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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Thu 9th Jul 2020 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Operators frustrated by slow Welsh approach to reopening: Operators in Wales have expressed their frustration at its government’s slow approach to reopening. First minister Mark Drakeford has said indoor hospitality won’t reopen on Monday (13 July) and no reopening date will be announced until the sector “proves” it can reopen its outdoor spaces safely. Wales is the only UK nation without a date for full reopening, with only outdoor spaces available from Monday. The calls for clarity came as UK chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a raft of measures to help the sector, including a VAT cut until January and discounts for people eating out in August. Operators in Wales tentatively welcomed the news but said they urgently needed the Welsh government to provide a timeline on inside opening. Debs Lewis, co-founder of Dusty Knuckle Pizza, said: “A date for inside opening and a timeline for how to get there remains the top priority and would make the biggest difference for the sector in Wales.” Speaking on behalf of the Welsh Independent Restaurant Collective (WIRC), restaurateur, broadcaster and food writer Simon Wright said: “We’ve heard from the chancellor, now we need to urgently hear from the first minister. In Wales, it all relies on us being open. The first minister needs to end uncertainty and provide hope to the thousands of small businesses.” Shumana Palit, co-founder of Ultracomida Group, which operates four sites in the country, said: “To have only outdoor spaces allowed to open from the middle of July is heart-breaking for us. We don’t have any outdoor space – it makes no difference to us at all.” Earlier this week the WIRC warned of 30,000 job losses in the hospitality sector unless urgent action was taken. Of 102 businesses that responded to its survey, 434 jobs had already been lost, with a further 452 planned. David Chapman, UKHospitality executive director for Wales, said: “Without the surety of a full opening date the spectre of large numbers of redundancies hangs over the industry and the vulnerable communities it serves across Wales. We need clarification of the opening date to give businesses confidence.”

Industry News:

Sponsored message – Tennent’s supports on-trade with Dedicated To You campaign and free pints: Tennent’s is supporting Scotland’s on-trade as it prepares to reopen by supplying free kegs to about 2,000 licensed premises as part of its Dedicated To You campaign. The campaign acknowledges the challenging times the country, its people and the hospitality sector faces and celebrates the industry reopening and people being able to enjoy those special moments again with a free pint in participating venues. In addition to thousands of kegs, Tennent’s is also providing free reopening point-of-sale kits to more than 1,000 Scottish outlets. There has been huge uptake for the campaign so far and Tennent’s is confident the offer of a free pint of Scotland’s favourite beer will encourage drinkers to visit participating venues. To support responsible drinking, social distancing and venue capacity measures, outlets will give away free pints over an eight-week period. Tennent’s managing director Kenny Gray said: “Tennent’s has always been dedicated to Scotland’s on-trade and we want to help drive footfall back into licensed premises, kick-starting the country’s hospitality industry by dedicating a pint to drinkers across Scotland.” Consumers can claim their free pint here and the video can be viewed here. If you have information you would like to feature in a sponsored message, email

UKHospitality – cutting VAT and offering incentives to eat out will show public sector's ready to welcome them back safely: Cutting VAT and offering incentives to eat out will hopefully show the UK public the sector is ready to welcome them back safely, UKHospitality has said. Chief executive Kate Nicholls added: “Customer confidence is key to our sector’s revival and our ability to help Britain’s economic recovery. Applying every precaution to provide safe venues will count for nothing if customers aren’t coming through our doors. The future of many businesses and jobs depends on it.” The trade body also welcomed measures to support job retention and recruitment. If an employer brings back someone who was on furlough and continues to employ them until January, the government will pay them a £1,000 bonus. Nicholls also said there remained significant challenges ahead, the biggest of them the spectre of rent liabilities, which many businesses still faced from their closure period. She added: “The measures announced are extremely positive, though, and should give many businesses in our sector much-needed help to get going again in earnest. We thank the chancellor for recognising the importance and value of our sector and for acting so decisively.”

Tim Martin – VAT cut will hopefully lead to long-term change: JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin has said he hopes the short-term cut in VAT on food in pubs and restaurants will become a long-term change. He said: “Wetherspoon has campaigned for years for tax equality between hospitality companies and supermarkets. Pubs and restaurants pay 20% on food sales and about 20p a pint for business rates. Supermarkets pay zero VAT on food and about 2p per pint of rates. The chancellor’s initiatives go a long way to recognising this inequality, albeit on a short-term basis. Hopefully this will become a long-term change. Equality and fairness are key roots of a sensible tax system.”

