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Mon 26th Oct 2020 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

UKHospitality survey shows low level of transmission in hospitality sector: A survey by UKHospitality of its members has shown there is low level of transmission of covid-19 in the hospitality sector. The survey, which covered 568 businesses, across 12,522 venues and employing 358,000 people, found over the 14 weeks that hospitality businesses had been open only 1,728 infections were reported within the workforce. This equates to an infection rate of 0.48% of employees over the entire period. This number of infections covers about 20 million work shifts. The sample reported businesses had been notified of 780 customers having been infected with the virus. This is 0.06 customer infections per venue. Over this period UKHospitality said it believed there had been 250 million customer visits in the premises surveyed, meaning the notification rate is therefore 0.0003% of all customer visits. As reported over the weekend, the survey also found businesses had been informed of only 104 cases by Test and Trace since the summer reopening. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “It is fully appreciated not all staff or customer infections will be revealed to the hospitality venues and so these results will represent an underestimate of the true data. Equally, we have been informed Test and Trace and its equivalents will only contact a venue if there are two or more infections related to that venue, and so this number will not reflect infections identified (though the fact there are relatively low numbers of ‘clusters’ suggests cases are relatively low). While there are different data available on infection rates the data we have collected paints a picture of what we have seen and has been identified to the hospitality sector. This is there is an extremely low level of transmission in the hospitality sector, confirming the view measures specifically targeting the hospitality sector are unjustified and should be reconsidered.”
  

Industry News:

Customer confidence rises slightly but fears remain over second wave: Customer confidence has improved slightly for the third quarter but concerns remain over a second wave of the pandemic, according to the latest Deloitte Consumer Tracker. It has registered a rise in confidence of one percentage point to minus 16 from its second quarter findings but this is still seven percentage points behind the same period in 2019. Meanwhile, sentiment improved for job security, job opportunities and career progression, and children’s education as hospitality reopened during the summer and the academic year resumed. However, while sentiment on the economy improved six percentage points quarter-on-quarter, the combination of new local lock-down measures, a year-end Brexit transition deadline and the ongoing financial impact of covid-19 saw year-on-year confidence fall by 27 percentage points to minus 82%. Net spending increased quarter-on-quarter across leisure categories including eating out (up 47%), drinking in pubs and bars (up 35%) and visiting coffee and sandwich shops (up 33%). This was attributed to an easing of coronavirus restrictions from early July, combined with warmer weather and continued financial support from government schemes, such as Eat Out To Help Out. Deloitte partner for hospitality and leisure Simon Oaten said: “The gradual reopening of many leisure activities during the third quarter prompted a timid return to social life for consumers. Financial support for the sector has resulted in encouraging signs but the next six months are likely to determine the speed of the leisure sector’s recovery.” Deloitte surveyed 3,000 UK consumers between 25 and 29 September as some workers returned to home working and early closing rules for pubs and restaurants came into effect.

SHG labels Scotland’s new tier system ‘unnecessarily complex’ with sector left bearing brunt of restrictions due to ‘absurd guesswork’: The Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG) has said the country’s new five-tier system is “unnecessarily complex” and the sector is still left bearing the brunt of restrictions because of “absurd guesswork” by ministers. First minister Nicola Sturgeon has unveiled the new system that comes into force on Monday, 2 November. Under the five tiers, hospitality venues would be forced to close at level three while they would be banned from serving customers indoors or have severely restricted opening hours at level two. SHG spokesman Stephen Montgomery said: “The new financial support package, while welcome, is the equivalent of being abandoned at sea with only a lifejacket. We cannot survive if the intention is to impose these restrictions indefinitely. More levels are just another example of an unnecessarily complex system that leaves both businesses and the public confused. The hospitality industry is still left bearing the brunt with no scientific, statistical, or medical evidence for these restrictions. We are tired of hearing the numbers ‘may’ or ‘might’ or ‘could’ be impacted by our ongoing economic ‘sacrifices’. It seems ludicrous it is too early to see the effect on case numbers for hospitality yet current measures on household gatherings are determined as having an impact. Between July and September our members have served more than 1.8 million customers with only 17 confirmed cases, demonstrating Scotland’s bars and restaurants offer a far safer environment where people can be sure all possible precautions have been taken to look after them properly. We have repeatedly called on the government to work with us on a solution – we now need confidence that ministers are making decisions and putting measures in place based on tangible evidence rather than absurd guesswork.”
 
