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Thu 18th Jun 2020 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day: 

Parkdean Resorts reports bumper staycation bookings through to autumn, agrees £25m refinancing: Holiday park operator Parkdean Resorts, which is led by former Casual Dining Group chief executive Steve Richards, has said it was seeing “very strong bookings for July and forecast to be at 100% capacity in August”. The company, which operates 67 parks across the UK, said subject to official government guidance it was looking to reopen on 4 July to owners and holidaymakers by 6 July, with 70% of units presold to owners for peak season. It said there was also expected to be a second peak in September, with bookings “well ahead of last year already”. The company said there was also a strong medium-term opportunity as “holidaymakers are expected to limit foreign travel, and prioritise fresh air, the great outdoors, spacious parks/accommodation, and value”. Parkdean has also successfully agreed the terms of a refinancing with its private equity owners, Onex, and major debtholders. The new deal sees the company secure a £25m equity injection and an 18-month covenant waiver and said the refinancing gave it “plenty of liquidity” to ensure it can trade at the maximum capacity and well placed to benefit from a surge in staycations. The company is currently testing a “parks of the future” initiative in four locations to create “state-of-the-art amenities” including accommodation, park facilities and kids’ activity-based entertainment such as the Bear Grylls Survival Academy. Richards said: “We expect to trade the peak summer months at 100% capacity as well as delivering a record September and October. We are very much focused on the future and getting back to the growth levels experienced throughout 2019 and prior to the shutdown on 23 March 2020.” The company said it went into the pandemic on the back of good results in 2019, with revenue up 5% and Ebitda up 8%. In terms of future growth opportunities identified, the group said it was looking at improving it online booking capacity, digital marketing and extending the holiday season, improving occupancy in off-peak periods and further upgrading its full range of accommodation. It also plans to invest to extend and improve its on-park facilities, particularly the “availability of paid-for family friendly activities”.

Industry News:

Sponsored message – The Advanced Sales Network offers pre-booked sales solutions to hospitality: The Advanced Sales Network, one of the industry’s leading sales consultancies, is providing support and guidance to businesses, as they return to trading over the coming weeks. Managing director Rupert Macfarlane said: “We recognise the tremendous challenges the hospitality sector faces post-covid-19 and are keen to assist those now looking to understand the best way forward, for their pre-booked sales channel.” The Advanced Sales Network works alongside pub, restaurant and bar groups, from individual operators to national chains, providing consultancy, training and recruitment services. Macfarlane added: “Most of the companies we engage with are unsure of the path ahead for pre-booked sales, with unknowns in terms of restrictions, suppressed demand and customer confidence. Many are now looking for a more flexible approach to their sales team staffing, to improve productivity and performance; several are looking at restructuring the team completely, even considering wholly outsourcing the function. The Advanced Sales Network can assist in all of these considerations.” To find out more and to request a free consultation, visit If you have information you would like to feature in a sponsored message, email

Half of businesses say they will lay off staff once furlough ends: More than half of British businesses (51%) are intending to make redundancies within three months of the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme coming to an end. The survey of 500 employers across the UK by YouGov found 31% said a fifth of their workforce was at risk and just over 21% said a third of their employees could be made redundant. Only 34% of businesses felt confident all their staff would be kept on. About 9.1 million jobs are now being supported by the furlough scheme, which covers 80% of wages up to a ceiling of £2,500 a month. The support is being tapered away as the economy emerges from lock-down and will end in October. About one in ten businesses told YouGov they could not operate if their employees had to remain two metres apart when they return to work. More than a quarter said they could operate effectively under such conditions, but the majority (62%) said they could continue operating but their business would be adversely affected. Eight in ten business leaders expected the economy would be in worse shape in a year's time. However, there was a degree of optimism in the prospects for their own companies. Some 34% thought their business would be in the same condition in 12 months’ time, while 27% predicted better. The largest proportion – 39% – said it would be worse.

Trade bodies write to government for sector-specific support: The British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) and Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) have written separately to the government to request urgent support for the sector. In their letters, both trade bodies ask for a further business support grant along the lines of the Coronavirus Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Fund Grant – but to cover businesses irrespective of rateable value. They have also requested the furlough scheme is extended, maintained at the full 80% level, to reflect the longer lock-down and the “added employment and self-employed pressures this entails for businesses that cannot reopen”. The NTIA letter also calls for this to let sole directors of limited companies include dividends as income. The BII’s letter requests an extension and increased value of the current Bounce Back loans for pubs “to restart and sustain their businesses through initial trading with distancing measures in place” as well as extending the business rates holiday until 2022. Meanwhile, the NTIA has also called for further assistance in preventing action from landlords who are playing ‘hard ball’ with tenants, including specific action to stop landlords forcing out tenants in the sector and then applying for “change of use” for their premises. The NTIA also wants a commitment the government will work with the industry to find ways of maintaining public health, compatible with the sector’s ability to survive commercially such as a reduction in social distancing measures through the introduction of track and trace technology. It also requests the government helps “reverse the narrative” when it is safe to do so, to ensure the public are aware it is safe to attend pubs, bars, nightclubs and outdoor events. 

