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Fri 11th Mar 2016 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Large Fourth survey shows sector already paying over 21s more than £7 per hour: A survey of thousands of venues by Fourth has found the National Living Wage of £7.20 an hour may not cost the industry as much as originally thought – the average hourly rate for over 21s is currently £7.04 as of October 2015, just 16p shy of the new living wage. This number had risen from £6.96 a year earlier. This blended hourly rate compares with a current minimum wage that rose immediately after these numbers were collated – from £6.50 to £6.70 in October 2015 – suggesting hospitality firms are paying an 8.3% premium to the minimum wage. These figures suggest that, in reality, hospitality businesses have already moved a long way towards providing higher levels of pay to hourly-paid staff – on the face of it, reducing the impact the new living wage will have when it is introduced in April. Mike Shipley, analytics and insight solutions director at Fourth, said: “Our insight suggests the perceived gap between current pay rates and the new living wage is nowhere near as big as some in the industry may think. However, it is clear that the hospitality industry is already paying a premium, presumably to compete for the best people, and it’s a question of whether operators maintain that premium. If so, we could see hourly rates pushing the £8 mark and beyond, which will also put upward pressure on other more senior pay grades, potentially triggering wage inflation across the payroll at hospitality organisations. It is also important to remember that further annual ratchets are scheduled, such that the living wage will rise to £9 by 2020, meaning a salary of almost £22,000 for a 25-year-old working a 48-hour week. Businesses need to continue to work extremely hard to find ways to absorb these jumps.” The analysis also suggests the industry is delivering some significant productivity gains, with sales generated per labour hour increasing from £32.33 to £33.11, in the 12 months to September 2015 – a gain of 2.4%, which follows a similar rise the year before. Shipley added: “The new living wage will inevitably prompt companies to look harder at productivity and efficiency. We are currently working with many different hospitality and leisure companies, looking at these issues and using analysis to drive revenue per labour hour and to identify and eradicate wasted labour hours. It is a complex challenge but one that can deliver substantial productivity gains, and that is surely the key to weathering what will surely be a new era of labour inflation for hospitality.” The rate in London already exceeds the living wage – £7.23 as at October 2015 (inside M25). Hotels are paying the most, with an hourly average rate of £7.58.

Industry News:

New benefit for Propel Premium subscribers: Subscribers to Propel’s Premium service will receive a new benefit from next week – access to a new audio recording every fortnight featuring a leading sector executive. The service will launch with the interview conducted by Propel managing director Paul Charity with sector investor Luke Johnson at the Casual Dining Show, discussing the economy, the pizza market, his investment strategy and sector multiples. Recordings will be sent to subscribers as they become available each fortnight. Operators, drinks companies, law firms, accountants, distributors and marketing firms have been among the first companies that have signed up to receive the Propel Premium subscription service, which launched two weeks ago. The current free service to all existing readers remains the same, but readers can opt to upgrade to receive the Propel Premium service. Propel Premium subscribers receive the Morning Newsletter, which is sent at 6.30am each day, 12 hours earlier at 6.30pm the day before. Subscribers also receive a copy of the Propel database of 500 multi-site companies, which will be updated every six months, and receive a digital version of Propel Quarterly magazine a week before publication. For operators, annual subscription costs £345 plus VAT per year, with an extra £50 per additional subscriber at each company. For suppliers, annual subscription costs £445 plus VAT, with an extra £50 per additional subscriber at each company. To subscribe to the Propel Premium service, email adam.dickinson@propelinfo.com
 
I-Chef launches £110,000 crowdfunding campaign to build membership and introduce app: I-Chef, which claims to connect the best catering and hospitality suppliers with professional establishments across the UK using an “uncomplicated and engaging online platform”, has launched a £110,008 fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Seedrs. The company, which describes itself as a “professionally endorsed, web-based membership community that connects recommended hospitality supplier members to professional buyers”, is offering a 10% equity stake in return for the investment. The pitch stated: “Investment will enable I-Chef to open up our community to ‘foodies’, bringing a whole additional dimension to the business; our aim is to create multiple new revenue streams to accelerate our growth and strongly build our membership. The introduction of an I-Chef app would provide yet more opportunities for members to interact with I-Chef – it would also provide an excellent opportunity for real-time offers and incentives from our supplier base to be delivered directly to members’ mobile devices.” I-Chef launched in March 2014 and has more than 5,000 members, including Marcus Wareing and Alain Roux. Founder David Dorricott was previously executive chef at the House of Commons and the Savoy hotel in London. Last year, I-Chef took to crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to raise £180,000. 
 