Jamie Rollo – pub companies in best position to weather storm of latest coronavirus restrictions despite being hardest hit: Morgan Stanley leisure analyst Jamie Rollo has argued pub companies are in the best position to weather the storm caused by the current coronavirus restrictions despite the sector being among the hardest hit. He said: “After a rapid sales recovery over the summer (August like-for-likes flat year-on-year, aided by the VAT cut and Eat Out To Help Out), like-for-likes have been weakening sharply, with September like-for-likes minus 15%, and last weekend (the first period since the tiers were introduced) minus 60% for businesses in ‘very high’ and minus 50% in ‘high’ (CGA data) tiers. However, while the outlook is clearly highly uncertain, we take comfort from the following: first, liquidity is solid, with Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) at £240m at the end of September, not burning cash that quarter and needing minus 35% to 40% like-for-likes to lose money, and JD Wetherspoon at £194m at the end of July and also guiding to being cash positive with like-for-likes down to minus 50%. Second, pubs are relatively defensive, with like-for-likes in the 2009 downturn broadly stable, and their local, low ticket, and habitual nature likely to see revenues recover faster than other more discretionary parts of our coverage. Third, we think a material amount of supply could exit the market, possibly in the double digits, depending on the level of support from landlords and the government. Finally, they also have solid real estate backing (M&B 83% freehold mix, Wetherspoon 64%, Marston’s 89%), and the stocks trade at close to record price-to-book ratio lows, with M&B at 0.3 times FY19 net asset value. If we factor in this year’s losses and the first half impairment, this rises to 0.5 times for M&B – still very low (particularly considering there is an ‘opco’ value in addition to the freehold assets). If M&B were to recover 2019 profits, the shares would be trading on four times price-to-earnings ratio (ie, already factoring in the possible risk of an equity raise) and 5.7 times EV/Ebitda (including pension deficit).”
 
Total of £75m in grants given to 35 top ‘cultural’ venues: The government is set to deliver £75m in grants to 35 of the country’s top cultural organisations and venues – from the Old Vic to Shakespeare’s Globe. The Design Museum, Sadler’s Wells, the Sheffield Crucible, Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre and the Birmingham Repertory will all receive emergency funding. It is the latest tranche of money to be distributed from the Government’s £1.57bn culture recovery fund. The 1,000-seat Old Vic theatre in London, which was established in 1818, received a £3m grant – the highest on offer. More than £52m – 70% of the total awarded in this round – will go to organisations outside London. A second round of grants of more than £1m and the recipients of a £270m loans package will be announced in the coming weeks.
 
Rocco Forte – Matt Hancock should resign over economic devastation: Hotelier Rocco Forte has called for the resignation of health secretary Matt Hancock over the economic devastation caused to the leisure sector. Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he stated: “My own business will be forced to make 80 people redundant out of a total staff in the UK of 450 when furlough ends. My two city-centre hotels in this country are languishing on occupancy rates of 20% and this is unlikely to change until international travel returns to something approaching normal. This is a disastrous and unnecessary state of affairs. The fact is I believe it’s time to remove the figurehead for the current shambolic handling of the crisis, with policies marked by indecision, U-turns and blindness to the devastating impact of its actions. Health secretary Matt Hancock has presided over the deeply dysfunctional Public Health England. I exclude from any blame NHS front line staff, who have been heroes – but heroes, unfortunately, led by donkeys.”

Westminster City Council U-turns on plans to charge for pavement space: Westminster City Council has moved quickly to scrap plans to charge hospitality firms thousands of pounds to keep trading outside through the coming months. On Friday (23 October) City AM revealed the council was set to charge businesses £7 per square metre of outside space, per day, once the existing “alfresco” scheme comes to an end on Saturday (31 October). The plans were met with uproar from restaurants and bars, which have already been hammered by the enhanced coronavirus restrictions forced on the capital. London mayor Sadiq Khan also condemned the plans, saying the “excessive charges” were “short-sighted and counter-productive”. He urged the council to axe the scheme in order to “keep the centre of London vibrant and open throughout this challenging time”. The council has now U-turned on the decision. Council leader Rachael Robathan said: “We recognise restaurants are facing desperate times – that’s why we introduced the summer alfresco dining scheme and have extended it to the winter. In view of additional central government funding, announced on Thursday (22 October), we are able to cover costs of the winter scheme so restaurants and bars can serve customers without any extra cost being charged by the council.”
 
