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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 6th Mar 2015 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Lidl targets gastropub customers after signing up Michelin pub chef: The cut-price supermarket chain Lidl has sign a three-year deal with Michelin-starred chef Kevin Love, previously head chef at Heston Blumenthal’s Hind’s Head gastropub in Bray, Berkshire, as it continues its push towards attracting middle class shoppers. Love becomes Lidl’s “executive consultant chef” and will front the German chain’s new advertising campaign and work as its “chef in residence” on a full-time basis. His unique role will involve sourcing produce that will be stocked in Lidl’s 600 plus stores in the UK and working on the development of its own-brand food. In a promotional video on Lidl’s website, Love says he will be dreaming up a deluxe range “with a few cheffy twists”. For Love, his new job brings his career full circle. The chef was once a store manager at Lidl, a role he described as “an eye-opener”. “The first question I asked, which is what most people ask is how come it’s so cheap? What’s wrong with it? It’s just because they have a great model and a great people working for them that they are able to pass on savings to customers,” he said. Love worked at the 15th century Hinds Head pub in Bray for four and a half years. He was made head chef within three months of arriving and later won a Michelin star and three AA Rosettes. Love said he “was ready for a new challenge” and approached Lidl after seeing one of its ads on television. The chef features in Lidl’s 2015 Easter television ad campaign, which officially launches today, Friday. Following on from the “Little food market” ad, the “Little Pub” ad was filmed at a gastropub in North London. Customers presented with a menu void of prices are asked to pay what they think the meal, cooked by Love and featuring Easter slow-cooked lamb, is worth, with their surprised reactions intended to showcase Lidl’s unexpected premium quality. The hashtag #LidlSurprises is featured prominently and encourages customers to go online and share their experiences. Lidl will also push a mini-film featuring chef Kevin Love through its social media channels. Love told Marketing Week magazine: “Lidl is like a French market filled with quality produce rather than plasma TVs or a Starbucks on aisle ten. I’m going to develop Lidl’s Deluxe food and drink range, and make them the foodie’s choice.” Arnd Pickhardt, Lidl’s head of advertising and marketing, added: “This collaboration will go far beyond the usual chef endorsement or product range. Chef love has joined the Lidl family full-time and will devote himself to guiding the brand and customer on a culinary journey.”

Industry News:

Host of companies sign up for Propel Social Media Masterclass: A host of leading sector companies have signed up for the Propel Social Media Masterclass being held in partnership with Digital Blonde’s Karen Fewell. They include: Bill’s Restaurants, JD Wetherspoon, Admiral Taverns, Young & Co, Camerons, Ignite Group, Hall & Woodhouse, Loungers, Luminar, Burning Night Group, TCG Management Services, Chilled Pubs, Hickory’s Smokehouse, Good Life Diner, Anglian Country Inns, Yummy Pubs, Trust Inns, PubLove, Oakman Inns and Restaurants and Bulldog Hotel Group. The Social Media Masterclass provides a comprehensive overview of how to make the best use of social media (CLICK HERE to see the programme). Tickets are £295 for ALMR members and £345 for non-members. Email to book.
NPD – Russian foodservice suffers sharp downturn amid economic sanctions: Last year began as a promising 12 months for the still young Russian foodservice industry with traffic growth strong, but ended with visits down as the country’s economy saw a sharp downturn in the latter part of 2014, according to the NPD Group, the insights company. Visits to restaurants and other foodservice outlets fell by 2% in the last quarter of 2014, and 2015 will continue to bring challenges to foodservice operators as consumers become increasingly cautious in their spending, NPD said. Full-service restaurants experienced the highest traffic loss in the fourth quarter, with visits down 9% compared to the same quarter a year ago, NPD’s Crest foodservice market research said. Visits to quick-service restaurants, which are popular outlets because of convenience and lower prices, fell by 1%. Two economically fragile consumer groups, young adults aged 16 to 24, and families with children, were major contributors to the traffic losses. Retail foodservice was the only commercial channel that saw visitor numbers rise, up 10% in the quarter, as consumers hurriedly shopped to use devaluating roubles. Maria Bertoch, a foodservice industry analyst at the NPD Group, said: “With the weakening domestic demand, Russian foodservice will continue to slow down in 2015. The devalued rouble means consumers will carry on managing their spending."
Mark Moriarty named best young chef in British Isles:
Mark Moriarty, a 23-year-old sous chef and co-founder at the Culinary Counter, a pop-up restaurant in Ireland, has been crowned the best young chef in the UK and Ireland by the San Pellegrino Young Chef awards. The judging panel comprised four of the UK's leading chefs, who hold five Michelin stars between them; Clare Smyth, chef-patron at the eponymous Gordon Ramsay restaurant, Atul Kochar, chef-patron at Benares, Dan Doherty, executive chef at Duck & Waffle, and Oliver Dunne, owner of Bon Appétit. Moriarty bested the signature dishes of ten young up-and-coming chefs from all over the British Isles at a live cook-off in Harrods in London and will now represent the UK and Ireland in Milan in June as one of 20 global finalists. His winning dish of celeriac baked in barley and fermented hay, with cured and smoked celeriac was inspired by "a humble ingredient taking centre stage".

