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Mon 14th Sep 2020 - Update: Big Table Group, JD Wetherspoon, Brighton Pier Group
Mie Tye appointed as chairman of The Big Table: The Big Table, which was recently formed to acquire and operate the Bella Italia, Café Rouge and Las Iguanas restaurant brands, has appointed Mike Tye as its non-executive chairman. With extensive board-level experience across the out-of-home food and drink market, Tye will work closely with Epiris, the private equity firm which supported the acquisition in August, and a senior management team led by chief executive James Spragg and chief financial officer Adrian Walker. Tye has more than 30 years’ board and leadership experience in the UK restaurant and eating-out market. He is currently chairman of private equity-backed Moto Hospitality, and of privately-owned Haulfryn Group and vice-chairman of Prostate Cancer UK. He is former chief executive of Spirit Group and recently stepped down as a non-executive director of The Restaurant Group PLC. Additionally, he has led Costa Coffee, David Lloyd Leisure and Premier Travel Inn. Mike also sits on the Council of UKHospitality. Epiris Managing Partner Alex Fortescue said: “We’re delighted to be working with Mike. There are very few individuals in the UK leisure and hospitality market with Mike’s accomplishments, standing and experience, and we are confident he will be a tremendous asset to James and the team at The Big Table.” Tye added: “With a talented management team in place and supportive, experienced investors, The Big Table represents an exceptional opportunity to build a first-class UK restaurant business. These are challenging times, but this is a strong business with brands that are popular with customers, and it is well placed to overcome the current uncertainty and deliver growth over the years ahead.” The Big Table comprises over 150 restaurants across its three core brands and its formation safeguarded more than 4,000 jobs across the UK. Epiris’ investment in the business has enabled it to reopen its restaurants over the past month. Around 140 sites are now welcoming guests, with the remaining openings planned for the coming weeks.

Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin stresses pubs safety credentials: Pub company Wetherspoon has reported that it has had approximately 32 million customer visits to its 861 open pubs in the ten weeks since 4 July. There have been 66 positive tests for covid-19 among its 41,564 employees during this time. 811 pubs have reported zero positive tests, 40 pubs have reported one, six pubs two, two pubs three and two pubs four. Most of the reported cases have been mild or asymptomatic and 28 of the 66 employees have already returned to work, after self-isolating in accordance with medical guidelines. Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin said: “The situation with regard to pubs has been widely misunderstood. For example, Professor Hugh Pennington, of Aberdeen University, has said, without scientific evidence, that pubs are ‘dangerous places to be’ (Daily Express, 14 August). This sort of negative view about pubs may have been fuelled by inaccurate press headlines. The Daily Mail (11 September), for example, said ‘Britons have promised to run riot’ during the weekend and referred to the situation as being like ‘the last days of Rome’. In fact, trade was very quiet over the weekend, as the public weighed up the evidence about the alleged dangers of going out – Wetherspoon sales were 22.5% below the equivalent Saturday last year. It is clearly not the case that pubs are ‘dangerous places to be’. There have been more positive cases at one farm in Hereford than at all Wetherspoon pubs- and over four times as many at one sandwich-making facility in Northampton. As Swedish epidemiologist Johan Giesecke has said, strong scientific evidence shows that handwashing and social distancing, as practised by most pubs, work. In this connection, Wetherspoon has invested around £15 million on comprehensive social distancing and hygiene measures. These include reducing capacity, spacing out tables, the installation of screens between tables and around tills, and an average of ten hand sanitisers per pub. Bad decisions are built on false presumptions, like those of Professor Pennington and the Daily Mail. As Councillor Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, has recently said: ‘The data we have shows that the infection rate has risen, mainly due to social interactions, particularly private household gatherings. In shops and hospitality venues there are strict measures in place to ensure they are covid-free, whereas it is much easier to inadvertently pass on the virus in someone’s house, where people are more relaxed and less vigilant’.” Martin added: “If pubs are closed, or restricted so much that they become unprofitable, a great deal of the strenuous effort of the hospitality industry’s 3.2 million employees, currently engaged on upholding hygiene and social distancing standards, will be lost – leaving the public to socialise at home or elsewhere, in unsupervised circumstances. A major difference between the UK’s and Sweden’s approach, as reflected in comments from the Daily Mail and the approach of the government, is a lack of trust in the public. The UK has adopted a colossally expensive ‘big brother’ approach, based on exhortation, lockdowns, bewilderingly frequent changes of direction and other heavy-handed initiatives. In Sweden, public policy is based on trusting the people and this will eventually lead to far superior results. Although it is clearly possible for covid-19 infections to take place in pubs and shops, the evidence indicates that the risk is low, provided social distancing and hygiene rules are followed, and common sense is used, in line with the views of Professor Giesecke and Councillor Ward.”

