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Tue 9th Jun 2020 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Pubs and restaurants encouraged to keep same shift teams and use radios for sending orders as part of government guidelines to reopen sector: Pubs and restaurants are to be encouraged to keep the same shifts for teams and use radios to send orders to kitchens as part of proposals to reopen the sector. Draft guidelines drawn up by the government in consultation with the industry, which have been seen by Propel, also show no specific requirement on distance between tables has been stipulated. It instead makes reference to “wider spacing”, using screens and barriers where appropriate. The document outlines a host of steps that will “usually be needed”. It states: “To help you decide which actions to take, you need to carry out an appropriate covid-19 risk assessment, just as you would for other health and safety related hazards. This risk assessment must be done in consultation with unions or workers.” Operators will be asked to define the maximum number of customers that can reasonably follow social distancing at the venue. This will need to take into account “total indoor and outdoor space, specific venue characteristics such as furniture as well as likely pinch points and busy areas”. As well as reconfiguring space to maintain social distancing, operators are advised to use outside spaces for queuing “where available and safe”, working with the local authority or landlord where appropriate. Staff will not be ordered to wear personal protective equipment beyond what they would normally wear, with face masks not required in kitchens. Uniforms should be changed into and washed on-site instead of at home. As far as possible, where staff are split into teams or shift groups, these should be fixed “so where contact is unavoidable, this happens between the same people”. There is no requirement for specialist disinfectant or cleaning, although frequent cleaning of objects and surfaces that are touched regularly should be carried out. Customers should be encouraged to use hand sanitiser or handwashing facilities as they enter the venue. To reduce “non-essential” staff movement between areas, the guidelines encourage “use of radios or telephones or other electronic devices when sending orders from service areas to kitchens, where permitted, and clean them between use”. Customers should order from their table with plates delivered on trays to minimise contact and condiments offered in sachets. The guidelines also suggest working with neighbouring businesses and local authorities “to consider how to spread the number of people arriving throughout the day for example by staggering opening hours; this will help reduce demand on public transport at key times and avoid overcrowding”.

Industry News:

Propel and Digital Blonde to host free webinar on social media marketing for sector reopening: Propel and Digital Blonde are partnering to host a free webinar on understanding consumer behaviour as operators prepare their social media marketing for the sector reopening. The webinar, which will take place on Friday (12 June) at noon, will feature examples of excellent social media marketing all aimed at making venues attractive and exciting to visit while showing the customer how they will be kept safe. With the next few months set to be about being innovative and finding ways to create a special hospitality experience in the current situation, there will be ideas for how to stay in touch with your customer base too. To register, email jo.charity@propelinfo.com 

Propel passes total of 20,000 self-subscribed readers: More than 20,000 readers are now subscribed to read Propel's daily newsletter and updates, with the landmark total of 20,000 hit on Monday (8 June). Propel managing director Paul Charity said: “The Propel readership began with a few hundred friends and contacts in the sector and has grown entirely by word-of-mouth and recommendation. The advantage of this patient approach to building readership is we have a very high quality and very committed following – our newsletter opening rates and speed of opening are extremely high. Looking at our database of readers and the interaction we receive, it's clear there are very few sector leaders who do not read Propel. We have found readership levels have accelerated during the coronavirus crisis as the sector has sought reliable and exhaustive sector news and insight. We'd like to thank our readers for their loyalty. In particular, we'd like to thank the many readers that have taken out a premium subscription in recent weeks, which is making a great contribution to meeting our costs in this challenging time. More generally, we would love to hear from readers about what they value about Propel.” Email paul.charity@propelinfo.com

Gail’s Bakery MD to feature in latest ‘navigating the coronavirus’ video: In the latest in Propel's video interviews with leading operators, Elliotts chief executive Ann Elliott talks to Marta Pogroszewska, managing director of Gail’s Bakery, about staying open and opening a new site during lock-down; supporting teams; having teams connected to a sense of purpose; and the challenge of navigating a business through uncertain times. The video will be released on Tuesday (9 June). 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.