Company News:

Wahaca pilots technology that sees 35% of card transactions taken through app, accounting for 18% of new spend: Wahaca’s Waterloo branch has piloted an enhanced app that saw 35% of their card transactions taken through the app during the pilot, accounting for 18% of the net spend in site, demonstrating the growing demand from customers wanting to pay via mobile. Previously, Wahaca used QR codes on tables across the estate, which allowed customers to connect to their bills without needing to find a waiter when they were ready to pay and leave. Customers simply had to download the Wahaca app, scan the QR code, the bill appeared on their screen and they were then given the option to split the bill, pay and go in under a minute. The introduction of new Flypay technology on the Wahaca app will now allow customers to use table numbers instead of a QR code to retrieve their bill, making the experience of paying even easier for the whole table. In the case of Wahaca, this forms part of the waiter’s introduction to the table by writing the table number on the paper menus. Wahaca co-founder Mark Selby said: “We have always wanted to push the boundaries at Wahaca and innovation is key to this. Flypay has and continues to be an intrinsic part of our strategy to ensure we always deliver a very unique experience for our customers. Their technology is by far the most impressive of all the mobile technologies that we have seen, and we’re committed to continuing to innovate with them to further enhance the experience for our customers.” Flypay chief executive Tom Weaver said: “The key is ensuring customers do not need to flag down their waiter to give them information; rather the customer already has what they need to retrieve the bill. QR codes were a great method of doing this, but the shift to table numbers has been even more successful.”

Neil Morrissey – 'We’ve got a large amount of autonomy from Punch, especially with the beer': The actor Neil Morrissey, whose latest pub venture, the Plume of Feathers, in Barlaston, Staffordshire, opens officially tonight (Friday), revealed he was getting a comparatively free hand from the pub's owner, Punch Taverns. “We’ve got a large amount of autonomy from Punch, especially with the beer – it’s a pretty unique deal for them, and we will put everything we’ve got into it,” he told the Stoke Sentinel. The canal-side pub was shut for two months while a £400,000 refurbishment was carried out. Morrissey, whose previous pub venture, Morrissey Fox Inns, folded in 2009, said: “I never wanted to stop working in the pub trade, and I worked my nose to the grindstone to pay off the previous company’s debts. I’ve now got a really strong team behind me, and we’re going to do the best we can." The pub is being run by a new concern, MSW Pub Company, with Morrissey in partnership with businessman Richard Slingsby and James Waddington, the founder of Inglenook Inns, who is overseeing the operational side of the business. Slingsby told the Sentinel the company was hoping to bring back the glory days to the Plume of Feathers. He said: “We’re going to make sure we get this place absolutely right. We may look at another in the future, but it takes a while to find the right locations, and our main focus is going to be here. The response locally has been tremendous. I think this has been a pub that has probably been under-invested in recently, so we’re very positive about it.” The pub will be selling ten hand-pumped cask beers, including a house bitter and Morrissey's own blonde beer, produced by the Neil Morrissey Real Ale Company.