Crystal Maze to open next week: The new immersive take on hit nineties television show The Crystal Maze is to open near Angel in London on Tuesday (15 March). Faithful to the original Channel Four programme, which ran for six series from 1990 to 1995, visitors will work their way through games in four zones – Future, Medieval, Aztec and Industrial – completing a series of timed challenges before heading to the famous Dome itself. The experience runs for about 90 minutes. Teams are presented with tasks, categorised either as a mystery, skilled, mental or physical trial. The experience took three months to design and another three months to build, made possible with a crowdfunding campaign launched by Ben Hodges, 29, Dean Rodgers, 25, and Tom Lionetti-Maguire, 28, which raised £930,000. Those who contributed to the campaign will be among the first to head the event when it opens. 

FSA consults on rare burgers advice: The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is consulting on advice for food businesses and local authority enforcement officers on the safe preparation and service of burgers that are served pink or less than thoroughly cooked. The growing popularity of burgers served pink has led the FSA to develop the advice. It is aimed at helping businesses meet consumer demand for rare burgers while keeping customers protected. Burgers that aren’t thoroughly cooked can contain bacteria that cause food poisoning if the right controls aren’t in place. In September 2015, the FSA board agreed a number of controls that food businesses serving burgers pink will need to have in place to demonstrate they are maintaining customer safety. The new advice sets the options out and they include: sourcing the meat only from establishments that have specific controls in place; ensuring the supplier carries out appropriate testing of raw meat to check their procedures for minimising contamination are working; strict temperature controls to prevent growth of any bugs and appropriate preparation and cooking procedures; notifying their local authority burgers that aren’t thoroughly cooked are being served by the business; and providing advice to consumers, for example on menus, regarding the additional risk. The draft advice is for caterers and local authorities only and the FSA’s long-standing advice to consumers is unchanged: burgers prepared at home should be cooked thoroughly until they are steaming hot throughout, the juices run clear and there is no pink meat left inside. The consultation on the new advice runs until Thursday, 31 March.

Gloucester in Late Night Levy talks as operators launch alternative BID campaign: Gloucester City Council and Gloucestershire Constabulary are in initial discussions regarding the introduction of a Late Night Levy for venues that operate beyond midnight, but local operators have launched a campaign to adopt a Business Improvement District (BID) instead. Gloucestershire Constabulary already benefits from funds raised by Cheltenham’s Late Night Levy but operators in Gloucester would rather see a BID adopted. Justin Hudson, Gloucester Licensed Victuallers Association chairman, said: “I would rather my members made voluntary contributions to a scheme which makes more money than begrudgingly paying a levy. A BID would be an absolute no-brainer and I am confident this is what we need to do.” In late-January, Propel reported Cheltenham might abandon its Late Night Levy by 31 March 2017 if a BID is successfully implemented. Voting for the Cheltenham BID is likely to take place in September.

Record number of UK distilleries open in 2015: A record-breaking 49 new distilleries opened in the UK last year, HMRC data has revealed – an increase of 50%. During the past five years, 117 new distilleries have opened, bringing the total number to 233. Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Association (WSTA), said: “This is a hugely exciting time for everyone involved in the UK gin industry. We have seen an incredible rise in the number of distilleries setting up in the last year. The sales of gin in our supermarkets and shops have broken the £400m mark and half a billion pounds worth has been sold in pubs, bars and restaurants. This is a massive achievement and shows the Great British spirit continues to boom.” More than two-thirds of gin distilled in the UK is exported, with sales to 139 countries worth £1.76bn. Exports have risen 37% in the past five years alone, the WSTA claimed.
 