Brighton Pier Group reports ‘better than expected’ 77% of last year’s revenue, bars division had to terminate some contracts: Brighton Pier Group has reported trade is 77% of last year’s levels. The company stated: “We can confirm that Brighton Palace Pier, six of our eight golf sites and two of our twelve bars reopened on 4 July and the remaining two golf sites and soft play on the Pier reopened on 24 August. Extensive measures have been put into place at all our locations to ensure that social distancing complies with the government’s covid-19 guidelines. Group trading for the period from 4 July to the 6 September has been better than the board expected, with total revenue from all the group’s open operations at 77% of the same period last year. On a divisional basis, during this same period, revenue for the Pier was 78% compared to last year, for the open Golf sites was 86% compared to last year, and for the open Bar sites was 59% compared to last year. As has been widely reported, most of the late-night venues such as those that dominate the group’s Bars division have not been permitted to reopen, with two exceptions in its food led operations: ‘Lowlander’ (in central London) and the outside terrace at ‘Coalition’ (in Brighton).Re-opening of the late-night bars had been scheduled to commence in October, but as time has progressed the government has continued to avoid making any commitment to an opening date. This lack of certainty coupled with the government’s intention to end the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme by the end of October has resulted in the Bars division having to terminate the contracts for those members of staff for whom we cannot currently provide any prospect of work for the foreseeable future. The very nature of the late-night, live DJ-led dancing experience presents significant challenges given current government regulations. The potential need to repurpose dancefloors and to seat customers in a socially distanced fashion, with an absence of live music and dancing, will fundamentally change the business model with significant reduction in capacity. Given the uncertainty surrounding reopening dates, the group has been working on plans to trial this new model in some of its larger venues. So far, we have traded six nights in Putney ‘Le Fez’ and six nights in Chelsea’s ‘Embargo’. We have been encouraged by the support from our customers and will continue to trial these and potentially more nights until the end of September. We continue to work with our landlords in both the Golf division and late night Bars division to secure rent concessions and on-going turnover rent so as to mitigate the cost from the closed period, the sales impact of covid-19 restrictions during the re-opening phase and the continuing extended closures in the Bars division. The directors will report back to shareholders once these negotiations are completed.” Chief executive Anne Ackord added: “I am pleased with trading on the Pier, in our golf sites and the two food led bars that opened on the 4 July. At 77% of last year, it is better than expectations and while visitor numbers are down on last year spend per head has grown by 20%.There remains however an urgent need for the government to agree a plan for the re-opening of our late night estate so that we can manage their return to business as quickly and effectively as possible.”

Tokyo Industries plans York opening: Tokyo Industries has acquired the Carluccio’s site in York’s St Helen’s Square, which was once the old Terry’s Café, and plan to turn it into a day-night space featuring a tea room, cocktail bar and restaurant. They hope to open the new venue, as yet unnamed, in November. Stephanie Powell of Tokyo Industries said on Facebook: “We have taken on the old Terrys Chocolate Orange/Carluccio site and are looking at opening a venue comprising of an Instagrammable tea room with delicious cakes, a cracking cocktail bar, a quality restaurant offering, and a Speak Easy with live music, DJs and party vibes in the evening.”

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