officer, of RMS Revenue Management Solutions said what was important was knowing what your customer wants and the impact of pricing on their behaviour. “There is a strong link between pricing strategy and the customer’s attitude towards your brand. It’s important to understand this and the relationship between pricing and service. Consumers today may tolerate higher prices if they are receiving good value, but it is unlikely they will tolerate lesser service,” he added.

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