Downey writes letter to chancellor with 12-month #NationalTimeOut plan: Hospitality Union founder Jonathan Downey has written a second letter to the chancellor Rishi Sunak with a new proposal for a #NationalTimeOut rent deal. The proposal includes a 12-month #NationalTimeOut, which will be comprised of a rent-free period while a business is closed, plus a turnover rent once open again. It also states for those sites that have been open for delivery/takeaway over the past few weeks, the rent-free period is limited to the weeks of official lock-down – 20 March to “whenever the hell they allow us to open again”. The key points of the letter are a #NationalTimeOut for at least one year – from 25 March 2020 to 24 March 2021 (covering four rent quarters); every hospitality (and leisure) tenant is entitled (though not obliged) to claim a #NationalRentFree period for the entire time the business is closed because (i) of government order, (ii) physical distancing requirements make it impossible to open and/or (iii) of tenant decision on the commercial viability of reopening. This rent-free period is limited to a maximum of nine months to 24 December 2020 (three rent quarters); if a business has partially opened, for example to do takeaway and delivery, the rent-free period is limited to the 15 weeks of hospitality/venue lockdown (20 March to 22 June/4 July or whatever official length of time this turns out to be) – a little more than three months rent-free. For those businesses that are able to reopen, from the date that venue lock-down is officially lifted and customers are allowed to eat in and drink in, tenants will pay either a turnover rent of, say, 10% of net turnover or a reduced rate of, say, 25% of the prevailing rent under the relevant lease – the landlord decides which of the two applies; and tenants decide whether they wish to participate in the scheme. On the last point, Downey said: “Many will choose not to because they have reached their own deals already or will want to offer more to their landlords where particular circumstances require it (for example large corporate tenants of small, private landlords).”

Report predicts 50% fall in sector turnover and one in four outlets closing: The hospitality and foodservice sector will lose £23bn in the second half of 2020, achieving only 53% of 2019 income levels, according to a new report. The “Immediate Future of the UK Hospitality/Foodservice market” report, which has been produced by Simon Stenning, leading sector analyst and founder of FutureFoodservice, covers the 18 months from July 2020 to the end of 2021 and provides detailed forecasts for each sector – by number of outlets that will be open by the end of the year and the level of turnover to be expected. For the whole of 2021 the report forecasts the industry will see a £10bn fall in revenues, down to only £88bn – 10% lower than in 2019. However, as a result of coronavirus 22% of all hospitality outlets will not be open by the end of 2020. The long-term growth forecasts for the industry are it will recover to 2019 levels by 2025 at the latest, as the economic impacts linger, but it will eventually increase to £108bn by 2030. Stenning said “The hospitality industry faces enormous challenges and a worrying situation of losing 47% of normal revenues. It is imperative the government provides significant levels of support given it is such an important employer and tax generator. This is a cautious, not-overly ambitious forecast, but not the worst-case scenario. All sectors of the industry are affected, and it will take time for consumers to revert to their previous behaviours. The incredibly hard-working, caring and hospitable nature of the industry will do its utmost to professionally manage the welcoming back of customers and provide safe spaces for us to enjoy our social lives again. However, economic, consumer, profitability, safety and locational factors mean that the industry has to face challenges never encountered before.” The report also highlighted the effects of the contraction on UK plc. Stenning said: “The significant fall of £23bn in 2020 alone implies a fall in VAT of £4.6bn, losing the government significant tax revenues, along with an increase in social costs emanating from the loss of employment from an industry that directly employs over three million workers. It is therefore imperative that the government provides support.” The report forecasts fast food will achieve 77% of normal revenues for the rest of 2020, whereas service-led restaurants will achieve only 48%. Other sectors to struggle this year include hotels, travel, and leisure. Sectors that are better protected against the impact drivers include contract catering, due to the breadth of services provided; pubs, due to their local nature and potentially benefiting from an increase in staycations; and high-street foodservice that provides packaged, value-led products, although city centre footfall will be reduced. The report is available to buy, with details at www.SimonStenning.com

