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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Thu 25th Feb 2021 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Selby – chancellor needs to go beyond extensions including a scheme to kick-start the industry again: Chancellor Rishi Sunak has to go further than simply extending support schemes, including considering a similar Eat Out To Help Out initiative to help kick-start the hospitality industry, Mark Selby, co-founder of Mexican restaurant brand Wahaca, has said. He told Propel: “The furlough scheme is saving us but actually still costing us a fortune. Annualised now we are looking at circa £700,000 a year for 50% of our teams on furlough, which is still a massive burden. I think we have to push for more than an extension of the VAT cut, the business rates holiday and the furlough scheme. We need the promise of some sort of Eat Out To Help Out initiative in July to kick-start the hospitality industry and give everyone hope and some promise of extra cash coming in to make up for this extra five weeks of nonsensical delay. Something around the Job Retention Bonus scheme also needs to be honoured. It seemed a bit of a throw away before but very quickly with the latest lockdowns it became an essential part of the cash modelling, which was then just dropped for a new furlough scheme, which as I have said saved jobs but cost our businesses a lot of money still. VAT needs to stay at 5% until the end of year at least as does the business rates holiday, but for affected industries only. There needs to be an address on the balance between rates for hospitality in city centres, now likely empty in the near to medium future, as well as a VAT address for supermarkets. Furlough will need to be extended until July at least but with no added costs. These feel very reasonable requests for an industry that has done everything asked of it and is hanging on for dear life.”

Industry News:

More than 400 booked in for Propel Multi Club Conference, two free places for operators: More than 400 people have booked so far for the first Propel Multi Club Conference of 2021. The day-long event on Wednesday, 10 March, which is being held virtually, will look to help operators to “thrive and survive”. The event, which starts at 10am, is free for operators, who can claim two places by emailing To view the speaker line-up, click here.

Hutson – these half-open scenarios operating with one hand tied behind our back is pretty challenging stuff: Operating under half-open scenarios with one hand tied behind our back is “pretty challenging stuff”, Robin Hutson, chairman and chief executive of Home Grown Hotels and the Lime Wood Group, has said. He added sector businesses “need to be very busy, firing on all cylinders actually to be profitable”. Talking to Sky News on the back of Boris Johnson announcing his roadmap for reopening the country, which will see most restrictions dropped on 21 June, Hutson said: “It is a very disappointing situation as in reality it is another four months until we can open properly. Yes, we can open in May with some restrictions, but already that is not easy, particularly for hotels. A hotel is quite a juggernaut of a business – there is a whole 24-hour operation of activity to open up. So, I think for many hospitality businesses where the margins are slim, we need to be very busy, firing on all cylinders actually to be profitable and these sort of half-open scenarios operating with one hand tied behind our back is pretty challenging stuff for everyone.” Huston said there was no doubt a “good deal of pent-up demand” but “nothing will get back the five months we will have been closed”. He said: “We lose a fortune every month keeping these premises going even when we are closed. Let’s hope Rishi Sunak can pull the rabbit out of the bag, because we need the VAT to continue at the 5% rate – we didn’t get the benefit from it over the past few months. We need the business rates extension to continue to the end of the year and we were promised a Job Retention Bonus for hanging on to staff until the end of January of this year and that was taken away from us with the promise it would be returned in some shape or form.”

Georgel – many pubs will not be able to hold out until April or May without vital financial support: Many pubs will not be able to hold out until April or May without vital financial support, Kevin Georgel, chief executive of Cornwall-based St Austell Brewery, has said. Georgel said: “Many pubs – those with little or no outside space – will not be able to reopen until May regardless of the government making it legal to do so. It simply won’t be commercially sustainable for them. As a business, we are currently working through this ourselves to see how many of our managed pubs it will be feasible for us to reopen under these circumstances. Those who do try to reopen with outdoor service only will also need support – they’ll have to contend with unpredictable British weather on top of limited capacity. Ultimately, many of our pubs – part of our nation’s social fabric – will end up closing their doors for good unless the government now steps in.” Ahead of next week’s Budget, Georgel is calling on chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend support for hospitality, until such a time when it is able to trade viably, supporting the nation’s economic recovery in the process. The support should include an extension of the business rates holiday for 12 months; an extended cut in VAT for 12 months; a significant cut in beer duty; and the extension of furlough to protect jobs, until the sector emerges from lockdown in June. He said: “The government’s vaccination programme has been an extraordinary success and we’re very proud to say some of our furloughed team members have been supporting the national effort, by volunteering as vaccination stewards. However, in light of how successfully it’s been rolled out, we were extremely disappointed to hear the news hospitality will not be able to open in line with other parts of the economy, such as non-essential retail. Our sector shouldn’t be pushed to the back of the queue once again.”

