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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 19th Feb 2021 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

London mayor announces £5m plan to support safe reopening of central London and attract visitors back to hospitality venues: Proposals to invest £5m to support the eventual reopening of central London, including a new drive to attract visitors back to hard-hit hospitality, retail and cultural venue, have been announced by mayor Sadiq Khan. They are likely to include major events that showcase central London’s public spaces and cultural riches. London has always benefited from huge levels of both domestic and international tourism – but that has virtually dried up due to the pandemic. Recent analysis showed over the course of 2020 visitors from overseas and the rest of the UK spent almost £11bn less than in 2019. Khan said he wants domestic tourism to be at the heart of London’s drive to “build back better” and would relentlessly focus on putting jobs and the economy at the heart of post-pandemic planning, taking his inspiration from Britain’s recovery after the Second World War. He announced the new funding as he published his final Budget for the Greater London Authority Group for 2021-22. Khan said: “I am determined to do everything I can to help our great city recover as quickly as possible from this appalling pandemic. Crucial to that will be the safe reopening of central London and attracting Londoners and domestic visitors back to our amazing restaurants, pubs, cultural venues and of course our major shopping districts. In the longer term, we look forward to welcoming international visitors back once again and I have called upon the government to fund a major international tourism campaign with London as the gateway to the UK.” UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “We very much welcome the mayor’s focus prioritising hospitality and tourism as the key to London’s recovery. Our world-class hotels, bars, restaurant and clubs are critical to London not just economically but also socially and culturally. The announcement of significant support to market our tourist sector will be key to boosting consumer and business confidence ahead of a swift, safe and sustainable reopening and a more rapid recovery.”

Industry News:

Sponsored message – plan for the return of your workforce with Harri: Plan now for the return of your workforce and get your business in shape with Harri. A spokesman said: “Harri surveyed more than 1,600 hospitality workers – 43% of respondents are currently unemployed due to covid-19. A total of 78% of respondents said they would return to hospitality when lockdown eases and of the 22% who said they wouldn’t return, retail and healthcare are appealing. The importance of attracting talent to the industry is paramount. We need to boost our employer value proposition. A total of 76% of respondents said they felt confident to return to work and with 95% of consumers feeling safe in venues last year, it would seem employees feel safe too. Let’s not ignore 24% of workers who feel anxious. Communication isn’t great for 34% of furloughed staff so there’s little wonder mental health could be at risk. Retaining staff will be key when the industry recovers. Let’s not underestimate the impact of Brexit when we have a national shortage of chefs later this year. Register for the Kickstart webinar to find out how to hire young people on the scheme. We know retention is an ongoing challenge and 31% of respondents said flexibility of rotas wasn’t given to them, with 38% saying their managers don’t care. Foster a great place to work once those doors fly open – Harri’s Workforce Management solutions will help you achieve this.” If you have information you would like to feature in a sponsored message, email

Luke Johnson to feature in Friday Wrap as part of latest Propel Premium column: In this week’s Propel Premium, subscribers will be receive access to the first Friday Wrap of the year as serial sector investor Luke Johnson joins Propel insights editor Mark Wingett and Fleet Street Communications managing director Mark Stretton. Johnson, who backs All Star Lanes and Gail’s Bakery, and recently acquired Curious Drinks, talks about his hopes and fears around what the prime minister’s upcoming roadmap for reopening the country holds for the sector; how the M&A market will play out over the coming year; the immediate future for Gail’s; his frustrations over how the industry has been treated and how long it might take to fully recover. Meanwhile, Mark Wingett looks at how the next ten days could play out for the sector and whether it will have a polarising effect. There will also be the latest sector rumblings from Premium Diary. The column will be sent to subscribers on Friday (19 February) at 5pm. 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. An annual premium subscription costs £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers. Email

Creams operations director Elton Gray to feature in ‘A Focus on Operations’ video: In a new series of Propel lockdown videos in conjunction with guest experience management experts Yumpingo, we focus on the role of operations directors. We speak to operations directors from leading sector businesses about how their priorities have changed during the crisis, how they have adapted, the biggest challenges they have faced, how their relationships with their teams have changed, and how they see the consumer experience evolving. In the latest video of the series, Ann Elliott talks to Elton Gray, operations director at Creams. The video will be released at 9am on Friday (19 February).

