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Fri 11th Dec 2020 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Total sales across hospitality sector plummet by 79% during November: Total sales at Britain’s pubs, pub-restaurants, restaurants and bars fell by 79% during November versus November 2019 as lockdown hit in England and tough trading restrictions continued in Scotland and Wales, according to data from the Coffer Peach Business Tracker. Data from the tracker showed wet-led managed pubs and pub-restaurants were badly affected with total sales for the month 88.8% down on November last year, with sales down 90.2% at bars. Group-owned restaurants faired marginally better, as some were able to rely on delivery business, but still saw total sales tumble 65.9% against the same month in 2019. Total sales in food-led pubs were down 85%. With lockdown in England from 5 November and partial openings in Scotland and Wales, by the last week of the November, just 6% of Britain’s managed pubs and restaurants were trading. “November was a wipe-out for the sector, and came on the back of difficult trading in both September and October as the rollout of more regional covid-19 restrictions depressed sales,” said Karl Chessell, director of CGA, the business insight consultancy that produces the tracker, in partnership with The Coffer Group and RSM. He added: “Although August, with the Eat Out To Help Out initiative, saw healthy sales in food-led businesses, since then trading has become progressively harder. Total sales for the sector were 21% below 2019 levels in September and 33.9% down in October before hitting the buffers last month.” At the end of November, underlying annual like-for-like sales for the whole market were down 43.7% on the previous 12 months. Trevor Watson, executive director, valuations, Davis Coffer Lyons, said: “Sadly, with effectively the whole country in tier two or three for the first half of December at least, prospects for a reasonable bounce back in the most important month of the year are very weak indeed. We hope and pray this Christmas that vaccine progress will soon enable the politicians to swing their policies in favour of saving the economy as well as saving lives.”

Industry News:

Propel Friday Wrap video series with Charlie McVeigh: Propel continues its new Friday Wrap video series tomorrow (11 December) at 3pm. The new series sees Mark Stretton, former sector journalist and now head of sector PR firm Fleet Street Communications, and Propel’s insights editor Mark Wingett discussing that week’s key issues facing the UK’s hospitality sector, with a leading sector operator or expert. This week they are joined by Charlie McVeigh, Draft House founder and The Breakfast Club chairman, to look back on a year of seismic upheaval for the sector, what he has learnt, and his hopes and fears for 2021.

Mark Wingett examines the latest fundraise by Oakman Inns as part of latest Premium column: Propel insights editor Mark Wingett looks at the latest fundraise by Oakman Inns and what comes next for the business and its managed pub sector peers as part of this week’s Premium Opinion, which will be sent to subscribers on Friday (11 December) at 5pm. There will also be the latest sector rumblings from Premium Diary. Propel Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out, discounts to attend Propel conferences and events, and regular columns from Mark Wingett. Subscribers also receive access to our database of multi-site companies, which has grown to 1,600 businesses. An annual premium subscription costs £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers. Email
Ralph Findlay – VAT cut should be permanent and extended to include alcohol: Ralph Findlay, chief executive of Marston’s, has called for the VAT cut to be made permanent – and also extended to alcohol to help wet-led pubs get back on their feet. Speaking to Propel after Marston’s reported sales dropped to £821m for the 53 weeks ending 3 October, compared with £1,173.5m the year before, Findlay said the business rates holiday also needed to be extended until the end of next year. And he believes further government support will be forthcoming “because the alternative will be much worse”. He said: “Things such as VAT and business rates need looking at regardless of the covid crisis. Business rates have been unequal for the sector for as long as we can remember. The business rates holiday needs to continue until the end of 2021. The VAT cut should be made permanent – maybe it can’t remain at the 5% level and has to go up a bit – but it should also be extended to include alcohol and help wet-led pubs get going again. I think further support will be forthcoming because the consequences of not doing anything are far worse – a huge number of job losses and viable businesses going to the wall. We have managed to improve our liquidity position and we can survive this period. For many other operators it is not going to be that way.” Findlay said he was optimistic Marston’s would get back to pre-covid trading levels in the second half of 2021. He added: “Our trade in the fourth quarter – which was 90% of last year’s level – as well as from reopening in July shows clearly people still want to go to the pub. We know December is going to be challenging. We don’t know what it will look like on paper but given we have known what to expect for a while, our expectations for Christmas have been very low. January and February are the weakest months of the year so we hope by the time we get into the spring, and with the rollout of the vaccine to a meaningful number of people, we start to see a recovery and can begin operating without any restrictions.” Findlay said 90% of its pubs in tier two were open with any food offering being provided “in-house” rather than from outside operators. On delivery, Findlay said: “It is something we are doing but 99.9% of what we are thinking about is making sure our pubs are appealing so people can come socialise and celebrate – that’s what we are.” He said 2021 would be a year of consolidation for the business and it would probably start to look at acquisition opportunities again from 2022. He added: “There’s a long road ahead – the next few months for us – and the sector – are going to be very tough.”

