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Fri 19th Dec 2014 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Senior agent predicts even more frenetic 2015 London restaurant activity: David Rawlinson, founder and director of the agency Restaurant Property, has predicted even more frenetic activity in the London restaurant scene in 2015. He also argued that Harden’s Restaurant Guide’s estimate of a record 101 net restaurant openings in London in 2014 – beating the previous record of 75 in 2006 – is “clearly a very conservative estimate”. He described 2014 as an “amazing year for the restaurant industry in terms of the slew of fantastic new restaurant openings and innovative concepts launched”. But Rawlinson predicted that next year will see the market hotting up still further, forcing brands to open in less prominent sites. He said: “Premiums and rents will continue to rise in Central London and indeed across other popular London restaurant locations. Linked to but not purely determined by these trends, destination restaurants like Palomar and Flat Iron will continue to go off piste to less established locations, confident that their marketing and power of the internet will generate its own footfall. The street-food scene and pop-ups continue to inject a real enthusiasm for good quality food and innovative concepts that are being realised as new restaurant concepts increasingly quickly. Soho is still a great barometer for assessing the latest trends in restaurants but it is increasingly being challenged by East London rivals such as Hoxton and Dalston. For this reason we are particularly excited to have been appointed on the Shoreditch Village development, which will create a dozen new restaurants.” Restaurant Property is currently advising Golfrate on new operators for a portfolio of seven London pubs, the latest in a portfolio of deals that has included advising Gordon Ramsay on his latest restaurant, the Heddon Street Kitchen and acquiring ten sites for Prezzo in the course of the year among others.
 

Industry News:

Luke Johnson – small is beautiful: Sector investor Luke Johnson has argued the merits of smaller businesses. In his Financial Times column, he says: Research shows that new and small companies create almost all the new private sector jobs, and are disproportionately innovative. By contrast, large companies are mostly forced to generate value through financial engineering. Almost all of my big winners, from PizzaExpress to Giraffe to Topps Tiles to Patisserie Valerie, have been organic growth stories, each from a small base. In many cases there can be diseconomies of scale, with margins falling as a company gets bigger. Gervais Williams’ book, Small is Beautiful, discusses a fascinating study which suggests that productivity falls in businesses with more than 250 employees. Tesco is a classic case of vastness leading to over-reach; its fleet of corporate jets providing a shocking symptom of imperial hubris. Even their superstores are now seen as too big. Shoppers increasingly want convenient, local stores with a distinct personality. Multinationals are hardly about to disappear: but I hope that their dominance has peaked. [If] there is a growing movement towards small and away from big for big’s sake, then the world will become a more diverse and interesting place. Everyone from graduates choosing a career to investors thinking about asset allocation will need to consider the implications, and go small.

Top bands to play pub gigs for charity: Bastille and Duran Duran are to play a series of pub gigs to intimate audiences for charity. The acts have signed up to take part in a series of shows called Passport Back To The Bars which have been organised by War Child, which helps children in areas of conflict such as Syria, Iraq and Gaza, and O2. The guitar band Ride, which is reforming for a number of shows in 2015, is also in the first batch of names to be announced for the shows. They will play an acoustic set for their gig. The series of shows, with a maximum of 300 people attending, will be staged from 16 to 24 February, around the Brit Awards. Venues will be announced at a later date and fans will have to register to have a chance of getting tickets at www.warchild.org.uk/passport.