Hospitality suffers 540,000 job losses in 2020, says S4labour: The hospitality sector suffered 540,000 job losses in 2020 and is on the verge of losing a significant amount more, according to analysis from S4labour, the online labour-scheduling management system from Catton Hospitality. The analysis showed the impact of the pandemic meant circa 20% of the total hospitality workforce was lost during the full calendar year. By contrast, every other year – going back to 2010 – has had positive growth of employee numbers. The company said: “Hospitality employment has always had peaks and troughs, however, last year, we can quite clearly see figures align, not with the usual seasonal trends, but with government policy announcements. The first spike in job losses occurs in weeks 11 to 13, in March 2020 where 91,000 employees were let off in a three-week period, just as the crisis hit and hospitality was shut; government support was not foreseen at this point. There was another spike of job losses that occurred of 42,000 in one week just as the government announced the November restrictions and all but cancelled Christmas. The only occurrence of a positive new starter rate since March 2020 occurred in the week 3 August; the start of the Eat Out To Help Out scheme. However, this was just after two spikes of job losses in July, likely to have been caused by the end of fully supported furlough, covering national insurance, holiday pay and pensions.” S4labour chief customer officer Sam Wignell said: “It is crystal clear, it is not the viability of these hospitality jobs that is the issue, it is the lack of reasonable communication and clarity. If the government is serious about keeping jobs, when we are on the verge of losing a significant amount more, a clear roadmap and a stimulus package is required.”
S4labour is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Additional rates relief ‘vital for survival of Welsh hospitality businesses’: Additional business rates relief is vital for the survival of Welsh hospitality businesses, UKHospitality Cymru has said. The trade body has called on the Welsh government to provide a similar business rates holiday proposal for its own hospitality businesses in 2021-22 as that announced by its counterparts in Scotland. UKHospitality Cymru executive director David Chapman said: “This renewal of vital support in Scotland must be replicated in Wales as part of a critical financial package that’s desperately needed if we are to continue to protect businesses and jobs in the coming months. All of the sector’s businesses are telling me how important this measure is to their commercial survival. Alongside furlough, reduced VAT and supportive sector grants, it has helped to make sure many thousands of people across Wales have still got a job at a time of devastating lockdowns and shutdowns. Vaccines offer great hope but we've a long way to go to catch up and trading across the industry is likely to be sub viable for some time – so we will need considerable help to protect jobs and businesses through to the summer and beyond. We’re asking for immediate help to see us through the remains of lockdown, a support package for the months that follow and extended furlough, business rates holiday and lower VAT for the industry.” UKHospitality is also encouraging the wider hospitality sector to join its campaign to send a message to the UK government to extend the business rates holiday and VAT cut for the sector.

Lockdown restrictions in Northern Ireland to be extended until April: Lockdown restrictions in Northern Ireland will be extended until 1 April, the Stormont executive has announced. Another review of the measures will take place on 18 March. However, children in years one to three will go back to school on Monday, 8 March. Restrictions were imposed on 26 December to manage the spread of covid-19, with ministers promising frequent reviews. Health officials have said they want to avoid a possible rise in cases around St Patrick's Day and in the run-up to Easter.

Dardis – we need to reopen at a minimum on the same basis as last July to be viable: Pubs need to be able to reopen “at a minimum on the same basis as they did last July” to be viable, Patrick Dardis, chief executive of Young’s, has said. Speaking to the Evening Standard following the latest lifting of lockdown reports in the national media, Dardis said: “We would have preferred to open in April but given the uncertainty, given the fact our businesses are closed, if Boris Johnson said on Monday (22 February): ‘here is a very clear map for the pub sector, that you could open in the first week in May with one metre social distancing, the rule of six outside, and then a month later, we would reduce that and then a month later, we would hopefully remove the restrictions’, then we would take that every time. That would allow the business to plan, knowing we've got plenty of time to gear pubs up. As far as Young’s is concerned, and I think I speak for a lot of chief executives in the pub sector for this, if we had that certainty, we would support that. And we understand they may well be subject to you know, all of a sudden change in the infection rate, even though they probably won't grow again. But I think we would accept that, as long as that was alongside the chance of keeping the VAT as it is for 12 months, and the business rates holiday extension for another year. It's not perfect, but we would support the government. But I would stress that to open on the first of May, it at least has to be, at a minimum, on the same basis we opened in July for our pubs to be viable. They have to be viable, there are still hundreds and hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk, and thousands of businesses at risk.”
Wine Drinkers UK joins calls for extension of VAT cut and to include alcoholic drinks: Wine Drinkers UK (WDUK) has joined calls for the government to extend the temporary hospitality VAT cut introduced last year to March 2022, and to broaden it to include sales of alcoholic drinks, in the March Budget. Research from WDUK, which is a group comprising wine lovers, makers and sellers, has found more than two in five who drink alcohol (44%) said they would be most likely to order wine with their meal in a restaurant. It also found women are almost twice as likely to choose wine than men (58% versus 31%) and a third (32%) of UK adults who drink alcohol said wine is their favourite alcoholic drink. WDUK said the government must reduce the tax burden on wine businesses, support the hospitality sector and comprehensively reform the UK’s alcohol taxation regime in the medium term to make it simpler and fairer to wine and more attractive for business investment. Wine critic Jancis Robinson said: “Successive governments continue to act as though wine is still the elitist drink it was 60 years ago. They fail to realise it is the drink of choice for the majority of the electorate.”