Bitters ’n’ Twisted opens Marmalade at Birmingham Rep: The Birmingham-based independent bar operator Bitters ’n’ Twisted, has opened its seventh bar. Marmalade, at the city’s Repertory Theatre in Centenary Square. The bistro and bar, previously managed by Searcys, has a dining area seating 100 people The venue’s new interior has been designed by the Birmingham based award-winning design studio Heterarchy, with theatrical inspired quotes on the walls created by local artist Glenn Anderson. The menu has small plates priced from £6.75 and main courses from £10.95 with the range of dishes including slow-cooked beef rib lasagne, pan-seared sea bass with sweet potato hash and roast aubergine, lentil and feta salad. A pre-theatre menu is also available at £15.95 for two courses and £19.95 for three. The bar sells wines, local ales, craft bottled beers and a range of classic cocktails. Matt Scriven, the founder of Bitters ’n’ Twisted, said: “We are really excited about opening a new venue at The Rep. We want to create a place that really shows off what great creative food can be found in Birmingham, especially for vegetarians and vegans or those seeking an alternative from all the chains."

PizzaExpress signs for Coulsdon site:
PizzaExpress has signed an agreement to open a store in the new Trinity Square development in Brighton Road, Coulsdon, South London, next to Coulsdon Town station. The developer, the Oakwood Group, told residents’ associations in the town on Monday that an agreement with the restaurant chain had been reached last week. In a statement issued on Wednesday, Oakwood Group director Matthew Arnold said: “We are delighted that PizzaExpress are moving into Trinity Square. It really will complete what has been a very successful development for Coulsdon town centre. There are very few places for people to go to in Coulsdon in the evening. If they want to eat out, they tend to go out of the town. So the arrival of PizzaExpress is welcome news and will hopefully kick-start cafe culture in Coulsdon.” Trinity Square, made up of 88 flats, six houses and the retail unit set to be PizzaExpress, sits on the former site of Pinewood Motors.

Loungers opens in Bishops Stortford: The cafe bar group Loungers has opened a new site in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire. Cambio Lounge, next to the River Stort on Adderley Road, has created 25 jobs. More than £550,000 has been spent transforming the site into “a retro home from home, where dramatic artwork will sit next to oversized vintage sofas and statement light fittings, in the eclectic style much-loved by Lounger aficionados”. The business has taken over the former Lussmanns and Belgique restaurant premises, beside a J D Wetherspoon pub, the Port Jackson. Kieron Butcher, operations manager for Loungers, told the local newspaper: “Bishop’s Stortford is the perfect location for our lounge concept. There’s already a thriving and vibrant community, and we’re really looking forward to playing our part in the foodie scene here."

Premier Inn buys Nottingham Holiday Inn Express: Whitbread's Premier Inn has bought the former Holiday Inn Express in Nottingham city centre for more than £7m. The 120-bedroom hotel, in Chapel Quarter, will now be given a £3m refurbishment over the coming months before opening as a Premier Inn. Dave Ingham, new openings manager for Premier Inn, said: “We are delighted to be adding another hotel to the Premier Inn portfolio in this great location. Once refurbished, the new hotel will complement our existing hotels in the city and we’re looking forward to welcoming guests and offering a good night’s sleep at great value.” There will also be a new Thyme restaurant onsite, which will offer lunches and dinners and the "all you can eat" Premier Breakfast from £8.75. Premier Inn is meeting with all current employees of the hotel to discuss their futures. The chain has seven other hotels in Nottinghamshire, including another in Nottingham city centre.
Carluccio’s to open site close to Tate Modern in London: Carluccio's is to open a restaurant in Pavilion A on Holland Street, the block closest to the main entrance of Tate Modern at Bankside in London. Last year developer Native Land and Singapore's Hwa Hong Corporation spent more than £10m acquiring a 999-year lease on the retail space at Neo Bankside. At the time Alasdair Nicholls, chief executive of Native Land, said: "We are offering retailers the opportunity to occupy a key site at the very epicentre of this dynamic and ever evolving neighbourhood." Currently only the retail space at Pavilion B – Sir Terence Conran's Albion restaurant – is occupied.

