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Mon 15th Feb 2016 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Administrator decides to drop Sarumdale interest rate swap claim against Barclays: Begbies Traynor, the administrator of pub company Sarumdale, whose directors claimed the company was the subject of interest rate swap mis-selling by Barclays, has decided to end the pursuit of a claim against the bank. A report by the administrator stated: “Creditors will be aware of a potential claim against the bank in relation to financial products that were sold to the company prior to it entering administration. The administrators, having received advice that there is little merit in pursuing the claim, will no longer be pursuing the claim.” Begbies Traynor reported that Sarumdale’s directors, however, are still considering a claim. Barclays was owed £6.9m by the company at the time it entered administration and there will be a shortfall despite the sale of all the company’s pubs – the pubs were sold for a total of £5,297,997. A spokesman for Barclays said previously: “Barclays worked closely with the Sarumdale management team for a number of years to try and turnaround the business. Unfortunately, (a) HMRC winding-up petition in 2012 meant that the strategy could not be completed. Sarumdale entered into a number of hedging contracts over many years. The company never expressed its dissatisfaction with the interest rate products it had taken out prior to the administration.” Sarumdale director Mike Lloyd told Propel previously: “We had fallen from a healthy, profitable company to a company in administration within four years solely as a result of the “structured cap and collars”, sold to us as a condition of finance.”

Industry News:

Propel partners with Digital Blonde for Advanced Social Media Masterclass: Propel is partnering with digital marketing company Digital Blonde for the Advanced Social Media Masterclass, building on last year’s Social Media Masterclass with all-new content. The event takes place on Wednesday, 20 April at One Moorgate Place in London and will provide a comprehensive overview of how to make the best use of social media. Digital Blonde founder Karen Fewell will share research into the importance of social media in customers’ lives as well as insight into the psychology of food and drink marketing in order to produce persuasive social media activity. The day will also include advice on using storytelling techniques to achieve stronger results in marketing and social media campaigns as well as how to use analytics to develop a social media strategy. There will also be a first-look at Digital Blonde’s “Love, Lust and Trust” research, which will unveil the best loved pub and bar brands and what can be learned from their social strategies. Tickets are £295 for Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers members and £345 for non-members and to book email adam.dickinson@propelinfo.com

Government scraps sugar tax plan: The government has scrapped plans to introduce a sugar tax as part of its long-awaited “obesity strategy”, but ministers will use the threat of a levy to force the industry to make healthier products. David Cameron, who is understood to have rejected the proposal for a sugar tax of up to 20%, is expected to unveil the strategy towards the end of the month. The prime minister recently warned that the government needed to tackle “an obesity crisis” because of its impact on heart disease and cancer rates. Companies will be expected to reformulate their products to reduce sugar content, with the prospect of a future tax hanging over manufacturers if they fail to meet reduction targets. The policy will initially apply to drinks but could be extended to snacks. Other measures being discussed by Downing Street include restrictions on TV advertisements for junk food before a 9pm watershed – a plan advocated by Jeremy Hunt, health secretary. Since 2006, adverts for products high in fat, salt or sugar have been banned during children’s programmes but are still shown during programmes widely watched by families.

Pub16 reports 11% rise in attendance: The Pub16 exhibition, held last week, has reported a 11% rise in attendance, taking visitor numbers up to 3,459. The show boasted a collection of 162 exhibitors covering every aspect of the pub industry from integrated music systems and soft drinks to premium bar snacks and EPoS. Being the only trade show of its kind, exhibitors had the unique opportunity to meet, network and engage with a wide range of pub owners and operators from across the country, with 84% of those attending having purchasing authority, an increase of almost 20% on last year.

Companies House searches increase 20 times since becoming free: Companies House searches have increased 20 times, from 120,000 to over 2.5 million per day, since offering a free service last year – downloads previously cost £1. One customer said: “For my purposes, the speed and ease of accessibility of the information, without the delay of payment and waiting for downloads has made a fantastic difference to efficiency. This has been a fantastic improvement.” Another customer of the service added: “This is the easiest access to company information I have ever used – very valuable. Great to be able to check your own company records – seeing what others can see is a very good way of checking that the details are correct.”

