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Fri 17th Jan 2020 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Christie & Co – ‘operators have never had a better chance to strike a bargain with landlords’: Simon Chaplin, senior director – corporate pubs and restaurants – at Christie & Co, has told Propel operators have never had a better chance to strike a bargain with landlords. Speaking following the release of Christie & Co’s Business Outlook 2020 report, Chaplin said the spate of company voluntary arrangements (CVA) in the retail and restaurant sectors, which has led to a number of businesses reducing rent levels at sites, meant this was the perfect time for tenants to negotiate. “If I was an operator and I knew someone had managed to secure a rent reduction with my landlord through a CVA then I'd certainly be having that conversation,” said Chaplin. “Now is definitely the time for operators to look at the opportunity, whether that be a rent reduction or some other incentive such as a new shop front.” Chaplin said premiums were still being paid, particularly in central London, to secure prominent sites but said landlords were increasingly offering “significant” financial incentives of their own to attract well established operators. “We are seeing more landlords pay tenants to take over sites but with longer leases because they don't want empty properties,” said Chaplin. “They are prepared to take short-term pain and have some rent coming in rather than getting nothing at all.” Chaplin also argued given the number of site opportunities it was also the perfect time to launch a restaurant chain. He said: “For brands such as Pizza Pilgrims and BabaBoom, I think this is a great time to think about expanding. They could grow quickly in this environment because they are brands that have built up a reputation and are appealing to younger consumers so landlords would love to have them. Vegetarian and vegan concepts could also flourish given the growing demand for plant-based food. With restaurants I think it's a case of out with the old and in with the new. The market has suffered because a lot of restaurant businesses expanded far too quickly. It was about getting to 80 or 100 sites as fast as possible. Why would you do that? The operators in the space that seem to have been able to get it right are Loungers and Five Guys – and they’re still growing.” In terms of the pub market, Chaplin said he believed the sector would keep thriving in 2020 and continue attracting investors. He added: “Pubs have really upped their game in recent years. They are getting bigger, better, more comfortable and opening for longer. While 20 years ago you wouldn't have contemplated having breakfast in a pub, now most people wouldn’t think twice. They also offer great value and I think that's part of the reason the restaurant market has suffered. I think we will see further deals in the sector. Companies such as Star Pubs & Bars, Punch and Admiral Taverns are going to keep buying.” 

Industry News:

Almost 1,000 to attend Restaurant Marketer & Innovator event next week: Almost 1,000 people are booked to attend next week's Restaurant Marketer & Innovator event. The event, organised in partnership with Think Hospitality, involves a Technology Masterclass at Google on Monday (20 January) followed by a two-day conference and an awards night for outstanding sector marketing and innovation. Propel managing director Paul Charity said: “We've delighted this outstanding event has attracted so much interest in the sector.” Currently there are just four tickets available for the two-day conference, with the Technology Masterclass and awards night sold-out. The agenda for the two-day conference can be viewed here. To book, email or call her on 01444 817691.

Mark Wingett to look at year ahead in latest Premium column: Propel insights editor Mark Wingett will look at the year ahead in his latest Propel Premium column, which will be sent to subscribers at 5pm on Friday (17 January). Meanwhile, Premium Diary will look at the latest sector whispers. Propel Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out, discounts to attend Propel conferences and events, and regular columns from Mark Wingett. Subscribers also receive access to our database of multi-site companies, which has grown to 1,500 businesses. An annual premium subscription costs £345 plus VAT for operators and £445 plus VAT for suppliers – plus £50 each for additional team members. Email