Nick Mackenzie – sector not out of the woods yet: Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of brewer and retailer Greene King, has said the sector is “not out of the woods yet” as he expressed his disappointment that the chancellor’s VAT cut didn’t include beer. He said: “The new eating-out discount will be a great encouragement for customers to support the nation’s pubs at this vital time. While the cut to VAT on food is great news for the hospitality sector, it’s disappointing it doesn’t extend to beer given the heavy tax burden on brewers. As a leading apprenticeship employer with a proven track record of helping disadvantaged young people build their careers in hospitality, the new kick-start scheme and the support for apprenticeships are also very welcome. The hospitality industry is by no means out of the woods following three months of closure and this continued government support will help preserve businesses and jobs as we emerge from this crisis.”  

Chris Jowsey – government needs to level up its support for pubs: Chris Jowsey, chief executive of Admiral Taverns, has said the government needs to “level up its support” for pubs. He argued the measures could be seen to dissuade consumers from visiting smaller, local pubs. Jowsey said: “Many community pubs do little food or are wet-led but have worked tirelessly to support their communities during lock-down. The chancellor’s measures don’t help those pubs at all. We urge the chancellor to level up and support all pubs, regardless of their size, location and retail offer.”

Kris Gumbrell – Eat Out To Help Out is ‘fantastic news’ for the industry: Kris Gumbrell, chief executive of 22-strong brewpub group Brewhouse & Kitchen, has labelled the chancellor’s Eat Out To Help Out initiative as “fantastic news for the industry”. The initiative involves a 50% reduction for customers up to £10 per head on sit-down meals and non-alcoholic drinks during August, from Monday to Wednesday. Gumbrell said: “The Eat Out To Help Out scheme is fantastic news for the hospitality industry. This decision is a win-win for the government and businesses by allowing our venues to remain open, enabling us to unfurlough and save the jobs of our teams. Since the lift in lock-down, Brewhouse & Kitchen has championed spreading footfall and revenue across weekdays. Not only will this save jobs and businesses but also ensure the well-being of our guests and teams. The government’s decision to implement this scheme from Monday to Wednesday reinforces this initiative and is the perfect solution to helping businesses such as ours overcome difficulties caused by the pandemic.”

BBPA – chancellor’s measures a ‘helpful first step on long road to recovery’: The chancellor’s economic measures are a “helpful first step on a long road to recovery”, the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has said. However, the trade body said further support would be required to help the thousands of community pubs and more than 2,000 UK breweries get back on their feet. The BBPA said the sector-specific VAT cut, which it was calling for, would help compensate for an expected long period in summer and beyond of reduced sales and revenue. It said the voucher scheme would help encourage customers back to pubs that offered food, while it also welcomed the job retention bonus and kick-start schemes. However, it said a significant cut to beer duty and a fundamental review of the business rates system was still required. BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “The pub and brewing sector has huge potential to create thousands of jobs and employ more people but to do this it needs to be thriving, not surviving. This will require more support in the medium term directed at all pubs and brewers so they can help lead the economic recovery.”

NTIA – government is letting night-time economy ‘slip through the cracks’: The Night-Time Industries Association (NTIA) has accused the government of letting the night-time economy “slip through the cracks” after chancellor Rishi Sunak included no specific support for late-night venues in his new economic measures. NTIA chief executive Michael Kill said: “While there’s much to welcome in this announcement, it leaves many in our sector beleaguered. Most of our members can’t open at all due to social distancing or can only open with reduced capacity resulting in more financial loss. It’s as if the government is letting us slip through the cracks between the various well-intentioned schemes. A VAT cut when you can’t open at all isn’t any help. Late-night venues in towns and cities across the country face catastrophe but there will be a consequential set of problems when people, particularly youngsters, are left with nowhere to go for music and social entertainment. Instead, we’ll see a further rise in illegal raves and street parties, which present a new set of challenges. We renew our call on the government – you have to help us more with direct financial support.”