Licensees give thumbs up to pub companies for covid-19 support: Licensees across 19 leading pub companies and family brewers have given a thumbs up to the support they have received from them during the covid-19 crisis, according to KAM Media. It spoke to more than 1,330 licensees as part of “The Licensee Index”, an annual operator benchmarking sentiment tracker for the UK licensed and tenanted pub sector. On average licensees rated their pub companies eight out of ten for their covid-related support so far, with 53% of licensees rating the support they had received over the past 12 months as “outstanding”. When asked what further covid-related support licensees would like from their pub companies, the top three areas were a rent reduction/rent holiday (61%), personal protective equipment supply (26%) and help with accessing financial support such as government loans (25%). Other areas mentioned include support with implementation of covid hygiene and social distancing measures in their venues. Despite this overall satisfaction with support from their pub companies, the research confirmed the UK licensed and tenanted pub sector is currently feeling incredibly vulnerable. The research tracked their level of optimism for the 12 months ahead and it is currently at its lowest since programme began (5.6 out of ten). Only 12% of licensees said they’re “very optimistic” about the months ahead – 12 months previously this figure was at 24%. At an average level, the UK licensed and tenanted pub sector gets 72% of their sales through drink compared with 26% for food. The programme also captured net promoter scores (NPS) across each of the 19 pub companies, asking whether the licensee would recommend their pub company to other potential publicans. These scores have also increased year-on-year – from an average of minus 14 to plus nine. NPS is particularly strong among the family brewers. KAM Media managing director Katy Moses said: “While it is great news licensees feel supported by their pub companies, there is absolutely no doubt significant and further government support is urgently needed.”
KAM Media is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Thousands sign petition to make 21 June a bank holiday: Thousands of people have signed a petition calling for prime minister Boris Johnson to make Monday, 21 June – the earliest date set for the UK to come out of lockdown restrictions including the reopening of nightclubs – a bank holiday. As of Wednesday morning (24 February), more than 20,000 people had signed the “Merriweather Day” petition, which is enough for the government to have to respond to it and, at 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for debate. The petition details read: “Covid-19 has negatively impacted people and families up and down the length of the country in many different ways not least their ability to come together. We’ve seen family celebrations at Eid, among others, cancelled. This proposed bank holiday would help families and friends of all faiths and none to come together to celebrate. We’ve chosen the longest day of the year because it provides for the most opportunities to be outdoors in a covid-19 safe way.”

Westminster City Council to bring back alfresco scheme: Westminster City Council has announced it is to repeat last summer’s alfresco scheme, which saw 60 roads transformed through temporary closures and pavement widening to allow outdoor dining. The latest scheme will start on 12 April, when outdoor dining and drinking is scheduled to begin again under the government’s plan for the reopening of the economy. Last year, the scheme ran from July until October to help the hospitality sector, when bars and restaurants were restricted on the number of people they could accommodate inside. More than 560 Westminster premises were issued with pavement licences that allowed them to put seating outside. The local authority said it would also “consider the possibility of what a longer-term alfresco provision could look like” and would be “consulting communities as and when designs are created and as the city recovers”. Council leader Rachael Robathan said: “Hospitality is a major employer in Westminster, supporting about 80,000 jobs. But with shutters down and doors barred, this sector has been among the hardest hit. We are relaunching our alfresco scheme as soon as the easing of restrictions allows us to help struggling businesses as much as we can. We have more pubs, restaurants and bars than any other local authority area — about 3,700 — and we want to see them welcoming back customers in a safe way. The majority of our residents have supported these schemes in the past and we hope they will understand the need to continue the temporary measures until the end of September.”