Company News:

Harry Ramsden’s launches new pub format at Punch site: Fish and chip brand Harry Ramsden’s is set to unveil a new concept for its move into the pub sector in partnership with Punch Taverns. The new format has been designed to extend the proposition into the traditional British institution of pubs, which the brand regards as a natural fit. Aiming to “retain the local pub identity and remain true to its own heritage”, the Harry Ramsden’s brand extension will feature an updated interior design. Overall, the brand is aiming to create an ambiance ideally suited to the licensed trade environment, appealing to pubs’ more traditional customer base whilst providing a welcoming and inviting atmosphere for families. Joe Teixeira, chief executive of Harry Ramsden’s, said: “The classic Harry Ramsden’s model is perfectly suited to the outlets we currently operate. We are, however, taking advantage of our entrance into a new market and believe this presents the perfect opportunity to evolve the brand and further extend the modern day face of Harry’s to a new generation of customers. As the brand grows at an ambitious but measured pace, we have an extremely experienced team in place to ensure that our goals are realised. As well as our partnership with Punch, I fully expect further opportunities within licensed trade sector to come to fruition in the very near future and so, we continue towards achieving our growth objectives, with confidence.” The brand’s first venture into the licensed trade arena will be Harry Ramsden’s at the Wingerworth, the much admired pub and kitchen located in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, which opens on Tuesday (15 March). This latest opening comes as a result of its partnership with Punch and the Harry Ramsden’s team will manage all aspects of the pub and kitchen’s day-to-day operation. Open all day, Harry Ramsden’s at the Wingerworth will serve breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Punch and Harry Ramsden’s revealed the joint partnership, which is based on a turnover rent agreement, last November. At the time Punch chief executive Duncan Garrood told Propel: “What we have agreed is to go at a cautious pace and if it is a success do another and then another one. We have agreed an initial period of exclusivity and are now in the process of identifying suitable sites of which the first two are scheduled to launch in early 2016.”

Two new pizza concepts, Dough and The Oven, to launch in Bath on same day: Two new pizza concepts, Dough and The Oven, will open in Bath on Friday (9 March). Dough will offer customers a choice of ten types of dough for their base, including hemp, gluten-free, pumpkin, kamut or multi-cereal. The restaurant, which will occupy three units in The Corridor city centre walkway, is run by Massimo Nucaro who has 20 years’ experience of serving pizza at music festivals. Nucaro told the Bath Chronicle: “We are trying to revolutionise the way we make pizza. Customers can have a description of what each dough is good for. We are targeting people who care about the food they put into their mouths.” His fellow Dough directors are Emiliano Tunno, an award-winning pizza chef who is also a dough-spinning master, and Giuseppe Toscano, who has appeared on Italian television. Meanwhile another pizza concept, The Oven, will open in the Sawclose area of Bath on the same day and will feature a log-fired pizza oven. The restaurant will seat about 50 customers, with a terraced dining space at the front. The decor is a mixture of modern and rustic, with an open plan kitchen.
 
JD Wetherspoon plans giant beer garden in Belfast: JD Wetherspoon is planning to build a major beer garden at its flagship Belfast city centre pub. Plans have been submitted for a large beer garden at the back of The Bridge House bar in Bedford Street. The 2,000 square foot beer garden will be accessed from the bar itself, alongside a driveway to the right of the front of the pub. The company is also expanding its reach in Northern Ireland. It’s planning to create about 100 jobs with two new pubs for Belfast, including a new spot at the former JJB Sports store in Royal Avenue. JD Wetherspoon is investing between £3m and £4m in the Royal Avenue and University Road outlets, after buying a former Methodist church close to Queen’s University. JD Wetherspoon paid about £1.2m for the lavish and historic former Methodist church in south Belfast, which is due to become its second new bar in the city.
 
M&B aims to offer 2,000 apprenticeships in next 12 months: Mitchells & Butlers is aiming to be able to offer over 2,000 apprenticeships over the next 12 months. The nationwide apprenticeship scheme offers three routes: one-year chef and bar and waiting staff apprenticeships, available for 16 to 24-year-olds, and the Hospitality Management Development Apprenticeship, which is a three-year programme that includes kitchen and front-of-house work experience with a target of progressing into a supervisory role, such as an assistant manager or kitchen manager. This framework gives young people the platform to learn valuable skills from Mitchells & Butlers’ experienced teams, build confidence and gain a professional qualification and have a real opportunity to progress. The company is offering apprentices a credible career pathway and helps the business to harness a pipeline of talent for the future. Vacancies for chef and bar and waiting apprenticeships will be continuously available from Friday, 1 April. There are about 100 Hospitality Management Development Apprenticeships available, which will be open for applicants online from Monday (14 March) to Monday, 11 April. Susan Martindale, group human resources for Mitchells & Butlers, said: “We don’t just want to develop a successful apprenticeship scheme; we want Mitchells & Butlers to offer the best scheme in the hospitality industry. Our schemes provide new job opportunities for school leavers and combine their employment with layers of exceptional tutorage, mentoring and assessment. They work across our portfolio of brands, learn from our experienced teams, gain a professional qualification and have a real opportunity to progress up the ladder. They are the future talent for Mitchells & Butlers and we look forward to the apprentices progressing their career journey with us.”
 
