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Wed 6th May 2020 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Jeremy King – ‘social distancing in a restaurant is impossible and implausible’: Corbin & King co-founder Jeremy King has said “social distancing in a restaurant is impossible and implausible”. King, who with Chris Corbin, operates London-based restaurants such as The Wolseley in Mayfair, said: “Chris and I always had as our guiding light the premise that we opened restaurants we would like to go to. I am afraid I certainly have no interest in going to a place where I am sitting in isolation, surrounded by Perspex screens and served by someone in a mask and gloves – where’s the fun in that? Restaurants are generally social hubs that depend on the conviviality of community and we need to understand this. Many say that people will be scared to go to restaurant but from everything I hear that is not the case for all. Indeed, while the YouGov poll last week said 57% of those asked would be apprehensive about going to a restaurant, what I took from that is 43% would be happy to – and that can only grow over the next month or two until we get to the point we can contemplate reopening. We are fortunate though we will be able to learn from the experiences of fellow restaurateurs in China, Hong Kong, the USA, Germany etc.” On government measures, King said while the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme “filled us with hope because it better enabled us to hold on to staff”, the fact the tronc could not be included in the payment calculation was an “extraordinarily discriminatory ruling”. He added: “The reality is instead of staff getting 80% of earnings – or less if over £2,500 per month – it means they will be getting more like 40% and that’s just not enough to pay rent and provide – especially if supporting a family. As you can imagine we have been supplementing the staff where we can and are fighting this through every channel. We have some other potential ideas but it is going to be a very hard month of uncertainty and penury for many of our staff with aggressive landlords threatening to evict while more and more companies are being forced to make large swathes or their workforce redundant in preparation for an unknown future – thankfully something we have avoided so far.” King is not advocating a “premature return” to trading. He said: “I do think we have to be prudent but there will come a point where we weigh up the pros and cons of the direct threat against the latent damage in other ways – including health.” In terms of whether the business would do takeaway, King said it was in the “part-prepared stage”. He added: “It all depends on what the ‘furlough’ period ends up being and what sort of customer demand there is for some of our most popular dishes to be delivered to home.” King said it did have one kitchen open, providing 600 meals a day for Charing Cross and Hammersmith hospitals through Ian Wace’s “Mealforce” initiative, which is serving more than 40,000 meals a day through its consortium of restaurants.

Industry News:

Sponsored message – Harri launches employee health check platform: Harri, the people management platform serving more than 160 restaurants, hotels and retailers in the UK and Europe, has launched a covid-19 employee health check platform – the first integrated response to survey an employee’s health symptoms before starting their shift. The well-being of team members and customers is currently a top priority, and the process to support that requires a robust and transparent digital solution. Healthy employees instil customer confidence and will in turn speed up operators’ return to profitability. Records of completed health checks are easily reportable for the business to view and print in real-time. The mobile app is accessible on Harri Live, for Android and iOS devices, with a pre-built, interactive covid-19 health and well-being questionnaire for managers to administrate. It digitally logs an employee’s temperature before their shift and the manager will input a positive or negative result for on-location use. “As restaurants begin to open, the health checker app is crucial to ensure the safety of staff in hospitality,” said Peter Martin, founder of the Atlantic Club. “Next Tuesday (12 May) I’ll be hosting a webinar with Harri where we’ll be discussing the importance of staff safety with hospitality leaders as we recover from covid-19.” For details, contact Pete Willis at pete@harri.com. If you have information you would like to feature in a sponsored message, email paul.charity@propelinfo.com

Pure co-founder Spencer Craig to feature in latest ‘navigating the coronavirus’ video: In the latest of Propel's video interviews with leading operators about how they are “navigating the coronavirus crisis”, Propel insights editor Mark Wingett talks to Spencer Craig, co-founder of healthy food-to-go concept Pure, about ensuring staff safety on reopening; needing some certainty and clarity on the landlord and tenant relationship, and the need for it to be redefined; and trying to figure out the “new rules of the game”. The video will be released on Wednesday (6 May). Meanwhile, readers can support independent sector journalism and get their news 12 hours early (at 7pm each night) with a Propel Premium subscription. It costs £395 plus VAT per annum for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers. Email anne.steele@propelinfo.com to sign up.