BBPA calls on government to give definitive date for reopening pubs: The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has told government it needs an immediate and clear decision on whether pubs with beer gardens can reopen from 22 June. The trade association has also reiterated even if pub beer gardens reopen from then, the priority must still be for all pubs to be free to reopen from 4 July as originally indicated in the government’s roadmap for the recovery of the economy. The BBPA said definitive dates were needed to allow beer to be brewed in time and delivered to pubs for when they reopen. It pointed out if pubs with beer gardens open from 22 June it only gives them two weeks – and the association has previously said pubs will need a minimum of three – but ideally four – weeks’ notice to allow them sufficient time to prepare to reopen. The BBPA estimates there are some 27,000 pubs across the UK with beer gardens – more than half of the UK’s 47,000 pubs in total. However, it is not immediately clear how many of those pubs will reopen without a definitive date. The association said final safety guidelines, specifically a decision on the two metres versus one metre social distancing rule, was also needed. Chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “The speculated date of 22 June gives us only two weeks to get ready, which may not be enough time – hence why we need urgent clarity and a definite date from the government.” The government has distanced itself from reports that parts of the sector could open early. A government spokesman told The Metro: “We do want to be able to open pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes as soon as possible, but it must be safe to do so. The roadmap says the ambition is to open from 4 July and we’re following the roadmap.”

Peter Backman – expect redundancy numbers to ramp up in next few weeks, never before has 100cm meant so much to sector: Sector analyst Peter Backman has said the expects sector redundancies to ramp up in the next few weeks, although the numbers could be mitigated if the social distancing rule is reduced to one metre. Backman said with the furlough scheme being wound down from August and the law on redundancy requiring a consultation period followed by the period of notice, many brands will have to make any announcements shortly. The Restaurant Group and Carluccio’s have already announced job losses and Backman said “they would not be the last”. He said: “Operators, especially those in the restaurant sector (but also in pubs, quick service, contract catering and other sectors), are poring over their spreadsheets to identify what employee costs they can expect to bear under the changes to the furlough scheme. And they will conclude that, sadly, they will have to plan for many redundancies from August. Then comes the implementation of those redundancies and the law requires a consultation period followed by the period of notice. Working back from August, we arrive at the coming week or two. Therefore, we can expect reports of redundancies from many companies.” Backman said never before has 100cm “meant so much to the sector”. He added: “The safe, one metre versus two metre social distance has become a medical, political and economic factor that has a hugely significant impact on the viability of the whole sector and each business within it. The numbers being reported seem to broadly agree with each other but these are only ‘headline’ numbers because restaurants do not operate at full capacity. This means that socially distancing will in effect only reduce capacity for some of the time. A 65% reduction in overall capacity may only reduce the number of customers served throughout the week by perhaps 40 or 50%. In the end, operators are making decisions on when to open, what to offer and, as I have pointed out, how many people to make redundant, using gut feel and a dose of realism. Only time will prove whether their assumptions play out correctly.”

Pubs and restaurants show signs of recovery in May as they adapt businesses: Pubs and restaurants showed signs of recovery in May as more sectors adapted to social distancing restrictions to keep their doors open, according to the latest Barclaycard data. While eating and drinking saw an overall decline of 70.3% year-on-year, there was a smaller fall in spending than in April, when it was down 79.1%. This coincided with more restaurants, pubs and cafes being able to offer delivery and takeaway services. More than one in ten (14%) of Brits are now buying food and drink from a pub or restaurant, and 10% are purchasing takeaway coffee. Overall, consumer spending contracted 26.7% compared with the previous year. Consumers have remained loyal to local specialist food and drink outlets, such as greengrocers and independent convenience stores, with the category seeing growth of 42.5% – the highest increase since restrictions were introduced. Spending on essential items growing slightly by 0.9%, bolstered by a 24.5% rise in supermarket spend. The upsurge in supermarket expenditure helped to offset a 49.7% fall in fuel. Spending on non-essentials decreased 36.9% compared with the year before. However, this drop was less steep than April’s, which saw non-essential spend contract by 47.7%. Online purchases at specialist retailers – including sports and outdoor outlets – and general retailers rose 96.3% and 85.8% respectively as people bought items to help them exercise and keep fit while gyms remained closed. While consumer spending is increasing month-on-month across some categories, overall confidence in the UK economy remains low – indicating the road to recovery may be a long one, said Barclaycard. Just 20% of UK adults feel positive, though those aged 18 to 34 are noticeably more upbeat than those aged over 35. More than two thirds of Brits (67%) remain confident in their households, with 37% of those citing having enough savings to support them as a key reason for this positivity. Barclaycard director Esme Harwood said: “While the restrictions continue to have a significant impact there are glimmers of hope. There’s a positive shift for the cafes, pubs and restaurants beginning to open up again, as well as retailers.”