One-quarter of all pub visits feature non-alcoholic drinks but price point a deterrent: One-quarter of all visits to a pub feature non-alcoholic drinks but growth in the popularity of no and low-alcohol options is threatened by a perceived unfair price point, according to a new study. The research by KAM Media, based on feedback from 1,000 UK adults and 170 licensees, found more than one-third of respondents intend to cut their alcohol consumption in 2020, while 36% intend to consume more low and no-alcohol variants. That figure rises to more than half for Generation Z and millennials. The study found more than two-fifths (45%) of consumers were satisfied with the low and no range available in pubs, and 47% in restaurants. However, more than half of respondents said they found it difficult to differentiate which cans and bottles behind the bar were low or non-alcoholic. The research also found two-thirds of licensees increased their low and no-alcohol range last year, with almost three-quarters (72%) seeing the growth of the category as an opportunity to upsell customers more premium drinks rather than traditional soft drinks. The research also found more than three-fifths (63%) of customers expect low and no alcohol variants to be cheaper than alcoholic equivalents, with 13% saying the price actively put them off purchasing. Although Generation Z and millennials are much less bothered by price, with more than one-third (36%) happy to pay more for a quality low or no-alcohol variant, only 19% of over-35s agreed. KAM Media managing director Katy Moses said: “Some customers believe the low and no variants aren’t much cheaper than the alcoholic versions and feel they’re getting a worse deal. Pricing needs to be carefully considered, especially if it puts customers off trialling the products in the first place.” The report was published at the launch of KAM Media’s Low+No event in central London on Thursday (16 January), in which guest speakers included All Bar One senior marketing manager Laura Clark and BrewDog talking about a successful first week for its new non-alcoholic bar.

Meat-free food sales up 40% in past five years: Sales of meat-free food in the UK have grown 40% from £582m in 2014 to an estimated £816m in 2019, according to new research by Mintel. Sales are expected to be in excess of £1.1bn by 2024 while the number of Brits who have eaten meat-free food has risen from 50% in 2017 to 65% in 2019. The researched showed the proportion of meat eaters who have reduced or limited the amount of meat they consume has risen from 28% in 2017 to 39% in 2019. Women are more likely than men to have limited or reduced the amount of meat in their diets (42% compared with 36%) – although this rises to 45% among all under-45s. However, there has been no significant increase in the proportion of consumers who say they are vegan since 2018, with those following a vegan diet still only equating to about 1% of the UK population. Kate Vlietstra, Mintel global food and drink analyst, said: “While the health benefits of eating less meat appear to still be the primary motivation of flexitarian consumers, the environmental impact of the meat industry has also become an important reason for meat avoidance. Generation Z consumers (aged 16 to 24) are leading the charge here, with more than half (54%) of under-25s seeing the reduction of animal products as a good way to lessen humans’ impact on the environment.”

Company News:

Oakman Inns refinances debt on two properties to provide more capital for growth: Oakman Inns and Restaurants has refinanced the debt on two of its properties – The White Hart in Ampthill, Bedfordshire; and The Royal Foresters in Ascot, Berkshire. Cynergy Bank has provided circa £11m in newly negotiated loans for the two properties – £3.172m for The White Hart and £7.809m for The Royal Forester. Both loans were previously being charged at a higher interest rate and the new deals will significantly reduce interest charges. The loans were provided with an initial 12-month interest-only period followed by repayments modelled over a 24-year term. Steven Kenee, chief investment officer of Oakman Inns and Restaurants, said: “The deal has significantly reduced our cost of capital. We look forward to the next phase of our growth, something that will be much easier with the new financing package in place.” Mark Dearman, director – healthcare and leisure at Cynergy Bank, added: “Oakman Inns is a leading independent pub company, operating to the highest standards and we are pleased to have developed a relationship with Steven, Peter (Borg-Neal) and the team to become the group’s largest banking lender. We look forward to developing the relationship further in the months and years to come.” Last month, Oakman Inns and Restaurants, which owns and runs 24 sites, reported like-for-like sales increased 7.3% for the 15 months ending 30 June 2019. Turnover for the period was £46.7m, while site Ebitda was £8.6m and group Ebitda was £4.2m.