CAMRA – pubs left behind by chancellor’s new support measures: Pubs have been left behind by the chancellor’s new support measures, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has said. Chief executive Tom Stainer said there was also no direct support for independent brewers and producers, with the VAT cut being on food only. He added: “CAMRA will continue to campaign for greater support for all pubs, including those that don’t serve food. We are calling for long-term support measures – business rate reform and a tax reduction for draught beer – to encourage people back to the supervised setting of the community pub. Lock-down has shown just how valuable our pubs are to communities and the pivotal role they play in tackling loneliness and social isolation. It’s right they should receive extra support during the difficult months ahead to ensure their survival.” The Campaign For Pubs said the announcement showed the government was only listening to pub and restaurant chains, large pub companies and giant breweries and not publicans, who were “having to deal with the covid-19 crisis in their pubs on a day-to-day basis”. Campaign director Greg Mulholland said: “The government appears to be turning its back on the traditional community local. Many can’t trade profitably due to government restrictions and yet are being offered no support. We urge the chancellor to think again or we’ll see the closure of many valued pubs.”  

Northern Irish groups welcome much-needed boost from government measures with tourism revenue set to halve: Northern Irish organisations have branded measures to help the hospitality and tourism industries a “welcome boost”. Hospitality Ulster said the move would “paint a brighter picture” at a time when many in the hospitality industry “feared for their future”. Tourism NI also welcomed the announcement, while Bangor Chamber said it was “excellent news for our hospitality sector”. It comes as a Stormont committee was told the money generated by tourism in Northern Ireland is likely to drop from £1bn last year to £400m in 2020. Janice Gault, of the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation, said in the medium term the sector hoped to “get the GB market back” but international visitor numbers were “likely to be low” this summer. Gault told the committee about 50% of hotels in Northern Ireland reopened at the weekend, with the majority of the rest hoping to reopen by the end of July. Joanne Stuart, of the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance, told the committee businesses believed it would take at least “two to three years” to recover from lock-down.

SRA – incentive to eat out will make hospitality businesses ‘affordable for all’: The chancellor’s voucher incentive to eat out will help UK hospitality businesses become “affordable for all” during August, the Sustainable Restaurant Association has claimed. Chief executive Andrew Stephen said: “Every family deserves a meal out. We’d encourage diners to seek value from restaurants and choose dishes that serve local, seasonal produce. That way we can ensure we’re supporting responsible restaurants and the growers and farmers that so dearly need our custom too.”

SIBA – cutting overall tax burden is only way government can help brewers bounce back: Cutting the overall tax burden for brewers is the only way the government can help the industry bounce back, the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) has said. The call came as the Treasury confirmed long-awaited announcements on Small Breweries Relief reform and a wider review of alcohol duties had been delayed again until the chancellor could examine the issues in “greater detail”. SIBA said while the job retention bonus and kick-start scheme announced by the government would help the industry, excluding beer from the VAT cut was “very disappointing”. SIBA chief executive James Calder said: “Given the covid earthquake that has hit the brewing industry we need a tax system that does what the chancellor set out to do for the whole economy – to protect jobs and enable us to bounce back. The only way that can happen is to reduce the overall tax burden, protect the relief for the smallest breweries and incentivise growth.”
‘New breed of beer enthusiast’ emerges from lock-down: Three months spent in lock-down has significantly shifted the way many people are drinking beer, according to a new study by Brew LDN and KAM Media. The survey of 2,364 beer fans found respondents have been drinking beer more frequently, sourcing it from different channels and embracing online drinking occasions. Almost half (46%) of respondents bought beer directly from a brewer for the first time during lock-down, with 87% planning to continue that trend. Respondents have also been broadening their horizons, with almost three-fifths (57%) becoming more interested in finding new beers than they were before lock-down. Almost half (47%) said they had been seeking more premium options. Regarding the rise in online socialising, almost four-fifths (79%) of respondents drank beer while “hanging out with friends online” during lock-down and more than half expect that to continue. The study also showed a much higher proportion of beer enthusiasts are drinking more regularly, only 5% said they drank more than six days a week before lock-down, whereas that figure has now risen to 19%. However, the amount of beer drunk per session has fallen 9%, meaning overall consumption has remained stable. The study also found significant support for local breweries, with more than three-quarters (79%) of respondents much more interested in supporting them. KAM Media managing director Katy Moses said: “Lock-down has provided beer enthusiasts with an opportunity to explore new, unique and interesting beers. Many have also sourced them from new and different channels such as direct from the brewer and online subscriptions.” Daniel Rowntree, co-founder of Brew LDN, said: “The challenge for brands and breweries is to ensure they remain relevant to the customer across all elements of this mix – from the pubs and taprooms to at-home occasions, Zoom nights and drinks in the park. The impact on the beer industry, retail and on-trade as lock-down eases will be significant.”
KAM Media is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Analysis of quoted company fund-raising reveals strong institutional support for sector: A review of share placings completed by quoted sector operators during lock-down – carried out by specialist mergers and acquisitions and private equity adviser Tamweel – has revealed a strong institutional support and a 22% average rebound in pricing. Tamweel analysed the movements in the market capitalisation of SSP, Loungers, Hollywood Bowl, Ten Entertainment, City Pub Group, JD Wetherspoon, Everyman Media Group, The Restaurant Group and The Gym Group, all of whom undertook equity fund-raisings early on in the pandemic. The advisory firm found operators in the cohort suffered an average 48% fall in their market capitalisation from 31 January 2020 (before the crisis affected stock markets) to the date of the respective equity fund-raisings. However, there was strong investor support for these placings, with the nine operators raising more than £0.5bn in fresh equity finance from institutions such as BlackRock, Gresham House and BGF and sector specialist investors such as Blue Coast Capital and Lion Capital. Many directors of these businesses also participated in the fund-raises. On the back of these fund-raises, the average share price increase of the cohort of operators has outperformed the wider FTSE All Share Index, with market capitalisations having risen on average by 22%. Wet-led operator City Pub Group rebounded an impressive 96% from its placing price and trading at almost pre-crisis levels as at 30 June. Adam Spencer, of Tamweel, said: “It was clear from early on that the leisure and hospitality sectors would be badly hit by the crisis. However, despite the apocalyptic news cycle these operators were able to raise significant amounts of equity from institutional investors in short order – even though many of them were generating zero or close to zero revenues at the time. These fund-raisings indicate continued investor support for operators with established brands and loyal customers and signals confidence and conviction in the longer-term robustness of the sector. While the funds were raised at relatively low valuations when compared to pre-covid levels, these brands are now better capitalised and placed to take advantage of the inevitable growth opportunities that will emerge from the pandemic such as brand acquisitions, less softer competition, new site opportunities and availability of talent. This has been further highlighted by the Young’s placing announced on 24 June, where funds raised will be used to restart investments and pursue opportunistic acquisitions.”