UK high-street footfall down 80% compared with February but London starting to pick up: UK high-street footfall is down by circa 80% compared with the February average as people heed government instructions to stay at home during the lock-down, according to the latest data from Wi-Fi solutions provider Wireless Social. The analysis, which took an aggregated look at footfall in more than 800 venues nationally and focused mainly on major cities, showed footfall in London has slightly picked up in the past week, but is still down about 70% compared with the average in February. Footfall in the capital on Sunday (3 May) was down 70.3% compared with the February average. Of the other cities analysed, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Manchester are down by about 90% compared with the average in February.
Wireless Social is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Piper – eating and drinking behaviour to transform as consumers buy direct, fall in love with new brands and commute less: Brits are buying direct, falling in love with new brands and will do less commuting – driving a transformation in eating and drinking behaviour, according to consumer brand investor Piper. It said on the back of strong local awareness and a lack of distribution in supermarkets, craft beer and gin brands in particular were doing well in encouraging customers to buy directly while consumers were “gravitating towards premium specialists”. Piper added: “Over the past few years, consumers have increasingly divided their shopping trips between the big supermarkets for certain products and Aldi and Lidl for others. Brands’ and retailers’ focus on online as a result of covid-19 will fuel this fragmentation even further. In food and drink, pureplay brands are also performing strongly. Consumers are gravitating towards premium specialists who do one thing really well – Google searches for meat boxes have shot up threefold and vegetable boxes fifteenfold, as have searches for subscriptions in general. Although some consumers will revert to old ways, we think many will stay. Loyalty is hard to build but receiving great products from a brand every week should create long-term stickiness.” Piper said consumers are buying more from independent or small brands and said those “with a strong story and a sustainability focus will win out”. It added: “For many food and drink brands, brand building is as much about distribution as marketing. Farm shops, including pubs that have temporarily turned into them, have become local lifelines.” Piper also said the hours people previously spent commuting will be redirected towards nurturing hobbies and relaxation, including healthier scratch cooking and social drinking, as more work from home. It added: “Home snacking and convenience food replacing lunchtime trips to Pret will gain traction. Home working should also drive more sales in local stores. Covid-19 may be the boost our local high-streets need in the long run. On Amazon, alcohol sales are breaking Christmas sales records, with gin the clear winner. ‘Drink o’clock’ has shifted considerably earlier.”

One-fifth of sector employees would not return to their employer: One-fifth (20%) of sector employees would not return to their employer after being furloughed, according to new research by COREcruitment. The survey, which covered 46,000 candidates registered in the UK earning salaries up to £60,000 per year across the hospitality and leisure sectors, also found 40% of respondents, who were from outside the UK, were considering returning to their home country. The research found 74% had been furloughed and 81% had seen their salary affected by the current climate. But 78% said they felt their employer has communicated and supported them through the pandemic.
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Dwindling meat supplies in US cause Wendy’s to take burgers off menu at some restaurants: Wendy's restaurant has taken burgers off the menu in some locations as Americans start to feel the impact of the pandemic-triggered meat shortage. On Monday (4 May) angry customers realised the Wendy's hallmark item was no longer available for order and only chicken items were available for takeout and delivery at select locations across the country. “Where's the beef?”, some outraged social media users asked, invoking Wendy’s catchphrase from the 1980s. It was the first fast-food chain to offer fresh “never frozen” beef. Outbreaks of the virus at meat packing plants across the country have led slaughterhouses to shutter, farms to kill off animals they can no longer feed, store shelves to empty, and now restaurants to alter menus, reports the Daily Mail. “As you’ve likely heard, beef suppliers across North America are currently facing production challenges,” said Wendy’s in a statement. “'Because of this, some of our menu items may be in short supply from time to time at some restaurants in this current environment. We expect this to be temporary, and we’re working diligently to minimise the impact to our customers and restaurants.” McDonald's Canada said in a statement it will start sourcing beef from outside the country to make ends meet due to meat shortages but its US business said it did not expect problems at this time.

BBPA issues new guidelines for retrieval of beer casks and kegs: The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has produced new guidelines for the safe retrieval of containers from pub cellars. The BBPA estimates some 1.9 million containers of beer are currently left in cellars, following the rapid closure of pubs due to the lock-down. The new guidelines, which have been created by the BBPA with input from its membership, outline some of the key factors brewers and pub businesses will need to consider; including health and safety, environmental and economic considerations. The guidelines are also aligned with the flexibility recently introduced by HM Revenue & Customs to allow licensees to destroy beer in the pub once they have received instruction from a brewer. BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “The guidelines should help facilitate the monumental task of restocking pubs in advance of reopening and once lock-down restrictions have been lifted.”