New ‘tier four’ restrictions ‘could close restaurants and non-essential shops’: Civil servants are reportedly drawing up plans for an extra-tough fourth tier of covid restrictions in England in case the current system fails to make a dent in the coming weeks. The measures could see restaurants and non-essential retailers such as clothes shops forced to close in areas where tier three rules have not brought the virus under control. Whitehall sources told inews a decision could be made by mid-November, when there is enough data to gauge the effectiveness of the three-tier system. Other options under consideration include ramping up existing tier three rules to “tier three-plus”, or “circuit-breaker” total lock-downs in coronavirus hotspots. Local circuit-breakers would look similar to the lock-down Leicester faced over summer, the sources added, shutting down most businesses and banning travel outside the region rather than simply advising against it.
 
Preston pub owner offers ‘meals for a penny’ to get round tier three restrictions: A Preston pub owner desperate to save his business is offering customers meals for a penny to get around newly introduced, tier three restrictions. Andy MacDonald is the landlord of the Ships and Giggles pub in the Lancashire town, which has been placed under the strictest level. It means pubs can only stay open if they served “substantial food” with drinks. MacDonald offered customers free fish nuggets and chips but was then told by council bosses he was flouting the rules because he was giving the food away. But he is now offering food to drinkers but charging just a penny for a single meal. He claimed the advice and guidance given has been unacceptable and confusing as “substantial” could mean anything. MacDonald told PA: “I’m providing a free meal for people who don’t have much – and we’ve been told we can’t do that. It’s an absolute disgrace. We have done so much to ensure we can operate during covid, and now we’re told we need to shut again. It’s ridiculous. We are fighting to stay alive, we are fighting for our customers and for our staff who all deserve better. So moving forward, meals are now a penny. However you can ‘pay what you want’. If you have been affected financially, pay a penny, if you haven’t, pay a little more.”
 
Sector steps up to help after MPs reject school meals campaign: Cafes, pubs and restaurants across the country have stepped up to offer free school meals for local children during half term, after MPs rejected a campaign started by footballer Marcus Rashford. A vote on the measures was backed by Labour and made its way to parliament, but it was defeated by 322 votes to 261. Now dozens of hospitality businesses have shown they “stand with Rashford, not the 322”, by supporting families during the school holidays. The acts of generosity come amid a difficult time for the hospitality industry, with many business owners struggling to cope with the effects of coronavirus restrictions on their trade. Rashford, who was recently awarded an MBE after forcing a government U-turn on free school meal vouchers over the summer holidays, said he was “blown away” by the offers of support, and has been re-tweeting businesses offering free meals. “Selflessness, kindness, togetherness, this is the England I know,” the Manchester United footballer tweeted. “Add #ENDCHILDFOODPOVERTY to your tweets so I can track them. I will share as many as I can.”
 
Liverpool business leaders launch campaign to help support hospitality sector: Business leaders in Liverpool have launched a campaign to help support the hospitality sector with the city under the highest tier of coronavirus restrictions. Led by Liverpool ONE, Liverpool BID, Visit Liverpool and Marketing Liverpool, the “Help Campaign” is calling on businesses and local people to help each other by supporting local restaurants, cafes and retail. It said while there may be restrictions in place, Liverpool and its businesses remain open. Marketing Liverpool director Chris Brown said: “This is not about asking for financial support from the local, regional or national governments. This is about bringing the Liverpool City Region together to ensure everyone stands side-by-side to face and beat the impact of the pandemic. It is a campaign drawing on the power of people to make a place; for the spirit of the city to see it through. To paraphrase The Beatles, Liverpool will get by with a little help from its friends. And there are friends aplenty in the city.”