Pubs and restaurants in Ireland can use one-metre limit ‘if customers stay for only 90 minutes’: Pubs and restaurants in Ireland will be allowed to reduce social distancing to one metre “if they limit guests to just 90 minutes inside their premises”. The Irish Independent reported indicated guidelines for hospitality venues to be issued ahead of the next phase of reopening on 29 June will include a reduced physical distancing threshold “in certain circumstances”. The Department of Transport & Tourism in Ireland (Fáilte Ireland) has said it is pushing for this to be increased to at least two hours. Tara Kerry, registrar and accommodation development manager with Fáilte Ireland, told RTÉ Radio One: “We don't know what 90 minutes has been founded on so we are advocating this goes to two hours at the minimum. We're having some very good discussion around these and hopefully we'll have some clarity on that.” As part of the guidelines restaurants must also reduce or stop the practice of allowing “walk-ins”.

AA to launch covid-confident scheme to support hospitality sector in re-establishing consumer confidence: The AA is launching a covid-confident assessment scheme to support the hospitality industry in re-establishing consumer confidence as the UK prepares to come out of lock-down. The accreditation, which is open to all hospitality venues and is backed by sector trade bodies, will indicate to customers an establishment has in place the necessary risk assessments, safety measures and staff training, in line with the government guidelines – when published – to reopen safely when permitted to do so. The scheme is free, with applicants encouraged to make a donation to Hospitality Action. To be eligible for the scheme, venues must supply a risk assessment; be able to provide clear evidence relevant procedures and measures are in place, and staff training has taken place; and completion of an online self-assessment and sign up to the Covid Confident Charter – a code of conduct that will include a commitment to continuing to update procedures and measures as guidelines change, and to submitting to future audits as required. The AA will be providing all those awarded a covid-confident mark with regular updates on the latest government and Health & Safety Executive guidelines, and best practice. Venues with accreditation will be listed on the AA’s consumer-facing website. Simon Numphud, managing director at AA Media, said: “At the AA we are committed to supporting our colleagues across the industry. We hope the covid-confident scheme will be a valuable stepping stone for venues to restore consumer confidence as lock-down eases.”

British Pub Confederation calls for mandatory and meaningful rent code: The British Pub Confederation has written to the government calling for the proposed code of practice on rent during the coronavirus crisis to be both mandatory and meaningful. The letter, sent to business minister Paul Scully, identifies five key points the government needs to address, including “the need for absolute clarity on the percentage or methodology for sharing the financial impact of covid-19 between landlords and tenants”. It also calls for an independent and fairly mediated dispute resolution service with the power to intervene in Landlord & Tenant Act commercial contracts, and to ensure fair and lawful dealing, for cases where the parties cannot reach agreement. It added assessment of any ability to pay any rent must not be based on some undefinable “ability to pay” and this code must not in any way affect the statutory Pubs Code and tenants’ rights under it. The British Pub Confederation and member organisations the Campaign for Pubs and the Forum of British Pubs have also said independent tenants’ organisations must be properly and fully involved in all discussions relating to the pub sector and properly engaged by both the government and the Pubs Code adjudicator.

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a quick service restaurant brand as it looks to appoint a head of HR, based in London. This position is a great opportunity to join a passionate team. The incoming head of HR will focus on the operations as well as all head office functions to allow the UK team to provide the best possible quality of service to its customers. Industry experience is required as well as strong skills across employment law and change management as well as previous extensive knowledge of project management. The salary is circa £70,000. Anyone interested can email 
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Company News:

Ellis – Rudy’s trading at just under 50% of pre-coronavirus levels, planning new Albert’s Schloss site: Roy Ellis, chief executive of Mission Mars, the north west-based operator of fast-growing concepts such as Albert’s Schloss and Rudy’s Neapolitan Pizza, has said the latter brand is trading at just under 50% of pre-coronavirus levels, through a combination of delivery, takeaway and its posted offer. Speaking to Elliotts chief executive Ann Elliott as part of Propel’s “navigating the coronavirus” series, Ellis said he was also looking at a new site for Albert’s Schloss, which would incorporate a significant outside area. Ellis said: “Pre-covid, business wise, we were more than 11% up in sales for Albert Schloss, and that is on the back of four years of like-for-like sales growth. Our Rudy’s sites were almost 20% up on a like-for-like basis. We had just opened a new Rudy’s in Leeds and we were absolutely smashing it. In the past month, we have been opening Rudy’s, and all five are now open. We are doing delivery through Deliveroo, and click-and-collect through our own channel. We are also doing twice baked, freshly cooked and chilled pizza, and we sold about 2,500 of those last week. We are also doing a postal initiative and we sold about 100 of those around the country last week, which was the first week we did it. So across the Rudy’s sites we are trading just under 50% through those channels, which I was amazed at, because at best I was thinking we would get to 15% to 20%, and at that level it would have been a struggle to offset the costs incurred by doing that. But actually, we are making a contribution to our fixed venue costs. In some venues we’ve actually been making a profit.” The company has also been trialling opening in Albert’s Schloss in Manchester with pop-up shops on a voluntary basis for its team members, with its suppliers providing stock. Any money received has gone to local charities. Ellis said: “We have also had the benefit of bringing these venues back to life and assessing what challenges social distancing will bring and the guidance aspects and looking to put them into place. We are also looking to do an Albert’s Schloss At Home experience. The entertainers we have not been able to furlough sadly because they are self-employed, we have been trying to help them and they have come up with a great three-hour show through Vimeo Premium, which we are selling tickets for and putting a package together of drinks, cocktails etc to go with it. So, the past month has been about coming up with more creative solutions to get us through this. The authorities are hoping to pedestrianise parts of Manchester city centre and we are working closely with them to bring Albert's Schloss outside. We are also looking at a new site, which is a really interesting opportunity, because it had a big outside space of 3,000 to 4,000 square foot.” Ellis will share more of his thoughts in the video, which will be released on Thursday (18 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 to sign up.

Leon introduces biggest menu change with reduced price points: Natural fast food brand Leon has introduced its biggest menu change with reduced price points. The new menu coincides with the company extending its ongoing 50% discount for NHS staff to all emergency service workers. As well as 15 new dishes, its breakfast meal deal has been reduced from £4.75 to £4.50, with no dish costing above £5.95. Among the items on the new menu, which follows the principles of the Mediterranean diet, is the coconut, jackfruit and lime curry; and the vegan aubergine tabbouleh salad. There is also a range of new smoothies. The restaurants also continue to adapt into mini-supermarkets by continuing to offer items from its grocery range, including hummus and pea-lentiful dips as well as its range of vegan sauces and sourdough bread. Leon has also reopened five more sites – Bankside, Cannon Street, Manchester Piccadilly, Broadwick Street and Moorgate – taking the total to 21. All have safe social distancing measures in place. Leon founder and chief executive John Vincent said: “Recent weeks and months have reminded us of the power of food and how important it is, so we're excited to be launching a new, more affordable menu bursting with big, natural flavours. We want to continue saying ‘thank you’ to the NHS and are proud to be not only continuing our 50% discount but extending it to all the emergency services, to help them do the best job they can.”

Costa to have more than 1,100 stores open by end of June, introduces contactless hatch at drive-thru sites: Costa Coffee, owned by Coca-Cola, has said it will have more than 1,100 of its stores across the UK reopen by the end of June. The company, which has so far reopened almost 650 sites, has introduced bespoke serving hatches at its drive-thru outlets designed so customers can collect their order with no contact. The hatches, which lower items from the service hatch down to customer’s vehicles, have a built-in acrylic hygiene screen to provide maximum protection for both customers and Costa team members. Staff are equipped with personal protective equipment, hand sanitiser stations have been introduced and each store will continue to operate with contactless payment. Perspex screens have been installed at all counters across takeaway sites, with designated pick-up points for delivery and mobile order collections. Both inside and outside stores, two-metre floor signs have been carefully placed to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Costa is also offering coffee on the go via its 8,400-plus Express machines and its ready-to-drink and at-home ranges. The company has delivered more than 861,000 ready-to-drink Costa cans and 1,200 coffee packs to key workers.