UK economic growth ‘effectively halved’ by government restrictions on hospitality sector: UKHospitality has said the implementation of tough tier system restrictions on the sector by the government has “effectively halved the UK’s economic growth”. It added the situation is only likely to get worse unless the “crippling” measures are rethought. The trade body said figures released on Thursday (10 December) by the Office for National Statistics showed GDP grew by 0.4% but accommodation and food services declined by 0.37% compared to September. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “The impact of the restrictions on the hospitality sector has been so severe it has effectively halved the country’s economic growth. Ours is the only sector seeing real negative growth. As a country, we could have seen almost double the growth had our sector only been able to stay on an even keel. Some of these restrictions, we heard only yesterday (Wednesday, 9 December), were brought in without hard evidence to support them. The evidence for others is weak at best. These figures should leave nobody in any doubt the restrictions being placed on us are having a devastating effect and go well beyond anything being experienced in other sectors. The frightening reality is these figures are going to look tame compared to those for November and December when the lockdown was in effect and as the new, harsher tier system began to bite. The government needs to look carefully at these figures before making a decision to plunge more areas into higher tiers – the burden of which falls almost exclusively on hospitality businesses. If we can take a positive from this, it is that the stats make the case for the importance of our sector economically plain for all to see. If we are supported adequately through the tail of this crisis, our businesses can spearhead the country’s economic recovery. But, it will only be able to do so if it survives the next few months.”
Osmond – thousands of sector businesses will collapse if rent arrears not written off: Serial sector investor Hugh Osmond has said thousands of pubs and restaurants will collapse if most of their rent arrears are not written off. Talking to The Sun, Osmond said: “If they have to repay their rent, it’s curtains for most operators, whether large or small. For the survival of hospitality, this needs sorting out. None of us wants to see our favourite pub or restaurant boarded-up forever. Every quarter the moratorium goes on will only add to the backlog.” Osmond, the founder of Punch Taverns and Various Eateries, said he backs a “rent forgiveness” initiative to head off the looming “destruction” of the industry. He believes the proportion of rent forgiven must match sales lost in the outbreak when pubs, bars and restaurants were closed by the government or operated under restrictions. Earlier this week, the government extended the rent moratoria to the end of March 2021 and said it would review commercial landlord and tenant legislation.