Independent restaurants set to be favoured over chains when lock-down restrictions lift: Independent restaurants are set to be favoured over chains when lockdown restrictions lift, according to research by Tastecard. A survey of customers before the lock-down revealed 18% of people would prefer to go to a chain restaurant, with 14% of people favouring independents. However, a survey during the lock-down found the number of people intending to support independents increased to 20%, while only 12% said they would support chains. The research also revealed 44% of people are planning to continue dining out as frequently as before and 11% plan to dine out more. Although the coronavirus pandemic has caused a level of uncertainty across the country, almost 60% of those who suffered from coronavirus said their frequency of eating out would either increase or not alter at all. Many of those who have been on the furlough scheme plan to dine out just as often (42%), while 13% hope to up their visits to restaurants. However, the self-employed will act more cautiously, with almost 50% planning on eating out less. Despite being the highest risk age group during the pandemic, 60% of those aged above 70 are looking to get back out there and intend to hit the restaurants more than they had done. Regionally, Tastecard found people in London, Wales and the West Midlands are planning on taking a more cautious approach after lock-down, with 50% of those in the hardest hit areas planning to reduce dining out. On the other hand, 60% of people in the north plan on dining out just as much, if not more than prior to when lock-down measures were put in place.

Brixton landlord offers three-month rent holiday: Landlord Hondo Enterprises has unveiled a three-month rent holiday for all 119 of its Brixton Village and Market Row tenants. The group has also committed to offering operational and business counsel, working with tenants to understand their long-term business plans including further measures and support that might be required from the landlord. The market will open on Monday 15 June, with social distancing and hygiene measures implemented across the circa 65,000 square foot site.

Quarter of young British millennials say coronavirus pandemic has made vegan diet more appealing: A quarter (25%) of young British millennials aged between 21 and 30 have said the coronavirus pandemic has made a vegan diet more appealing, according to research by Mintel. And they are not alone, as the findings showed a vegan diet is proving more attractive to more than one in ten (12%) of all Brits, rising to almost a quarter (22%) of Londoners, since the start of the pandemic. “Five a day” is a higher priority too, as a quarter (23%) of Brits said they are eating more fruit and vegetables since the start of the outbreak. A total of 31% of Generation Z – those aged 20 and below – and 27% of millennials – those aged 21 and 40 – said they were eating more produce. Alex Beckett, associate director, Mintel Food & Drink, said: “Even before the spread of coronavirus, we were seeing a growing interest in plant-based food and drink across global markets. It may well be that the pandemic is accelerating this trend. For example, in China, we’ve seen skyrocketing sales of the new plant-based meat options in KFC and Pizza Hut.” The research also revealed the virus has created a long-term interest in cooking and baking as more than half (55%) of the nation said they plan on cooking more from scratch post-coronavirus than they did before.

UK food and drink industry publishes post-coronavirus recovery proposals: Food industry figures across the United Kingdom have published a “path to recovery” for the industry post-coronavirus. The proposals, endorsed by more than 30 UK food and drink organisations, outline steps government and industry can take to future proof the sector, and call on the government to address the UK’s negative balance of trade in food. The measures also outline a move to healthier diets as well as reducing the impact on the environment and promoting animal welfare. Michael Bell, executive director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association and co-ordinator of the report, said: “Just as the government has taken courageous and rapid decisions to address the challenge of the pandemic, we now need to deliver a ‘pathway to recovery’ for UK food and drink. Industry stands ready to work with government on this, and our proposals outline actions government and industry can take to future proof the sector.”

Budweiser Brewing Group pub relief fund hits £1m target: Budweiser Brewing Group’s programme to support the trade during closure has hit its target of £1m in funding to pubs. The company, the UK and Ireland arm of Anheuser-Busch InBev, launched the initiative to provide urgent financial support to the nation’s pubs following their closure in March. The scheme allows pub-goers to buy a gift card to spend at their local pub once it reopens. To date, more than 1,500 pubs and bars are signed up to the programme, and 17,000 gift cards have been sold. Should governments call for a phased reopening, the Save Pub Life platform will remain open for new purchases until the final phase begins – closing when all pubs and bars across Britain are able to reopen. Once all pubs have opened, people will have six months to redeem their gift card at their chosen outlet.