Papa John’s launches 'quality guarantee' offer: The pizza delivery group Papa John’s has launched a "quality guarantee" to offer customers a replacement pizza if they are unsatisfied with their meal. The pledge will be pushed with a UK TV ad campaign which premiered during the Brit Awards. To make a claim, customers who have eaten less than two slices of their pizza can demand a new meal via the mobile app or by calling the store. Andrew Gallagher, senior marketing director for Papa John’s UK, said: “Papa’s quality guarantee is about standing behind our belief, our promise that our pizzas are of the highest quality, every time. We are fully aware of our customers’ appetite to be informed about the source of their food, and this commitment really raises the bar within the UK pizza market. We are the only company who can offer this kind of commitment.”

St Austell Brewery hits 100,000 barrels: The Cornish brewer St Austell Brewery has brewed and sold 100,000 barrels of its own brands of beer in the last 365 days, the first time this milestone has been reached in the company’s 164-year history. The figure was hit on St Piran’s Day, the national day of Cornwall. The 100,000 barrels, equivalent to 28.8 million pints, came from St Austell brands beers, led by its multi award-winning Tribute Pale Ale, Proper Job IPA and Korev lager. Roger Ryman, head brewer at St Austell Brewery, said: “Ten years ago we were selling approximately 25,000 barrels a year. To hit 100,000 barrels today just shows the exponential rise in the popularity of St Austell beers. This growth has been predominantly driven by our flagship beer Tribute, which has gone national. But other brands have come though over recent years to support it, with Proper Job and Korev really blossoming. If we continue to grow at this rate then we could well hit 200,000 barrels by 2020.”

Caribbean-soul food fusion restaurant opens in Croydon with aid of Momma Cherri:
A restaurant that claims to be the first in the UK to combine the cuisines of the Caribbean and Afro-American soul food is opening in Croydon, South London on 14 March with the aid of the soul food chef Momma Cherri, a cook book writer who appeared on Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. The CaribSoul Restaurant and Coffee House on George Street, Croydon is being founded by Tony and Monica Taylor, who said: "We are taking quality, fresh food from the Caribbean and African-American culture to the UK as well as advertise the beauty of Jamaica by working with the Jamaican tourist board. We are ambassadors for Jamaica and invite the wider public to eat, drink, listen and enjoy the cultures.” Momma Cherri is a partner of CaribSoul and her dishes feature on the menu, which includes jerk chicken, pork and oxtail, peppered steak, Bajan fish cakes, a full Jamaican breakfast, soul-Catfish, jambalaya, meatloaf, and gourmet Cajun burgers. CaribSoul will also help fund the company’s chosen foundation, Agathas Children, which offers help to abused children globally.
Pieminister opens most northerly outlet to date: Pieminister, based in Bristol, has opened its tenth outlet, in Duncan Street, Leeds, its most northerly outpost to date. The opening is part of a programme by the company to open 20 more restaurants across the UK in the next five years, with two more openings planned for 2015. Future target locations include Liverpool, a second outlet in Manchester, Nottingham, and Brixton and Clapham in London. The company is being represented by Bristol property specialist Williams Gunter Hardwick, whose Stuart Williams said: “Leeds was top of our wish list to expand Pieminister’s operation. The location is absolutely perfect – next to the trendy bars, restaurants and clubs of Cloth Street and Call Lane. We think the people of Leeds will love Pieminister.” Company co-founder Jon Simon said: “Leeds is our most ambitious restaurant so far and marks the start of an exciting new era for Pieminister. As well as it being our largest restaurant, we have an exciting new menu which our Leeds customers will be the first to try.”
M&B progresses plan for first pub in Nunthorpe, a new-build Vintage Inn: Mitchells & Butlers has applied for a drinks licence for the first pub in the Nunthorpe, an outer suburb of Middleborough with a population of 4,620. The company has applied to sell alcohol at its proposed new venue in the new housing development at Grey Towers Farm in Middlesbrough. The pub chain has submitted an application for a premises licence to Middlesbrough Council for a Vintage Inn Country Pub and Restaurant, which is yet to be built. M&B offered a further condition, no new customers admitted to the premises after 11pm, on the basis that the parish council withdrew its objection.