Licensing update: Licensing solicitor John Gaunt & Partners has produced a useful monthly summary of licensing news relating to the coronavirus situation, which can be accessed here.
John Gaunt & Partners is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member 

Company News:

Nicolson joins Zerodegrees to lead next stage of development, Blackheath site reopens for takeaway: Leigh Nicolson, former managing director of Brighton Pier Group's Eclectic Bars division, has joined restaurant and microbrewery group Zerodegrees to lead it through its next stage of development, Propel has learned. Nicolson has been brought in by Zerodegrees founders Dipam Patel and Nick Desai as operations director and while he will be looking at growth plans for the four-strong brand, the immediate focus is expanding the company’s takeaway operation. Its site in Blackheath, south east London, has just reopened offering the service, which Nicolson said would be “all if not most” of businesses’ income streams for the immediate future. He said: “For now takeaway is a priority for us and improving the functionality around our offer. We have always provided a takeaway service but now we must focus all our efforts to drive this area of sales. In an already highly competitive market I have no doubt most brands are looking to do the same. Blackheath exceeded my expectations in its first week, especially in sales of our mini kegs as this is something most brands can't offer so we saw great demand for them.” Nicolson said he was also looking to extend Zerodegrees USPs into the experiential market. He added: “Our sites are large venues with multi floors and can offer so much more than a standard wet and dry offer. So in the Reading site we’ve introduced the Tank Lounge, which is an indoor/outdoor terrace that is on the second floor and hosts various competitive socialising activities along with a more focused wet offer and lounge feel. We are by no means coming away from our true calling, which is a pizza restaurant/micro-brewery but we do have the opportunity to add different avenues to our offer. We’ve created a more bright, modern look that complements our already industrial finish, which includes open-plan kitchens and exposed brewery areas for customers’ visual enhancement – the journey of the product is very important to us.” Nicolson said the new-look Reading site was well received prior to the lock-down and it aims to convert the remaining sites in the immediate future “ready to welcome back customers when the time comes”. As well as Blackheath and Reading, Zerodegrees has sites in Bristol and Cardiff.

McDonald’s reveals locations of initial 15 restaurants reopening for delivery: McDonald’s has revealed the 15 UK restaurants it will reopen for delivery, which are concentrated around London and the Home Counties. The company will reopen the sites on Wednesday, 13 May, with delivery available between 11am and 10pm via UberEats and Just Eat. The sites are Beechings Way, Gillingham; Boreham Interchange; Chaul End Lane, Luton; Chelmsford Riverside; Chelmsford Westway; Dalston; Gillingham Bowaters; Harrow; Ipswich Cardinal Park; Luton George Street; Luton Leagrave; Sittingbourne Retail Park; Tooting; Watford Hertfordshire Arms; and Welling. McDonald’s said the restaurants had been chosen for their proximity to its distribution centre as it “slowly but safely seeks to reopen our restaurants and restart our supply chain”. It stated: “Slowly, but safely, we will return to towns and cities across the UK and Ireland and thank you for your continued support as we work through this crisis.” In addition to the menu items previously announced, McDonald’s said the Vegetable Deluxe and veggie dippers would also be available, both as a main and Happy Meal. Perspex screens and floor markings are being introduced in specific areas of restaurants; staff will receive additional protective equipment including non-medical grade face masks; and all employees will be asked to confirm they are fit and able to work, with temperatures taken on arrival at work for every shift using contactless thermometers. McDonald’s will also be introducing social distancing measures for all delivery and service partners. UK and Ireland chief executive Paul Pomroy previously said: “As part of our reopening planning, we have been listening to customers and our employees, and we have worked closely with UK and Irish governments and trade bodies to help ensure we do this responsibly. We have deliberately taken our time, we want to get this right.”

Vinoteca reopens Chiswick site as a mini market, online wine sales up 400%: Wine bar and restaurant concept Vinoteca has reopened its site in Chiswick as a mini market. The Gresham House Ventures-backed business has reconfigured the site, which now features a one-in-one-out “market” at the front of the shop selling a reduced selection of wine, dry goods such as baking flour, tinned tomatoes, almonds and olives, pasta, freshly baked sourdough bread, cured meat and lentils. It also offers dishes to cook at home, such as spiced Elwy Valley lamb leg, vegan shepherd’s pie and Spanish fish stew. Customers can call to order, or go online and buy through the website, and then either collect or have it delivered to them within a three-mile radius of the site with two delivery days per week. The five-strong group will soon launch a cook-at-home “Marinated Bavette Steak & Chips Lockdown Kit”. Co-founder Charlie Young told Propel: “We’re staying flexible and trying to adapt to what is selling well and what our customers are telling us. We’ve had a fantastic response in Chiswick and sales are going well. We will refine our offering and then take a view as to whether we try it at our other sites. Obviously, another outcome is that this take out/food/meals to cook at home/delivery model could form part of what we do after lock-down.” The company said it had also seen a 400% increase in online wine shop sales in March and April compared with previous records. It said it had seen sales of its own Rodney & The Horse label Riesling and Shiraz hit new levels as well, driven by the founders’ “light-hearted instructive” videos posted on Instagram.