London lags 35% behind rest of England as consumers remain cautious: London lagged 35% between the rest of England for consumer activity on the weekend of the hospitality sector’s reopening, according to new research. Data from Huq Industries and the Local Data Company showed despite the much-anticipated reopening of the industry, consumers remain cautious in the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The data showed consumer activity was down 37% compared with the weekend before lock-down. Activity was down 81% when compared with average activity levels across the first six weekends of 2020 as many consumers took a watch and wait approach. London lagged 35% behind the rest of England, seeing footfall levels down 75% compared with the weekend before lock-down against an average across other English regions of minus 40%. In the capital, the lack of tourists, sporting events, theatres and a reluctance to use public transport is still having a profound impact on activity levels, LDC said. The region that saw the best recovery was Yorkshire and the Humber, with activity down only 26.7% compared with the weekend before lock-down. Nationally, restaurants saw the biggest boost, with activity up 48% week-on-week compared with a 22% uplift for pubs. Lucy Stainton, head of retail and strategic partnerships at the Local Data Company, said: “London has always been more resilient than other regions, with vacancy in the capital at just 8.2% coming into the pandemic, significantly lower than other regions and the national average of 12.3%. However, as we can see from these latest statistics, with continued working from home practices, London and other larger cities may see a reversal of fortunes, with smaller, local high streets being favoured by a more cautious consumer.”

G1 Group launches petition to save music in Scottish bars and restaurants: Scotland’s largest managed pub, restaurant and hotel operator, G1 Group, has launched a petition to save music in the country’s venues. A list of protective measures being considered by the Scottish government includes banning all music in pubs, restaurants and bars – even background music. G1 Group said although such measures had yet to be confirmed, the company “felt compelled” to implore the government to “seriously consider the impact” it would have. A spokesman said: “We are concerned this proposal would have a serious impact on our customers’ experience and, as a result, a direct and damaging impact on footfall and revenue at a time when every penny counts. Should this restriction be put in place we would need to seriously reconsider our proposed schedule of reopening. We are so concerned this may ultimately lead to further job losses within our estate we’ve decided to raise this petition, the first time we’ve done so in our 30-year history. Music isn’t a ‘nice to have’ for us but a hugely important draw, which we feel we can’t do without, especially when the tide feels against us in so many other ways.” G1 Group’s venues include The Corinthian Club, The Scotsman Hotel, Social Glasgow and Three Sisters.