Pub sales down 84% on first weekend of reopening as BBPA calls for rethink on tier restrictions ‘knocking stuffing out of Christmas trade’: Pub sales were down 84% year-on-year on the first weekend of reopening, according to the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), which has called on the government to rethink its approach to tier restrictions that are “knocking the stuffing out of Christmas trade”. The trade body said the “stark” number showed how much of an impact the new, tighter tier restrictions are having on pubs’ ability to operate as viable businesses this Christmas. In the same survey of its members, the BBPA also found just four in ten pubs opened across the UK at the weekend. And due to the low levels of trade they experienced, just over half of pub operators (53%) already now expect to close more pubs in the coming weeks. BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “These numbers illustrate the perilous situation our pubs find themselves in this Christmas. The tier restrictions that have been unfairly placed on our pubs are killing them. This must change or thousands of pubs simply won’t survive. How else can the government expect our pubs to survive if they cannot open or operate properly? It is cruel and unfair on hard-working publicans up and down the country who have more than played their part in fighting the virus. Christmas, sadly, just won’t be the same this year without our pubs being able to open properly. The new restrictions are knocking the stuffing out of our Christmas trade. It truly is madness when you consider cinemas, theatres and sports venues can still open and serve alcohol. It’s simple – either the government reduces these extreme restrictions so pubs have a fighting chance of survival, or they recognise the damage they are doing to our pubs and provide them with the proper level of grants they need. Our pubs have invested more than £500m in becoming covid-secure and are safe. Pub-goers visiting their local this Christmas are safe.” 
Sapient – ‘we are encouraged by level of engagement with private equity and real estate funds to deploy capital once again in sector’: Fraser Anderson, partner at Sapient Corporate Finance, has said he is “encouraged by the current level of engagement we are having with private equity and real estate funds to deploy capital once again in the sector”. Anderson said he expected deal activity levels to increase in the coming months from well-funded strategic buyers and investors. Sapient recently advised Channel Islands and West Country-based brewer and retailer The Liberation Group on the acquisition of 21 freehold pubs for its Butcombe Brewing Co business from Devizes-based brewer and retailer Wadworth – the first mergers and acquisitions deal since the national lockdown in March. Anderson said: “Unsurprisingly, undertaking transactions is extremely challenging in the current market with volatile trading conditions, limited availability of financing and complexity around valuation and pricing of deals in a post-covid environment. However, this transaction, the first mergers and acquisitions deal since the national lockdown in March, demonstrates quality assets and businesses can still attract demand, particularly those that are strategic in their nature and where the buyer is well-capitalised and strongly supported by its shareholders, Caledonia Investments in this case.”
UKHospitality pleads with Welsh government to use the sector’s ‘phoenix-like’ abilities to spearhead recovery: UKHospitality Cymru has told Welsh government economy minister Ken Skates to make hospitality one of the five centre point “beacons” to lead the financial recovery in Wales. Skates told Wales’ Senedd members of initial plans for a “five beacon” strategy during a Senedd Plenary session that would be the path to economic recovery post-pandemic. UKHospitality Cymru executive director David Chapman said: “The Welsh government has made it very clear to us in its weekly ministerial discussions that, following the impacts of the past nine months, it now recognises just how vital hospitality is to the Welsh economy, its communities and its culture. Hospitality can be the phoenix-like provider of a resilient resurgence if backed strongly by government across Wales. We are battered but not broken and can bounce back from the seismic shocks and commercial catastrophes of 2020 to be the solid and reliable cornerstone of the new Welsh economy. So, let’s build on our indigenous excellence and together make hospitality the linchpin of the economy of the new Wales. We can weave sense of place, local food and drink suppliers, local employment and the international visitor economy into the heart of the tapestry of a new, vibrant foundational economy.” 