KFC brings drive-thrus back into operation at 55 reopened restaurants: KFC has decided to bring back into operation the drive-thrus of 55 of the 100 restaurants it has already reopened for delivery. The company said it has been working hard to responsibly reopen its restaurants and “has now decided to spread its wings a little further” in line with government guidelines. KFC stated: “Delivery remains the best way to get your KFC fix – we want to offer a little more choice to those who are already on the road for essential journeys.” The restaurants are serving a limited menu to help the smaller kitchen teams maintain social distancing. 

Giggling Squid reopens two trial sites for delivery only: Giggling Squid, the Thai restaurant brand founded by Andy and Pranee Laurillard, has reopened two sites for delivery only for a trial period, Propel has learned. The 35-strong group, which is backed by BGF, has reopened its restaurant in Wimbledon and its delivery-only kitchen out of Foodstars’ new facility in Wandsworth, south west London, with Deliveroo as delivery partner. In March, Giggling Squid said it had seen its takeaway business “grow considerably” in the 18 months since partnering exclusively with Deliveroo. It is thought if the trial is successful, the company will look to reopen further sites for delivery only over the coming weeks.

Five Guys reopens a further 14 sites, two-fifths of UK estate now operational: Five Guys, the US better burger brand, has reopened a further 14 sites across the UK offering a full menu available either for delivery and click-and-collect services, bring the total it has reopened to 40 sites. Last month the company, which kept 13 sites across the country operating throughout lock-down for delivery and takeout, reopened another 13 sites. The 100-strong brand has now reopened 14 further sites – Ashton-under-Lyne, Bournemouth, Bullring (Birmingham), Canary Wharf, Canterbury, Chester, Clapham, Dundee, Harrogate, Leicester Cheapside, Maidstone, Richmond, Sheffield Valley and Wood Green. The company said click-and-collect orders will all be pre-paid, with the restaurants operating strict social distancing policies for those using the collection option. John Eckbert, chief executive of Five Guys UK said: “We have adopted a phased approach to reopening Five Guys stores, adhering to government advice and ensuring the safety of our customers and crew is paramount. To date a small number of stores have remained open for click-and-collect and Deliveroo orders only and while this has been in operation, we’re proud of how our crew members have supported local hospitals and key front line workers across the UK.”

7Bone Burger Co to reopen majority of its estate for delivery and takeaway: 7Bone Burger Co, which is backed by Kings Park Capital, is to reopen six of its nine sites next week for delivery and takeaway. The company will reopen the sites from 5pm next Tuesday (12 May). The reopened sites will be in Bournemouth, Camberley, Newbury, Portsmouth, Reading and Southampton. It also operates sites in Eastbourne, Hove and Northampton, the latter of which was its latest site to launch, in February.

Vue ‘hopeful’ of reopening UK cinemas in mid-July: Cinema operator Vue is hopeful the UK business can reopen in mid-July. Chief executive Tim Richards told the BBC he was still talking to the authorities about social distancing measures. But if all goes to plan, the chain could be back in business for the launch of director Christopher Nolan's action movie Tenet on 17 July, Richards said. The coronavirus lock-down forced the closure of cinemas across the UK and elsewhere in the world. “We are seeing our markets in Europe opening before the UK,” Richards said. “We are trying to work with the government to demonstrate we are not like sporting fixtures and pop concerts. We can control how many people come into our cinemas at any one time – we have the ability to control the exit and entrance.”