Winners of 2014 ALMR operations managers award unveiled: Menesh Modhwadia of New Inventive Pub Company and Darren King of Greene King Pub Partners have been named Area Manager and Business Development Manager of the Year respectively, in the Association of Multiple Licensed Retailers’ Operations Managers Awards 2014. A third award, Rising Star was made to Matthew Dyson, a BDM with Star Pubs and Bars, in recognition of the qualities he has displayed throughout the awards process and the potential he has shown for future development. The awards, presented by the ALMR’s chief executive, Kate Nicholls, were announced in front an audience of more than 1,100 ALMR members, their guests and senior industry executives at the awards presentation held at the association’s Christmas luncheon at Old Billingsgate Market in central London. Nick Bish, founder of the ALMR Ops Awards, said: “The Operations Managers Awards are not simply a competition, they provide real personal development for the individuals and a boost for the industry as a whole. The finalists have undergone a rigorous judging process, a challenging entry paper, psychometric profiling, field assessment on a routine working day and lastly, tough questioning from three panels of industry leaders. The Operations Managers Awards confirm the importance of operations managers in general and shine a light on the best of the best among them. I am delighted that to report that each and every year the bar gets higher and the standards of entries match and exceeds our expectations. 2014 was one of the tightest marking yet, suggesting that the leadership of our pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants is in good hands. Menesh and Darren are the brilliant winners of these prestigious awards. They have shown outstanding management abilities and exceptional standards of professionalism throughout and I am certain they both are destined for senior roles within the industry.”

Three major tenanted pub companies to attend Pub15: Three major tenanted pub companies are to exhibit at Pub15, the first major trade show for the pub industry, which takes place at Olympia in London on 18 and 19 February 2015. Teams from Enterprise Inns, Punch Taverns and Greene King will be on hand to talk about the ins and outs of becoming a landlord, the different routes of pub acquisition available, back bar and head office support, along with business, marketing and investment advice to help licensees operate a prosperous and profitable pub business. Luke Perry, event director at PUB15, said: “The UK pub sector offers a viable and exciting opportunity for many to become their own boss through the provision of managed, freehold and tenanted properties. The Careers Lounge at PUB15 is geared towards those looking to make inroads into this fast-paced and rewarding industry, giving them the chance to hear first-hand from some of our leading pubcos as well as the sector’s movers and shakers.”

BBPA calls for level playing field for beer: The chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, Brigid Simmonds, features in Five top reasons to support TTIP, a new publication from the CBI today, promoting the benefits of TTIP, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the trade deal currently being negotiated between the EU and the US. Simmonds calls for tax and trade fairness for beer via the trade deal, which is designed to boost trade and investment across the Atlantic. “TTIP provides a once in a generation opportunity to challenge a policy that discriminates against British brewers,” Simmonds writes. “Every pint of British beer exported by a smaller brewer incurs 157% more federal tax than a pint from a US brewer of the same size, whereas in the UK, American brewers pay the same as our domestic brewers. Tackling this inequality could be worth millions to the British beer industry and economy, creating jobs here at home as well as helping Americans to enjoy our great British brews.” The BBPA has also worked with the National Association of Cidermakers and UK Trade & Investment, with the establishment of a new export delivery plan to grow beer and cider exports this year and in 2015.

Company News:

Mitchells & Butlers chief executive Alistair Darby’s pay drops: The earnings of Mitchells & Butlers chief executive Alistair Darby saw his earnings drop to £642,000 in the 2014 financial year compared to £982,000 in 2013. His basic salary increased to £531,000 from £513,000 the year before. But the 2013 financial year saw his earnings boosted by £365,000 of short-term incentives. Similarly finance director Tim Jones earned £509,000 down from £791,000 in 2013 when he earned £290,000 in short-tem incentives. Darby’s basic salary will increase to £543,000 on 1 January 2015 whilst Jones’s basic will rise to £426,000. Chairman Bob Ivell earned £280,000 in 2014 compared to £324,000 in 2013.

Ignite Group dives into the red: Ignite Group, the bar, restaurant and nightclub operator headed by Matt Hermer which operates the Eclipse, Boujis and Bumpkin brands, has reported a pre-tax loss of £1.198m for the year to 30 March 2014 compared to a profit of £1,009m the year before when figures where flattered by an exceptional gain of £1.79m after the sale of an asset. Turnover for the year rose 2% to £12.055m in the most recent year, but administrative expenses were up 10.7% to £6.081m. Operating loss was £1.14m compared to £718.922 the year before. The company’s operations include the Eclipse bars in Chelsea, South Kensington and Barcelona, Boujis clubs in London and Hong Kong and Bumpkin restaurants in Notting Hill, Chelsea, South Kensington and Westfield Stratford. Of total turnover £10.3m came from the UK (2013: 10.6m) and £1.5m came from the rest of the world (2013: £999,515). 

