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Thu 25th Feb 2016 - Casual Dining Show news: GBK, Revolution, Horizons et al
Revolution Bars Group eyeing five more sites by 2017, reveals some venues turning over £7m a year: Revolution Bars Group is aiming to add another five sites to its portfolio by 2017 as it continues its expansion. The company will open two more sites by July taking its estate to 62 across its two brands – Revolution and Revolution de Cuba. Speaking at Casual Dining in London yesterday (Wednesday, February 24) chief executive Mark McQuater said he was looking to take that figure to 67. He added that a city the size of Milton Keynes – where it opened a Revolution de Cuba last year – was probably its minimum target. He added: “The good thing about these places is, because they are big, you can more than one bar. In Manchester, you can have four or five (sites) because of all the suburbs.” McQuater said its change of strategy in 2013/14, including a £10m investment programme, had been a huge success. The average bar turnover is now £2m a year although some sites produce £7m in annual sales. He added: “(The brand) was a party venue focusing on drinks but it was capable of more than that. We introduced new fresh products, table service and a new customer feedback system. We also hit the food (offer) very hard indeed. The other thing we did was changed the drinks range. We added gin-based drinks, more cocktails and also added blended cocktails. It was about premiumising the range.” McQuater also revealed that 62% of its customers are female. He said: “We didn’t set out to do that. I think it’s because we specialise in cocktails, although guys are now starting to drink them too. Our bars are also absolutely safe and because we have table service you don’t have to jostle at the bar. I think that’s a big part of it.”

Gourmet Burger Kitchen – ‘we love competition because it gets people talking about the market’: Gourmet Burger Kitchen chief operating officer Keith Bird has said the company loves burger market competition ­– because it gets more people talking about the market. As a result, the company, which celebrates its 15th anniversary on Saturday (27 February), is able to attract more customers because people are aware of it, he added. Speaking at Casual Dining in London yesterday (Wednesday, 24 February), Bird said: “In The UK, we are seeing a real growth – an explosion even of burger restaurants. It gets the sector talked about more and more and that’s why we love competition. It’s been great to have Shake Shack come over, have Five Guys come over. It generates more awareness of the market and we can then attract more people to visit us. I think that comes down to our food and our reputation. Customers visit us because of our reputation and we have to build that in every one of our restaurants. We have to deliver every single time. Competition coming in is good because it creates that ‘burger alley’ or ‘burger crossroads’ and we can do significantly better as a result.” Bird said national awareness of Gourmet Burger Kitchen had nearly doubled in the past five years – from just under 40% to 70% of consumers. From that the number of people who have visited Gourmet Burger Kitchen has increased from 10% to 20%. “We’ve had 18 quarters of constant like-for-like growth so we’re pretty pleased about that,” added Bird. “We’ve come a long way. We really do welcome competition but we’ve got a long way to go.” Gourmet Burger Kitchen currently has 72 restaurants but Bird said there was potential for further growth. He added only about 20% of restaurants in the UK is burger-led while in the US that figure is 49%, which suggested ‘there’s a reasonable market to go for’. He said: “I think the burger market will continue to grow. There is an opportunity for us outside the UK but it’s about what we do here. We do have franchises though in the Middle East, Greece and Ireland.”