Thorndycraft leaves The Deltic Group: Bar and nightclub company The Deltic Group has announced the departure of Jason Thorndycraft as chief operating officer following a management restructure. Thorndycraft joined the business in 2014 with a remit to modernise the business in what he always said would be a “five-year project to bed in best practices”. Successful initiatives included a “focus on pre-sales, the building and selling of booths and a relentless focus on key dates”. The company said Thorndycraft also brought about other improvements in venue design and layout and a focus on three-roomed venues where economical to do so. The Deltic Group chief executive Peter Marks said: “I would like to record my huge thanks for Jason’s efforts. He has worked tirelessly and selflessly for our cause and leaves a positive legacy in so many areas that will live on for years. I hope he appears in a role worthy of his achievements and track record in the not too distant future. He certainly remains a friend of the company and those within it.” Last month Marks told Propel apathy from people staying at home was Deltic’s biggest competition – not fellow operators – while the company would look to invest in some of its more marginal businesses in 2020 once it saw “confidence return to those towns”.

Boparan to continue Slim Chickens roll-out with Bluewater site: Boparan Restaurant Group (BRG) will continue the expansion of Slim Chickens in the UK, with an opening next month at Bluewater shopping centre, Kent. The site will be the seventh opening under the brand in the UK, with BRG planning to open more restaurants under the brand in “key UK cities” throughout 2020. BRG brought Slim Chickens to the UK two years ago in London’s James Street under a franchise agreement. Since then, two further London sites have opened – in Brunswick Centre and Soho – plus outlets in Cardiff, Bristol and Birmingham. Richard Pigott, head of operations at Slim Chickens, said: “We continue to have a fantastic response to Slim’s in the locations we have opened so far and the number of ‘Slimthusiasts’ is growing rapidly across the UK and in keeping with all of our other outlets, our most recently opened restaurant in Bristol is already performing way ahead of our expectations. We are really looking forward to further extending our special brand of chicken into the south east and into Bluewater.” Slim Chickens opened its first location in Arkansas in 2003 before expanding to other US southern states to quickly reach the 80-site milestone.

Greene King launches immersive football predictor game with Startle partnership: Brewer and retailer Greene King has partnered with interactive music provider Startle to launch a digital football predictor game, aimed at increasing dwell-time and keeping customers more engaged on match days. The game will be integrated into Greene King’s Season Ticket app, giving customers the chance to win prizes such as free drinks, discounts and Premier League match tickets. Customers will be presented with a variety of options to make predictions before kick-off in Premier League, UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League matches, including the first goal scorer, first substitution and total number of yellow cards. The game aims to encourage customers to visit their Greene King pub in time for kick off, keep them engaged throughout the match, and keep them there for longer after the game has finished, aided by real-time prizes that can be redeemed at the till. Greene King market manager Adam White said: “Through our latest partnership with Startle, we hope to give our customers an even more exciting match day experience.” Startle chief executive Adam Castleton added “We’re always looking for ways to implement innovative and engaging experiences for our customers so they can bring more excitement to their venues.” Meanwhile, Greene King has reported sales of vegan main dishes are up 14% in its current financial year. It comes on top of the 265% jump in sales Greene King reported at the close of the last financial year. In its managed estate, Greene King has increased the number of dishes in its vegan range by 45% over the past 12 months. A vegan pizza is due to launch in more than 250 Hungry Horse pubs next month. 

All Bar One – ‘low and no-alcohol one of our biggest opportunities’: All Bar One, the Mitchells & Butlers cocktail bar brand, has said offering healthy options to its customers offers one of its biggest opportunities. Speaking at the Low+No event, organised by KAM Media, All Bar One senior marketing manager Laura Clark said the company grew its low and no-alcohol options 66% in 2019, compared with the previous year, after having a “pretty basic offer” in 2017. Clark said low and no-alcohol choices now made up between 5% and 15% of All Bar One's £70m drinks sales a year as part of a wider strategy to offer customers “more balanced choices”. The move also focuses on the generational quest for healthier choices. Clark said: “This generation is the driver of change – they are our guests now and our guests of the future.” She said the company had extended its range to offer a choice that was “more than a lime and soda” to drive excitement. Clark said: “I know sales of low and no-alcohol drinks are currently low but it's up to us to drive growth. We've spent a lot of time and effort on glassware and garnishes as part of a continuous improvement.” Other methods All Bar One has used to boost its low and no-alcohol sales include adding “conscious consumption tags” to its drinks menus – highlighting ABV, calories and sugar; bringing alcohol-free cocktails into the main menu to increase visibility; offering low-alcohol wine and mindful cocktails; and enhanced head bartender training. Clark said: “We've also got to get the price right – about two-thirds of a premium alcoholic version – while food pairing is another opportunity. We're looking to build our range further, add draught versions and trial innovations. We will also include it in our experiences – especially non-alcoholic cocktail-making masterclasses for team-building events during the day!”