Amadeus launches Asian street food concept at Genting Arena: Amadeus, the catering division of the NEC Group, has teamed up with Lee Kum Kee of Authentic Chinese Sauces to launch the Lee Kum Kee Hot Wok Kitchen Asian street food concept at the NEC's Genting Arena in Birmingham. The concession will be based in the venue’s Forum Live area. Amadeus said it was looking for innovative ways to improve the customer experience at the venue and an expansion of the Asian food offering was "an ideal way to achieve this". It said the Amadeus team at the venue had been working on the concept, trialling different dishes, for the past six months to ensure the offering was right for a diverse customer base. It was first trialled at the NEC and then at the redeveloped Barclaycard Arena in central Birmingham when it opened in December, Amadeus said, and has been "well received by customers and staff alike". The new Hot Wok offering at the Genting Arena, formerly the LG Arena, follows on from the successful refit of the fish and chip and burger kiosks and the new Old El Paso units, which opened at the arena in November. By making these improvements, Amadeus said, it had driven a 5% increase in sales. " Customers still want fast food but expect a far greater variety of quality food and world cuisines to choose from," the company said.
Molson Coors relaunches wholesale business: Molson Coors has re-launched its wholesale business, as part of its ambition to become "the clear number one drinks wholesaler to the UK on-premise". After six months of customer research to understand what its customers wanted from a traditional wholesale offering, Molson Coors said, it found that the clear priority was customer service. Over 60% cited it as a real point of difference, with 61% also saying product range was an important factor. Only 25% of customers said price was a top consideration when choosing a drinks partner. Martyn Cozens, director of independent on-premise at Molson Coors, said: “Our extensive research has highlighted that the term ‘wholesale’ does not clearly reflect our offer. It is with this in mind that we’ve decided to drop the ‘wholesale’ positioning from our new brand identity: Molson Coors – Service. Choice. Trust. We have a firm belief that we can offer much more to our customers and as a true ‘total drinks supplier’ allow them to dedicate more time to running a successful business.” Molson Coors has more than 2,000 beers, wines, ciders, spirits and soft drinks in its portfolio and one of the biggest sales teams in the industry to deliver it to the trade. It also remains the only brewer to retain an in-house customer technical services (CTS) team. Cozens said: “People aren’t aware that we do a lot more than just sell great beer. The key point is that we have an industry-leading range that meets our customers’ every needs. Not only do we supply Carling, the leading lager in the UK on premise, but we work closely with key drinks brands to deliver a range that meets the needs of both customers and consumers."
Spirit's Wacky Warehouse brand issues writing challenge: Spirit Pub Company’s Wacky Warehouse brand has teamed up with the children’s author, Michael Rosen to go on a "bear hunt" to find aspiring authors aged four to ten. Rosen, the former Children's Laureate, and Wacky Warehouse, the children’s play centre. Are working together to encourage children to submit their tall tales, in a bid to raise the profile of child literacy on this year’s World Book Day, yesterday, Thursday 5 March. Carol Rhead, senior brand manager for Wacky Warehouse, said: “We know it can be difficult for mums and dads to get out and about with the kids, so we like to make our pubs and soft play centres as engaging as possible. With our short story competition, not only do the children have the chance to express themselves with us physically in our play centres, but they can also get their creative juices following too,” As well as seeing their stories printed in a book and on a wall in their Wacky, the winning young aspiring authors will also receive free entry to Wacky Warehouse for a year and £50 of Fayre & Square vouchers to treat them and their family to a meal. To submit stories families simply need to complete an activity sheet in Wacky Warehouse play centres or Fayre & Square pubs, or ask a parent to complete the application form online at, before Sunday 22 March.