Campaign For Pubs calls on government to ‘stop the pub rent rip-off’: The Campaign For Pubs, the grass-roots campaign for publicans and pub-lovers, has called on the government to stop the “pub rent rip-off”. The campaign has written to Alok Sharma, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, to urge action to tackle large pub-owning companies that fail to abide by the voluntary Covid Rent Code of Practice while charging rents that “bear no relation to current restricted trading conditions”. The campaign is calling for the government to bring in a mandatory covid-19 rent code of conduct including a statutory right to a rent review for all tenants; a rent-free period for all pubs and an extended period of protection from landlords if rent can’t be paid; and abolition of all “upward-only” rent review clauses in pub leases so it’s possible to cut rent if trading conditions continue to make them unsustainable. The campaign said in the case of the six companies covered by the Pubs Code, the right to a market rent only lease should be available to all tenants and leaseholders in place of a rent review. A spokesman said: “Campaign For Pubs members are reporting trade for those that could open at the weekend was down between 30% and 60% from the same time last year. Pub tenants and lessees are also reporting unrealistic rent is the biggest threat to the existence of their businesses. The campaign welcomes the secretary of state’s comments that ‘pubs, restaurants and cafes are the lifeblood of high streets and town centres’ but for those words to be put into action publicans urgently require action to stop unreasonable and unsustainable rent.”  

Judy Joo joins OAPA: Korean-American chef and television personality Judy Joo has signed as an employer partner of Only A Pavement Away (OAPA), the industry charity that supports the homeless, ex-offenders and veterans with jobs in hospitality. Joo launched Korean concept Seoul Bird in Westfield London’s food court in January. She is also host of Food Network’s Korean Food Made Simple and Iron Chef UK. Catering company Thomas Franks has also signed up to be an OAPA employer partner with immediate effect. Meanwhile, OAPA has created QR codes to accompany its forthcoming Tom Aikens Charity Cookery Challenge Cookbook. The book will feature “five-minute feast” recipes from renowned chefs, including Tom Kerridge, Emma McClarkin, Paul Pavli and Hélène Darroze. The book will be published in the autumn. When scanned, the QR codes will take the reader to a YouTube video of the dish being cooked. To date, the Tom Aikens Charity Cookery Challenge has raised £5,500 for OAPA’s Hospitality Against Homelessness campaign. 

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a small and premium pub company as it looks to appoint a general manager in Derbyshire. The company has a great reputation and would love to meet individuals with rosette-level dining experience. The pub has a mixture of regulars and destination trade and, alongside an excellent dining offer, the pub has great entertainment and events spaces. This role would suite an experience general manager and the role offers a salary of up to £37,000 with the option to live on or off the premises. Send your CV to
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Company News:

Oakman Inns promotes Dermot King to chief executive, Borg-Neal becomes chairman: Oakman Inns and Restaurants has promoted chief operating officer Dermot King to chief executive, with founder Peter Borg-Neal becoming executive chairman. Borg-Neal takes over from Mike Smith, who is stepping down after chairing the 28-strong business since it opened its first site in 2007. The board changes come into effect on 1 August, with Smith staying on as a non-executive director. Former Butlin’s managing director King joined Oakman in early 2019. Borg-Neal said: “Dermot will take responsibility for day-to-day management of the business, driving efficiency and profitability while I devote more time to development and growth.” King added: “I am honoured and delighted to become chief executive of such an outstanding business. Having spent the past 18 months working alongside Peter and the team I genuinely believe there’s no limit to what we might achieve.” Before the pandemic, Oakman saw like-for-like sales up 4.3% year to date and total sales up 14.3%. It said the sudden closure of the business in week 38 of the financial year meant that for the year ending 30 June, sales of £31.5m-plus represented a sales decline of 17.3% over the previous year. Borg-Neal said: “The sudden closure of the business and subsequent unwinding of the working capital position put the business under considerable financial strain. However, in addition to government funding supportive trade creditors, lenders and landlords gave the management team sufficient breathing space to resolve the company’s funding in the medium term. Consequently, Oakman has been able to complete a £1.8m equity raise from existing shareholders and a £2.1m Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan from Santander. King said the chancellor’s VAT reduction on food and accommodation from 20% to 5% for the next six months would be a “substantial boost” to the company’s cash flow and help maintain a fair pricing policy. He said: “His £10 Eat Out To Help Out voucher scheme will allow customers to see for themselves that responsible relaxation, sensible socialising and the forgotten enjoyment of a family get-together is now possible.”