Beauhurst names Crowdcube most active investor of 2015: UK research firm Beauhurst has named equity crowdfunding platform Crowdcube as most active investor of 2015. According to the latest independent report The Deal 2015/2016, Crowdcube saw its members make over 63,500 investments to the tune of £83m, funding 166 pitches as a result. Also in the report, the portal was named top investor for venture-stage deals and joint third for growth-stage deals. Crowdcube stated: “This latest news reflects the increase in more established businesses turning to Crowdcube to fund larger rounds. In 2015, 20 businesses raised over £1m on Crowdcube, five of which raised between £3m and £4m. It’s a trend that looks set to continue with a growing number of VC-backed businesses, like JustPark and eMoov, choosing to turn to our rapidly growing crowd to raise growth capital.”

Company News:

Rutland Partners begins £150m sale process for Pizza Hut UK: Rutland Partners has begun to explore a £150m sale process for Pizza Hut’s UK restaurants. The private equity firm, the owner of Pizza Hut UK, has hired advisers at PwC to find buyers. The sale comes after a successful turnaround of the business, which struggled under former owner Yum! Brands, which still owns the takeaway side of the business. Rutland paid a nominal sum of £1 to acquire Pizza Hut’s restaurants in Britain four years ago. Rutland, which also owns the Bernard Matthews turkey empire, has refurbished many of its 350 sites and revamping the menu. Pizza Hut now makes about £20m Ebitda.

Dunkin’ Donuts reports 55 new sites in Europe in 2015: Dunkin’ Donuts opened 55 new restaurants in Europe in 2015 in partnership with its franchisees across the region. With the new restaurants opened over the past year, Dunkin’ Donuts has more than 220 locations across Europe. The company has circa 40 sites in the UK, including 11 located within Welcome Break sites. Over the past year, the company has celebrated first restaurant openings in Denmark, Georgia, Iceland and Poland, marking the brand’s continued expansion into new European markets, while also opening additional locations in Austria, Germany, Spain, Sweden and the UK. A master franchise agreement was signed in September to develop 30 Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants in Switzerland. “We’ve been very pleased with our regional expansion efforts in 2015, bringing Dunkin’ Donuts’ high-quality foods and beverages to guests in several new European countries,” said Grant Benson, CFE, vice president of global franchising and business development, Dunkin’ Brands. “We’re also continuing to recruit qualified, well-capitalised multi-unit franchisee groups for Belgium, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Turkey, and see tremendous opportunity for future growth in these markets.”

Perritt & Perritt close Hampstead pub after lease negotiations break down: Gastro-pub operators Perritt & Perritt, owned by brother Andrew and Jonathan Perritt, has closed the Magdala pub in Hampstead after negotiations over the lease broke down. The pub re-opened after months of refurbishment in January 2015 after being taken over by the Perritts, who also run the Stag pub in Fleet Road and The Mall Tavern in Notting Hill. “The Magdala is a wonderful pub so it is with great regret that we have been unable to agree terms and conditions for a long term lease with the building’s owner,” a message on the pub’s website told customers. “Our doors are closed with immediate effect. A big thank you to those that have supported and visited since we opened last year.” On the building’s sale by Punch Taverns to new freeholders in the summer of 2014, Land Registry files showed Bow Capital, incorporated in Tortola, a British territory in the Caribbean, bought the freehold for £2,100,000.

FT Investors Chronicle – M&B shares should be sold: The Financial Times’s Investors Chronicle has recommended selling Mitchells & Butlers’ shares. Bradley Gerrard wrote: “Given the backdrop, we feel M&B chief executive Phil Urban has his work cut out. Arguably, he has the right idea by developing the premium names now in its stable, such as Miller & Carter, but this will take time and it is questionable whether this will deliver the scale of change that is needed. Life is getting increasingly competitive for pub and casual dining chains while costs can be expected to jump with the introduction of the National Living Wage in April. This negative combination of factors could prove particularly painful for M&B as it threatens to derail its new boss’s plans to revive trading at the pub group. On the plus side, cash flow has been improving. The company boosted free cash flow by £31m last year to £133m and generated adjusted net cash of £89m. Still, net debt of £1.9bn coupled with a pension deficit estimated by Numis at £441m is likely to keep the balance sheet in focus. That said, debt should be seen in light of the £4.2bn of property. At eight times forecast earnings the valuation may look low, but we think the shares will continue to head south along with broker forecasts.”