Pizza Pilgrims promotes Gavin Smith to managing director: Pizza Pilgrims, the London-based sourdough pizzeria concept founded by brothers Thom and James Elliot, has promoted Gavin Smith from operations director to managing director, Propel has learned. Smith joined the 13-strong company as operations director from Wahaca at the start of 2018. He spent four years at Wahaca, including the past two and a half as its operations director. Smith joined Wahaca in 2014 as its first regional operations director. He was formerly operations manager of Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) brand Browns. Thom Elliot said: “We are delighted to be promoting Gavin to managing director of Pizza Pilgrims. He has been a tremendous force for good during his two years as operations director – driving the business forward in all areas, developing and nurturing our teams (and us!) while also doubling company Ebitda and increasing sales and profitability in every single pizzeria. He keeps us all on our toes to how we can be better as a company – and most importantly he is always hugely respectful of the core values of the brand. He is an inspiration to all around him and we are looking forward to him leading the charge back towards the ‘old normal’ over the coming months.” Smith said: “This is an incredibly exciting and rewarding day for me, both on a personal and a professional level. I am delighted to take on the role as managing director, with the phenomenal support of the founders, our team and board. I believe Pizza Pilgrims not only has the most exceptional pizza but fundamentally the happiest, most energised and dynamic team in hospitality. My purpose moving forward is to protect and enhance both. I am confident our team and business will continue to innovate and excite both our customers and team as we grow with soul and passion to share our pizza with yet more people. We are, as always, focused on developing a brand that is not only fun, but one which our team love as much as our customers. Ultimately, I am driven to ensure we continue to make hospitality an even more attractive industry to work in for all people from all walks of life.”

Former Revolution CEO McQuater takes chair role at Roxy Leisure: Mark McQuater, the former chief executive of Revolution Bars Group, has become chairman of Roxy Leisure, the Roxy Ball Room operator, Propel has learned. McQuater stepped down from Revolution in October 2017 after more than four years as chief executive of the company. Prior to that he spent 12 years leading Barracuda Group. He is also currently chairman at Barworks, the London-based pub and bar group led by Marc Francis-Baum. Earlier this year Propel revealed Roxy Leisure had secured a £7.5m investment from private equity firm Foresight Group. The company currently operates nine sites across Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Nottingham under the Roxy Ball Room, Roxy Lanes and Roxy Arcade banners. Earlier this spring it made its debut in Birmingham. Foresight backs other sector companies including the Nottingham-based coffee roaster and retailer 200 Degrees, and Indian street food concept Mowgli.

McDonald’s begins reopening sites for takeaway: McDonald’s began reopening its sites for takeaway on Wednesday (17 June), starting with 11 of its 29 Roadchef locations. Among the outlets that have reopened are the Clacket Lane eastbound services on the M25 in Kent and Taunton Dean southbound services on the M5 in Somerset. McDonald’s said following the pilot it hopes to roll takeaway out gradually to high streets across the UK and Ireland. Social distancing measures for sites offering takeaway include the use of a one-way system, a limit on the number of customers allowed in store at one time and the closure of all dining spaces and toilets. McDonald’s has so far reopened more than 1,000 sites for drive-thru and delivery. It is also planning the return of the McDonald's breakfast. A small group of yet to be confirmed restaurants will offer a breakfast service from 24 June, with proposals to roll out the menu for delivery, drive-thru and takeaway in July. 

Like-for-like sales continuing to improve at Denny’s, agrees to one-time $3m royalty abatement: Like-for-like sales are improving each week at US restaurant company Denny’s, but are still down 40% compared with last year, the group has said. The figure, for the week ended 10 June, is an improvement on the minus 47% the week before and minus 79% for the week ended 1 April – two weeks after dining rooms of most restaurants across the country were ordered to close to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. To help franchisees, who operate more than 95% of its estate, Denny’s has agreed to a one-time $3m royalty abatement systemwide for the second quarter of 2020. It also has deferred or abated rent at more than 77% of restaurants that Denny’s leases to franchisees. Denny’s said most restaurants were still operating with streamlined menus and reduced operating hours, but 1,234 of its circa 1,550 US restaurants now had opened for dine-in – many with limited capacity of between 25% and 60% because of social distancing requirements. As of 10 June, 93 US restaurants and 14 international sites remained temporarily closed. Off-premise sales, which more than doubled between February and April as delivery fees were waived and kerbside pick-up and family meal bundles were introduced, “remained high”, the company said, but not as high as they were at the end of April. 

OHH Pub Company launches ‘Farmshop Menu’ concept: West Country-based The OHH Pub Company, led by Mark Warburton, has launched a “Farmshop Menu” concept. It sees fresh local produce delivered to doorsteps across Bristol and Bath. To date the concept has generated revenues in excess of £100,000 and Warburton told Propel it has “provided a lifeline to secure a strong return to the new normal following lock-down”. He said the move has paved the way for a new arm to the business and offered a rare opportunity to invest in its properties while they are shuttered. Warburton added: “Monetary income aside, the concept has put the OHH Pub Company at the forefront of our local communities. It has resulted in increased exposure to new customers and set up a foundation for an additional revenue stream post-lock-down. The journey has been a fantastic chance for myself to re-evaluate my business while personally delivering to a majority of our supporters throughout the pandemic.” Warburton said while awaiting official guidance from government, the company has started developing plans to ensure its pubs “are as safe as can be upon reopening”. This includes order and pay through its app, contactless check-in for rooms, hand sanitising stations throughout venues, single occupancy communal toilets and daily staff health checks including temperature checks. 