Faucet Inns set to open third Kupp site in Manchester: Faucet Inns is set to continue the expansion of its Scandinavian-inspired restaurant and cafe concept Kupp with a third site in Manchester. The company has submitted a licensing application to the city council to open in the redeveloped Corn Exchange building, reports Manchester Confidential. If successful, Kupp, which is described as a “casual, all-day, food and drink concept”, would join other restaurant brands including Wahaca, Pho and Vapiano in the building, which reopened last August following a £30m revamp to transform it into an all-food destination. Kupp was established last year in London’s Paddington Basin and revealed this week it plans to open a second site at the new Queen Street dining quarter at The Guildhall Shopping Centre in Exeter. According to its website, Faucet Inn’s managing director Steve Cox wished to “embrace Scandinavian design and the greatness of Scandinavian cuisine” following a decade of trips to the region.
 
Geof Collyer – The Restaurant Group strategy is ‘medium term dilutive’: Deutsche Bank leisure analyst Geof Collyer has said The Restaurant Group’s strategy is “medium term dilutive”. Downgrading the share rating from ‘Buy’ to ‘Hold’, following the company’s full-year results on Wednesday (9 March), he said: “The initially dilutive impact of the group’s repositioning strategy and the scale of the implied direct competitive threat (comparable to that laid out by Mitchells & Butlers last November, namely around 20% of the estate targeted by other casual dining brands) means that we do not now expect any like-for-like sales growth for around two years, with our FY18 sales and profit before tax forecasts now 17% and 23% lower than they were in August last year. It will take some time for the group to recover its growth rating. We have reduced our price target by 24% to 525p to reflect this de-rating, and downgraded from ‘Buy’ to ‘Hold’. Final results were broadly in line to slightly above guidance and Deutsche Bank estimates, though guidance range was fairly tight. Revenues were +7.9% (Deutsche Bank +9.1%); Ebitda +10.5% (Deutsche Bank +10.7%); earnings per share +12.8% (Deutsche Bank +11.5%); dividend +13% (Deutsche Bank +12%). Like-for-likes for the first ten weeks of FY16 are -1.5% (versus +2.5% for first eight weeks in FY15). We think that this statement in the outlook caused the stock to collapse yesterday, despite a poor recent quarter, which had already seen The Restaurant Group shares fall 18% relative to the FTA-All Share. It said ‘although total sales will continue to increase as our new restaurants open and deliver good returns, in the current environment consistent like-for-like sales increases are likely to be difficult to generate’. We have removed the premium previously applied to The Restaurant Group to reflect the slower growth profile due to the reduced future opening programme and cannibalisation of existing sites. We are now applying the same multiple (12x EV/Ebita) that we use for Mitchells & Butlers, as the competitive threat, new bottom line focus and slower like-for-like issues are comparable, as well as both groups having relatively new chief executives still finding their feet. Upside risks include a return to positive like-for-like growth. Downside risks include greater than expected cannibalisation of the older estate from new openings. And a step up in the pace of openings of new casual dining space outside London.”
 