Red Mist promises to do 'everything it can' for pub staff owed thousands after licensees flee: Red Mist Leisure, the pubco founded by Mark Williams and Mark Robson, has promised to do "everything it can" for former staff at the Headley Hill, the 17th century pub in the village of Headley, near Epsom, Surrey that the company took over last month, after they were left owed thousands of pounds by the previous licensees. Susan and Isabella Stevenson surrendered the pub lease at the start of February and subsequently disappeared, reportedly to Spain. Simon Tildesley, the former head chef, told the local Guardian newspaper he was still owed more than £1,000 and about eight other staff members were also left out of pocket. Some have had to go home to Romania because they have no money, while suppliers are trying to trace the Stevensons in a bid to get back the money they are owed. The pair allegedly owe a local butcher's, a local fishmonger and a local drinks company thousands of pounds for supplies delivered but never paid for. Red Mist Leisure plans to reopen the pub, renamed the Cock Inn, on 18 March after a £450,000 refurbishment, and has promised to do what it can to help the pub's staff. Robson, Red Mist's managing director, said: "It was on the Tuesday when a lot of staff came into work that we started to find things out. They felt out of pocket." He said it was "regrettable" that staff had been left in this way, but promised to do everything the company could to give them work at the pub when it reopens for business. Of taking over the pub, he said: "We are delighted. There’s some regrettable circumstances, but we love taking on pubs that have got a bit of a battered past and bringing them back to good-quality eating and drinking pubs and giving them a new lease of life."
Palmers names its Best Food Pub: The West Dorset brewer and retailer Palmers Brewery has named its inaugural Food Pub of the Year, the Sea Trout Inn at Staverton, Devon. Licensees are Jason and Sam Price. Palmers' spokesman Jayson Perfect said: “Jason and Sam impressed us with the breadth and quality of their food offer, their commitment to ensuring the best standards of service and their ongoing determination to grow their business through an invigorating approach to food. They are worthy winners.” Over the past three years the Sea Trout has won food awards including multiple Taste of the West Gold Awards, the Food Magazine Readers' Award and most recently Top Five Best South West Dining Pubs of the Year.
Fazenda launches vegetarian and vegan menu: The Brazilian barbecue restaurant chain Fazenda has launched a new vegetarian, vegan and fish menu. Fazenda, which has restaurants in Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester offering 15 types of all-you-can-eat skewered “churrascaria” meats served by roaming passadores, or meat chefs, says its new meat-free ranges have been launched in response to customer feedback. It now offers mushroom and peppercorn gnocchi with truffle oil or pumpkin, spinach and blue cheese risotto for vegetarian diners, with a vegetarian sushi option also available. Fish dishes such as smoked haddock and pea risotto, and lime and coriander-marinated salmon have also been added to the menu. For vegan diners there is a choice of courgette and garlic gnocchi in a lemon sauce, or coconut and tomato gnocchi with piquillo peppers, with a gluten-free penne substitute available instead of gnocchi if wanted. The chain said the enhanced selection means pescetarian, vegetarian and vegan diners can now enjoy the option of a main dish specifically tailored to their diet, as well as Fazenda’s salad bar of hot and cold dishes. Tomas Maunier, general manager at Fazenda said: "At Fazenda we aim to ensure that all guests have the best possible experience. We have always offered a vegetarian option, but we decided it was time to branch out and offer a wider selection of vegetarian, vegan and pescetarian dishes, so that non-meat eaters can still enjoy the full Fazenda experience. The response we’ve received so far has been very positive indeed."
La Favorita Delivered moves within 20% of crowdfunding target: The Edinburgh-based pizza firm La Favorita Delivered, which has received a personal investment of £50,000 from Better Capital's founder Jon Moulton, has moved within 20% of its crowdfunding target of £200,000, with 33 investors so far pledging £166,620. The chain, which describes itself as "Scotland’s fastest-growing independent", has four branches in Edinburgh and is opening two in Glasgow next year. It aims to have 50 outlets in the UK within five years. It is looking to raise between £200,000 and £400,000 in return for between 5% and 10% of the company’s equity, through crowd-funding. La Favorita's chief executive, Kenny Scott, said the company aims to be “the best, largest and most trusted pizza delivery company in the UK, building on our reputation for producing only a premium product”. The first store was opened in 2011 and was delivering profit within 12 months. It is now generating revenue of around £100,000 a month, net, achieving its highest ever weekly sales of £24,000 in one week in August. The company has also developed its own flour and designed its own unique ovens for the best pizza. It won the Best Independent UK Pizza Delivery Company Gold Award at the Papa Awards for 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Punch sells fire-damaged pub at reduced price: A Punch Taverns pub in Essex that was badly damaged in a fire caused by an industrial fryer just two days before it was due to be sold has now been bought by the original buyer for a reduced price. Richard King was due to complete his purchase of the Kings Head in Bradwell, near Maldon from Punch, but the sale fell through after the enormous blaze. Months later, Punch got back to King and dropped the original asking price. King subsequently bought the pub and is already carrying out work to have the roof re-built and to restore many of its 17th century features inside. He told the Maldon Standard: “It’s a fascinating building. We want to find out more about the history of it. I’m looking forward to getting it running.” King said the pub could re reopened by late spring.
Damson – 'more than half our bookings come through our website':
Damson, the award-winning Manchester-based independent restaurant company with venues in MediaCityUK and Stockport, has revealed that more than half of its table bookings now arrive online through its website. The company launched a new website last year, and managing director Steve Pilling said online bookings quickly received an "incredible" boost, while the number of hits to the website doubled. He told North West Caterer: “It was only a year ago that we were still getting the majority of our bookings over the phone but we have seen a radical shift in customers’ behaviour in the past nine months. There is much more confidence in booking online, especially with the increased use of smartphones to view web content. The website is now a truly integral part of our business. Most of our marketing is designed to direct people there and we have a platform from which we can grow and evolve, including the potential for event bookings and bespoke gift voucher purchases.” Damson's new website was designed by Nettl, a cross-media design studio franchise with its head office in Trafford Park, Manchester.
New hotel owners plan to open bistro: The new owners of the St Aidan Hotel at Seahouses in Northumberland, which has been sold off an asking price of £550,000, plan to start offering daytime meals and introducing a bistro, all of which will be open to the public. The hotel, situated on the front, a short walk from the harbour, with sea views out to the Farne Islands and up the coast to Bamburgh Castle, was sold by John and Sue Gibson through the specialist property agent Colliers International to Robert Tait and Tegan Jade Smith. Tait and Smith plan a "brief" refurbishment of the hotel's eight en-suite bedrooms before boosting the food offer.
Michelin-starred chef surrenders lease on Robinson’s pub: The Michelin-starred chef Simon Rogan is to surrender his lease on the Frederic Robinson brewery’s Pig & Whistle pub in Cartmel, Cumbria. Rogan acquired the lease on the Pig & Whistle in September 2012. He said: “It has been great fun having a local pub, but we have realised that our core business is about restaurants with a strong food focus, and not in the pub sector.”