Company News:

Heartstone Inns makes £4.6m from pub sales, including seven to Punch: Heartstone Inns made £4.6m from the sale of eight of its pubs – including seven to Punch – earlier this year, Propel has learned. The Cricketers, The Diggers Rest, The King Alfred, The Owl, The Pelican, The Bathurst Arms and The Talbot – all located in the south west of England – were sold to Punch in January for an undisclosed sum. Meanwhile, the Hunters Inn in Hampshire was sold to a private buyer in March. The deals followed an internal review in mid-2019 where the company decided to focus on developing its core estate of eight larger food-led managed sites. Heartstone Inns said it was now working on its reopening plans. As well as making use of the government’s furlough scheme, all supplies and services have been suspended or renegotiated in order to limit expenditure during lock-down. The details were revealed as Heartstone Inns announced its results for the year ending 30 December 2019, which it described as a “difficult 12 months”. Sales during the full-year fell 3.4% to £10.7m, although the retained pubs saw like-for-likes increase 1.2% – the 11th successive year of growth. Pub Ebitda stood at £1.6m, representing a margin of 15.2%, compared with 16.7% the year before, with the reduction “largely attributable to the loss of consumer confidence caused by Brexit”. Net debt was £6.9m at December 2019, which represented 33% of property assets. However, taking into account the disposal proceeds, which were received after the financial year end, the adjusted net debt position is significantly reduced to 11%. Company Ebitda came in at £1.0m, representing a margin of 9% of revenues compared with 10% the year before. As a result of the sale of the pubs after the year end, a provision for impairment of £2.0m was recorded in the 2019 accounts to reflect the cash consideration received. The eight pubs retained by the company were independently valued in December 2019 at £21.0m. Over the course of 2019, the company kept a tight control on cash flow and only invested £300,000 in capital additions. However, since the year end it has completed a development project to add four guest bedrooms, a new restaurant and function room at the Cockhaven Arms in Devon and is currently adding ten guest bedrooms to the Blathwayt Arms near Bath. In addition it has a number of further developments at various stages of the planning process that it intends to progress over the next 12 to 36 months. The company benefits from a loan facility of up to £13.7m. Managing director James Birch said: “The company’s historically low gearing coupled with the sale of eight pubs in early 2020 has given the company the financial resources to get us through the enforced closure period and to withstand the reduced trade levels that will inevitably follow for a period of time. We are looking to continue developing our estate and to make selective acquisitions while, once we are able, recommencing dividend payments and providing liquidity for shareholders via our internal share trading scheme.”

Star Pubs & Bars extends rent reductions: Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars has extended its rent reductions for its leased and tenanted pubs. The company has already cancelled a significant proportion of rent for licensees. Since 20 March, two thirds of its core leased and tenanted pubs have received a rent concession of 50% to 75%, while a-third have received a concession of 75% or more. Star Pubs & Bars has confirmed licensees will continue to receive the same level of those individual rent reductions throughout July and August. The company said it means more than £21m will have been invested into the pub estate since lock-down in March, directly benefitting licensees’ businesses. Other measures of support already in place include a commitment to replace pubs with fresh stock when pub reopen and giving licensees access to payment and loyalty app Swifty, which enables consumers to order from their table. Star Pubs & Bars managing director Lawson Mountstevens said: “We hope that the extension of the concessions offered can provide a degree of certainty to our pubs, as we all turn our collective focus on the complex task of reopening.”

Pret to reopen Veggie Pret estate for takeaway and delivery: Veggie Pret will launch delivery for the first time this week, in partnership with Deliveroo. Shops in London and Manchester will reopen on Thursday (11 June), after being closed throughout the coronavirus pandemic. All ten Veggie Pret shops will reopen for takeaway, with new safety and social distancing measures in place and a reduced menu of their vegan and vegetarian favourites. Seven of the ten shops, including the Manchester location, will offer delivery for the first time. Clare Clough, UK managing director of Pret A Manger, said: “We are excited to be reopening all ten of our Veggie Pret shops this week. We know many of our customers are working from home and missing their plant-based favourites, so partnering with Deliveroo means more customers can access our extensive veggie and vegan menu. I want to thank the amazing teams who are reopening our Veggie Pret shops – we couldn’t do it without your support.” This week also sees the further reopening of Pret shops around the country. On Monday (8 June) the company reopened several shops situated in railway stations, such as King’s Cross, Manchester Piccadilly and Leeds for takeaway. From Monday, 15 June, several of its shops located in shopping centres around the country will also begin to reopen.