AG&G appointed to market portfolio of closed Casual Dining Group sites: Property advisory firm AG&G has been appointed to market the 91-strong portfolio of former Casual Dining Group (CDG) sites that closed last week after the company was placed into administration, Propel has learned. The portfolio comprises 11 Las Iguanas sites, including those in Newcastle, London’s Brunswick and Brighton Marina; 34 Bella Italia; three Belgo units (Covent Garden, Kingsway and Nottingham); 31 Café Rouge; and 12 of the group’s airport-based sites, including its three pubs at Heathrow and all three of its Oriel-branded units. Earlier this week it was reported US hedge fund Elliott Advisers, which owns bookshop chain Waterstones, was plotting a takeover of CDG. Sky News reported Elliott Advisers was among a small number of investors to have tabled bids for the whole of CDG. On Thursday (2 July), AlixPartners was appointed to run an insolvency process, announcing 91 of CDG’s 250 sites would close immediately with the loss of one-third of its workforce. 

Pret launches contactless office delivery service: Pret A Manger, which earlier this week announced it would close 30 sites as a part of a restructure of its business, has launched a contactless delivery service aimed at the workplace. The company, which is exploring new ways to reach its customers, said the Pret Office Drops service offered “fast, free and contactless delivery to a designated pick-up shelf in your office building or workspace”. The service is available in the US and UK. The move to close 30 sites, the majority of them outside London, came after the company experienced a 74% drop in sales year-on-year because of the “significant impact of covid-19 on operating costs and cash flow”. The company, which has so far reopened 339 of its 410 UK sites, said it would start a consultation to reduce headcount across remaining UK stores to reflect lower footfall, rental costs and new safety measures. It also said it planned a reduction in the number of support roles and a sale of the lease of its main support office in Victoria, London. Pret also said plans were under way to reshape the brand’s business model.

Hawthorn chief – safety more important than like-for-like growth when reopening estate: Mark Davies, chief executive of Hawthorn Leisure, the pub operations arm of NewRiver, has said being safe and responsible was more important than delivering like-for-like sales growth when the company reopened 90% of its estate at the weekend. Hawthorn reopened 514 of its pubs and Davies said it “couldn’t have gone any better”. Speaking as part of Propel’s “navigating the coronavirus” series, Davies said: “It wasn’t without its challenges as the government was dithering right up to the eleventh hour and some of the guidance didn’t come through until a day before. Over the weekend, myself and the senior leadership team visited 192 of our pubs and about 55 competitor sites to see what others were doing in the industry. Our number-one objective was to open in a safe, responsible way. This wasn’t a day or weekend to knock the ball out of the park and generate amazing turnover – we just wanted to get off to a solid and steady start, which we managed to do. It was about building a foundation of security and people feeling safe and acting in a socially responsible way. There were one or two things we can learn from but in the main we seem to have done things very well. In total, 97% of our tenants and partners told us we met or exceeded their expectations during lock-down and preparations for opening. If our numbers had been down 20% or 30% over the weekend I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid, it was just about rebuilding, getting people back into the pub, feeling confident and remembering the role the pub plays as a social experience. The fact we managed to deliver 4% like-for-like sales isn’t the most important thing in many ways, it was about being safe and responsible across 514 pubs. We are cautious about the next four weeks and won’t really know where the land lies until mid-August.” Davies will share more of his thoughts in the video, which will be released on Thursday (9 July). 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.

BrewDog builds openings pipeline in India: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog is building an openings pipeline for its international bars estate in India. The company’s first bar in the country is under construction and opening soon in Kamala Mills, Mumbai. The company has now secured locations for a further five BrewDog bars in Pune, Gurgaon (two sites), Bengaluru and another in Mumbai. The company opened its entire estate of bars in England on Saturday (4 July) and external areas in its Scottish bars on Monday (6 July). To ensure a covid-secure reopening in line with government guidance, the company said it had implemented its own ten-point safety plan, including contactless ordering and cashless payments via its order to table app, sanitiser stations and social distancing signs. All staff will be required to wear masks and gloves, while they will also monitor site capacity continually and carry out surface cleaning every 15 minutes. The sites will also feature single-use menus, while table screens will be available on request.