West Berkshire Brewery passes £1m mark on Asset Match as it looks to expand: Craft brewer West Berkshire Brewery had passed the £1m mark in its bid to raise £1.4m on Asset Match, the platform that provides liquidity in private company shares, as it looks to expand. The company, founded in 1995 by Dave and Helen Maggs and based in Yattendon, Berkshire, is offering a 19.26% equity stake for the investment, which closes on Wednesday, 23 March. So far 31 investors have pledged £1,013,200 and the largest investment to date is £225,000. The minimum subscription amount is £5,000. The company stated: “The company intends to take advantage of the exciting, substantial and growing craft beer market. The company will outgrow its current site by 2017. Therefore West Berkshire Brewery plans to construct a purpose-built, high-spec brewery, installing kit that will allow for a tenfold increase in production with massively improved efficiencies. The company currently receives marginal rate beer duty relief, and can grow production by approximately six times before paying the full beer duty. West Berkshire Brewery intends to build a new visitor centre complete with a larger shop and a cafe. The proposed new bottling, kegging and canning facilities at the new brewery will reduce in-house costs, and will provide an additional revenue stream as West Berkshire Brewery will provide flexible outsourced packaging services of the highest quality to other brewers. The company has already expanded its sales and marketing team to drive domestic sales through pubs and supermarkets. After successful initial sales West Berkshire Brewery intends to promote export sales. West Berkshire Brewery intends to acquire at least one drink-led, managed pub in an urban location.” Sales in the year to March 2014 were up 20% on the previous year and continuing growth in the current financial year is showing an increase in revenue to a total of £1.95m. Planning consent is in process to build a state-of-the-art brewery on the same estate that has hosted the brewery since 1999.
 
Work begins on new rooftop bar at football-themed Shankly Hotel in Liverpool: Work has begun on the second phase of the Shankly Hotel in Liverpool to build a luxury rooftop garden featuring a bar, two 175-seat restaurants, an infinity pool, conference facility and a 100-foot slide, which will be used to raise money for charity. Work on the luxury rooftop garden, named Eden, is scheduled to finish in July. The 83-bedroom venue in Victoria Street, a £20m joint venture between Signature Living Developments and the family of Liverpool FC’s legendary manager Bill Shankly, is Liverpool’s first football-themed hotel. The venue also contains the Shankly museum and a 150-cover restaurant, The Bastion. Lawrence Kenwright, co-founder of Signature Living, told the Liverpool Echo: “Eden will be the ultimate tourist destination the city has to offer. It will boast an unencumbered view of Liverpool and showcase our iconic landmarks in all their glory.”
 
Gaucho launches ‘Feel Good, Feel Great’ split lunch menu: Argentinian-inspired steak restaurant Gaucho has launched a lunch menu called “Feel Good, Feel Great”, which has two distinct sides. The “Feel Good” menu promises “all the indulgences without feeling the regret”, while Gaucho’s “Feel Great” menu offers “decadence and indulgence that makes you want to shout with joy and then swiftly take a nap”. The “Feel Good” lunch menu contains “healthy, feel-good choices”, featuring drinks such as spicy green boost juice with coconut water, passion fruit, spinach, mint, and green chilli. Starters include watermelon salad and tuna tartare, while main dishes feature rump steak with ginger-dressed mixed greens and salmon with poached egg and quinoa. Desserts include toasted granola parfait with yogurt and sweet banana, and fruit salad with fig, kiwi, blueberries, pomegranates, papaya and honey. Gaucho’s “Feel Great” menu contains signature dishes and drinks, including beef empanadas and crispy-fried provoleta cheese starters, and rib-eye steak and chips cooked in beef dripping or chicken milanesa with aubergine and mozzarella among the mains. Desserts include dulce de leche banana split or orange bread and butter pudding with vanilla ice-cream.
 
Filmore & Union opens new site in Beverley: Healthy eating cafe and restaurant company Filmore & Union has opened a new restaurant and cocktail bar in Beverley, East Yorkshire. The company, which launched in 2011, has opened the venue in Saturday Market on the former site of the Sugarbird boutique. Founder and owner Adele Ashley told the Beverley Guardian: “We have wanted to open a restaurant in Beverley for a long time and we are really excited that it’s finally happening. It is really important for us to try and keep everything completely fresh and that all of our food is cooked by our chefs on site at each restaurant. We are not just a vegetarian restaurant, we offer a full menu with excellent steak and fish options as well, along with a brilliant cocktail menu.” The company operates a bakery at its head office in Wetherby, which produces granola, brownies and other baked goods, while all other food is produced on site. The Beverley restaurant is the company’s ninth venue and Ashley previously said it plans to expand this year outside its native Yorkshire into Manchester and across the north west of England.
 