Leading operators join forces to establish Zero Carbon Forum: Leading hospitality operators, including Burger King, BrewDog, Nando’s and The Restaurant Group (TRG), have joined forces to establish the Zero Carbon Forum and collaborate on identifying the quickest reduction path to net zero emissions. The forum is endorsed by the government and backed by trade associations UKHospitality and the British Beer & Pub Association. An initial 18 companies have come together as trailblazers for the Zero Carbon Forum, with membership set to grow throughout 2021. The 18 founding members are Nando’s, Pizza Hut Restaurants, The Restaurant Group including Wagamama, Revolution Bars, BrewDog, Fuller’s, Burger King, PizzaExpress, Boparan, Shepherd Neame, Marston’s, Azzurri, Adnams, Greene King, KFC, M&B, Young’s and St Austell. The Zero Carbon Forum said it would publish an industry roadmap to achieve net zero carbon by September 2021. Mark Chapman, founder and chief executive of the Zero Carbon Forum, said: “Our goal is for hospitality to achieve net zero faster, together. Carbon reduction and sustainable business is increasingly important to our customers so it’s vital that we act now. The window of opportunity to avert climate change disaster is closing fast and we must focus on reducing emissions and a path to net zero. Hospitality is committed to working together at pace to decarbonise its operations and support the government’s green industrial revolution.” The forum will measure and benchmark key emission areas such as energy, water, waste and supply chains for each company and the industry as a whole. Andy Hornby, chief executive of TRG, said: “During the covid crisis, we have all seen the benefits of working together really closely as a hospitality industry. This industry forum gives us the chance to share best practice as we face into the massive challenge of reducing emissions and tackling climate change.” Simon Emeny, chief executive of Fuller’s, said: “Protecting the environment for the next generation is everyone’s responsibility. I’m delighted to be working with such an influential group of people to help shape a sustainable future.”

Plymouth calls on government to help hospitality and other sectors after losing out on £150m tourism spend: Plymouth City Council has called on the government to introduce further measures to help the city’s hospitality, tourism and retail sectors after it estimated it had lost almost £150m in annual visitor spend between March and September. The council expects this figure to increase due to the second lockdown and tier two restrictions. Before the first lockdown, the growth of tourism and the visitor economy had been a big success story for the city with more than 25% growth in the past eight years. There were around 5.4 million visitors in 2018 spending more than £337m annually and supporting nearly 8,000 jobs – more than 7% of the city’s employment. The council, in partnership with Destination Plymouth, which promotes tourism, has called for further measures including maintaining the 5% VAT rate to December 2021 and continued business rates relief to March 2022; support for businesses that have suffered direct cancellations as a result of last-minute lockdown restrictions; and consideration of repayable “cash flow” funding to support businesses this winter and spring, for example, asking banks to extend Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans Scheme repayment terms from six to ten years. Plymouth City Council leader Cllr Tudor Evans said: “We have seen great growth in the hospitality and tourist sectors in Plymouth over the past decade. We need government help to ensure the businesses are still in place so we can continue to grow once the pandemic is over. But our immediate priority is survival.” Destination Plymouth executive director Amanda Lumley added: “There’s no doubt the furlough scheme, grants, business rates relief and VAT reduction have played an important role in supporting our tourism businesses to date but given the severity of the pandemic, more needs to be done.”
Job of the day: Bonnie & Wild’s Scottish Marketplace is one of the most innovative and ambitious food and drink projects in Scotland right now and is searching for a general manager for the Edinburgh food hall. With eight restaurants, three bars, four retailers, private dining, demo kitchen, events space and more, the Edinburgh food hall will be a major draw when it opens at the new St James Quarter in spring 2021. The team at Bonnie & Wild wants a general manager to help drive the city’s first food hall and lead the team of 50 staff in what will become one of the country’s top food and drink destinations showcasing the very best of Scottish produce. Ryan Barrie, head of drinks, said: “This is an exciting and dynamic role for someone to come in at the launch stage and help shape the direction of Bonnie & Wild’s Scottish Marketplace, which will boast some of Scotland’s ‘best-in-class’ food retailers, restaurant operators and craft drink producers. We’re looking for a leader with flair and energy, who has a thorough understanding of food halls and who would embrace the opportunities that living and working in Edinburgh would present.” For more information on the job, including salary, and to apply, click here.