Oakman Inns considers options for equity raise: Oakman Inns and Restaurants is considering options including attracting a strategic investor and holding a retail fund-raising to deliver equity funding and strengthen its balance sheet. Peter Borg-Neal, founder of the 28-strong business, said: “We are focusing on strengthening our balance sheet to ensure we can not only withstand any further shock wave but also be ready to organically grow the business through M&A and commercial property partnerships. To deliver this equity funding, we’re considering a number of options including attracting a strategic investor and holding a retail fund-raising. We’re therefore asking the chancellor to urgently consider for the Autumn Budget the provision of investor tax breaks and the lifting of all restrictions on the Enterprise Investment Scheme for the rest of the financial year 2020/21.” All 28 of the company’s pubs opened on 4 July with early trading “positive”. Oakman said it achieved “satisfactory sales”, with the weekend’s like-for-like sales at 82% of last year but at 104% over Monday and Tuesday. The company said it was experiencing higher operating costs because of the cost of covid-safe compliance, rising food prices and additional labour costs driven by operational complexities. However, it said it was confident the VAT cut announced by the chancellor would provide “significant margin mitigation” and, together with the Eat Out To Help Out scheme would boost demand in August and get people “back into the swing of enjoying eating out again”. Borg-Neal said: “Our decision to press on with our reopening programme three weeks ahead of 4 July and our success in retraining and motivating our people means we have been able to reopen in considerable style. Concerning organic growth, Oakman has an excellent pipeline of ‘shovel-ready’ sites in Buckingham, Wokingham, Epsom and Hatfield. The first three are expected to open in 2021 and Hatfield in early 2022. However, while timings will be extended due to the closure and rebuild periods, we see no reason why the previous forecast can’t be achieved. Indeed, we believe the crisis will create significant opportunities for growth, which should allow a business of our calibre to outperform the previous forecasts once the economy recovers.”

JD Wetherspoon to launch latest Dublin pub and hotel in October: JD Wetherspoon has announced it will open its latest pub and hotel in Dublin on Tuesday, 20 October. The company is investing more than €21m (£19m) to develop the pub and 89-bedroom hotel, which will be named Keavan’s Port. The opening will create 200 full and part-time jobs. Wetherspoon is also investing more than £12m to open two pubs in England and refurbish eight others in the coming months. The new pubs will be in Cross Gates in Leeds and Kingswinford in the West Midlands. Major refurbishments will take place at its pubs including those in Peterborough, Salisbury, South Shields and Stafford. Last week, Wetherspoon reported it had forged deals with landlords to pay zero rent now and defer payments until next year or switch to monthly payments. The company, which operates 875 pubs in the UK, reopened circa 750 sites in England on Saturday (4 July) with a raft of social distancing measures in place including separate entrances and exits where possible.

Bistrot Pierre begins phased reopening of estate: Bistrot Pierre, the Livingbridge-backed group that filed a notice of intent last week to appoint administrators, has begun a gradual phased reopening of its 25-strong estate. The company has reopened its sites in Stratford-upon-Avon and Derby, with its venues in Eastbourne, Plymouth and Torquay to follow on Thursday (9 July). The company had been working with adviser KPMG on its options, with a sales process generating interest from serial sector investor Luke Johnson and London-based investment firm Inspirit Capital. Propel understands TriSpan and RCapital also ran the rule over the Nick White-led business. It’s thought an administration process could see current backer Livingbridge agree a deal on the group’s debt pile and continue to back the business through a pre-pack administration. Robert Beacham and John Whitehead founded the business in 1994.

Dishoom to open long-awaited Birmingham restaurant next week: Indian restaurant concept Dishoom is to finally launch its venue in Birmingham, next week. The cafe was due to open on 1 April but was hit by lock-down restrictions just before launch. The soft launch will now take place on Saturday, 18 July ahead of an official opening on Thursday, 6 August. The venue is in One Chamberlain Square, part of the Paradise Birmingham development. The venue will open daily for breakfast and mid-morning chai, lunch, evening feasts and late-night snacks served in the cafe, Permit Room bar and on a large terrace. Dishoom is led by founders Shamil and Kavi Thakrar and pays homage to the Irani cafes once prevalent in Bombay. Each Dishoom has a “founding myth”, with the Birmingham site inspired by the “city of a thousand trades”. Alongside signature Dishoom dishes, the Birmingham site will offer a bespoke chef’s special, a mutton chaap korma. Dishoom will implement a phased reopening of its established cafes, starting on Friday (10 July) in Manchester, Shoreditch, King’s Cross and Carnaby, followed by Edinburgh a week later and Kensington on Friday, 24 July. The Covent Garden venue is still undergoing its redesign. All cafes will operate with fewer tables and added screens. Dishoom’s Permit Room bars will offer table service only, while new systems for reservations and contactless pay-at-table options will be introduced. Additional cleaning processes will be in place, along with “industry-leading air filtration systems”. 