Wetherspoon appoints former shift manager as interim finance director: JD Wetherspoon has appointed Ben Whitley as interim finance director and Nigel Connor has been appointed company secretary with immediate effect. Whitley joined the company as a shift manager in one of its pubs in September 1999 after reading mathematics at Durham University. He then moved into a number of internal audit and finance roles at head office. He qualified as a chartered management accountant in 2012. Connor joined the company in June 2009 as head of licensing. He previously worked for McLellans Solicitors and qualified as a solicitor in 1997. Chairman Tim Martin said: “The board is pleased to announce Ben and Nigel’s appointment. Ben especially, is an example to the rest of the company of the progress they can make.”

Batemans buys first pub in East Riding: The Lincolnshire family brewer Batemans has bought its first pub in the East Riding of Yorkshire, the Game Bird, in Holme Church Lane, Beverley. The pub, originally a Marston’s outlet called the Grovehill, was put up for sale through Colliers in March 2013 at an asking price of £425,000 and refurbished and reopened as the Game Bird gastropub by its new owners. In September it closed suddenly, and a planning application was submitted to East Riding council by Barrington Capital Investments to demolish the gastro pub and build eight houses on the site. However, Stuart Bateman, managing director at the Wainfleet-based brewery, revealed his company had been trying to acquire the pub since the summer. He said: “It has been a long, drawn out process, but it was completed on Monday. Beverley is an area we have always wanted to get into. When our beers are sold as guest beers in Beverley, they sell extremely well. The pub is in the kind of community area where we like to have pubs. We will be reopening it as a hub-of-the-community pub with cracking accommodation.” Batemans is looking to reopen the pub early next year.

Gymkhana owner to back Taiwanese street food concept: The owners of Gymkhana, the Indian restaurant that won a Michelin star this year, are backing a new London venue serving Taiwanese street food, Bloomberg has reported. Bao, scheduled to open early next year in London’s Soho district, began life as a market stall in the east of the city and will specialise in “xiaochi” – small snacks, especially steamed buns called bao. It’s the brainchild of a young chef, her husband and his sister, all of whom have traveled across Taiwan learning about the cuisine. “We tried bao about a year ago at Netil Market: We ate one and then we ate two and we kept going because they were so delicious,” Gymkhana chef and co-founder Karam Sethi told Bloomberg. “The concept is unique and this fits with what we are doing, backing young chefs who are ambitious and very talented.” Bao will open on Lexington Street and will be led by Chang, 24; her husband Shing Tat Chung, 28, who will help design the restaurant; and his sister Wai Ting Chung, 29, who will oversee the front of house.

Budvar to debut tank beer at Hoxton venue: The Czech brewer Budvar Budweiser is to debut its Budvar Tank Beer, or Budvar Tankove Pivo, at Zigfrid von Underbelly in Hoxton, East London in January. Tankove Pivo gives customers to chance to drink un-pasteurised Budweiser Budvar beer straight from the tank. The custom-made tanks have been designed by Budvar in collaboration with Paul Daly, owner of Zigfrid von Underbelly. Budvar is to introduce consumers to Budvar Tank Beer in a series of interactive nights running weekly from 13 January to 3 February 2015. Each Tuesday the first 102 guests through the door (from 6pm) will receive a complimentary pint. Simon George, sales director for Budweiser Budvar UK ,said: “The launch of Tankove Pivo marks the beginning of an exciting chapter for Budvar in the UK. Our research has told us flavour, authenticity, originality and provenance are crucial factors when consumers choose their favourite beer brands. We will use Budvar Tankove Pivo, supplied direct from our brewery in Bohemia, as the lighthouse for the brand in 2015. Over the next 12 months we have a major experiential programme planned to take this exquisite beer around the UK.” Paul Daly, owner of Zigfrid von Underbelly said: “The tanks are like a work of art. The beer is beautiful and pure and tastes exactly the same in Hoxton Square from the copper tank, as it did when I first tasted it in the brewery in the Czech Republic– it’s magic.”