Company News:

Tequila Mockingbird ramps up expansion plans, secures Wimbledon site: South London-based bar operator Tequila Mockingbird has opened two new sites and is in talks on two more, Propel has learned. The company, which was founded in 2015 by cousins Jon Bas and Jake Brennan, opened its sixth site earlier this month in Wimbledon, after securing the former Smash site in The Broadway. It is currently running the site as a pop-up, before closing it in January for a refurbishment and a full opening in February. Earlier this autumn, the group added a fifth site to its estate, after securing the former Graffiti Bar site in Earlsfield. Bas told Propel the company was in talks on two more sites in south London. He said the business had traded exceptionally well after the end of the first lockdown over the summer, and would be looking at further expansion opportunities through 2021. Michael Penfold at AG&G acted on the Wimbledon deal.
Elite Pubs adds former The Woodman site to estate: Kent-based Elite Pubs will add a tenth site to its pub estate in February after securing the former The Woodman site near Sevenoaks. The company, which was founded in 2004 by Martial Chaussy, will reopen the site on Ide Hill, Goathurst Common, as The Pheasant Plucker early next year after a refurbishment. Elite operates eight other pubs in Kent and one in East Sussex. The company also operates two cocktail bars in Kent, The Cow Shed in West Malling and Junipers in Maidstone.
Polish seafood restaurant brand North Fish secures London site: Polish seafood restaurant brand North Fish has confirmed its debut London site, Propel has learned. The company, which secured its debut UK site in Birmingham’s Bullring early last year, is understood to have taken a site in the Westfield Stratford shopping scheme. It is thought that this now will become its first opening outside of Poland, and first in the UK, when it launches next year, with the Birmingham site yet to open. The brand is a subsidiary of North Food and is Poland’s market-leading fish and seafood chain. Last year, North Food, which is owned by Polish investor Michal Solowow, appointed Savills to search for its first UK locations. It is targeting high-footfall sites of between 600 and 1,500 square feet in major shopping centres before expanding to the high street and transport hubs.
Linden to take over from Whitehead as Busaba FD: Michael Linden, formerly of PizzaExpress, is to take over from Marc Whitehead as finance director of Busaba, the Thai chain founded by Alan Yau. Whitehead, formerly finance director of TGI Friday’s and the Fat Duck Group, has been chief financial officer at Busaba since the start of 2018. He steps down after overseeing the sale of the business earlier this summer and a recent company voluntary arrangement (CVA), which was approved in October. Linden joins Busaba after almost ten years at PizzaExpress, where he was recently head of restaurant trading (UK & Ireland) and, before that, head of commercial finance. He previously also had stints at Sodexo and Pizza Hut. Busaba, which earlier this summer was acquired by London-based private equity firm Tnui Capital, launched its CVA at the start of September. The CVA saw it exit its site in Eastcastle Street, Oxford Circus, which it placed on the market earlier this year; plus the lease of its former site in Manchester; the lease of its former site in St Albans; and the site it was set to take in Reading’s Jackson’s Corner development. Last month, managing director Terry Harrison told Propel the company had agreed deals with landlords on eight of its 12 sites and was close to agreeing most of the last remaining sites.
Billionaire Life to double up with second Crazy Pizza branch in London: Billionaire Life, which is owned by Italian businessman and former Formula One boss Flavio Briatore, has announced it will add a second Crazy Pizza site to its London portfolio. Crazy Pizza Knightsbridge is set to open in early January on Hans Crescent near to Harrods. The Knightsbridge iteration will boast a year-round heated terrace and floor-to-ceiling windows for people watching. There will also be a central DJ booth that will see DJs play eclectic and vintage tunes encouraging diners to sing and dance alongside pizza-spinning chefs. Pizzas will be thin crust using yeast-free dough. The Pata Negra, Focaccia and Tartufo with black and white truffle shavings are the stand-out dishes. Online bookings open from Monday (14 December). Its sister site Crazy Pizza Marylebone opened in 2019, and it also has sites in Porto Cervo in Sardinia and in Monte Carlo, France.