Gourmet Burger Kitchen to open Southampton city centre venue, giveaway to celebrate 70th site: Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK) will open a venue in Southampton on 22 February and give away 70 burgers a day during launch week to celebrate it being the company’s 70th restaurant, the Southern Daily Echo reported. The venue is at the Arts Centre in Guildhall Square and has created 30 jobs. GBK will also introduce the JägerShake as part of the launch, a vanilla, banana or salted caramel flavour milkshake blended with a shot of Jägermeister. The Southampton venue has been designed with an industrial feel, including high ceilings and exposed concrete features. The restaurant will also operate a takeaway service.

Cheshire Cat Pubs and Bars to open seventh site and first in Staffordshire: Cheshire Cat Pubs and Bars, the north west of England multiple operator led by Tim Bird and Mary McLaughlin, is to open its seventh site and first in Staffordshire. The company has taken on The Fitzherbert Arms, which sits on Lord Stafford’s estate in the village of Swynnerton. The 19th century pub will reopen this month following extensive refurbishment work featuring log fires, snug, private dining room and outside summer terrace. It will serve ales from Staffordshire micro-brewers as well as wines and a range of locally sourced, freshly prepared English dishes. McLaughlin told the Stone & Eccleshall Gazette: “We are very excited to be working with Lord Stafford on this project and look forward to opening the doors to this iconic pub. We have restored the Fitz ensuring its heritage is brought to the fore and that it remains in keeping with the village of Swynnerton and its history, we are very proud to open a pub in Staffordshire.” The company also operates five sites in Cheshire and one in Dorset.

JD Wetherspoon eyes first hotel in North Wales: JD Wetherspoon is set to develop accommodation at The Pen Cob in Pwllheli, North Wales – it would be its first hotel in North Wales. The company also purchased a vacant building, formerly ‘Tiggs’, which is located behind the existing pub, in August to expand the current restaurant and develop a beer garden. Wetherspoon spokesman, Eddie Gershon, said: “We operate more than 40 hotels. They are either above or alongside our pubs. Our hotels have proven very popular and customers like the idea of having a pub, where they can enjoy a meal and drink very close by.” JD Wetherspoon opened the Pwllheli pub in December 2013. Pwllheli town councillor Jonathan Roberts said: “These plans have been in the pipeline for some time now and I can only welcome this development. Pwllheli desperately needs extra bedrooms and hopefully will be a boost for local bars and restaurants and not just Wetherspoon.”

Dark Star Brewing opens Horsham pub: West Sussex-based Dark Star Brewing Company has opened a new bar called The Anchor Tap in Horsham’s East Street, a site that previously traded as 1898 coffee shop. It offers ten keg lines and six draught cask ales. Previously, James Cuthbertson, director at Dark Star, said: “For years people have been asking us if we can open a venue in Horsham, so when this opportunity presented itself, we jumped at it. Having previously traded as The Anchor Tap, we will be reverting to that name and bringing back some of the tradition that comes with the site, investing heavily in creating something beautiful in the town. What we want to create is a venue that provides locals with a great place to go and have a drink and a bite to eat that’s independent, locally owned and operated, using products from local producers. For those people that might be concerned, let’s set the record straight – this isn’t about late night drinking or discounted drink deals – far from it. This is about creating something unique that grown-ups can enjoy and adding something to the street and neighbourhood. Those that know the brewery, know that we operate with integrity and with the community in mind, no more demonstrated than through our Foundation that does a lot of work to support local causes.”

Whitbread plans Premier Inn for Chiswick: Whitbread has lodged a planning application to open a 162-bed Premier Inn hotel near the Hogarth Roundabout in Chiswick. The hotel will be located in the vacant office building, Axis House, at the Hogarth Business Park. A large part of the Hogarth Business Park closed in February 2014 and part of the site is currently being developed as a mixed housing project by Berkeley Homes, known as Chiswick Gate. The announcement of a hotel is the latest in the development of the Business Park, which had been lying mostly vacant for several years. The complex of offices and warehouses at Hogarth Roundabout replaced a factory where boot polish was produced many years ago.