Chameleon sees profits rise 37%: Chameleon Bar and Dining, the north of England pub operator headed by Phil Strong, with industry veteran Alistair Arkley as chairman, has reported an increase in profit before tax of 37% to £115,000 for the year to the end of March 2014. The company, which currently runs five “destination” dining pubs in Lancashire and Yorkshire, said it made the decision to dispose of unprofitable tied leases, which has helped performance and allowed it to focus on the more profitable outlets in its portfolio. Turnover remained stable, compared to last year, at £4.4m, against £4.5m in the 53 weeks to 31 March 2013. Chameleon said it was now set to continue investing in its freehold pubs to expand trading. Part of its development plans includes the launch of an event space at the Halfway House in Shipley. An unused “play barn” was repurposed to provide a venue for corporate and leisure events and has already attracted the profitable wedding market. Chameleon Bar and Dining now has a wholly-owned subsidiary, Chameleon BD leases, to allow the separation of the freeholds from the leaseholds and facilitate the work in tied leases. Strong said: “Our approach this year has worked. We’ve consolidated our business whilst maximising opportunities. We’ve structured our business to provide each general manager with a level of autonomy that enables them to grow and for the pubs to have a real personality. Feedback from our customers, improvements with the menus and our insight into industry trends means we are on track to continue to reduce our bank debt and to protect the business from the possibility of rising interest rates.”

Best nightclub in the world faces closure: Fabric nightclub was facing closure last night after four drug-related deaths at the venue. Police called for a review of its licence, saying that over the past three years, eight people have collapsed, four of whom died, at the Farringdon club after taking MDMA, ecstasy and other drugs. In the last incident in September, an 18-year-old girl fell ill and later died in hospital after buying MDMA inside the venue. Islington council’s licensing committee was due to review Fabric’s licence last night. Fabric has been crowned best club in the world twice by DJ Magazine.

Liverpool ONE adds ten restaurant brands in a year: Liverpool ONE has reported that it now offers 40,000 square foot of dining space for the city with the addition of ten brands since the start of the year. Harald Samuelsson, joint managing director of Cote, which recently opened at the centre, said: “Liverpool has a thriving restaurant scene, driven to a great extent by the success of Liverpool ONE. These factors combined made our decision to debut in the city an easy one.” Other additions include a number of north west and Liverpool firsts, such as Bill’s Restaurant, Byron, TGI Friday’s, Tortilla and Hotel Chocolat’s Cocoa Bar Café. In addition, with the peak Christmas period yet to come, footfall for 2014 has already surpassed the 26 million achieved last year, and is on track to exceed 27 million for the first time.

Wyn Ellis – Diageo is cautious about the North American market: Numis Securities’ leisure analyst Wyn Ellis has reported that Diageo expressed caution about the North American market in a seminar. He said: “Whilst being optimistic about its portfolio and the long term opportunities for its business in North America (its largest and most profitable market), Diageo was cautious about current trading trends during yesterday’s seminar on the North American operations. This caution was in line with recent comments from Brown-Forman and Pernod Ricard and should come as little surprise to the market. Diageo has concerns about consumer spending and price sensitivity, as the economic recovery continues to be slow; there is a lot of discounting going on in the industry. Thanksgiving sales were described as ‘OK’, but not as strong as hoped. The slowdown, Diageo says, is the result of increased pricing competition, especially in the premium tier, and weakness in the mainstream on-trade, both caused by the uneven economic recovery. Diageo commented on three current industry trends: 1) a slowdown in the growth rate of the beverage alcohol industry as a whole, mainly driven by weaker price trends; 2) consumer preferences are shifting within beverage alcohol categories; 3) Millennials are influencing the way all consumers think about brands. Tracking the past 12 months, Diageo estimates that spirits growth is circa 3-3.5%, wine growth is in line with spirits, and beer growth is circa 2.5-3%. This reflects a slowdown of about 50bps of growth versus the prior 12-month period. In spirits, consumers are making a shift from vodka to whiskey. While vodka remains the largest category, at 28%, its growth has slowed. Unflavoured vodka is keeping pace with the rest of the industry, but flavoured vodka is in decline (circa 25% of Smirnoff’s volumes).”

