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Fri 26th Jun 2020 - Update: Marston’s, Loungers, Chinatown, Duncan Garrod, Chinatown
Marston’s – ‘we are well-placed in the medium term’: Marston’s has insisted it is well-placed for a post covid-19 recovery in medium term. It said plans are in place for pubs to reopen from 4 July, although initial revenue and earnings profile is uncertain. Marston’s said it had a predominantly freehold pub estate, located outside city centres with 90% having outside space. It argued it was well-placed to benefit from likely supply contraction in sector and gain market share. Chief executive Ralph Findlay said: “Our immediate priority is to prepare our pubs to reopen on 4 July. Whilst there is short term uncertainty as the sector emerges from lockdown, we are focussed on offering a great guest experience, synonymous with Marston’s hospitality, to welcome our customers back into our pubs within a safe trading environment. The challenges facing the sector should not be underestimated and much rests on consumer confidence which may take time to rebuild. As the industry navigates its way out of lockdown, we will continue to urge government for continued support for pubs and wider hospitality, through the reopening phase and thereafter through business rates relief and cuts to VAT, to protect jobs, the economy and the invaluable role the pub plays in communities nationwide. Looking ahead, our transformational deal with Carlsberg positions the company well for the future. Post completion, Marston’s will be a focussed pub and accommodation business with a significantly strengthened balance sheet, well placed to rebuild trading momentum and leverage the market opportunities available to us over the medium to longer term.” The company reported sales were down by circa £43m to £510.5m in the 26 weeks to 28 March. Profit before tax was £9.4m compared to £34.2m the year before. It saw a cash burn of £10m a month in the closure period after swift action on cost reduction. Cash flow has been supported by very strong off-trade sales – up 55% since the half year. The joint venture beer company created with Carlsberg provides Marston’s with a 40% equity stake and a cash equalization payment of £273m. 

Loungers aims to have full estate reopen by mid-August: Cafe bar operator Loungers plans to have all of its 167-strong estate reopen by mid-August, Propel has learned. The Nick Collins-led group expects to have around 70 sites fully re-opened by 8 July, a further 40 sites by the 22 July, and the remainder open in early to mid-August. The company said some of this is dependent on the timing of restrictions being eased in Wales. It said the split between the reopening of its two concepts – Lounge and Cosy Club – will be “relatively consistent” throughout the re-opening phasing. Collins told Propel: “Now we have had the nod from the government we are very excited about getting back to doing what we do best and looking after our teams and customers. We are adopting a phased approach to re-opening the estate. We have taken this approach because we want to ensure we have sufficient time to thoroughly train our teams, prepare our sites and provide amazing hospitality for our customers in an environment we can demonstrate is safe. We have worked hard to introduce distancing and increased hygiene measures, and to reassure our customers and teams their safety is paramount, whilst at the same time ensuring our unique hospitality and atmosphere is not compromised. The knowledge we have gleaned from having operated a number of the sites for takeaway over the past few weeks has played an important part in preparing for re-opening. Whilst we don’t know exactly how our customers will behave in the early days post-lockdown, we remain positive with regard to our prospects in both brands. We have a flexible, all-day model with broad appeal across all the day parts and a good proportion of the estate benefits from external space. We believe we have an important role to play in the predominantly suburban and market-town communities where we operate, with no exposure to central London and transport hubs.”

Chinatown London becomes a food and beverage takeaway hub: West End landlord Shaftesbury has announced that 34 of Chinatown London’s food and beverage operators have opened to provide a critical mass of takeaway options for shoppers returning to the West End as the easing of the lockdown gathers momentum. While a number of Chinatown’s operators have been providing deliveries for some time, many have now added food-to-go to cater for West End shoppers seeking something more than a takeaway coffee or typical burger offer. Reflecting Chinatown’s diversity, visitors can enjoy a wide range of takeaway food, from Bubblewrap’s famous egg-shaped waffles to Happy Lemon’s rock salted cheese milk tea and Pho & Bun’s pork belly bao burgers. More operators are joining the line-up daily. Andrew Price, portfolio executive at Shaftesbury, said: “While it is early days, London is reawakening. As it does, and footfall in the West End increases, people are actively searching for more inspiring choices as part of their visit, with many having missed their favourite foods during the lockdown. Chinatown currently has the widest range of takeaway food available in one place in central London, is traffic free, and pedestrian friendly. In parallel, we have received interest from a number of new operators keen to join Chinatown as London’s recovery gains momentum. Like the increasing volumes of consumers, brands recognise Chinatown London’s enduring appeal as a unique destination in the heart of the West End.” Newport Court, or dessert alley as it has become known on social media, is proving particularly popular, with many of its brands reporting growing demand for their traditional best sellers. Alex Xu, owner of Happy Lemon, added: “We have kept in contact with our customers virtually during the lockdown, but being able to serve them once again is a very exciting moment. Since the shops re-opened, customer numbers have grown, with people deliberately seeking us out as part of their visit to the West End.” To ensure the safety of visitors, workers and residents, Shaftesbury has introduced a number of measures in Chinatown London. To encourage visitors to adopt social distancing measures, new floor markings have been installed in both Mandarin and English. Shaftesbury has also been working with businesses in Chinatown to help implement protective measures for staff and visitors. In addition, hand sanitisation points have been installed throughout Chinatown London.