Accor plans to pay for employees to be vaccinated: Accor, Europe’s largest hotel chain, plans to pay for all of its employees to be vaccinated by late summer as it tries to recover its business amid ongoing national lockdowns. Chief executive Sébastien Bazin told The FT: “We are not going to wait for government. We will be buying our own vaccines if we can get them but we don’t want to do it [taking] from existing government programmes. It should not be taken away from fragile people.” Bazin said Accor would not insist staff were vaccinated but the company was in negotiations with pharmaceutical companies to secure supplies. It is “open-minded” about which it would take and is willing to buy the Russian Sputnik V vaccine or the Sinovac vaccine from China, he added. The group, which is among the first companies to commit to funding a vaccination programme for staff, has already vaccinated employees in Singapore and Dubai. Accor, which owns the Novotel and Ibis brands as well as the luxury Raffles hotel chain, swung to a €2bn net loss in 2020, underlining the devastation the coronavirus pandemic has caused in the travel industry.

Holidays to Greece may be allowed as soon as 17 May with vaccine passport: Brits may be allowed to take holidays in Greece from as soon as 17 May if they have a vaccine passport, according to The Times. It also reported the Greek government is said to be discussing vaccinating airport workers and hotel employees at resorts. The EU wants countries to follow a united approach when opening up to travellers from outside the bloc, but senior tourism ministry officials did not rule out that Greece could break ranks. Last week, Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said: “A vaccine certificate would allow you to enter Greece without being forced to provide a negative test and without any quarantine restrictions and we do intend to go down that path. For those who have not been vaccinated the most likely scenario is we will request some sort of negative test – we want to make it as easy as possible for them to travel to Greece.” On Tuesday (23 February), prime minister Boris Johnson told Sky News: “When you look at the international side of things, the international travel, there’s no questions that’s where a lot of countries will be going. And they will be insisting on vaccine passports in the same way that people used to insist on evidence that you’ve been inoculated against yellow fever. So it’s going to come on the international stage whatever.” Johnson said on Monday (22 February) a government taskforce would produce a report by 12 April recommending how international trips can resume for people in England with foreign holidays possibly being permitted from 17 May.

Job of the day: COREcruitment is looking for sales professionals to join a new business. The company is aiming to redefine the evolution of food brands by providing a physical platform for creation and a virtual platform for scale and is looking for a business development manager to support growth. The business is an incubator that will offer space for independent restaurant brands to excel alongside creating and assisting in the creation of new brands. Ideally it is looking for candidates that have both strong sales and hospitality experience. Candidates should have at least two years’ sales experience, a strategic approach, strong negotiation skills and be comfortable in a fast moving environment. This position is based in London, paying up to £30,000 plus commission. Anyone interested can email with their CV.
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Company News:

St Austell Brewery pubs MD leaves business: Steve Worrall has left his position as managing director of pubs, inns and hotels at Cornwall-based St Austell Brewery, Propel has learned. Worrall joined St Austell Brewery as retail director in 2017 and went on to become managing director of pubs, inns and hotels following the introduction of a new leadership structure at the start of last year. The company said chief executive Kevin Georgel would be “taking a more direct role in leading St Austell Brewery’s pubs, inns and hotels business going forward”. Georgel said: “I would like to personally thank Steve for his dedication and significant contribution over the past four years – we wish him and his family the very best for the future. Going forward, I will be taking a more hands-on approach in leading the direction of our pubs, inns and hotels business. We have iconic pubs, in some of the best locations in the south west, and fantastic teams to help steer us forward into our next exciting chapter. I’m looking forward to realising the full potential of our pubs when we’re able to reopen, as we continue on our road to recovery.” St Austell owns more than 180 pubs across the West Country.

US steakhouse chain Wolfgang’s planning UK launch: Wolfgang’s, the US steakhouse chain, is planning to launch in the UK, and is currently seeking a site in central London, Propel has learned. Founded in New York in 2004 by Wolfgang Zwiener, the business currently operates 19 restaurants in the US, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and China. Propel understands Wolfgang’s has retained David Rawlinson at Restaurant Property to seek 5,000 to 9,000 square foot sites in locations including Mayfair, Knightsbridge and Marylebone. 