Starbucks opens flagship China store: Starbucks has opened a flagship site in the South Western Chinese city of Chengdu. The Starbucks store in the Taikoo Li retail and entertainment district sells a range of “rare and exquisite small-lot Arabica coffees from around the world”. The design of the new store includes Sichuan-inspired tiles, silk artwork by local craftsmen, and a warm wood tone interior, which is similar to the materials used in the recent refurbishment of the nearby historic Daci Temple, a key cultural landmark in Chengdu. A spokesman for Starbucks said: “The store is the first flagship store in our fast-growing China Southwest and Central region and reflects on our coffee passion. This is a reflection of our continued focus to highlight our coffee passion and create a locally relevant Starbucks Experience through each moment of connection for our customers.” All employees at the store are Starbucks Coffee Masters. These baristas have completed a certification process and have earned the Black Apron. Currently, there are 6,000 Coffee Masters in China. The store is in a three-storey building, with an “interactive bar” on the first floor, a more “global coffeehouse culture” cafe on the second floor and a “space for large gatherings and star-gazing in the evenings through the exposed terra cotta ceiling” on the third floor.

Red’s True Barbecue’s fourth site to feature a decommissioned Detroit tattoo studio: Red’s True Barbecue has revealed that its fourth site, opening in Nottingham on Friday 30 January, will feature a decommissioned Detroit tattoo studio as part of its design. The two-year-old company, owned by restaurateurs James Douglas and Scott Munro, is investing more than £1.1m developing the former Boots headquarters in Nottingham. The 5,500 sq ft building will have what the chain calls “an abandoned US trailer park feel”, and includes open-plan kitchens, giving diners in the 160-cover restaurant the chance to watch the pitmasters in action. Scott Munro, co-founder of Red’s, said: “Both James and I have spent many a night out in Nottingham and have always thought if the right location came up we had to open here; it’s a cool city, with loads going on. Red’s Nottingham will kick-start an amazing year for the brand that will see the company open numerous sites, keeping us on track to be the UK’s number one barbecue chain by the end of it.”

Craft Beer Co plans national roll-out in 2015: Craft Beer Co, the London-based pub retailer, is planning a national roll-out in 2015. Managing director Martin Hayes said: “We have a programme of aggressive expansion planned for 2015 targeting a pipeline of sites in Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cardiff, Bristol, and we’ll be looking for further sites in central London to join those in Covent Garden, Clerkenwell, Islington, Brixton, Clapham and Brighton. We’re in the unusual position of having built this business on cash-flow and that’s a path I’m keen to continue along, at least all the time we’re able to grow at a rate that I feel is right of the business and allows us to deliver a fantastic experience without stretching resources to breaking point. I’ve seen that happen to often in this industry as people chase growth. For us, it’s not about a Craft Beer Co on every street corner, it’s about creating something unique for each location, something that allows us to deliver a great experience whilst adding value to the area. I’m confident we have the infrastructure, passion, contacts and an opportunity to work alongside landlords, including free-of-tie leases from pubcos, to take the Craft Beer Co far and wide in a diverse range of sites.”

McDonald’s fingered for proposed Inverness drive-through: McDonald’s has been put in the frame as the potential occupier of a proposed drive-through restaurant at Inshes Retail Park on the edge of Inverness, in the Scottish Highlands. Plans have been submitted for the restaurant and two large shops, which would replace a disused Blockbuster Video outlet and Harry Ramsden’s chip shop which would be demolished if permission was granted. Nick Ball, of Corran Properties, which has submitted the application on behalf of the landowner at Inshes, Aberdeen Property Trust, said he could not confirm which companies were in line to take over the unit. However, McDonald’s told the Aberdeen Press and Journal newspaper that it was looking to open a new restaurant in the city, in addition to its city centre outlet which does not have a drive-through. A spokeswoman said: “We are always looking for new sites and can confirm that Inverness is an area where we would like to continue to invest in, open a new restaurant and create jobs. We are looking at potential opportunities in the area but currently have no confirmed plans.”