Five Guys opens new site in More London: Five Guys, the US better burger brand, has opened its first new restaurant during lock-down, at More London. The company secured the dim t More London site at the turn of the year for circa £2m. The business has almost opened its entire circa 100-strong UK estate for delivery and takeaway. The company has reopened more than 90 sites, with only a handful in shopping centres and in central London still shuttered. It also has new openings lined up for this summer in Jubilee Street, Brighton; and Chiswick High Road.

Venezuelan concept Arepa & Co to reopen for takeaway, click-and-collect and delivery: London-based Venezuelan restaurant concept Arepa & Co is reopening its Haggerston site for takeaway, click-and-collect, and delivery on Thursday (18 June). Customers will be able to order from a wider delivery area thanks to the reach of its new partner Vita Mojo. Located alongside the Regent’s canal, the site will have a new breakfast menu and selection of cocktails alongside ice tea and juice. Its Bethnal Green branch is expected to reopen on Thursday, 9 July, along with the launch of its “Arepa at Home” boxes. To start with the sites will be open between Thursday and Sunday, with plans to progressively move to all-week opening. To ensure the safety of customers and staff, additional measures are being put in place including social distancing guidelines, hand sanitiser for customers and protective screens.

RA Group appoints new operations director: RA Group, which is part of Compass Group, has announced the appointment of Jean-Christophe Roumignac to the role to operations director, RA Venues. Roumignac will join RA Venues at the end of June and brings a wealth of experience to the role, having worked previously for Ampersand, Genuine Dining Group, and more recently within the education sector. He succeeds Jonathan Davidson, current business director at RA Venues, who is retiring from a career with Compass Group that has spanned 20 years.

Passo extends DIY pasta and pizza delivery nationwide: East London-based Italian-inspired restaurant Passo has extended delivery of its newly launched DIY pizza kits and selection of pasta dishes through its Passo To Go service nationwide. The company, which recently opened the site in Shoreditch for takeaway and Deliveroo, has also brought Turkish-Cypriot chef and Fifteen graduate Hasan Semay on board to create a selection of exclusive dishes, including Spaghetti Ammatriciana – cured pig cheek, chilli flakes, garlic, fresh tomato and basil. The DIY pizza kits contain all the ingredients necessary to create two or four of Passo’s signature pizzas. The recipe kit contains how-to instructions, and there are also tutorials on the Passo website and its Instagram page. There is also a selection of lager and homemade cocktails. Passo founder Jonny Boud said: “Dishes we’ve spent time developing in our Shoreditch restaurant will now be available via our make-your-own fresh pizza and pasta kits to a bigger audience than we could have imagined. The future of restaurants is still unknown, so for now we’re concentrating on bringing Passo safely to homes. Importantly, we’ve been able to bring members of the team back into the kitchen and also sought new talent to help where possible. We plan to grow Passo To Go for the long-term!” Passo To Go is available for delivery daily between 9am and 6pm.

Historic New Forest country inn and golf course goes on market for £4m: The Bell Inn and Bramshaw Golf Club in the New Forest, Hampshire, which has been family owned for more than 250 years, has been put up for sale with a guide price of £4m. The site, being marketed by Savills, comprises two 18 hole golf courses, clubhouse and pro-shop with an adjacent 28-bedroom country inn with 100 seated covers. The Bell Inn, The Manor Course and the practice ground are all held freehold, and the Forest Course leasehold. Kevin Marsh, head of the licensed leisure team at Savills, said: “The Bell Inn and Bramshaw Golf Club has proven to be a highly successful business that benefits from mixed revenue streams including annual golf subscription income, daily green fee income, hotel room revenue, food and beverage and functions/event revenue. The various elements to the business present genuine opportunity for growth.”

Drink specialist lodges plan for Brighton whisky venue: Drink specialist Woolf Sung has lodged plans to convert premises in Brighton into a venue for the sale and tasting of whisky. The company has earmarked 23 Trafalgar Street for the development. Under the plans, a new shopfront would be installed while permission is also sought for the change of use of the basement and ground floor from retail to a mix of retail and drinking establishment. The opening hours would be 11am to 10pm daily and up to eight whiskey tasting events could take place at the property each month, reports Insider Media.

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