Mojo Bars operator sees 11% rise in fourth-quarter turnover, annual revenue set to grow more than 10%: Voodoo Doll, the group behind Mojo bars, has reported a 10.77% year-on-year increase in turnover for its fourth quarter – October to December 2019, – with its latest venues “smashing expectations”. The company launched its first Mojo bar in Leeds in 1996 followed by sites in Harrogate, Manchester, Nottingham, Harrogate and Liverpool. The company, which is planning further expansion across the region, said its Nottingham venue, opened in 2017, recorded a 40.6% increase in turnover during the fourth quarter, with “new kid” Harrogate, launched in 2018, posting an increase of 25.3%This follows a 9.48% increase in group revenue in the third quarter and figures indicate a rise in turnover of more than 10% for 2019. Managing director Martin Greenhow said: “These figures are a direct result of us refocusing our business model to concentrate on guest experience through staff training and development, managed at our new in-house academy. In a saturated market it’s imperative to stand out and continuous development ensures our staff are highly trained, confident professionals who deliver an excellent, informed service.”

Wulf & Lamb set to double up with Marylebone opening: Fast casual vegan concept Wulf & Lamb is set to open its second site in the capital, in Marylebone, Propel has learned. The business, which is the brainchild of Rosanna Von Zweigbergk and Philip Ryan, has taken a 2,560 square foot unit, on a 15-year lease, at a prominent corner site at 66 Chiltern Street. The company, which includes former Jamie Oliver Group managing director Simon Cochrane as part of its management team, opened its debut site, in Pavilion Road, Chelsea, in October 2017. The concept’s menu is overseen by ex-Vanilla Black head chef Franco Casolin and comprises breakfast, lunch and dinner offerings to eat in or take away. Knight Frank acted for the landlord Ronson Capital, while Raven Rose, the new property advisory firm from Josh Rose and James Raven, acted on behalf of Wulf & Lamb.

JRC Global Buffet lines up 24,000 square foot site in Croydon: JRC Global Buffet is set to open its second site in Croydon – and ninth in the UK overall – after securing a site in the Grants Leisure Scheme. The company has taken a 24,000 square foot unit at the scheme for its world buffet concept, which features live cooking stations, with cuisines including Indian, Japanese, Italian and British. It already operates in nearby Purley Way. The company will start fitting out the Grants Leisure Scheme shortly. The group, which also has sites in Cardiff Bay, Ilford, Southampton, Watford, Wembley and Wood Green, is refurbishing its Cardiff Central site, with a reopening scheduled for later this year. DMR Property acted for JRC Global Buffet.

Dominique Ansel to open bistro in Covent Garden next month for second London site: Renowned pastry chef Dominique Ansel, who operates sites in New York and Japan, is to open a second London site, in Covent Garden, next month. Ansel, who opened his debut site in the capital in Belgravia in October 2016, is launching Dominique Ansel Treehouse in Floral Street on Friday, 7 February. The two-storey venue will have a takeaway bakery downstairs and a bistro upstairs and be decked out like a treehouse, with a “tree trunk” that goes all through the building. The menu will feature small and large plates with a focus on pastry techniques. Ansel told Hot Dinners: “When we were conceptualising the idea for Dominique Ansel Treehouse, I thought about how in a traditional restaurant setting, the pastry department typically works on all the different doughs on the menu, even from a savoury perspective. I’m excited to create a new menu that celebrates these pastry foundations and French techniques, in a casual bistro cafe with simple fresh ingredients that stay true to the classics.” Ansel is also known as the man who invented the “cronut” – a cross between a croissant and a doughnut.