Subscription service launches giving home cooks access to top UK chefs: Food platform Great British Chefs has launched a new online subscription offering giving home cooks the opportunity to learn directly from the very best chefs in the country. The Great British Chefs Club offers insights into how chefs work, master cooking techniques, and create their dishes. Subscribers will receive exclusive recipes from leading chefs, in addition to offers and a new weekly Signature Series masterclass. Subscribers also have full access to the entire Great British Chefs site, including more than 10,000 recipes, features, guides, and video tutorials from more than 160 chefs and in excess of 200 food influencers. The first chefs to join the Great British Chefs Club line-up and share their expertise, tips and skills exclusively with members include Michel Roux Jr; Raymond Blanc and Larkin Cen, the former MasterChef contestant who is behind the Woky Ko concept in Bristol. Other chefs set to offer recipes later this autumn include Kricket co-founder and head chef Will Bowlby; and Ben Tish, head chef at Sicilian-inspired Norma in Fitzrovia and formerly chef-director at Salt Yard.
 
European hotel market sees occupancy dip amid new lock-downs: The European hotel market has seen occupancy dip amid new lock-downs around the continent, according to the latest data from STR. For the week ending 17 October, occupancy fell to 32.7%. It comes as STR reported the European hotel industry saw slight performance decreases in September from the prior month. Occupancy was down 51.7 percentage points compared with last year, at 38.9% – the lowest for any September on record. Average daily rate fell 27.2 percentage points – to €90.78 – while revpar dropped 64.8 percentage points to €35.31.
 
CMA launches investigation into proposed Crowdcube and Seedrs merger: The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an investigation into the proposed merger between crowdfunding platforms Crowdcube and Seedrs. The CMA is inviting comments from interested parties by Friday (30 October) and is also considering a request from Crowdcube and Seedrs for the investigation to be fast-tracked to phase two. That would see a phase one decision typically being adopted within ten to 15 working days of the launch of the merger inquiry. A phase two investigation would then last 24 weeks – subject to a possible extension of eight weeks. The CMA stated: “The period for this consultation is relatively short – five working days – as interested parties will have further opportunities to present their views on the proposed merger during the phase two investigation.” Crowdcube and Seedrs announced their intention to merge earlier this month. Both platforms will continue to operate independently and companies can still invest and raise capital, and buy and sell shares in the secondary market.
 
More than 100 UK hotels sign up for scheme to offer guests incentives in exchange for their custom: More than 100 UK hotels have signed up to a scheme that encourages customers to use hotels while owners give a little something back too. The #SleepOverToHelpTurnover initiative, which has been spearheaded by the Hospitality Professionals Association (HOSPA), has seen group-owned and independent hotels get involved. Some of the rewards that hotels are offering include up to 30% off the booking price, as well as complimentary upgrades, discounted meals, and free drinks and parking. HOSPA chief executive Jane Pendlebury said: “We’ve seen a fantastic response from hotels that have really embraced the campaign. To have so many sign up shows it’s clearly struck a chord. Equally, we’re seeing a wonderful response from the public, with many of the hotels involved seeing an increase in bookings off the back of it.”
 
Candidate of the day: With a career in hospitality and retail spanning 22 years, Peter Boswell is looking for his next role as a result of being made redundant through the covid-19 pandemic. Boswell is a head of learning and development and people function professional, with skills including career pathways creation; digital learning; training apps and communication tools; creating and delivering engaging learning sessions; and employee engagement and retention. He is available for an immediate start and is looking for a company that believes in the value of its people function. Boswell can be contacted via pboswell21@gmail.com or 07880 625077 and can also be found on LinkedIn.
 

Company News:

Prominent London members’ club The Conduit placed into administration: The Conduit, the prominent London members' club that opened just two years ago following a reported £38m investment, has been placed into administration. Quantuma has been appointed to oversee the administration process, which has come about after negotiations about the future of the business with its bank Metrobank broke down. In a letter to its members, seen by Propel, The Conduit said: “After emerging from lock-down, our business has shown real resilience and we had been increasingly confident we had weathered the storm. Over the past weeks, as many businesses during this period have been doing, we have been in detailed negotiations with our landlord, our shareholders, and our bank, to establish a strategy to buy out our debt and secure the future of the business. While negotiations appeared to have been progressing well, and before considering a revised offer, to our complete surprise and dismay the bank closed negotiations abruptly and appointed administrators. We are therefore devastated to be writing to inform you The Conduit will cease trading and The Conduit on 40 Conduit Street will be permanently closed. The Conduit team is completely committed to finding a new way forward. In recent days we have been extremely gratified by significant shareholder support and we intend to write to you again in due course with our next steps on how we, and your membership, will continue in a new form. We are now starting our search for a new home and we’d welcome any leads or suggestions from members of the community.”
 