KFC to introduce plastic-free food bucket in UK and Ireland: KFC has developed a plastic-free paperboard food bucket for its UK and Ireland market in partnership with packaging specialist International Paper Foodservice Europe (IPFE). The development is a part of KFC’s efforts to improve food presentation and environmental performance. The plastic-free food buckets will replace those made from polyethylene and feature a grease-resistant lining to prevent leakage, IPFE said. Additionally, IPFE has developed a clay-coated finish to replace traditional plastic coating, offering “extra visual impact”. Available in two sizes – 85oz and 130oz – the paperboard food bucket is certificated to Sustainable Forestry Initiative standard. KFC UK and Ireland supply chain manager Julie Buffandeau told Packaging Business Review: “(IPFE’s) research and development team at Winsford took the brief and proved their ability to innovate, working closely with us to deliver a product that met our specifications and is truly unique in the market.”
 
New speciality cheese deli and cafe concept launches in Liverpool: A new speciality cheese deli and cafe concept has launched in Liverpool. Cheese & Co in Derby Square offers specialist cheeses, meats and deli accompaniments “in a fresh market setting”. The menu includes cheese on toast, cheese croissants and dozens of cheeses on platters and sharing boards, as well as sausage rolls, veggie rolls, and teacakes. Owner Danny Poole told the Liverpool Echo: “We want it to feel like walking into a market, with fresh sandwiches on the counter and great produce put together simply but well. We’ve travelled around farms finding the best cheeses, the tiny producers you might not find anywhere else. It’s part deli, part market stall, part cafe.”
 
Las Iguanas to launch new spring menu inspired by South America trip: Las Iguanas, the Latin-American restaurant brand owned by Casual Dining Group, is launching a new spring menu. The brand, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, will be offering the new dishes from Tuesday (15 March), which have been developed following a team trip to South America earlier this year. New to the tapas menu are dadinhos – crispy cubes of smoked cheese served with a sticky chilli jam that is a popular bar snack across Brazil. Other items are ceviche – a Peruvian classic of raw strips of sustainable white fish “cooked” in a tiger’s milk dressing of lime, ginger and amarillo chilli with carrots, pink pickled onion, pepper drops, coriander and sweet potato crisps, as well as Havana club and jerk barbecue glazed pork ribs. New seafood choices are the Moqueca de Peixe – a north east Brazil favourite consisting of peeled prawns and white fish in a creamy coconut, tomato and lime sauce, while the sea bass has a light lime and achiote marinade with roast potato mash, chargrilled asparagus and a piquante pepper dressing. The chilli con carne has had a refresh while dessert now includes a vegan-friendly mojito jelly with lemon and lime sorbet. There are also seven new cocktails such as the passion fruit batida featuring magnifica cachaça, condensed milk, coconut water and passion fruit puree and the tijuana tipple, which combines tequila, guava puree, chilli, lime and Freixenet cava.
 
Worcester pub owner to open micro-pub in city: Worcester pub owner Chris Hankins is to open a micro-pub in the city. Hankins, who owns the Brunswick Arms, is launching The Bull Baiters Inn in St John’s next month. The site, which is being refurbished with the decor designed to give it an old-fashioned feel and look, will have seating for about 20 and only sell real ales and locally sourced ciders. Drinks will be served straight from cooling cabinets and kegs, which will stand by the bar. Hankins told the Worcester News: “Micro-pubs are growing in popularity across the county. This will create a great atmosphere, it will be like a permanent beer festival in St John’s with the drinks we have on offer. There will be no music played, or any other form of electronic entertainment, so this should mean good conversation and taking trips down nostalgia lane. It’s all about enjoying the ales and beers, and having a good time socialising with other people.”
 