Nickeldeon threat of injunction forces cancellation of events at Greene King pubs: A number of Greene King pubs have been forced to cancel a breakfast event with character mascots from the children’s TV show Paw Patrol after ‘licensing problems’ with Nickelodeon. One Greene King pub, The Royal Oak, said on its Facebook page: “Today Nickelodeon’s lawyers decided that this [event] was a breach of copyright and have threatened to take out injunctions against any pub that holds them, which could result in that pub being closed down. We are as disappointed as all of you are, because we are a family pub and hate letting your kids and yourselves down.” Approximately 17 events in the UK have now either been cancelled or changed by the pub chain, with some instead offering alternative characters instead. A spokesperson for Greene King, said: “We had a series of Paw Patrol events planned for guests, but as soon as we were made aware of any licensing issues we made the decision to cancel them. We are sorry for any inconvenience caused and are now looking at alternative ways of entertaining our guests and their families during the half-term week.”

Be At One cocktail bar opens in Sheffield, second venue in north: Be At One, the cocktail bar brand backed by Piper Private Equity with more than 150 drinks on the menu, has opened a venue in Sheffield. The venue in Devonshire Street is the second northern venue for the London-founded bar chain. The cocktail menu will include “reimagined gin classics to ‘virtuous’ drinks made with superfoods”. The bar also has a smartphone app to help customers choose, with a feature that selects a randomly generated cocktail which costs £5. Be At One general manager Hayley McPhie told The Star: “Be At One is all about bringing something different to a night out. Sheffield has an energetic and dynamic bar scene and we’re excited to bring our ethos to the city.” The bar will open from 4.30pm on weekdays and 2pm at the weekend. Be At One has 29 bars in the UK, with the next venue to be in Manchester.

Marston’s eyes £5m Sheffield city centre development for Pitcher & Piano, brand’s first new venue for three years: Marston’s plans to open its first Pitcher & Piano for three years in a ground-floor unit of a £5m development in Sheffield city centre. The former National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) building in Holly Street, next to City Hall, will be converted into three restaurants, as well as offices. An application has been submitted to Sheffield Council to put up signs and a menu board for the restaurant, The Star reported. The building opened in 1988, when the NUM relocated from London. Pitcher & Piano has 18 bars in the UK. The latest to open was at Hitchin in 2013.

Owner of iconic Sunderland venue acquires site for second time out of liquidation: The owner of a landmark Sunderland seafront venue which went into liquidation has started a new firm to run the premises. Director Seamus Whelan has promised all bookings at the train pub will be honoured and the venue will continue to operate after setting up a new company to run the Pullman. “All our functions will be honoured,” said Whelan. “We’re actually in a better financial position than we have been previously.” It is the second time Whelan has brought the Pullman Lodge back from liquidation. He was one of a number of directors at Rosalind Leisure, which took over a five-year lease from owners Sunderland City Council in December 2013.The company re-opened the derelict venue in stages with the hotel, the Platform 5 bar, the function room and Carriages tea rooms. But the firm went into liquidation in December 2015 amid spiraling costs of renovation. The financial problems meant restaurant bookings could not be honoured and people were turning up at the venue only to find it closed. Whelan then formed Signal Box Hotel with fellow former Rosalind director Simon Burdus, and the Pullman reopened in March last year. Burdus is understood to have left the company in October, leaving Whelan as sole director. The company ran into difficulty in January this year, when utility firm Corona Energy Retail 5 Limited filed a petition to make Signal Box insolvent, setting a deadline of 1 February for Whelan’s company to resolve the outstanding debt situation. Whelan said he was forced to put the firm into liquidation after being unable to negotiate with the creditor.

New independent salad bar concept opens in Tunbridge Wells: A new independent salad bar concept has opened in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Former sound engineer Ricky Spiers has launched The Salad House in Camden Road. It serves build-your-own salad boxes with a range of dressings and will shortly be expanding its menu to include healthy wraps. Spiers told the Kent & Sussex Courier: “It’s a nice location just around the corner from the buzz of the main Tunbridge Wells precinct, but not right in the middle of it. There’s a lot of footfall and offices down this road, and I have been eager for a while to secure it as a space for my salad bar.”

Asian street food concept Supha’s opens on Plymouth waterfront, fish kept in wet counter: Supha’s, an Asian street food concept, has opened on Plymouth waterfront with fresh fish sourced daily from nearby Plymouth Fisheries and kept in a wet counter for customers to choose from. The venue is at East Quay House in Sutton Harbour, with dishes including pan-fried squid in garlic and black pepper, barbecued skewered prawns with garlic, chilli and coriander, and pu pad pong ga-ree – a Thai stir-fry dish cooked with crab, chicken, squid or fish. The venue is the brainchild of Plymouth entrepreneur Dan Thompson and his partner, Thai chef Suphawadee Kaden. Thompson told The Herald: “We are offering something new for Plymouth in a very untraditional format with a bright, colourful dining area and an open kitchen so diners can talk to the chef directly and explain how they’d like their meal to be cooked. The emphasis will be on seasonal produce and sharing fresh food with street food-style cooking and strong Asian influences.”