Horizons – casual dining sector is ‘bullish’ but there are ‘a few rocks in the road’: Horizons managing director Peter Backman has said the casual dining sector is “bullish” but warned there were “a few rocks in the road”. Speaking at Casual Dining in London yesterday (Wednesday, 24 February), Backman said he anticipates growth this year to be similar to 2015 but the next two to three years are “going to be difficult”. He said the threat of “Brexit” would mean a period of uncertainty, the new National Living Wage that comes into force in April would have an impact as would England’s performance at this summer’s European Championships would have an effect on the casual dining sector. He said: “Casual dining is increasing its share of the eating out experience. Overall, the outlook is bullish. However, there are a few rocks in the road. Firstly, there’s the economy. It may not impact directly on the eating out market but inflation could affect the money people have in their pockets. At the same time you have a more constrained consumer. Consumer confidence is not quite as high as it was before the recession. Then there’s ‘Brexit’. It’s going to be a time of uncertainty. How it pans out after that I don’t know. Then there’s climate change. When it’s very wet and cold it’s not so good for the sector, neither is it when it’s very hot. It’s good for pubs but not casual dining. If England get knocked out this summer early then people are likely to eat out. Then there’s the National Living Wage. Some people are going to have a bit more money in their pocket but it is going to hit operators’ bottom line. Business rates are also going to rise in 2017, particularly in London. There’s also competition with good quality independent operators launching on our doorstep and other companies changing their business models like Burger King offering alcohol and Costa with their new Fresco concept. Like-for-like sales are also declining at sites. The growth is now coming from new sites. I don’t think there are going to be major problems this year though. The casual dining sector has got a good history and is getting on for (seeign) 15 years of growth. The growth rate is speeding up rather than slowing down. How long that continues though is the question. I think it’s the next two or three years which that are going to be difficult.”

Pub bosses call for industry accredited training scheme: Pub bosses have called for an accredited training scheme for the industry. Anglian County Inns managing director James Nye and Yummy Pub Company co-founder Tim Foster both feel training needs to be regulated. Speaking during a panel about training in pubs at yesterday’s (Wednesday, 24 February) Casual Dining event In London, Nye said: “I think it needs to be accredited. I’m working with the Association of Multiple Retailers at the moment on a project on how training – we need to be an industry that’s accredited, like accountants are for example. At the moment anyone can be a head chef.” Foster agreed with Nye and added such a scheme could make it easier to place people into suitable roles, particularly if they had moved from other companies. Both Nye and Foster felt training in the industry had improved, which was demonstrated by the number of people who are progressing through the ranks. Meanwhile, Yummy Pub Company managing director and British Institute of Innkeeping chairman Anthony Pender, who chaired the panel, called on the industry to work closer together. Pender said the sector required another 250,000 workers by 2020 and it was an issue that needed to be tackled now. He added: “If we work with other people we can deliver so much more. We still need to look to the next generation.”

Merlin Entertainments invests in Big Bus Tours: Alton Towers operator Merlin Entertainments is investing $34.4m in Big Bus Tours, the global owner-operator of Hop On Hop Off city tours, and the formation of a strategic partnership allowing further cooperation across many of Merlin’s city centre markets. Big Bus Tours has a fleet of nearly 400 buses in 17 major cities. The strategic partnership will provide opportunities for cross selling, promotions and joint sales and marketing activity. Merlin will invest $34.4m for a total participation of c.15%. Big Bus Tours currently operates in Abu Dhabi, Budapest, Chicago, Dubai, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Las Vegas, London, Miami, Muscat, New York, Paris, Philadelphia, Rome, San Francisco, Vienna and Washington DC. The shareholding will attract the customary protections for minority shareholders. Chief executive Nick Varney said: “We are delighted to announce this investment and partnership with Big Bus Tours. We see significant revenue synergies from this business with our own city centre attractions and there is already a clear overlap in eight cities, including London, Hong Kong and San Francisco. This investment will facilitate a closer working relationship on the ground while enabling us to learn about a highly complementary business.” Pat Waterman, chief executive of Big Bus Tours, added: “We are very excited by the opportunities generated by this strategic deal with Merlin. The significant overlap in geographic footprint and creation of memorable customer experiences enables opportunities to cross-sell and promote tickets for both companies. Together, we will also be able to offer compelling new products, bundles and city passes to further delight our customers.” Big Bus Tours is a private company with gross assets of $409.8m and Group loss after tax of $7.4m for the 79 day period ended 30 April 2015 (unaudited). The underlying Group Operating Profit for the 6 month period to October 2015 is $19.1m (unaudited).

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