Work begins on Titanic-themed hotel in Belfast: Work has begun to turn the former Harland & Wolff headquarters in Belfast into a Titanic-themed hotel. The building, where the Titanic and more than 1,000 other ships were designed, will also house a public heritage space. Development of the four-storey, 84-bedroom hotel is being managed by Titanic Quarter, which said it would be the “world’s most authentic Titanic-themed hotel”. Titanic Foundation, with the help of a £4.9m Lottery grant, is supporting the restoration of the drawing offices for the heritage site, which will be available for tours, events and exhibitions. Both projects are due to open in 2017, creating 100 jobs. James Eyre, Titanic Quarter’s commercial director, told the Belfast Telegraph: “The prospect of being able to stay and dine in the very rooms once paced by the chairmen of Harland & Wolff will be an enormous pull for tourists from across the world and will be a major boost for Northern Ireland’s tourism industry.” The boutique hotel will be operated by the same company that opened Liverpool’s Titanic Hotel in Stanley Dock in 2014, which scooped Luxury Hotel of the Year at the 2016 Luxury Travel Guide Global Awards.
 
Rank Group launches new digital platform: The Rank Group has launched its new digital platform supplied by Bede Gaming. The new platform is now operating across both Mecca and Grosvenor digital sites and mobile apps, with Rank’s Spanish brand, Enracha, due to launch later in the calendar year. Chief executive Henry Birch said: “We are very pleased to have launched our new digital platform within the timeline and budget that we set. Performance so far has been encouraging and we will turn on increased functionality over the coming months.” Joe Saumarez Smith, chairman of Bede Gaming, added: “We are delighted, but not surprised, that the launch of Rank’s new digital platform has gone smoothly and we look forward to being a key partner for them in growing their business.” 
 
D&D London appoints Raphael Francois as chef patron of Launceston Place: Restaurant operator D&D London has appointed Raphael Francois as chef patron of Launceston Place in South Kensington. Francois is best known for his executive chef role at two Michelin-starred restaurant Hélène Darroze at The Connaught. D&D London said Francois would create “innovative and modern menus that celebrate seasonal British produce at its finest”. Sample dishes include scallop with parmesan, beets and truffle melanosporum; blue crab simplissime with creamy potato, tarragon, and carapace jus; and cod with clams pesto, cod roe and hispi cabbage. Desserts include crema catalana with banana and lime sorbet and burnt lime, and poached baby apple with pecan parfait and maple. D&D London managing director David Loewi said: “We are absolutely delighted that Raphael will be heading up Launceston Place. He is an incredibly talented chef and his natural flair in the kitchen, expertise and passion for food will bring something very special to D&D London.” Launceston Place will also launch a new Sunday offering, with dishes such as guinea fowl with green and brown cauliflower and pomegranate, and dry-aged Herefordshire beef with Yorkshire pudding. The Chef’s Office at the venue has also undergone a redesign. Seating up to 12 diners, Francois will serve a bespoke menu with wines matched by Launceston Place’s award-winning head sommelier Piotr Pietras. 
 
Varsity Hotel in Cambridge to open £2m all-day restaurant: The Varsity Hotel and Spa in Cambridge is set to open a £2m restaurant on the premises. The hotel in Thompson’s Lane will open an all-day restaurant at the end of April, creating more than 40 jobs. The 120-cover restaurant and bar will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as weekend brunches. It will be sited on the sixth floor, below the rooftop garden, complementing the hotel’s River Bar Steakhouse and Grill. A spokesman for the restaurant told Cambridge News: “Floor-to-ceiling windows throughout and two spectacular terraces will provide diners with a breathtaking panorama of historic Cambridge and its beautiful architecture.”

West Country cafe bar owners acquire third site: West Country cafe bar owners James Murray and Simon Extance are set to open their third site. Murray and Extance have acquired The Queens Head pub in Nailsea, Somerset, which will be transformed into Coates House, which gets its name from the fact Coates cider was manufactured in the town. The duo already own Hawkes House cafe in Thornbury and Theoc House in Tewkesbury. The venues stock board games and books and serve food from 8.30am to 10pm and the pair are planning to offer the same in the Nailsea venue, which they hope to open in about three months. Murray told the North Somerset Times: “Our plan is to turn the Queens Head into a neighbourhood cafe bar. At the other sites we use the local butcher and greengrocer and we try to get real ales from within 20 miles. We try to source everything as locally as possible. We chose it (the Queen’s Head) because of the property’s location and the 200-year history of the building. If you look at pictures of The Queens Head, it’s very run down, but there are gems of fireplaces and flooring underneath the modern exterior and interior.” 
 