Pho opens Cambridge venue, group’s 18th site: Vietnamese street food restaurant group Pho has opened a venue in Cambridge, its 18th site. The restaurant in Wheeler Street seats about 150 over two floors and includes a cocktail bar. The restaurant specialises in pho, the national dish of Vietnam, and serves other Vietnamese street foods such as spring and summer rolls, spicy salads, curries and wok-fried noodles, along with Vietnamese coffees and beers. The group is run by Stephen and Juliette Wall.

Chilli Village restaurant complex set to open in Northampton: Chilli Village, a buffet-style restaurant “complex” selling food from around the world, is set to open in Northampton in March. The venue in Wellingborough Road, on the site of the former Fusion buffet house, will offer diners a choice of six individual restaurants, live entertainment and a shisha lounge under the same roof. A Chilli Village spokesperson told the Northampton Chronicle: “All of the restaurants are going to be quite different. People will have the opportunity to visit each one and feel like they are in a different place each time. We don’t want it just to be a place where you go for a meal, it is a place to relax and enjoy and be entertained. People don’t often know where to go on a night out, but people will be spoiled for choice here.”

New street food concept Foodies Rocks eyes Northampton town centre site: Foodies Rocks, a new world street food restaurant concept, has applied to open on the site of a former pizzeria in Northampton town centre. A plan has been submitted to Northampton Borough Council to convert the building once occupied by Pizza Derngate. The restaurant will offer dishes from around the world, including savoury and sweet food from the streets of India, Taiwan, China and Mexico among others. The venue aims to create 12 jobs and would be open from 8am until midnight, Sunday to Thursday, and 8am until 1.30am, Friday to Saturday, serving craft beer alongside the food, the Northampton Chronicle reported. A planning statement submitted as part of the application, which requests for a change of use from a cafe to a combined restaurant/cafe and drinking establishment, stated that the venue will be “aimed at students, families with children, theatre enthusiasts, couples and friends”. The bottom floor of the two-storey venue would feature table football and an art gallery, with menu options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Whitbread submits plans for £4.5m 69-bedroom Premier Inn in Whitley Bay: Whitbread has submitted plans for a £4.5m 68-bedroom Premier Inn in Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear. The company has applied to North Tyneside Council to build the hotel, which would create 69 jobs, next to the grade II-listed Spanish City Dome, which is being restored as part of a wider regeneration project in the town. Planning officers are recommending the scheme for approval despite more than 50 objections, reports Chronicle Live. Their report said: “The proposal submitted by Robertson’s on behalf of Premier Inn is a welcome sign that the private sector is willing to invest in the region of £4.5m in Whitley Bay. Premier Inn is a well established brand in the hotel market and their willingness to invest substantial funding to build the hotel and restaurant is a welcome boost. Tourism is worth £260m to the local economy in North Tyneside and attracts 524,300 overnight stays. The borough also benefits from 5.2 million day visitors. The addition of this new hotel coupled with the proposals for the restoration of the adjacent Spanish City Dome and the wider ambitions to improve Whitley Bay coast through the Whitley Bay masterplan will bring added value to this area.”

Kier Property buys former Liquid Envy nightclub in Newcastle for student accommodation plan: Kier Property has acquired the former Liquid Envy nightclub on New Bridge Street, Newcastle and is now putting plans to turn it into a high quality student residence into practice. In addition to 329 bedrooms, including 209-en suite cluster bedrooms and 120 studios, the development will provide 5,000 square foot of retail and leisure space. Part of the grade II-listed John Dobson House, behind the Oxford Gallery portico, will be turned into a cafe, bar and restaurant. The former Oxford dance hall and billiard saloon was originally built in 1921 and by the 1950s was one of the most popular ballrooms in the country. By 1983 it was listed as Tiffany’s nightclub before changing to Studio 49 in 1988, Ikon and Envy in 1994, Ikon and Diva in 2002, Ikon and Envy in 2006 until its current guise as Liquid Envy.