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a hotel as it looks to relaunch with a new offer. To support the relaunch, the business is looking to appoint a food and beverage operations manager to start circa April. The position is paying up to £50,000 plus bonus and is based in St Andrews, Scotland. The individual will have full accountability for three separate sites – a 120-cover ground-floor restaurant, a separate steak and seafood restaurant and a traditional pub. Anyone interested can email with their CV.
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Company News: 

Premium fried chicken concept The Bok Shop secures new investment for expansion: The Bok Shop, the Brighton-based premium fried chicken concept, has secured £1.2m of new funding as it looks to add ten new sites over the next two years. The three-strong business, which was founded in 2017 by Jamie O’Mara, Howard Kaye, Saul Burman and Matthew Dimmack, secured the funding from an unnamed private equity firm. The company currently operates sites in Brighton, Croydon and Eastbourne. It will start its roll out with the opening of a 100-cover site in Southampton’s West Quay this summer. Future sites will range from 30 to 100-cover restaurants to counter-style takeaway and delivery sites. O’Mara said: “We never in our wildest dreams thought we would be sharing what we created at our little shop in Brighton with the rest of the UK. It’s been a hard slog filled with failures and success, amplified by the pandemic, but all in the name of growth, both as individuals and as a company. We feel there is a gap in the market for a quality chicken-inspired offer like ours – what Honest Burger has done to burgers, or Pizza Pilgrims has done with pizza, we want to do that for chicken. We’ve lived and breathed The Bok Shop and the hospitality industry since opening in East Street, Brighton, in 2017 and we can’t wait to share the journey.” Harry Cody-Owen, of Bruce Gillingham Pollard, who is acting on behalf of The Bok Shop, said: “The Bok Shop will be one of the next generation of restaurants to emerge from the pandemic as a success and I am delighted to be involved in the rollout. It has a great team and a proven model.”

Bell swaps Stonegate for Greene King finance director role: Lucy Bell, formerly of Stonegate Pub Company, Ei Group and Spirit Group, has joined brewer and retailer Greene King, as finance director for its Destination Food Brands division, Propel has learned. Bell has spent the past six months as director of Stonegate’s joint ventures operation. Previous to that she was finance director at Ei Group for more than four years, after almost five years at Spirit. Last year, Greene King appointed Andy Wilson as managing director of its Destination Food Brands division. 

Itsu delivery sales rise 28% year-on-year for third and fourth quarters: Itsu, the healthy Asian food chain, created by Julian Metcalfe, has seen delivery sales rise by 28% year-on-year for the third and fourth quarters of 2020 versus 2019 while trading with fewer shops open. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the brand has made 330,000 deliveries in less than 12 months. Itsu has also added new items to its sushi sharing platters for delivery. Comprising seven different platters, dishes range from £20.95 for the large veggie platter to £45 for the party platter, which has been created with families in mind. 

BrewDog working on 42 new bars: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog has revealed it is currently working on 42 new bars. Co-founder James Watt said among them was a site in Atlanta as the company looks to increase its portfolio in the US. He tweeted: “Others include Belfast, London, Paris, Vegas, Bath, Exeter, Mumbai, Sydney, Amsterdam, Berlin, Frankfurt, Gurgaon, Lyon, Milan, Chester, Durham, Hyderabad and Cleveland.” Meanwhile, BrewDog has responded to requests from vaccination centres to provide purified still water in cans by producing tins free of charge. Watt tweeted: “Several vaccination centres have been in touch requesting packaged water from BrewDog. Due to covid-19 safety measures people can’t bring water on site or use the taps. They needed a packaged solution. We gave them one that is both free of charge and, importantly, plastic-free too.”