Fledgling leisure operator opens first of four planned sites, in Cardiff: Fledgling leisure operator Play at Pins has opened the first of four planned UK sites, in Cardiff. The company, which offers bowling, dining, cocktails and escape rooms, has opened the site in The Hayes. Play at Pins has signed a 15-year deal for the 8,000 square foot unit adjoining St David's Hall Theatre and below Mitchells & Butlers’ Miller & Carter restaurant. Play at Pins is also targeting sites in Bristol, Birmingham and London. Carter Jonas and Fletcher Morgan advised landlord Castlebrook Holdings, reports Insider Media.

Swansea-based Mediterranean-inspired bar and restaurant La Parrilla shutters both sites: Swansea-based Mediterranean-inspired bar and restaurant La Parrilla, run by the Tercero family, has shut both its sites in the city. The outlets in Mumbles and SA1 are closed but their sister venue La Braseria, in Wind Street, is unaffected and remains open. La Parrilla in Mumbles opened in the Oyster Wharf development in 2017 while the SA1 site had been operating since 2006. A statement on the La Parrilla website said: “Regrettably, we have made the very hard decision to close our two La Parrilla restaurants in SA1 and Mumbles. While the decision to close both restaurants has been extremely difficult, it comes after a long period of reflection on how we could strengthen and evolve our family-run company against a backdrop of unprecedented tough times for the restaurant sector in the UK. With the continued success of our La Braseria restaurant in Wind Street, it made sense for us to go back to our roots and put our energy and focus into that concept, which has been consistently successful since it opened in 1986.”

Liberation Group launches mental health initiative: Channel Islands and West Country-based brewer and retailer Liberation Group is launching an initiative aimed at increasing awareness of mental health issues among its team members and customers. The company has joined forces with mental health charity Mind to offer team members the opportunity to complete a mental health awareness course. Alongside this, Liberation Group will be launching Mind Mondays – weekly coffee afternoons to encourage people to meet, talk more and enjoy a free coffee or tea, from 3pm to 6pm. This will kick off on Monday (20 January) and run until the end of February. Chief executive Jonathan Lawson said: “Recent studies have shown pubs can act as hubs for some lonely, isolated and vulnerable individuals and that this can make a real difference in their lives. At the same time, we have a responsibility to look after more than 800 team members across our managed estate so it’s important this new emphasis on mental health makes a real and genuine impact.”

Punch sells Coventry pub that ‘no longer fits with long-term plans’: Punch has sold a Coventry pub that “no longer fits with our long-term plans”. The Squirrel in Greyfriars Lane will shut on Friday (17 January). Punch managing director Andy Spencer told Coventry Live: “Following a decision The Squirrel no longer fitted within our pub estate and long-term plans, we can confirm The Squirrel has been sold. We are unable to provide any more details in relation to the sale, which is due to complete within the next few weeks.” Punch operates 1,200 pubs across England, Scotland and Wales. The company plans to invest £34m in its people and pubs in the next year.

Nando's and Heavenly Desserts sign for £80m Rochdale scheme: Nando's and artisan dessert restaurant Heavenly Desserts have agreed deals to open sites at the £80m Rochdale Riverside scheme. Nando’s has taken a 3,500 square foot unit on a 15 year-lease while Heavenly Desserts will occupy 2,000 square foot of space on a ten-year lease. They will join other operators including cinema company Reel and Hollywood Bowl’s new mini golf concept, Puttstars, which have both begun fitting out. The 200,000 square foot development is a joint venture between Genr8 and Kajima, in partnership with Rochdale Borough Council. Work on-site is set to finish in April and when complete will be home to 24 retail and leisure businesses. Lauren Gavaghan, development manager at Genr8 Developments, said: “These occupiers will complement the current tenant mix in the scheme and will help drive forward the leisure element. The scheme is now 80% let and with works continuing to progress at pace, we are looking forward to completion and the launch.” Cheetham & Mortimer and LTL Property are joint agents on the scheme.