Leon expands reach and menu of online delivery service: Natural fast food brand Leon is expanding the reach and menu of its online delivery service Feed Britain. The company, which has been offering the service inside the M25, has now extended it to Brighton and Oxford. The service offers a range of boxes containing “essential grocery items as well as restaurant quality meals” while also giving a helping hand to the catering industry. Feed Britain provides a route to market for suppliers whose revenues have been severely impacted by coronavirus. The produce available through Feed Britain was previously destined for restaurants, hotels and first-class airport lounges. Seven additional boxes have been added to the menu, including a meat selection and seasonal vegetable box, taking the total to 14. In addition, Feed Britain continues to support the NHS and other key workers by donating all profits to FeedNHS; the initiative launched by Matt Lucas, Damian Lewis, Helen McCrory and Leon to feed one hot, healthy meal a day to NHS critical care workers. Feed Britain managing director Shereen Ritchie said: “We launched Feed Britain to get food to people who need it most, and we’re pleased to be expanding the number of boxes to offer more choice from artisan farmers and producers. Expect to see more partnerships and greater choice coming from us very soon. In the longer term, we hope we can build Feed Britain into a successful business that continues to deliver everyone great, seasonal produce and restaurant quality meals.”

Basic reopens Fuller’s pub in Ealing as community store: The Red Lion in Ealing, west London, which is run by Firezza founder Edin Basic and owned by Fuller’s, has reopened in a temporary new role as a community store. Building on his Italian contacts and connections, Basic has introduced a range of focaccias with rosemary, red onion and extra virgin olive oil that are freshly baked daily at the St Mary’s Road premises. There are also olives, antipasti, Parma ham and a number of Italian cheeses on offer as well as beer, wine and items such as fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs along with sourdough bread from the woodfire oven in the adjacent Santa Maria restaurant. Basic said: “It’s not in my nature to stay closed and wait for this to blow over – I just had a real desire to find a way to safely continue to serve my community. I spoke to my team, my business partners and my suppliers and we decided it was time to bring a piece of Italy back to Ealing again – so we opened the pub as a community store.” The Red Lion is open daily from 10am to 5pm and is operating under full social distancing rules, including a one-way system to ensure the safety of customers and team members. Basic founded Firezza in 2001 before selling the business to PizzaExpress having built it to 22 sites. PizzaExpress sold the Firezza brand and its assets to Net Gold Star, led by Darsana Patel, in November 2017.

The Alchemist to trial contactless cocktail collection service: The Alchemist, the 18-strong Simon Potts-led bar and restaurant concept, is to trial a contactless cocktail collection service on Friday (8 May). The service will be provided for one night only from 5pm to 8pm from the group’s Media City site in Manchester. It is thought if successful the group will look to expand the service to other sites, including as a possible delivery and retail option.

Itsu launches culture classes: Itsu, the healthy Asian food chain created by Pret A Manger co-founder Julian Metcalfe, has launched its newest initiative, culture class. The short classes feature lessons on gyoza, chopsticks, anime, seaweed, Japanese tea, sudokus, dragons, noodles, bao, origami, noh and bonsai trees. The lessons conclude with an activity to keep kids and parents engaged and entertained for longer. The classes go live on Itsu’s Instagram stories channel at 10am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and can also be accessed on catch-up via Instagram highlights. Itsu group brand and marketing manager Jemima Ferguson said: “It is so important to us to continue to support our community of insiders as much as we can, and with schools closed and lots of people finding themselves in the role of teacher, we saw an opportunity to help out.”

Blacklock launches ‘at home’ boxes: Skinny chops concept Blacklock has launched an “at home” initiative with all profits going to charity. Comprising a “hamper brimming with chops, steaks and a Sunday roast joint alongside the lowdown on how to turn it into all things Blacklock”, the three-strong brand sold 60 within ten minutes of launch. The Gordon Ker-led business is set to launch another set of the hampers on Monday (11 May). All profits will go to the business’ charity of choice, End Youth Homelessness. The company is also taking part in the “Feed the Frontline” cause with 35% of its staff volunteering to help feed the NHS.

Arla supports Food4Heroes campaign and other charitable partnerships: Arla Pro, the foodservice division of dairy co-operative Arla Foods, has pledged its support to the Food4Heroes campaign by offering dairy products such as milk, cheese and butter. Food4Heroes pools together local catering companies and restaurants to deliver free meals to hospitals, currently delivering 27,000 meals per week across the UK. Based in Yorkshire, the charity aims to create a hot meal for every single NHS worker. In addition to its work with Food4Heroes, Arla Foods has launched a number of charitable partnerships. It has already committed more than 35% of its milk produced at its site in Settle, North Yorkshire, to the government’s care packages for those needing to be shielded. Working with Magic Breakfast, Arla will also provide free milk to deliver 4.8 million breakfast bowls for vulnerable children and the company has also increased its ongoing support for FareShare, with contributions of UHT milk, cheese, yogurt and butter.

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