Krispy Kreme links up customers in 16 different countries for Christmas via live videoconferencing: Krispy Kreme has launched an in-store videoconferencing scheme for the Christmas period that lets customers in Krispy Kreme shops in 16 countries around the world contact customers in up to 15 other world-wide Krispy Kreme shops. The scheme, called Joy Goes Around Holiday Hangouts, uses Google’s Hangouts live videoconferencing technology to give users two-minute live video chat on a customised Hangouts page. On-screen prompts include “wave your hand”, “show off your doughnut” and “toast your coffee”, make the Holiday Hangouts experience even more enjoyable. The scheme is available at participating shops in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Dominican Republic, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Russia, India, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Australia until 5 January. Dwayne Chambers, Krispy Kreme’s chief marketing and information officer, said: “We wanted to do our part in spreading the joy this holiday season, by helping our fans around the world send and receive good cheer and celebrate the things they have in common, no matter where they live.”

Couple’s attempt to open two new diners at once flies into ground: A couple’s ambitious attempt to open two new American-style diners under the name Chariots and Cherry Pie has flown into the ground after a series of problems including a long wait for a £49,000 tax rebate. Claire and Jonathan Hilsdon opened their first Chariots and Cherry Pie diner in Buckland, near Faringdon, Oxfordshire in June, on the site of a former Little Chef, as the first move in what was meant to be a rollout across the country of their diner, motel and car valet concept. At the same time they were trying to turn the nearby Volunteer pub in Station Road, Grove, into another Chariots and Cherry Pie diner, after buying it for £330,000 last year. They planned to spend £1m turning the pub into a 100-cover diner, car wash and 11-bedroom motel, employing 35 staff. However, the Hilsdons have now announced they are liquidating their business and the pub has been put up for sale through the licensed property agent Sidney Phillips. Among the problems the Hilsdons face was a fortnight waiting for a £49,000 tax rebate, which meant that they were unable to pay more than 20 staff at their Buckland diner, and three attempted break-ins at the Buckland branch, which forced them to employ two overnight security guards. They have appointed the London-based chartered accountancy firm SPW to help liquidate the business assets and pay off its debts.

Councillors agree to scrap disabled access to allow fish and chip shop to be viable: Councillors in Darlington have agreed to allow an entrance giving disabled access to an empty unit in a struggling shopping centre to be closed up, after they were told it would not otherwise be financially viable to run a proposed fish and chip restaurant there. The application, submitted by restaurateur Kevin Turton, who runs the Mariners fish and chip restaurant in Middleton Grange Shopping Centre, Hartlepool, won support from the shopping centre’s letting agent, who said the unit has spent longer on its books than any other property. Turton said that it would not be financially viable to keep the disabled entrance as six seats would have to be lost. The restaurant will replace a bakery at the Queen Street Shopping Centre which closed six years ago and will provide seating for 32 people, both internally and externally in the mall’s thoroughfare. One councillor, Charles Johnson said: “As much as we would like to [provide disabled access], we need to look at the viability and we need this sort of development to go ahead.”

Premier Inn plans 60-bedroom hotel in Berwick: The Whitbread-owned hotel chain Premier Inn is seeking permission to build a four-storey, 60-bedroom hotel on the former Playhouse cinema site on Sandgate, Berwick on Tweed. Kevin Murray, senior acquisitions manager for Premier Inn, told the Berwick Advertiser newspaper: “We are in the early stages of putting together proposals for a 60-bedroom Premier Inn in Berwick. Our proposed hotel would regenerate the former cinema site in Sandgate, as we are delivering £6m of fresh investment and creating 35 new year-round jobs for the local area. All being well we hope to present our proposals in spring 2015.” The former cinema was demolished in 2010. At that time planning permission was granted for 20 apartments but the financial crisis meant the development never began.
 
Council rejects bid for Co-op store on pub car park in Burtonwood: An application to built a single-storey Co-op shop on the car park of the Chapel House pub in Burtonwood, near Warrington, has been turned down by the local council’s development control committee. The Chapel House was closed when it was bought by the pub chain Persona NW last year and refurbished. Earlier this year plans were submitted to Warrington Council for a shop next to the pub, which the developer said would bring “a tired site back to economic vitality and viability” as well as “provide the opportunity to retain the Chapel House pub as a community local”. However, the plans were met with strong opposition from both residents and ward councillors. It was rejected by the development control committee on the grounds that it would cause “demonstrable harm” to the living conditions of residents on Kinnock Park by the intrusive presence of the proposed building as well as noise and disturbance from deliveries to the store.