Athens-inspired concept Ampéli launches in Fitzrovia: Athens-born restaurateur Jenny Pagoni has launched a concept inspired by Mediterranean food and wine, in Fitzrovia. As revealed by Propel in October, Ampéli has opened at the former Senor Ceviche site in Charlotte Street focusing on Greek food plus cuisine from the wider region including Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia and Israel. The 80-cover restaurant is set across three floors and includes a wine bar and pale green walls inspired by olive groves. The drinks list is solely Greek while head chef Oren Goldfeld, who has worked at Nopi and Tel Aviv restaurant Toto, has created dishes such as feta saganaki with tomato jam, and braised cuttlefish with orzo and Moroccan red pepper sauce. Desserts include chocolate mahlab mousse with hazelnuts. Pagoni said: “Ampéli is a place for people to gather and drink something they might never have tasted and share dishes that reflect the diversity of the eastern Mediterranean.” Harry Edmeades opened Senor Ceviche in Fitzrovia in June 2017 having launched the concept three years earlier in Carnaby, where the concept continues to operate.

Wagamama to open fourth Edinburgh restaurant: The Restaurant Group-owned brand Wagamama is to open its fourth Edinburgh site. The company is opening the restaurant at Fort Kinnaird retail park in March. Regional marketing manager Kate Dell told the Edinburgh News: “Wagamama has been so well loved for years now in Scotland, and we’re excited to open a new restaurant at Fort Kinnaird retail park, making it our fourth restaurant in Edinburgh.” Earlier this week, Propel revealed Wagamama has opened its first standalone delivery kitchen outside London. The company, which operates delivery kitchens in Hackney and Bow, has opened a kitchen in Woodhouse Moor Park, Leeds. Propel revealed last year the company was building a pipeline of delivery kitchens as it looks to learn about and optimise the model.

Freehold of JD Wetherspoon pub in Coventry sells for £3.2m: The freehold of a property in Coventry let to JD Wetherspoon has been sold to a private investor for £3.2m. The medieval-style property in Trinity Street contains The Flying Standard on the ground and first floors with two self-contained apartments on the second floor. The property offers 12,170 square foot plus a roof terrace of 685 square foot and is occupied by Wetherspoon. The building derives its name from the fondly remembered motor car, part of a range of models made in Coventry from 1903 until the 1960s. The Flying Standard models made their debut in 1936. Bond Wolfe managing partner James Mattin told The Business Desk: “City centre freehold properties rarely come to the market, and so we were delighted to work with the purchaser and adviser Coffer Corporate Leisure on the acquisition.”
St Leonards-based restaurant owners to double up with Hastings launch: The owners of Farmyard restaurant in St Leonards, East Sussex, are to double up with an opening in neighbouring Hastings. Kate and Ben O’Norum will launch Boatyard at Hastings Contemporary gallery. The cafe bar will open on the gallery’s revamped first floor this month serving a daily changing menu that will focus on locally sourced fish and plant-based dishes. The drinks list will include biodynamic, natural and low-intervention wine, with several varieties on tap alongside craft beer and cocktails. Boatyard will also offer coffee, tea, freshly squeezed juice, kombucha and soft drinks. Hastings Contemporary director of operations Kim Kish said: “We are thrilled to welcome Boatyard to the gallery. We share an interest in the best of contemporary art, sustainability and food and drink.”

Chef to launch Devonshire country house restaurant next week: Chef Scott Paton is to open Àclèaf restaurant at Devonshire country manor house Boringdon Hall Hotel next week. The restaurant will launch on Wednesday (22 January) and offer four and six-course tasting menus complemented by an English-led wine list. Paton said: “Guests can expect a culinary journey led by the bounties of produce available to us in Devon. We hope to present a uniquely immersive dining experience in the south west, a place where guests can feel at ease in the restaurant team’s hands and the hotel’s historic surroundings.”

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