Starbucks first global franchisee 23.5 Degrees wins planning consent for East Dorset drive-thru: Starbucks first global franchisee 23.5 Degrees has won planning consent to open a drive-thru on the A31 in Ringwood Road, Ferndown, East Dorset. Members of the district council’s planning committee approved an application by 23.5 Degrees, which operates over 30 Starbucks outlets in the UK, to redevelop the former Multi-Fuel Heating Centre retail premises as a drive-through Starbucks Coffee Shop. There were objections from St Leonards and St Ives Parish Council and nearby residents largely on traffic grounds, but councillors were told that the existing retail use could become an outlet generating just as much traffic as the cafe without needing to apply for planning permission.

Nadco Leisure plans to restore Bradford city centre eyesore with “vintage gaming zone”: Nadco Leisure has submitted plans to restore one of Bradford city centre’s worst eyesores. The New Pack Horse pub on Westgate has been derelict for several years, despite being in a conservation area and on one of the main routes through the city centre. A planning application to re-furbish and re-open the pub has now been submitted by the building’s owners, Nadco Leisure, and would see the 1960s building re-open as part of Bradford’s growing independent quarter. As well the improvements planned for the existing pub area, the development would involve the first floor, the former manager’s accommodation, being transformed into extra bar space, a function room, snack bar and roof terrace area. A games room and “vintage gaming zone” will be new additions to the ground floor of the business. The new application says: “The proposed refurbishment and use of the redundant building, redecoration and quality signage will not detract to the character of the area, indeed bringing a historical pub site back into use should be celebrated. The proposals will further contribute to the independent cafe bar scene on North Parade, and will generate considerable mixed skill employment opportunities.”

Hotel Chocolat post pre-tax profit: Hotel Chocolat has posted a full-year profit driven by tighter control of costs and sales growth within its stores and online. The company reported a pre-tax profit of £3m for the 12 months ending June 28, 2015 compared to a £7m loss the previous year. Group sales increased 10.2% to £81.1m during the period, according to documents filed at Companies House, while online sales reported double-digit growth. Strong seasonal ranges also helped its bricks-and-mortar business record positive like-for-like growth. Hotel Chocolat said the cost of sales during the year remained broadly flat at around £27m, but administrative expenses dropped by £4.4m to £50.4m. Ebitda advanced to £7.9m following a £1.6m loss the previous year, Hotel Chocolat added, as operating profits reached £3.5m compared with a £5.6m loss in 2013/14. Hotel Chocolat said: “The group has delivered strong trading in all channels, building on the investments of the prior year, coupled with targeted cost reduction.” The chocolatier opened four new stores during the period and said it had launched a further six since the year end, taking its UK portfolio to 81 shops. However, the retailer abandoned its US trial during the financial year, closing both pilot stores. It instead focused on the UK and Scandinavia, where it now has three stores in the Danish capital Copenhagen.

Gusto reports increase in booking thanks to social media campaign: Contemporary Italian restaurant brand Gusto has boosted bookings and increased revenue thanks to an updated social media strategy implemented by digital marketing specialist Airship. In a three-month trial, Gusto, part of the Living Ventures group, saw revenue from bookings through social media increase by more than £20,000 a month across its 12 restaurants. Offering a combination of classic and contemporary Italian dishes, Gusto’s restaurants are inspired by the traditional Grand Cafés of Europe. Such grand sites require plenty of customers to fill them, and with social media increasingly important to the casual dining sector, Gusto turned to Airship. The Airship strategy has significantly increased customer engagement with Gusto across key social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and trained Gusto staff to post messages, pictures and offers more effectively. Crucially, this has not only seen an increase in the number of followers for each Gusto restaurant, but, as the revenue figures demonstrate, has led to an impressive uplift in the number of customer engagements that convert to bookings. Highlights of Airship’s successful three-month trial programme include: More than 3,000 additional customer ‘likes’ on Facebook, more than 3,800 additional Twitter followers; more than 8,800 customer engagements with Gusto’s Instagram content; a 478% year-on-year increase in customers coming to the Gusto bookings web page through Facebook and Twitter; and a 96% conversion rate of attributable social media traffic to the Gusto site into bookings. Charlotte Solomon, group marketing manager, Living Ventures, said: “Airship has delivered an extremely impressive return on our investment, whilst providing continual training and support. We’ve seen an exponential increase in followers, engagements and impressions across all platforms – in addition to being able to directly attribute how many sales we have acquired from social media.”

