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Thu 28th Feb 2019 - Update: Casual Dining award winners, Merlin and AB InBev results
Casual Dining awards winners are named: The nation’s best casual dining restaurants and pubs were revealed last night (Wednesday, 27 February) at the Casual Dining Restaurant & Pub Awards 2019. The event took place at the London Marriott Hotel, in Grosvenor Square, following the first day of the Casual Dining show at its new home of ExCeL London. Azzurri Group, Wagamama, Oakman Inns & Restaurants, The New World Trading Co (NWTC), Dishoom, Jamie’s Italian and The Alchemist were among the operators who took home awards. Azzurri Group was named Casual Dining Group of the Year. Chief executive Steve Holmes said: “We are truly delighted to receive this award, especially given the quality of other businesses in the category. It’s fantastic recognition for our teams, who work tirelessly to deliver the best experience they can for our customers, and this award is for them.” NWTC took home four awards with its The Florist brand winning three trophies – New Casual Dining Concept of the Year, Best New Restaurant Site and Best Designed Casual Dining Restaurant of the Year – the latter two awards for its newly opened Liverpool venue. The company’s fourth award of the night was for Employer of the Year. Wagamama retained its title of Large Multi-Site Restaurant Brand of the Year (more than 20 sites) for the third year in a row and also added Menu Innovation (more than 20 sites) and Marketing Campaign of the Year to its haul. Dishoom’s founders, cousins Kavi Thakrar and Shamil Thakrar, received this year’s Trailblazer of the Year Award – the only category nominated directly by the judges. The Alchemist repeated its win of last year, with another Best New Pub/Bar Site award – this time for its first Welsh site, in Cardiff’s St Mary Street. New awards categories this year included Ethical Operator and Best Family Dining Experience, which went to Oakman Inns & Restaurants and Jamie’s Italian respectively. Peter Boizot, founder of PizzaExpress, who passed away in December, was also remembered and recognised for his outstanding contribution to the casual dining industry. His posthumous Casual Dining Outstanding Contribution Award was accepted by Zoe Bowley, the company’s managing director.
 
Merlin Entertainments reports revenue and profit boost in 2018, strategy to turn parks into fully-fledged resorts: Merlin Entertainments has reported sales rose 5.9% to £1.688bn in the year to 29 December 2018. Pre-tax profit was up 4.9% to £285m while underlying Ebitda grew 4.3% to £494m. A record 67 million visitors were welcomed in 2018, up 1.4% on 2017. It reported 5.2% organic revenue growth with like-for-like revenue growth of 1.8%. Legoland organic revenue increased 6.4% due to the opening of a record 644 accommodation rooms, offsetting a “broadly flat” like-for-like performance. It is targeting a further 372 rooms in 2019, including the Alton Towers Stargazing Pods and the Gardaland Magic Hotel. Its strategy is to turn parks into fully-fledged resorts so the company can benefit from the popularity of short breaks. Merlin Entertainments chief executive Nick Varney, said: “2018 saw improved momentum across most of our businesses reflecting the strength of our diversified portfolio and geographic spread. Resort Theme Parks benefited from successful product investment such as ‘Wicker Man’ at Alton Towers; Legoland Parks growth was driven by record levels of accommodation openings; and, in addition to the contribution of seven new attractions, Midway saw improving trends in London. We continue to seek to mitigate ongoing external cost pressures and expect to deliver up to £35m of annualised savings by 2022 through a number of initiatives. Not only will this help underpin our financial outlook, it will better enable our people to deliver what matters most to our guests: fantastic memorable experiences. Around the world, leisure spend continues to grow as disposable incomes rise and ever greater value is placed on good quality, shared experiences with friends and family. Our continued investment, new market opportunities and our evolving position as a unique, multi-format international operator of strongly branded and intellectual property-led location based entertainment, give us the confidence that we are well placed to deliver long term growth and returns.”
 
AB InBev sees full-year double-digit revenue growth in UK: Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) has reported double-digit revenue growth in the UK during 2018 with a boost in premium sales. The company said the UK and Spain led the way in terms of revenue growth, which was underpinned by higher volumes, and helped AB InBev grow its market share across Europe. Full-year global revenue was up 4.8%, with a 5.3% rise in the fourth quarter. Total volumes grew by 0.3% in the full year, with own beer volumes up 0.8% and non-beer volumes down 3.6%. In the fourth quarter, total volumes increased by 0.3%, with own beer volumes up 1.2% and non-beer volumes down 4.9%. Combined revenues of its three global brands – Budweiser, Stella Artois and Corona – grew by 9.0% in the full year and 12.6% in the fourth quarter. Paula Lindenberg, president, AB InBev UK & Ireland, said: “Our UK business achieved double-digit top-line growth in 2018, with strong performances from our global brands, craft portfolio and Bud Light. Stella Artois was the fastest growing beer brand in retail last year. Budweiser grew its on-trade footprint through its Matchpint partnership while Corona continues to grow consistently year-on-year. We also expanded our low-alcohol beer portfolio, as part of the burgeoning consumer trend for moderation and our Global Smart Drinking Goal of no-alcohol and low-alcohol beer forming 20% of our volumes by 2025. Our craft and speciality brands also had a great year, with Camden Hells Lager, Camden Pale Ale and Goose Island IPA featuring in the top five contributors to craft category growth in the on-trade, and Goose Island growing the fastest. Looking ahead, we are focused on growing our on-trade footprint and championing Britain’s unique pub and beer culture. At the beginning of this year we announced Raising the Bar, our new scheme that will share our draught equipment under the bar with small brewers for free in pubs where we are lead brewer. Raising the Bar is fairer for small brewers, simpler for pub owners, more sustainable for the industry and ensures pub-goers get more choice, as well as the highest quality pint.”
 
BigDish updates on strategy: BigDish, the company that operates a yield management platform for restaurants, has updated on its strategy. The company stated: “Prior to this year, the website had not been a focal point, with 99% of bookings in Asia being placed via the BigDish app. The UK is attracting both app and web bookings and the company expects the bookings ratio between app and website could grow to 70:30 in the UK in 2019. As such, it was determined it would be more beneficial to build a new website rather than just make ‘visual changes’ as was previously announced. This will result in a new UK-branded consumer website built for speed and scale that will mirror the app experience. Various features will be added progressively during the second quarter. These include a ‘new restaurant feature’, which will clearly indicate new restaurants in the app and website. In addition, the company is also looking to develop a review and rankings feature designed to increase consumer engagement. The company continues to add new restaurant partners. It also expects to expand to Southampton in March, when it will announce further new areas for expansion.” Chief executive Sanj Naha added: “This is a clear message BigDish is laying the foundation for scale within the UK both in our first two territories and also with the development of our technology platforms. I continue to meet various restaurant owners who are excited about BigDish and its potential to bring diners back into their restaurant. There is a growing number of people within the restaurant sector in the UK who feel various delivery apps have taken away diners from restaurants and there is a need to bring diners back to the restaurant. They are seeing BigDish as a valuable partner in achieving those aims.”

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