Gordon Ramsay cancelled more than 22,000 bookings for his restaurants in December: Gordon Ramsay has revealed he had to cancel more than 22,000 bookings for his restaurants in December before England was plunged into its third lockdown. The chef, who owns 35 restaurants across the UK, said the effect covid has had on the hospitality industry was “devastating”. Speaking on The Graham Norton Show on BBC1, Ramsay said he's planning to open even more restaurants when lockdown is eased, following reports the government plan to allow pubs and restaurants to reopen in May. He said: “It’s devastating. When you think about breaking bread and having fun with friends and family, it's just tragic not to have that. When we reopened last July, the atmosphere was monumental and electrifying, we didn't even need music, so to be shut back down was tough. In December, our most important month, we cancelled 22,500 reservations, but I have always been optimistic. It is tough but we will come out of this – we’ve recreated, redeveloped and researched new ideas so when we come out of this lockdown we will open up as new restaurants. We are hoping we will reopen at Easter. It would be a dream.”

Hoxton Bakehouse lines up two new openings: Hoxton Bakehouse, the south coast-based concept led by Florence Hellier and Darren Bland, is to open two more cafes, in Farnham and Stockbridge. The two new sites, which will open later this year, will take the group’s estate to seven cafes. The company operates a bakery in Southampton that supplies more than 60 hotels and restaurants as well as its cafes in Bishops Waltham, Lymington, Petersfield, Southampton and Winchester.

Hothorpe Hotel saved by unnamed buyer for £3.9m: Weddings and meetings venue Hothorpe Hall hotel has been acquired out of administration by an unnamed buyer, saving 44 jobs. The Leicestershire hotel, which was owned by Methodist Guild Hotels, has been purchased for £3.9m after going into administration in early January. The administrators received almost 500 offers for the business, reports The Business Desk. The new owner said it would honour some £1.4m in deposits taken by the previous owners for events that had to be postponed because of government-imposed social distancing regulations brought in because of the covid-19 pandemic.
Cocktail company founder launches virtual nightclub: The founder of a Leeds-based cocktail company has launched a virtual nightclub in a bid to create the “world’s biggest digital night out in”. Murdo MacLeod, who is behind Zest Mixology, innovated his firm’s face-to-face event and cocktail services to build a fully equipped HD virtual entertainment studio in Leeds. The first event was attended by more than 100 online partygoers across the globe, and the venture, known as NVY, has become a regular feature every week on Saturdays, open from 8pm until 11pm. NVY is a virtual event where people join a guest list and are greeted by a live host. Attendees then self-navigate, choosing to go between eight rooms including a main bar and dancefloor with live DJ. Entry is free and attendees can also book a personalised VIP booth to catch-up with friends. There is also the option to purchase a cocktail kit delivered to their door in advance to enjoy during the event, where an experienced bartender will teach them how to make their own cocktails at home. MacLeod told The Business Desk: “My motto in business has always been to innovate when necessary and there’s no doubting covid-19 has disrupted the events and hospitality sector. I saw tens of thousands of people tuning into live DJ sets and spotted an opportunity to bring a three-dimensional experience to those missing a night out where they can meet new people in the digital world as well as socialise with friends in different geographical locations.”

Star Pubs & Bars changes policy on rent assessments after PCA intervention: Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars will offer tenants rent assessments after being told annual retail price index (RPI) rental increases are not a suitable substitute by the pubs code adjudicator (PCA). The PCA stated tenants have the right to a pubs code rent assessment proposal (RAP) if, during the previous five years, there has been no concluded rent assessment (and/or, in the code’s first five years, a rent review). The PCA identified arbitration cases in which Star Pubs & Bars declined to provide the tenant with a RAP because, it argued, the annual RPI rental increase during the previous five years was a rent assessment or rent review under the pubs code. However, the PCA was aware Star Pubs & Bars had argued this same point unsuccessfully in a previous arbitration and it had the option of appealing that award but chose not to do so. The PCA said although arbitration awards are not binding in future cases, it was concerned with Star Pubs & Bars’ position and told its code compliance officer (CCO) the company should have reconsidered it on receipt of the award. This included revisiting its view of the relevant law and applying it consistently to ensure it complied with its pubs code duties. Star Pubs & Bars was also instructed to confirm the steps taken to ensure and verify its compliance and mitigate any impact on tenants. Star Pubs & Bars’ CCO confirmed the company had changed its position and would no longer identify RPIs as pubs code rent assessments or reviews, and would be open about this to its tenants, including those in all ongoing arbitration cases. Star Pubs & Bars will inform tenants of the change on their publican channel shortly and business development managers continue to be updated as appropriate. 