Herbies bar and grill brand relocates to former Little Chef site: Herbies American bar and grill in Melbourn, Cambridgeshire has relocated to a former Little Chef site because the rent was too high. Owner Paul Herbert said he wanted to keep his diner Herbies closer to Royston after he moved out of the Melbourn restaurant in December. He said: “It has been very hard to find somewhere and we wanted to stay close to Royston but there wasn’t any buildings that had A3 use up for rent at the time. We would love our friends from this area to come and try our new place and lots of them have already been on Facebook to say they are coming.” Herbert will be opening the restaurant at the old Little Chef building on the A14 in a couple of weeks time as they put the finishing touches to the new look.

Full speaker programme for Propel Multi Club Conference on 16 March unveiled: The full speaker programme for the Propel Multi Club Conference on Wednesday, 16 March at Congress Hall, London, has been unveiled. Multi-site pub, restaurant and foodservice operators can book up to two free places by emailing Adam Dickinson on adam.dickinson@propelinfo.com. The conference series is the best-attended in the sector. Speakers are: Nicola Knight, analyst at insights firm Horizons, investigates the key trends in the UK foodservice market, including major menu trends, growth areas and discounting – and looks ahead to the key trends of 2016 and beyond. Adrian Blair, chief operating officer for Just Eat, provides an overview of the company’s role in the takeaway market, current key trends and future potential for operators to develop revenue. Steve Kenee, partner at investment firm Downing, talks about the firm’s long term investment partnership with Antic London, developing an estate of more than 30 London pubs, the businesses USPs, the risks and rewards of operating near the leading edge of urban regeneration and the development of non-licenced premises. David Singleton, vice-president of hospitality for Al Tayer Group, provides an overview of the foodservice landscape in the United Arab Emirates, the brands that are winning, the potential for UK brands and his company’s approach to growing sales. Punch Taverns chief strategy director Neil Griffiths outlines the company’s evolved strategy, involving as much as £300m of investment over five years, developing operator and trading agreements, expanding its fledgling concepts and brands, taking greater control of its retail offer and realising additional value from its property portfolio. Simon King, managing director of Burger & Lobster, talks about the progress of Burger & Lobster in London and elsewhere, the unique thinking and philosophy behind the brand, sourcing quality ingredients, recruiting and training staff, evolving the offer, expanding outside of London and international prospects. Phil Sermon, managing director of Vapiano, talks about progress in the UK as well as the company’s fresh approach to recruitment, training and development of its people and interaction with its guests. David Mooney, co-founder of New Moon Pub Company, arguably the UK’s most versatile food pub operator, talks about the company’s approach at country and city pubs, its Beef and Pudding concept, New York-influenced The Bronx brand, its pizza concept Casa Matta, evolution and future plans. Roberto Morretti, chief operating officer of Bill’s, talks to ALMR chief executive Kate Nicholls about the brand’s USPs, trading all-day, developing a retail dimension and staying true to the brand founder’s vision. Henry Dimbleby and Jonathan Downey, co-founders of London Union, set out their progress in creating neighbourhood food markets based on experiential food discovery, crowdfunding, their plans to create the world’s greatest food market and the development of 12 London neighbourhood markets.

ALMR National Restaurant Association Study Tour to Chicago open for bookings: The Propel and Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) 2016 Chicago Study Tour is open for bookings. The trip, sponsored by CPL Training and Sky, takes place between Thursday, 19 May and Monday, 23 May 2016. The National Restaurant Association (NRA) draws 58,000-plus industry professionals from all 50 states and 100 countries, seeking the newest innovations and up-to-the-minute information about trends and issues. The ALMR trip provides: insights from industry experts on the rise in fast-casual dining, social media, new and emerging brands, menu development, staff management and a host of other issues – with 70 free education sessions at the NRA show. It also involves two tours of Chicago’s hottest concepts and a market overview briefing sessions from US experts. Paul Charity, managing director of Propel Info, said: “The NRA show combined with our tour of Chicago is a fantastic opportunity to find fresh inspiration and understand the emerging trends shaping the fast-changing US market.” To get more information or to book, email jo.charity@propelinfo.com

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