Goodbody – M&B will be ‘attractive way to play the recovery in eating and drinking out’: Goodbody leisure analyst Paul Ruddy has argued Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) will be an “attractive way to play the recovery in eating and drinking out”. Issuing a ‘Buy’ note on the shares with a target price of 350p, Ruddy said: “M&B reported FY20 results recently, the highlight of which was the fact bank net debt was broadly flat year-on-year. This was a reflection of good operational control both before and during the covid crisis, as well as government support. This allows it to navigate the current tier system that continues to severely impact near-term revenues. We reduce revenue forecasts for FY21 as the restrictions phase has persisted longer than we anticipated. For the current year, we see year-on-year sales growth of 13%, owing primarily to a shorter period of full lockdown. Revenues in FY21 remain circa 25% below prior peak. This reflects a highly disrupted first quarter, where a significant percentage of the estate is subject to severe restrictions; an easing of restrictions through the second quarter; and the estate returning to full operational capacity from the third quarter onwards with a good recovery in like-for-like sales. We believe the combination of its food-led focus; a well-invested estate; strong management team; and low valuation (6.3 times FY23 Ebitda), indicates M&B is an attractive way to play the recovery in eating and drinking out. With little structural impediment to eating out in a post-vaccine world, and demand concerns somewhat offset by a supply reduction, there is little reason it should not return to prior peak sales and margin in time. We increase our target price to 350p from 169p and with 40% upside, we reiterate our ‘Buy’ rating.”
Starbucks aims for $15 minimum wage: Starbucks is aiming for a $15 minimum wage, as the company makes a major investment in worker pay. Chief executive Kevin Johnson told The Wall Street Journal, over the next three years, he wants to raise wages for all US store workers to at least $15 per hour. Starbucks is in the process of giving all employees at least 10% raises, with pay hikes rolling out across the US by Monday (14 December). On Wednesday (9 December), Johnson released a public letter he sent to Congress, calling for “immediate bipartisan action to pass new covid relief legislation”. In the letter, Johnson highlighted financial investments Starbucks made during the pandemic and the recent wage hike. He said: “With these investments, more than 30% of our US retail partners are currently at or above $15 per hour and we continue on our path to ensure all US partners will be making at or above $15 per hour within the coming two to three years.” Starbucks workers have been pushing for a $15 minimum wage, with almost 10,000 people signing a petition on the topic.
Loungers shareholders trim stakes: Three members of the senior management team at cafe-bar operator Loungers along with private equity firm Lion Capital have sold shares in the listed company. Alex Reilley, co-founder and chairman; chief executive Nick Collins; and Jake Bishop, co-founder and commercial director; and Lion Capital have collectively sold about 4.25 million ordinary shares, at a price of 215 pence per share, representing about 4.2% of Loungers’ share capital. The placing shares were offered by way of an accelerated bookbuild with Peel Hunt and Liberum Capital acting for the selling shareholders. The remainder of the company’s shares held by Reilley, Collins and Bishop following the secondary placing will be subject to a lock-up that ends 180 days after completion of the share sale. Loungers is not a party to the placing and will not receive any proceeds. Following the placing, Reilley, Collins and Bishop own 6.79%, 1.06% and 6.35% of the company respectively while Lion Capital has a 26.10% stake.