PizzaExpress appoints new customer strategy director: PizzaExpress, the Hony Capital-backed group, has appointed Simon Clough as its new customer strategy director to help the business successfully navigate the post-covid-19 customer landscape, Propel has learned. Clough has been consulting with the company since February and has now joined the company on a permanent basis. He joins from Clear, M&C Saatchi’s strategy arm, where he was chief strategy officer and was the external lead for its brand repositioning work in 2018. PizzaExpress chief executive Zoe Bowley said: “Simon brings a wealth of experience and a critical customer lens to our brand, which is needed now more than ever. I am delighted he has joined PizzaExpress and will play an integral role in leading our FutureExpress strategy in the future.” Last month the company said while planning for the future it will undertake a comprehensive review of its business. It was responding to reports the business was mulling a company voluntary arrangement, which would allow it to shutter some or all of its loss-making branches. It was also reported the company was appealing to lenders for permission to delay its accounts and had instructed financial restructuring specialists to identify the names of bond investors owed £1.1bn. Last month the company began reopening a select number of sites for delivery only. It open 13 restaurants for delivery in “London villages”, including its sites in Balham, Fulham and Notting Hill.

Hall & Woodhouse confirms business partners’ rent cancellation period extended to cover pubs’ reopening phase: Dorset-based brewer and retailer Hall & Woodhouse has confirmed the rent cancellation and loan suspension period for its business partner estate will be extended to cover the pubs’ reopening phase. Publicans will now be exempt from paying rent for eight weeks after the government confirms pubs can reopen, and service charges will commence after the first four weeks. After the initial eight-week rent cancellation period, the subsequent five weeks’ rent will be charged at 50% of the normal levels. Loan repayments for fixtures and fittings will remain suspended and will recommence from October. Repayment of any existing trade or rent balances from prior to the lock-down will be suspended until March 2021. Head of business partnerships Chris Chapman said: “As pubs begin to enter the reopening phase, we acknowledge that our financial support must continue beyond the closure period. Our business partnerships are built on solid foundations and long-term commitment and it was the only option to support them through this.” Hall & Woodhouse originally suspended these payments in response to prime minister Boris Johnson’s announcement on Monday, 16 March, where restrictions were placed upon pubs, restaurants, theatres, office environments and non-essential travel in order to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Ei Publican Partnerships to roll out contactless order and payment app across estate: Ei Publican Partnerships, the leased and tenanted business of Ei Group – now owned by Stonegate Pub Company – is support its publicans with a contactless order and payment app across the estate. Once pubs reopen, customers can download the Round app, search for their local Ei Publican Partnerships pub and order and pay for food and drink at the table straight from their phone. Each pub will have its own individual menus that customers will be able to choose from. The integration of Round into the estate comes as a response to the coronavirus crisis. Pubs will also be able to promote offers and incentives through the app, exclusive to their customers. Nick Light, managing director of Ei Publican Partnerships, said: “This is an exciting venture for us and one of several initiatives we have been working on to help support our publicans.”

Halal Guys places UK debut site on the market: US street food brand The Halal Guys has placed its debut UK site on the market, Propel understands. Restaurant operator ITICO F+B, which owns franchise rights for The Halal Guys in the UK, has appointed CDG Leisure to market the site near Leicester Square. The site opened last spring, with a second site in Earl’s Court following later the same year. ITICO F+B previously said it was targeting 20 Halal Guys sites across the UK within five years. 

Wahlburgers permanently closes debut London site: Wahlburgers, the US burger chain run by chef Paul Wahlberg in partnership with his brothers Mark and Donnie, has permanently closed what was its debut European restaurant in London's Covent Garden – little more than a year after it first opened. The company cited the financial impact of the ongoing coronavirus crisis as the reason behind the closure. Propel revealed in December the company had begun marketing the site at 8-9 James Street, with a premium of £2m thought to have been placed on it. It is thought the franchise company behind the UK launch has gone into administration leading to the permanent closure of the site. At the time of its opening last May, the business spoke of planning to open 15 restaurants in five years in London and the wider UK. Wahlburgers communications director Katie Piepiora said: “Wahlburgers Covent Garden is situated in a very busy shopping and entertainment hub that attracts many locals and tourists. Our franchisee had to make the difficult decision to close this location due to the financial impacts of the pandemic on the restaurant industry, as well as the uncertainly of consumer behaviour post pandemic in a location such as this.”