Mcilroy joins SEV as new marketing director: Social Entertainment Ventures (SEV), the US and UK experiential leisure operator, has appointed Lesley Mcilroy, formerly of Bill’s and Comptoir Group, as its new UK marketing director. Mcilroy, who has spent ten years in the hospitality industry, stepped down as marketing director at Bill’s earlier this year. She has also had stints at gastro-pub operator Peach Pub Company and brewer and retailer Greene King, and initially joined SEV with a remit to manage the Bounce brand relaunch. Mcilroy joins SEV as it is investing in a refresh of its Bounce brand and launching new technology to support Wonderball, its digitally enhanced gaming platform. With the brand fast approaching its tenth anniversary, and with an expanding pipeline of new sites, the company said Bounce was entering a new phase of growth. SEV chief executive Toby Harris said: “I’m delighted Lesley has joined the team. She’s an excellent fit with our concepts and she’s already delivering valuable insights. We’re excited to be freshening up the Bounce brand and it’s great to have someone of Lesley’s calibre driving it.”
 
KFC to create 5,400 jobs across UK and Ireland restaurants: KFC is planning to create 5,400 jobs across its 965 restaurants in the UK and Ireland by the end of the year. The company said the new roles are in addition to the 4,300 created since March. Boosted by a surge in demand for online deliveries and takeaway meals during the coronavirus pandemic, KFC is currently on track to hire 10,000 people by the end of the year. The new jobs will be partly supported by the government’s “Kickstart Scheme”, which helps employers create opportunities for 16 to 24-year-olds at risk from long-term unemployment. Launched last month, the programme offers businesses funding to pay staff the national minimum wage in a bid to get young people into work. It is expected to run until December 2021. However, KFC confirmed the roles will be on a permanent basis – either full-time or part-time and offering a minimum of 25 hours per week. Paula MacKenzie, UK and Ireland general manager, said: “With new regional and national lock-downs coming into effect, it’s an uncertain time for many businesses – but due to the phenomenal support from our teams and fans, as well as the governments of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, we’re excited to be able to welcome more than 5,000 new team members ahead of Christmas.” 
 
St Austell to cut up to 100 jobs: Cornwall-based St Austell Brewery is to cut up to 100 jobs from its workforce. The company said the pandemic has had a significant financial impact on its business with a 90% fall in revenue during lock-down. It's now consulting with staff. St Austell, which owns more than 180 pubs across the West Country, began its organisational review in July and it is expected to be finalised by the end of November. Chief executive Kevin Georgel said: “Thanks to government support we’ve been able to keep all of our people employed throughout the crisis. However, as the furlough scheme tapers out, we can no longer maintain our current staffing levels. Like all companies in the hospitality sector we must adapt to how the market has changed. Therefore, we need to simplify our business to become more sustainable, overcome the financial challenges we face and safeguard St Austell’s future.”
 
Red Mist Leisure to ‘give back’ additional cash to apprentices: Pub operator Red Mist Leisure, founded by Mark Robson and Mark Williams, is to “give back” the additional government cash bonus grants to its apprentices to promote and actively support a new generation coming into the hospitality industry. The government is providing additional grants to businesses as part of its recent economic plan. For all new apprenticeships commencing between 31 August 2020 and 31 January 2021, Red Mist Leisure will be giving back the full, additional, cash bonus – between £500 and £2,000 per trainee – to the apprentice, which will be granted in two instalments over the course of the first successful year in placement. The company offers apprenticeship programmes for levels one to five in kitchen, front of house and management positions having launched the programme in September 2018. Robson said: “We recognise the landscape has changed and recruitment in the hospitality industry has been highly affected by the covid-crisis, but we remain committed to the development of our teams and giving opportunity to those who want to enter into this remarkably resilient industry. We have had great success in nurturing incredibly talented apprentices since launching our scheme more than two years ago and I hope, by giving the additional grant bonus back to apprentices, Red Mist will help lead the way by encouraging even more talent into the sector.” New candidates will receive training programmes that vary between 12 and 36 months with a guaranteed full-time role upon completion. Anyone can apply so long as they are aged 16 and over and are eligible to work in the UK.
 