Social Entertainment Ventures plans phased reopening of all UK and US venues from August: Social Entertainment Ventures (SEV), the UK and US experiential leisure operator, is planning to reopen its portfolio on a phased basis from the beginning of August, Propel has learned. It is also aiming to launch its new bingo concept, Hijingo, in London in the autumn having originally been due to launch it in March. Bounce Old Street will open on Wednesday, 5 August followed by Bounce Farringdon on Wednesday, 9 September. Hijingo‘s launch in Worship Street, Shoreditch, is provisionally set for October. Reopening of SEV’s US venues will also begin in early August, starting with Flight Clubs in Chicago and Boston, which SEV operates under licence, followed by AceBounce in Chicago. SEV said it was investing significant resources to ensure all its venues would be covid compliant on reopening, with strict application of government and state health guidelines. SEV chief executive Toby Harris said: “We are very excited to be reopening although we’re more than aware of the myriad challenges that lie ahead. The size and layouts of our concepts, along with new operating procedures, should give assurance to our guests and staff when they return. But, equally importantly, we’re all determined to create the same energy and atmosphere in our venues as ever.”

Shake Shack sees sales hit by pandemic and protests: Shake Shack, which recently opened four new restaurants, said second-quarter like-for-like sales dropped 49% driven by volatility tied to the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide protests in June. The company said sales for the quarter ended 24 June were negatively impacted by about $3.2m in June as stores were forced to temporarily close or operate with reduced hours because of curfews enacted to curb civil unrest in key markets. Overall, the company experienced a 60.1% drop in visits for the quarter. New York City, where the company operates its highest volume of stores, is expected to have a longer recovery time, the company said. For the week ended 1 July, like-for-like sales at New York City locations were down 58%. In the previous quarter the region accounted for 20% of like-for-like sales. System-wide like-for-like sales declined 39% for the week ended 1 July. Shake Shack has reclosed some stores after health officials reported a spike in coronavirus cases in certain areas. At the end of the second quarter, 60% of its restaurants were operating dine-in with limited capacity. Despite the challenges, the company said it had extended a 10% premium pay rise to all hourly employees. The wage increase is expected to continue until at least 22 July. The four new openings were in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Charlotte and St Louis. Each had opened with “encouraging levels of sales,” the company said.

Coffi Co founder launches gin and bakery concept in Cardiff: Justin Carty, who is behind Cardiff-based cafe bar concept Coffi Co, has launched a new venture in the city. Carty has opened Gin & Bake at the Mermaid Quay development on Cardiff Bay’s waterfront. The venue has opened for takeaway while a seated area in the live bakery and in the secret gin garden will follow as soon as government restrictions allow. Coffi Co has been trading from all its outlets during lock-down via its app, with a home delivery service available from four of them. On that basis, Coffi Co was also able to open its sixth outlet in Penarth in April despite coronavirus restrictions. Carty told Insider Media: “We are focused on building a business that combines the key ingredients of a great leisure-driven location, welcoming atmosphere and the very best coffee, freshly baked cakes and, of course, gin. We’re keen to continue with our growth strategy by focusing on continually improving and expanding our offer in new and exciting leisure-driven locations across South Wales.”

Cereal Killer Cafe closes London sites because of coronavirus impact: Belfast-born identical twins Alan and Gary Keery have announced their two Cereal Killer Cafes in London won’t reopen because of the impact of coronavirus on the hospitality industry. The Keerys opened the UK’s first cereal-themed cafe in Brick Lane in late 2014. However, they issued a statement on social media confirming the outlet and a second venue in Camden won’t reopen. The business will continue as an online entity, with the brothers refusing to rule out a return to the high street in the future. In a video accompanying the statement, Alan Keery said the company had sold more than one million bowls of cereal since opening but added: “Coronavirus has been pretty tough on the hospitality industry and unfortunately Cereal Killer Cafe is going to be one of the casualties.” He said the online side of the business, however, had performed well during lock-down. “This is not cheerio forever,” the brothers said in the video. “We have goals of seeing our cafe open again but due to the current climate it won’t be financially viable for us to run them. Fast forward a year or two and we hope to reopen but until then we’ll be putting our efforts into growing our online store, creating our own line of products and delivering awesome cereal.”

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