Neath pub turns brewing hobby into business: The landlord of a pub in Neath, West Glamorgan has turned his home-brewing hobby in to a business after receiving a Welsh government SME capital investment grant worth £11,000. Kevin Davies, who runs the Borough Arms with his partner Mandy Draper, put the funds towards converting an old brick shed at the back of the pub into a micro-brewery. The Borough brewery is now producing its own brews, named after departments and processes in the local steelworks where Davies has worked all his life, such as Full Blast, Iron Runner, Triple Bleeder and Pithead Porter. With demand for the home-brewed ales increasing, Davis and Draper are looking to take on two new members of staff. The pair are now hoping to sell their beers to pubs, bars, hotels and restaurants across South Wales. Draper, who became landlady of the Borough Arms in 2009, said: “Kevin has always had an interest in how the beers were made and even went on a brewing course, so we decided to start experimenting with our own brews, which the locals loved.” Davies and Draper are already looking at potential larger premises for their microbrewery, as well as creating gift packages of their brews to sell by the bottle and barrel.
Burton Bridge revives Draught Burton Ale: The Burton Bridge Brewery in Burton upon Trent, which owns five pubs, has stepped in to revive a once-famous cask ale, Draught Burton Ale, after the current owned of the brand, Carlsberg, announced it was being axed. Allied Breweries launched Ind Coope Draught Burton Ale in 1976 and it played an important role in the "real ale revolution" of the 1970s and 1980s. However, Carlsberg announced earlier this year that it had ended production of the beer, which was being contract-brewed by JW Lees in Manchester. Geoff Mumford, of Burton Bridge Brewery, told the Burton Mail: "The idea came about when somebody said someone needed to do something to keep this drink alive and we said we could do it just as good as anyone else." The plan was originally to create 13 barrels of the Burton Bridge version of the ale before the Burton beer festival on 26 March. However, demand has been so high that this number has already had to be doubled. Mumford said: "We are now getting ready to stock it at the beer festival as well as in all of our pubs from 26 March. We hope that the ale is well received and goes down well with anyone who buys a pint. At this point we don't know what the future holds for the ale. But, if it is a success, we will find a way to fit it into our portfolio of beers." Carlsberg has now said that it had not yet held decided the future of the brand and its recipe, and it would "take its time" before a decision was made.