German Doner Kebab to open Blackburn site next month: German Doner Kebab (GDK), the flagship concept of Hero Brands, will open a site in Blackburn next month. The company is converting the former Maida Restaurant premises in Eanam for its latest outlet – its 56th in the UK. The 100-seat restaurant is set to employ up to 20 staff and has been renovated at a cost of £500,000. It is set to offer delivery and collection from Friday, 26 March under covid-19 restrictions. Daniel Bunce, GDK managing director for UK and Europe, told the Lancashire Telegraph: “Our game-changing kebabs are revolutionising the kebab in the UK and we are excited to be bringing a new fast-casual experience to the area, offering great tasting fresh food in a relaxed and modern setting.”
Seasoned restaurant operator opens Cincinnati Chilibomb in east London: Experienced restaurant operator Tim Brice, who has run businesses such as Kensington Place, River Cafe and Jo Allen, has opened Cincinnati Chilibomb in Shoreditch. The restaurant, which opened for deliveries on Thursday (18 February), serves meat and vegan chilli-filled brioche buns that are topped with cheese, onions and sauces made in-store. It also serves chilli-filled syringes with varying degrees of heat that can be squirted into the buns. Sides include corn ribs, French bean fries, maple barbecue white beans and sweet potato fries. American-style pies are available as desserts. Drinks include floats, hard shakes and smoothies. Brice, who lived in Cincinnati when he was a child, has taken the site that was home to Emile in Curtain Road. 

The Clink to expand chef training programme to 70 more prison kitchens: The Clink, the charity that aims to reduce reoffending by training and qualifying prisoners for employment as chefs on release, is to extend the programme to a further 70 prison kitchens. Over the next three years, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and The Clink have agreed to extend their training programme, which currently operates in High Down, Cardiff, Brixton and Styal prisons. Following successful pilots, training will continue at Bristol and Styal and from the end of April they will be joined by Eastwood Park, Send and Downview with a steady further rollout, creating opportunities to help as many as 2,000 offenders into employment. The Clink’s training scheme is proven to significantly cut rates of reoffending, with prisoners 32% less likely to go on to commit further crimes compared with those who did not receive training. The training sees serving prisoners work in professionally-run kitchens for up to 35 hours a week, preparing and cooking up to 80,000 daily meals for fellow prisoners. Trainees will work towards gaining City and Guilds National Vocational Qualification levels one, two and three, while improving their confidence, team work and communication skills. The Clink Charity chairman Finlay T K Scott said: “Reducing crime and improving all of our lives is at the heart of what The Clink does. This latest initiative in partnership with HMPPS underlines the tremendous impact The Clink programme has had over the past ten years. We will build upon the success of our innovative integrated programme and roll it out across the prison estate. This platform will dramatically increase the number of students we are able to rehabilitate with the subsequent impact upon reoffending figures.”

Ex-BBC chief brings Devon golf club into his Vine Hotels portfolio: Former BBC boss Greg Dyke has brought a Devon golf club into his Vine Hotels group. Dyke was already a majority shareholder in Best Western The Dartmouth Hotel, Golf and Spa resort. The Devon business joins a growing portfolio of hotels and venues at Vine Hotels under a management contract. Vine Hotels already operates five properties in Sheffield, the Best Western Cresta Court hotel, in Altrincham, The Charlecote Pheasant, in Stratford, and the Mercure Dolphin Southampton Centre hotel. Vine Hotels chief executive Garin Davies said: “The Dartmouth Hotel is an exceptional property with immense potential. The UK staycation market has been an important sector for the hotel, and I believe with the investment of our sales and marketing support, the property will be in a prime position to further capitalise on this next year. We recognise the immediate limitation for all hoteliers on live events business, but with a long-term perspective for this hotel, we see potential to grow this market in 2021-22.” 
Team behind French wine shop and deli open second north London site: The team behind French wine shop and deli, Authentique Epicerie & Bar, has opened a second site in north London. The French Market in High Road, Whetstone, combines a bakery along with a selection of food and wine, reports Hot Dinners. Running the bakery is head baker Mathieu Lagrange, who trained at Boulangerie Pascalis in Bourg de Péage and Boulangerie Pâtisserie Messerlin. On offer includes brioche with a chocolate melting heart and an N20 fruit and nut bread alongside French baguettes. Yuri Gualeni, who used to be head sommelier at the Mandarin Oriental in London and also worked at Clos Maggiore and Coya, is running the wine and deli side of the operation. Authentique Epicerie & Bar launched three years ago in Tufnell Park. 

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