Reel secures £3.5m CBILS: Independent cinema operator Reel has secured £3.5m through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) to help it trade “through this incredibly difficult period for the business”. The company said following a phased reopening of its 15 venues from July, it began to see the public returning “despite fewer attendances than before the pandemic”. It stated: “The group has sourced all relevant and available financial support to ensure the group can continue to operate. In total, about 200 staff were placed on furlough during the months the cinemas were closed, with only a core team operating from head office during this period. We anticipate utilising the extended Job Retention Scheme to some extent in the period to 31 March 2021 as a result of the anticipated reduction in film releases and attendances. Since the outbreak of covid-19 in March 2020, the group has had very little income due to the closures. We have taken the decision to apply for a CBILS loan of £3.5m giving us the flexibility and funding to help us trade through this incredibly difficult period. The loan allows a 12-month period before the capital repayments must commence and is also interest-free during this time, which should enable us to hopefully return to profitability during this period and begin to generate positive cash flows. The roster of upcoming films have, in part, been delayed to 2021 and beyond, which has further contributed to the decrease in attendances, however, we anticipate a large proportion of the public will have been nervous about returning to the cinema. While the environment we currently find ourselves remains difficult as a result of dealing with the challenges of the covid-19 outbreak, we believe the business will be in a strong position in the future to be able to continue the rollout of its strategy of operating state of the art multiplex cinemas.” Reel provided the update as it reported turnover for the year ending 26 December 2019 remained flat at £11m. Pre-tax profit for the period fell to £137,000 from £758,000 the year before.
Incipio Group sells more than 32,500 tickets for seasonal experience at Pergola Paddington: Incipio Group, operator of venues including The Prince and Lost in Brixton, has reported it has sold more than 32,500 tickets for the seasonal transformation of its Pergola Paddington venue. The “Miracle on Kingdom Street” features a winter wonderland forest, igloos and alpine winter hall and has been created with the help of more than 70 freelancers, independents, small businesses and suppliers. Incipio Group sales and marketing director Anthony Knight said: “From this festive pop-up, we have been able to create dozens of new jobs and provide a much-needed boost for business. Everyone from set builders, carpenters, designers and illustrators to musicians, performers, Christmas tree growers and even Father Christmas himself have helped to bring Miracle on Kingdom Street to life in a covid-19 safe and secure way without sacrificing the magic of Christmas.” “Miracle on Kingdom Street” will run until the end of January, with a line-up of après ski-themed brunches and parties confirmed for early 2021.
Guinea Grill launches Guinea Express pop-up: Mayfair-based pub The Guinea Grill has launched the “Guinea Express” pop-up. Young's, in conjunction with the pub’s landlord Oisin Rogers and his staff, have taken over the former PizzaExpress site opposite the Guinea Grill in order to provide room for 60 additional socially distanced guests this Christmas season. The business said that because of demand for tables at the pub after lockdown ended, it had secured the opposite space in order to be able to serve “more customers safely and retain their full staff”. Rogers said: “We want to be able to serve our customers really safely, and because of this, we lost 40% of our capacity when we reopened in summer in order to keep social distancing in place. That is totally correct but to keep a large team, keep the chefs busy and make sure we can take as many reservations as possible, it’s a really good solution to keep the business somewhat profitable and sustain it through this pandemic.”

Greene King relaunches free drink offer to designated drivers for festive anti-drink-drive campaign: Brewer and retailer Greene King is partnering with Coca-Cola European Partners to run its anti-drink-drive campaign again this year offering a free drink to designated drivers through its Hero the Driver initiative. Now in its 11th year, Greene King pubs operating under tier one and two restrictions will take part in the festive campaign from Friday (11 December) until Monday, 4 January. Customers who spot the Coca-Cola sponsored advert on Facebook and Instagram for the buy one, get one free scheme can fill in a few details and will receive a QR code to be scanned at their chosen pub or they can claim their drink through the Greene King order and pay app. Drinks available are Coca-Cola, Coke Zero and Diet Coke. Greene King corporate affairs director Greg Sage said: “This has been a year most of us want to forget but, with 2020 drawing to a close, we are determined that as many of our pubs as possible give customers a Christmas celebration to remember. We’re hoping to give away thousands of free drinks as we work to support responsible drinking while ensuring people are able to enjoy festive cheer and a warm welcome in our pubs.” All Greene King managed pubs and restaurants are taking part in the offer (tier systems allowing) with the exception of Metropolitan Pub Company and Loch Fyne.