London Beer Factory becomes first UK brewer to launch 360-degree cans: The London Beer Factory will be the first UK brewer to launch its entire range of beer in 360-degree cans. The unique ring pull design enables the drinker to completely remove the lid, allowing the “full spectrum of flavours and aromas to leap out of the can”. The 360-degree cans will be illustrated by Devon-based artist Philip Harris. The London Beer Factory, based in Gipsy Hill, was founded in 2014 by brothers Ed and Sim Cotton, who have developed a range of unfiltered, unpasteurised beer. The brewer’s Core Range consists of five beers – Beyond the Pale, Sayers Stout, London Bohemia (pilsner), Chelsea Blonde and Paxton IPA – and each month it produces an experimental beer to join its Pilot Range. This month it will launch The Big Milk Stout, “weighing in” at 8.8% ABV. The London Beer Factory also operates an on-site brewery bar as well as The London Beer Factory Taxi, which provides beer on tap around the capital.
 
Stonegate says ‘don’t fear, roast dinners are still here’ with Yates’s: Stonegate Pub Company has jokingly used the recent decision by JD Wetherspoon to remove Sunday roast from its menu by announcing the British tradition is “alive and well” at its Yates’s venues nationwide. Encouraging families to make the “roast” of Sundays at Yates’s, the company said: “People of Britain need not fear that their staple Sunday tradition is on its way out. Yates’s is proud to announce their roast dinner is here to stay and will remain on the menu across all bars nationwide. Parents wanting to treat the family to a customary Sunday dinner out can choose from freshly cooked topside of beef, pork, lamb or half a roast chicken.” Yates’s Sunday roasts are available from midday to 9pm. Stonegate Pub Company operates more than 660 pubs across its Proper Pubs, Yates’s, Common Room, Slug and Lettuce, Town, Pub & Kitchen, Classic Inns, and Venues brands.
 
Walter and Monty to open first permanent site: Street food grill concept Walter and Monty will open its first permanent site at the end of the month. The creation of former trader Alex Kaye, Walter and Monty, which has operated a string of street food and pop-up opportunities such as the acclaimed Night Tales in east London, is launching in the City in Bury Court. Billed as “street food cooked with Michelin expertise”, Kaye said it allows him to channel his “inner chef” and share with Londoners his passion for what he believes to be the best way to cook food – on the grill. He will oversee the menu along with head chef Nick Ross, who has trained and worked alongside two Michelin-starred Daniel Boulud and Scott Conant. The meat and fish is either wrapped in flatbread or served with rice and salad, along with a choice of house sauce. There will be a selection of at least five different salads. The restaurant will have an open kitchen bordered by a chunky marble counter where all salads will be on display. There will also be a five-foot chopping board where the meat will be prepared in front of guests. A separate breakfast counter will serve coffee by day, transforming into a drinks cabinet by night, once Walter and Morgan opens in the evening. The bar will serve several house specials including Bloody Mary and Dirty Martini while premium keg beer will be fed through to every banquet to provide limitless beer on tap. The site will open in two phases – initially for lunch with breakfast and dinner to follow.
 
Licensee ordered to pay £71,000 in damages over illegal Sky use: Licensee Paul Kift, of the Plough & Harrow in Swansea, has been ordered to pay a total of £71,079.16 in damages and costs for showing Sky Sports unlawfully. Kift had used a residential viewing card from Ireland to show Sky Sports content. Sky brought civil proceedings against the licensee for repeatedly infringing its copyright by showing Sky Sports to customers without having valid commercial viewing agreements in place, despite a number of warnings of legal action directly to the licensee. Sky Sports is only available to licensed premises in mainland UK via a commercial viewing agreement directly from Sky Business. Licensees that show Sky broadcasts without a commercial viewing agreement risk similar action or even a criminal prosecution. Alison Dolan, deputy managing director at Sky Business, said: “Orders like this result from some licensees thinking they are above the law. The message is clear – if you choose to televise content illegally then you run the very real risk of being caught and facing substantial penalties or damages, such as the situation Mr Kift now faces. A known supplier of illegal Sky broadcasts to pubs has in fact recently warned its own customers that they face legal action if they continue to use its service. Thousands of law-abiding pubs and clubs who legitimately pay commercial Sky subscriptions are fed up with losing customers to venues that continue to screen Sky Sports illegally. This ruling is just the latest in our efforts to ensure they are not short changed.”
 
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 

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