Tobii critics call Pizza Hut’s retina scanning technology ‘Orwellian’ and ‘creepy’: The “subconscious menu” being tested by Pizza Hut in the UK, which uses retina-scanning analysis developed by the Swedish company Tobii Technology to track customers’ eye movements over a menu to see what food they’re most interested in, has been attacked by critics as ‘Orwellian’ and ‘creepy’. Comments from the public under the YouTube promotional video for the technology include: “Even our pizza is getting Orwellian. Creepy”, “How do you know I am staring at something I hate or something I fear?”, “This is the sort of technology that could be used to bust people for ‘thought crimes’,” “It’s just to allow them to dump what they need onto you for the most profit,” and “Let’s try to make customers even more mindless by suggesting that we know what they’re thinking, for them! Subverting their decision making and forcing them to trust what we say, because Science.” When Pizza Hut launched the test earlier this month, it said: “Finally the indecisive orderer and the prolonged menu peruser can cut time and always get it right, so that the focus of dining can be on the most important part – the enjoyment of eating.”

Whitbread scraps bid for 1am licence at proposed Premier Inn in Hampshire: Whitbread has dropped a bid for a 1am licence at its proposed Premier Inn off the A27 at Langstone, Havant, Hampshire, telling the local council it is willing to curtail its alcohol licence to finish at 11pm. The site already has planning permission for an 81-bedroom hotel, granted two years ago, with the hotel due to be run by Travelodge. The Langbrook Farm pub was part of the redevelopment and opened earlier this year, under Greene King’s Farmhouse Inns banner. Now Premier Inn has announced it will be submitting a new planning application that will not change the building’s footprint greatly, “to ensure it can accommodate a regular Premier Inn layout”, which will allow for 82 bedrooms and a small breakfast and evening meal restaurant. A spokesman said: “Premier Inn intends to submit the planning application this side of Christmas and, subject to planning approval, hopes to open the hotel in early 2016.” However, after the initial licensing application for the new hotel revealed Premier Inn wanted the planned bar and restaurant to open until 1am, residents protested, and Whitbread scaled back the opening hours.

Black Country brewery plans ale trail to celebrate 100th anniversary: The Black Country brewery Holden’s is planning an ale trail next year to encourage drinkers to visit all 20 of its tenanted pubs as part of its centenary celebrations. The centenary year comes as a new tank room, due to be completed in 2015, will increase capacity at the brewery’s Sedgley Road West site by 50% from 170 barrels a week to 255. Managing director Jonathan Holden said: “There has been a resurgence in the popularity of ales in recent time and this has been a massive benefit to us. This expansion is necessary for us to build on the business.” Along with the extension, the historic Black Country brewer will also allow people a glimpse at the work which goes on behind the scenes in Woodsetton. The development of a visitor centre is under way, with the first tours to begin as the firm celebrates its centenary. Holden’s hopes that the ale trail, which will see customers take in Holden’s pubs stretching from Codsall to Ironbridge, will increase both sales in the pubs and the number of visitors to the brewery.
 
NewRiver makes latest proposal to build store on pub car park: NewRiver Retail, which bought 202 Marston’s pubs in November 2013 and signed a deal to build Co-op convenience stores on 63 of those pub sites, has unveiled the latest proposal for a store on one of its pub car parks. It is seeking to built a replacement Co-op store at the Vine Inn, in Shavington, near Crewe. Responding to fears that the remaining car park will not be enough to make the pub viable, a NewRiver spokesman said: “Our objective from the outset with the plans was to ensure a viable long-term future for the Vine. The new store will replace the existing store at Rope Lane. The car parking provided for both the new store and the pub is considered to be sufficient for the needs of both and will be the subject of detailed consideration as part of the planning application process.” The application is due to be decided under delegated powers.

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