Chipotle tests raising delivery prices by up to 17%: Chipotle is testing raising its delivery menu prices by up to 17% as bosses predicted sales from delivery could exceed $2.5bn in 2020. The increases vary by test market, company leaders told analysts during the brand’s third-quarter results call. After experiencing a severe decline in like-for-like sales in the second quarter, which reflected the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Chipotle posted positive third-quarter results. It reported an 8.3% increase in like-for-likes – compared with a 9.8% decline in the previous quarter. “We're getting close to being back to where we were performing pre-covid, even though we're still in a covid world,” chief executive Brian Niccol said. About 85% of the brand’s 2,710 restaurants are operating at limited capacity for dine-in and/or patio seating. Chipotle said ten restaurants, most of which are in shopping centres, remain temporarily closed. The company opened 44 restaurants and closed three sites during the quarter. For next year the brand projects it could open as many as 200 restaurants. Digital sales grew 202.5% to $776m, accounting for 48.8% of sales during the quarter. That’s up from 18.3% from last year. “We believe digital sales could exceed $2.5bn in 2020 – more than double what we did last year,” Niccol said. 
 
Revolution Bars Group to reopen fourth further sites: Revolution Bars Group, which operates the Revolution and Revolución de Cuba brands, is to reopen four more of its sites. The Revolution venues in Blackpool, Cheltenham, Milton Keynes and Newcastle-Under-Lyme will welcome customers back from Monday (26 October). Chief executive Rob Pitcher said: “By taking a phased approach to opening our venues we can ensure our guest and teams are as safe as possible, and team members are trained to the highest quality on safe operating procedures. This is a critical time for the hospitality industry and the reopening of venues has to be done in a measured and calculated way to ensure the lowest risk, and longevity of our plans.” 

Chop and Wok opens Wellington site: Birmingham-based wrap and noodle brand Chop and Wok has opened a site in Wellington, Shropshire. The company has opened the outlet in Bridge Road, with the help of a £10,000 grant from Telford & Wrekin Council through its Pride in Our High Street initiative. The site has capacity for about 15 people to eat in and also offers takeaway and delivery. Owner Anil Dass said the decision to open in Wellington was made after identifying a need in the town, and the council grant played a major role in helping the business get up and running. Chop and Wok, which opened its debut restaurant in 2009, operates six sites in Birmingham and one in Wolverhampton. The brand offers dishes such as noodles, rice, soup, curries and a range of sides.

Carver opens cheese and wine shop Funk: Mathew Carver, founder of Pick & Cheese and The Cheese Bar, has launched cheese and wine shop Funk. The outlet in Columbia Road, Hackney, offers more than 30 hand-selected cheeses from across the UK. The shop also features a seasonally rotating line-up of low intervention wine, cider and beer. Mixed cheese boxes are available for collection or delivery too. Carver said: “After the incredible success of our lock-down cheese deliveries and the amazing support our customers showed for British cheese, we knew we wanted to find a way to keep our retail cheese sales alive and a cheese shop felt like the perfect next step. Funk isn’t going to be just another cheese shop, it’s a chance for people to ask questions, try something new and discover what British cheese is all about.”
 
Drake & Morgan and Antic alumni launch Deptford pub: Calum McKinnon, formerly of London-based bar and restaurant group Drake & Morgan, and James Ross, previously of London pub operator Antic, have joined forces to launch a pub in Deptford. The duo have opened Badger Badger in Deptford High Street, offering a yakitori and fried food menu alongside a selection of beer and board games. The idea of yakitori as the focus came from McKinnon, who felt it wasn't reaching its full potential in the UK as the “ultimate bar food”, reports Hot Dinners. The menu includes miso-glazed salmon, smoked duck breast and charred cucumber, and tempura broccoli and potato skins. The pub is also be a workspace during the day and Tanuki Gaming runs its gaming room with more than 100 board games available to rent.
 