Drygate aiming at £700,000 turnover in first year: Drygate Brewing Company, the joint venture between Tennent Caledonian owner C&C Group and Williams Bros of Alloa, is on track to turn over £700,000 a year as it approaches its first anniversary in April. Scott Williams, the co-founder of Williams Bros, told the Glasgow Herald he would be "disappointed" if Drygate did not turnover at least £700,000 in its maiden trading year. He was speaking as Drygate, based next to Tennent's historic Wellpark Brewing in Glasgow's east end, announced a deal to supply a selection of its beers to Aldi. The £13,000 contract will see Drygate distribute 12,000 bottle-conditioned ales to the German discounter's 59 Scottish stores. The brewer's sales effort in the off-trade is focused on a three-strong range, Outaspace apple ale, Gladeye IPA, and Bearface Lager, which are also available in kegs for independent pubs. Williams said Drygate was also building a strong reputation as a restaurant and events space. The venue, based in a former box factory, hosted events during the recent Glasgow Film Festival and is now a fixture on the comedy circuit. It was also recently granted permission to increase its capacity, allowing it host gigs for up to 350. Commenting on the partnership with C&C, Williams said: "C&C pretty much allow us to charge on and get in with it. They are very helpful in securing some routes to market. Engaging customers is a big thing. For the most part they see it as a separate business and don't direct it."
Moor Beer plans to double capacity and add canning line: Moor Beer, which completed a move from its original home on the Somerset Levels to Bristol earlier this year, opening a brewery tap in the process, is now planning to double its number of fermentation vessels and add a canning line. The Moor Beer Company, which produces only unfined beers, is owned and operated by former US Army officers Justin and Maryann Hawke. Justin told the Bristol Post: "Our new premises have given us the capacity to grow and we have plans to double and perhaps treble production and our workforce in the next few years. We will be installing another seven fermentation tanks and a canning line, which will support the international demand for our beer which takes about 30% of our total production. Export and domestic markets are important for growth, but we also want to develop the local market and our Brewery Tap is key to this strategy."

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