Staycity replaces breakfast buffets with takeaway food and drink as part of reopening protocols: Aparthotel operator Staycity is to replace breakfast buffets with takeaway food and drink as part of its “Stay with Confidence” reopening message, backed up by a comprehensive set of health and safety protocols. Operating under World Health Organisation and local authority guidelines, each apartment will be deep cleaned to prior to arrival – including all touchpoints – with loose items such as irons, hairdryers and remote controls marked with a “just sanitised” label. Throws and cushions will be removed and rooms will be sealed with a door sticker once they’ve been cleaned. No staff will enter the apartments after cleaning or during the guests’ stay, with anything required by the guest to be left outside the door. Public areas will be sanitised regularly with an electrostatic disinfection system and markings will be in place to indicate social distancing requirements. Protective screens have been erected at reception and disinfectant spray, disposable roll and hand sanitisers will be freely available. and seating areas will be closed off. Gyms will also remain shut. Guests will be encouraged to contact staff via email or phone, use card payments instead of cash and make use of the express checkout key box at the end of their stay. Each property team has an appointed “hygiene champion” to ensure rigorous implementation of all measures and checks. Staycity chief executive and co-founder Tom Walsh said: “The covid-19 crisis has been devastating to the global hospitality sector, but we are certain we will be able to return to some sort of normality in time. For now, as we reopen our properties and business and leisure travellers start to return, it’s important we can reassure guests their safety is our prime concern and that we’ve done everything we can to minimise risk.” 

Nando's reopens 61 more sites, offers free delivery: Nando's is reopening 61 more sites for delivery and click-and-collect this week. From Monday (8 June), free delivery is also available across all its restaurants currently open for delivery, if the order is placed through Nando's own website. The new openings take the group’s total of sites operating to 216 branches in the UK and Ireland.

Galvin brothers bring ‘at-home’ experience to London: Michelin-starred chefs Chris and Jeff Galvin are bringing their “at home” experience to London. Having launched a few weeks ago at its Essex pub and restaurant, Galvin Green Man, the service is being extended to the Michelin-starred restaurant Galvin La Chapelle in Spitalfields. Prepared by the Galvins, the three course menu changes weekly. Orders are taken between 9am on Sunday and midnight on Tuesday with customers able to collect their meal from the venue in Spital Square on Friday or Saturday from 11am to 5pm. Dishes require “very simple” finishing at home with video tutorials by Jeff Galvin. Chris Galvin said: “We trialled Galvin at Home at Galvin Green Man to great success and found many of our guests traveling from London so we wanted to make it available for pick-up in Spitalfields.”

OYO rolls out new operational procedures to prepare hotels for reopening: OYO Hotels & Homes is rolling out new operational procedures at its independently-owned hotels to prepare them for reopening. The new procedures will focus on a minimal-touch experience, ensuring stringent levels of hygiene and accounting for the ongoing need for social distancing. OYO will also introduce a “sanitised stays” tag that will be displayed on online property descriptions, indicating staff are fully trained in the new processes. Measures include markings being placed on the floor to enable social distancing; disinfected movables such as room keys and TV remote controls being presented to guests inside ziplock bags; and hotel staff refraining from handling guests’ luggage unless there is a particular need. Hotels will be asked to maintain stocks of hand sanitiser, masks and disposable gloves for the use of both staff and guests, with OYO negotiating bulk pricing on these items wherever possible. In addition, OYO is developing the technology for app-based remote check-in, and exploring digital key boxes so guests can collect their key outside their room rather than at reception. OYO has more than 200 small and mid-sized properties under its brand across the UK. 

Bubala launches delivery boxes offer: Middle Eastern vegetarian concept Bubala, which opened its first permanent site in London’s Spitalfields last year, has launched a delivery box offer. The concept, which is the brainchild of Berber & Q founder Marc Summers and chef Helen Graham, who has worked at The Palomar, The Barbary, The Good Egg and Ottolenghi, is offering a Shakshuka brunch kit. The kit serves two and will include one Bubala shakshuka sauce, four eggs, one Bubala hummus, and two Laffa breads, plus illustrated instructions. The Shakshuka kit costs £20 plus delivery and consumers can order on the company’s Instagram or through its website. It is currently delivering within a three-mile radius from Spitalfields.

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