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Wed 18th Mar 2020 - Coronavirus: Azzurri Group, more closures, Wetherspoon to stay open, Loungers
Azzurri Group closes all sites to dine-in customers, swathe of sector closures: Azzurri Group, the Ask Italian, Zizzi and Coco di Mama operator, has temporarily closed all its sites to dine-in customers, Propel has learned. From 4pm today, the Steve Holmes-led business is offering delivery only out of 117 of its circa 270 Ask and Zizzi sites. Holmes said: “With the deepest regret, we have taken the decision to temporarily close all our Ask, Zizzi and Coco di Mama restaurants from today. In light of the government’s current recommendation that the UK population should avoid public meetings, we believe this decision is the right one to ensure the health and safety of our customers and teams. We will continue to operate delivery from some sites that already offer this so customers can still enjoy food from our restaurants. For many of our people this will mean not working until we can safely reopen our sites and this has been the hardest part of our decision. We are incredibly proud of our teams, want to look after them in the best way we can, and will provide all the support possible during this difficult period.” Azzurri is so far the biggest in the sector to announce temporary closures during the coronavirus outbreak, with another swathe of closures announced today. Darwin & Wallace, Maxwell Restaurants, Incipio Group, All Star Lanes, Dirty Bones, Hop, JKS Restaurants and Cosmo have announced they are temporarily closing all their sites, while Pure, Abokado and Chilango have temporarily closed parts of their estates. Vietnamese concept Pho has also decided to temporarily close its 30 sites to dine-in customers but is continuing to offer delivery and collection through the majority. At the same time, Market Halls West End and Victoria plus all Kerb’s food markets have closed indefinitely. London-based Vietnamese street food concept Hop has temporarily closed all five of its sites with immediate effect, while US comfort food and cocktails brand Dirty Bones has temporarily shut its four sites in the capital and one in Oxford. Mexican restaurant brand Chilango has temporarily closed half its 12 sites. Hop founder Paul Hopper said: “We have no other alternative other than to temporarily close all our stores and prioritise the health and safety of our teams and customers. I started the Hop business five years ago from scratch and, with the help of my whole team, we have built a great business many of our customers love. I am not going to let this worldwide disaster ruin the business we have built. There will be a future for Hop and this closure is temporary.” London-based bar group Darwin & Wallace will close its eight sites for the foreseeable future. “Due to the latest developments with covid-19, we have taken the decision to close all our bars until further notice,” managing director Mel Marriot said on its website. Buffet concept Cosmo closed some sites earlier this week but has now closed its entire 19-strong estate. London-based grab-and-go operators Pure and Abokado have closed six and seven sites respectively. The former has launched a working from home delivery service alongside its usual catering offering. The company tweeted: “We are still open in 15 shops today, with limited opening hours. We are sorry six of our shops have had to close due to low sales. We are working on a plan to deliver to people’s homes.” Abokado announced 12 of its 19 stores were open today, albeit with shorter opening hours. It said: “We continue to maintain the highest levels of hygiene. Thank you to all our customers for their ongoing support.”

JD Wetherspoon vows to keep pubs open, introduces social-distancing measures: JD Wetherspoon is to continue operating its pubs in the UK. The company said its venues would remain open unless the government stated otherwise. It added its 870 pubs were taking extra precautions to minimise the spread of covid-19 to customers and staff. To enable social distancing, the pubs will ask customers to find a table once drinks have been ordered to avoid standing at the bar. Tables will be well spaced, with customers asked to respect others by choosing alternate tables in the pub. Customers can use the Wetherspoon app to have food and drinks delivered to their table. Other precautions include all payments made by card when possible; regular updates to all staff plus training on prevention methods; and reinforcing personal hygiene controls for customers and employees. Pubs will clean and sanitise contact points more frequently, while dish and glass washers will sanitise all cutlery, plates, cups and glassware after every use. Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin said: “We are continuing to take account of official guidance from the UK government and Public Health England.”

Loungers pauses roll-out programme, expects material reduction in trading performance into next financial year: Cafe bar brand Loungers has paused its roll-out programme and said it expects a “material reduction” in its trading performance for the remainder of the current financial year and into the following one in light of the coronavirus (covid-19) outbreak. The company stated: “Since the announcement of the group’s interim results on 4 December 2019, the group has continued to trade in line with expectations, with like-for-like sales up 4.4% for the 47 weeks to 15 March 2020. Over the two weeks to 15 March 2020, trade continued to hold up well with like-for-like sales up 2.5%, demonstrating the business’ resilience. However, as a result of the government's advice to avoid hospitality venues we are beginning to experience a fall-off in sales and anticipate a very challenging trading environment with significantly lower sales in the coming weeks. The partial or complete temporary closure of all our sites is a potential scenario. We aren’t in a position to quantify the impact of covid-19 on our financial performance at this stage. However, we expect a material reduction in our trading performance for the remainder of FY20 and into FY21. We are taking all steps available to us to proactively manage our costs, protect our cash flow, and secure shareholder value and the long-term success of the business in these unprecedented times. The roll-out programme has been paused for the time being as has all capital expenditure. We have adopted a rigorous approach to reduce the cost base and protect cash flow in the business while being mindful of the need to regain momentum at some point in the future. Our historically low rent-to-revenue ratio will prove beneficial in this scenario where sales are severely depressed. We have the ongoing support of our banks, together with Lion Capital, which remains a major, well-capitalised shareholder, and we are having constructive dialogue with them all with regards to optimising our funding position, maximising our flexibility to operate the business and emerging from this difficult period strongly.” Chief executive Nick Collins said: “Over the past few days we have been working hard to protect and support our loyal and hard-working teams and ensure we are reassuring our customers and keeping them safe. The hospitality sector has been hit hard and while I welcome the fact the government has finally listened, it needs to do more, urgently, particularly in terms of protecting the financial position of the millions of people who work in the country’s pubs, restaurants, clubs, cafes and bars. Loungers is a great business – we will come out of this stronger and in these difficult times we will continue to support the communities in which we trade to the best of our ability.” Loungers operates 167 sites under its Lounge and Cosy Club brands.

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