Intu – administration is likely: Shopping centre company Intu has reported administration is now likely. In a statement this morning, it said: “On 23 June 2020, Intu properties provided an update on discussions with key stakeholders to progress its standstill strategy ahead of the revolving credit facility covenant waiver expiry at 11:59 p.m. this evening, 26 June 2020. Since that update, discussions have continued with the Intu Group’s creditors in relation to the terms of standstill-based agreements. Unfortunately, insufficient alignment and agreement has been achieved on such terms. The board is therefore considering the position of Intu with a view to protecting the interests of its stakeholders. This is likely to involve the appointment of administrators. A further announcement will be made as soon as possible.”

Garrood resigns as CEO of Ten Entertainment Group: Ten Entertainment Group has announced that Duncan Garrood has decided to resign as chief executive to join Empiric Student Property plc, the UK REIT, which is a leading provider and operator of student accommodation. Garrood will stay with Ten until the end of the year to deliver its reopening programme after its enforced closure due to covid-19 and its return to more normalised trading. The company said that a search for a “high-quality successor” will now begin with immediate effect. To ensure a smooth transition and support the group at this critical time, Nick Basing, currently non-executive chairman and formerly chief executive, will step in as interim executive chairman until the transition to a new chief executive is complete. The company said: “His wealth of experience and strong operational track record will be invaluable in providing a smooth handover to new leadership. The board are confident that the experienced executive team are well placed to reopen safely and successfully when restrictions are lifted and return to, in time, the strong trading achieved during the first few months of this year. At the same time, former Domino’s Pizza chief executive David Wild has also notified the Ten board of his decision to resign from the company as its senior non-executive director with immediate effect. A search for his successor will also commence shortly.” Julie Sneddon, independent non-executive director and chair of the nominations committee said: “While we are disappointed that Duncan has decided to leave the company, we are grateful to him for his commitment to work hard on a seamless transition period. We are fortunate to be able to further strengthen our executive team at this critical time by inviting Nick, the person who rejuvenated and established the company’s growth path, to become more involved. Nick will work with and support the senior leadership team as they set about delivering the reopening programme and returning the company to previous trading levels and growth.”

61% of returning hospitality workers are unclear on how they can keep customers and colleagues safe: Flow Hospitality Training has revealed the knowledge gaps of hospitality workers when returning to work from furlough to safely reopen their venues. The company launched six covid-19 comeback training modules earlier this month, designed to help reassure hospitality workers returning to the workplace and to help managers ensure their venues and teams are compliant with the changing work environment. So far, the modules have been passed 85,000 times. Testing records reveal there are clear patterns emerging around the gaps in knowledge of returning workers, that operators need to consider to be safe and compliant reopening. The most pronounced area where teams struggled was around understanding how they could help keep customers and colleagues safe, with 61% of workers being unable to correctly identify useful steps. The next biggest gap was in the basics of effective cleaning standards, with 22% of workers needing refresher training. While 17% were unsure how to best re-engage with their colleagues again returning to work. Elly Johnston, director of Flow Hospitality Training , said: “Testing records reveal there are clear patterns emerging that operators need to consider when reopening safely and avoid any reputational damage. Customers are going to be on edge returning to hospitality and teams need to be confident in both returning to work themselves, and to proactively keep their colleagues and customers as safe as they can. This is particularly important given the Prime Minister’s announcement of a 4th July reboot for venues in England, as time is very much of the essence.” 

Airship – storing customer contact details whilst protecting data is a challenge facing operators: Meeting the new responsibility to store customer contact details for NHS Track & Trace, while still protecting customer data privacy, is one of the biggest challenges facing operators as the hospitality industry prepares for reopening next week, warns sector technology specialist Airship. The government’s guidance asks businesses to assist with NHS Track & Trace by keeping a temporary record of customers for 21 days. While many hospitality businesses already capture customer data through Wi-Fi, table reservations and other platforms, this does not reach every customer who visits. Additionally, current privacy policies don’t cover the need to delete customer data after 21 days. In response, Airship is launching a new Visitor Registration & Check-in solution for operators to make sure they are able to meet government advice, provide reassurance to customers and seize the opportunity to capture new customer data. It automatically cleans data after 21 days, while also giving customers several opportunities to sign up to the outlet’s database when they first register. According to recent UKHospitality/CGA research, 68% of customers want to feel safe when they return to pubs and restaurants. Airship chief executive Dan Brookman believes visitor registration and check-in can help create a reassuring environment. He said: “People are desperate to get back to pubs and restaurants, but at the same time many are worried about the risk of covid-19 transmission and keen to ‘do the right thing’ to prevent further outbreaks. Having a visible Visitor Registration & Check-in system in place can help to reassure customers that they are in safe hands, in the same way that screens and hand sanitiser are also now expected. These measures may seem alien now, but they are going to be part and parcel of ‘normal life’ for many months or longer, and getting the right visitor registration and check-in system in place from the outset is important.” The need to capture customer data also presents hospitality businesses with an opportunity to expand their database – a function that is handled seamlessly through Airship’s solution. Brookman added: “The hospitality industry has been decimated by four months of lockdown, and now faces reopening in extremely challenging conditions. The need to collect customer details to help NHS Track & Trace is a rare silver lining in the covid-19 cloud and all operators should be embracing it as they look to reboot their business over the coming months.” Airship’s Visitor Registration & Check-in solution is charged on a ‘one off’ basis at between £30 and £50 per location depending on estate size. The SMS confirmation codes cost 5p each and can be purchased in blocks of 1,000. Airship has also committed not to send any invoices during July, to give businesses a chance to reopen before needing to make payment. For further information, visit www.airship.co.uk

Airship is a Propel BeattheVirus campaign member.

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