Edyn Group begins international expansion for its Locke brand with Dublin opening: Aparthotel operator Edyn Group has started its foray into the international market with the opening of Zanzibar Locke in Dublin. The Ireland site, due to open this month, marks the first outside the UK and there are plans to open further hotels in Germany and Ireland next year. Edyn said it has maintained an average occupancy of 60% across the group with its Bermonds Locke in London posting an average occupancy of 75% since opening in September. Zanzibar Locke is located on Ormond Quay, overlooking the River Liffey, and has been developed on the site of the Georgian building that housed Zanzibar nightclub. It has 160 studio apartments and will house Baraza – an all-day restaurant by local business NolaClan, serving Irish-inspired small plates and craft cocktails. Edyn Group chief executive Stephen McCall said: “We have been incredibly fortunate that the extended-stay sector has performed comparatively well throughout the pandemic. This allowed us to push forward with our expansion plans in a time when very few hotels were opening.” The brand’s fourth London property is slated to launch in January in Dalston, followed by a second location in Dublin (Beckett Locke, opening in March) plus two openings in Munich (Schwan Locke and WunderLocke, opening in May).
Smokeworks wins Best Family Restaurant at Deliveroo awards: Smokeworks, part of Cambscuisine Group, has won the Best Family Restaurant award from Deliveroo. As well as the award, £30,000 worth of vouchers have been distributed by Deliveroo to Smokeworks customers. During the lockdown periods, the group, which is led by Oliver Thain and Max Freeman, used the time to research, collate and launch its cook at home meal kits. Cambscuisine is offering traditional Sunday roast, a “Pie Night Inn” and a “Date Night Steak Night”. Using its network of pubs and restaurants, customers are able to order online to be collected from their closest Cambscuisine site. On the back of this, the offer has been expanded to partner with Click It Local, which means it can now cover Cambridgeshire. Cambscuisine is also offering its “Cook at Home Xmas Day” kit, which it said was proving popular given the restricted covers for Christmas Day means it cannot satisfy all the demand within the sites. Smokeworks is also offering its alternative party kits, which includes a feast for four, bourbon, beer and mixers and cocktail-making equipment.

Local restaurant and bar concept Boujee opens debut site at Liverpool ONE: Grosvenor Europe, owner of shopping, hospitality and leisure complex Liverpool ONE, has announced Boujee Restaurant & Bar has opened its debut site. Boujee spans 9,600 square foot across two floors and prmoises Instagram and family-friendly times that will transform into a “buzzing, experiential atmosphere in the evening”. Sharing plates, sushi, signature cocktails, champagne and signature drinks are available plus a VIP and private dining space on the upper floor for up to 20 people. The site has 250 covers and houses a convertible pink car, giant candy area, “pool party” and “Alice in Boujeeland” spaces. Boujee has financial and profile support from entrepreneur and reality TV star Lystra Adams. Alison Clegg, director, asset management, Grosvenor Europe, said: “The Boujee flagship is a very exciting launch for Liverpool ONE, especially as it coincides with the reopening of our hospitality operators at the destination. The unique interactive elements will set Boujee apart as a dining experience while also providing something extra special for our visitors.” Adams added: “The vibrant venue offers the fun and sense of social connection that people have been missing throughout the pandemic, and we’re pleased the timing of the launch will allow people to safely gather and experience Boujee throughout the festive period.”

Best Western Salford Hall Hotel sold off a guide price of £1.7m: The former Best Western Salford Hall Hotel has been sold off a guide price of £1.7m. The 36-bedroom site is located 12 miles from Stratford-upon-Avon. The grade I-listed hotel with parts that date back to 1602, was sold on behalf of Sky Lanes Hotels – which had operated the hotel with an emphasis on weddings and was sold to investors who plan to continue to operate the property as a hotel. The transaction was handled by Will Thomas, of Flude Property Consultants, who said despite the challenges over the past year the sale is representative of the interest for good hotel and leisure opportunities that has been strengthened by the staycation market. 

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