Culinary stars on board for virtual-led set of cooking experiences: RA Group, a collection of specialist food and guest services companies, has launched a four-pronged virtual hospitality service that shares culinary experiences and delivers food and drink too – with some of the industry’s biggest names on board. The scheme is called The Restaurants Associates Experience and is split into Experience Events, Experience Masterclasses, Experience Hampers and Experience Hospitality. Experience Events offers customers an online service on different themes, for example, there are tutorials on cocktail shake-a-longs, wine tasting and olive oil and premium ingredients, which include a hamper of products delivered that are needed for each event. Experience Masterclasses are online tutorials – which could be a live stream or pre-recorded – with food delivered that give details on how to make a three-course meal. Expert chefs include Jason Atherton, Michel Roux Jr, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and River Cottage and RA Group culinary director David Simms. Experience Hampers offers fresh produce that is packaged and delivered. Experience Hospitality caters to the workplace with a premium offering for meetings and team building occasions. Each package can be personalised. RA Group managing director Alice Woodwark said: “We’re excited to launch The Restaurant Associates Experience, working with our network of experts and chefs, to offer world-class catering that meets a range of consumer needs in this current climate.”

North west-based CM Fitness opens site on shopping parade: CM Fitness has opened a ground-floor unit in Timperley’s Charles Court shopping parade, Altrincham. The 500 square foot unit has been taken on a three-year lease deal, reports Insider Media. Owner Charlotte Mack said: “This unit met our criteria of being able to offer the ideal judgment-free space and to provide one-to-one sessions, group training and small classes.” Daniel Lee, director of Regional Property Solutions, which manages Charles Court on behalf of the landlord Taylor Anderson Developments, added: “This is a much sought-after parade and we had plenty of enquiries for this unit, which became available due to the previous tenant’s expansion and was let without any void.”
 
Empire Cinemas to be anchor tenant at £50m leisure development scheme: Independently owned cinema operator Empire Cinemas will be the anchor tenant at the £50m Seaway leisure development scheme in Southend. The project in Essex, which was submitted by Turnstone Estates, was given the go-ahead by the government after years of wrangling. Work is expected to begin in 2021 on the proposal that will include Empire Cinemas’ 11-screen complex with IMAX, and 80-room Travelodge hotel, a 20-lane Hollywood Bowl and other leisure and restaurant offers. The leisure park is expected to create 550 jobs and generate £15m per year. Empire Cinemas chief executive Justin Ribbons said: “Despite the current difficulties caused by the pandemic across the leisure and hospitality sector, Empire Cinemas remains confident that cinema will continue to be at the heart of the community. Watching a film on the big screen is a truly immersive experience like no other – an escape from the ‘everyday’, something that cannot be replicated in home or on mobile devices. We look forward to bringing a new era in cinema to Southend.” Turnstone Estates director Tim Deacon added: “Despite the economic impact of covid-19, we are as committed as ever to delivering the Seaway Leisure scheme, which still meets the needs of Southend in a post-covid world. There has been much speculation on the future of the cinema industry after recent announcements and the ongoing uncertainty caused by covid-19. Fortunately, Empire Cinemas is committed to opening in Southend.” 

North east-based urban winery secures second investment: North east-based urban winery Laneberg Wine, which is on the wine lists of restaurants in the region and stocked by a range of high-end retailers, is scaling up its operations after securing a second investment from the North East Small Loan Fund. The company, based in Gateshead, is the most northerly winery in the UK and released its first vintage of white and rosé wine last year using grapes grown at a vineyard in Gloucestershire. Laneberg Wine, founded by Elise Lane, has worked with regional fund management firm NEL Fund Managers to bring in a further £10,000 investment after securing £35,000 last year. The new investment will help increase production from 9,000 to about 14,000 bottles this year. Lane told Insider Media: “Widening the range of wines we produce will help build brand awareness among an ever-growing range of customers and we’re really excited by the potential of the 2020 vintage.” The North East Small Loan Fund is supported by The European Regional Development Fund.

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