Rudy’s secures flagship central London site: Rudy’s Neapolitan Pizza, which is owned by Mission Mars, is to open a flagship restaurant in central London, after securing a site in Soho, Propel has learned. The Roy Ellis-led company is understood to have secured the former Wahaca site in Wardour Street, with an opening planned for the end of lockdown and restrictions on the sector being lifted. In January, the north west-based concept lined up what will be its seventh site, in Stockton Heath, Cheshire. It plans to open in the former Barclays Bank premises in the Church Farm shopping precinct in the town’s Walton Road. Rudy’s makes its dough on-site each day, taking 24 hours to double ferment and 60 seconds to cook. It operates two sites in Manchester as well as one in each of Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds and Sale. Mission Mars, which is backed by BGF, also operates the Albert’s Schloss concept.

Byron outlines reopening plans with 16 sites in England set to offer outdoor dining from April: Better burger brand Byron has outlined its reopening plans, with 16 sites in England set to offer outdoor dining from 12 April – as long as the government lifts restrictions. The company said it would team up with Brooklyn Brewery to offer outdoor drinking in conjunction with restaurant reopenings. Restaurants will be open until about 10pm and Byron said it had seen a “big pick up in bookings” since making the announcement on social media. The restaurants set to reopen are Bluewater, Bury St Edmunds, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Ipswich, Leeds, Liverpool, London (Old Brompton Road), London (Waterloo), Manchester, Milton Keynes, Norwich, Oxford, Salisbury, Southampton and York. Last year, Byron was sold via pre-pack administration to investment vehicle Calveton UK under newly formed company Famously Proper for £4m.

Mowgli secures Cheltenham site: Indian street food concept Mowgli has lined up an opening in Cheltenham for later this summer. The 11-strong company, which is backed by Foresight and led by Nisha Katona, has secured the ex-Babel site in the town’s Brewery Quarter. Propel understands Mowgli hopes to open the 2,660 square foot site, which will house about 80 covers, by the end of August or start of September. Katona said: “Out of the ashes of a decimated 2020 we hope to raise this sweet fledgling Indian home kitchen in The Brewery Quarter. I have always been a fan of Cheltenham. To be able to take Mowgli there, to create 30 jobs, to find and support a local charity there makes me so proud. We exist to enrich the life in the places we go to – Cheltenham I hope we make you proud.” In December, Propel revealed Mowgli had lined up its second site in Scotland, in Glasgow. The company, which is confirmed to open in Edinburgh’s in Hanover Street, is understood to have secured the ex-Handmade Burger Co site in St Vincent Street in Glasgow. At the start of November, the group, which is chaired by Karen Jones, secured a site in the McArthurGlen Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet. Victoria Broadhead, of Bruce Gillingham Pollard, acted on the Cheltenham deal on behalf of the landlord. 

Plant-based concept co-founded by Tom Kerridge to launch in Camden: Bad Vegan, a new plant-based concept, co-founded by chef Tom Kerridge and experienced brand creator Mark Emms, is to launch its first site, in Camden. The new concept, which focuses on providing a fundamentally vegan menu, will open its debut site at Buck Street Market. It has taken two of Buck Street Market’s shipping containers, covering 415 square foot on the top floor of the eco-conscious food and retail destination, which is owned by LabTech. Set to launch in the summer, the Bad Vegan menu will offer a range of innovative vegan “hero” dishes, alongside vegan shakes and beer partnerships with Camden Town Brewery. Emms said: “Our principles are simple – we want to encourage people to make small changes to their diet, incorporating more plant-based food. We know a growing number of consumers want to commit to this, but a purely vegan diet isn’t for everyone, so by adding a small amount of non-vegan elements our food retains familiarity while being predominantly vegan. Buck Street Market, and Camden generally, embraces sustainability like no other destination, so this is the perfect place to build the Bad Vegan brand.” LabTech acted on behalf of Buck Street Market while Bad Vegan dealt direct.

Greggs launches sustainability plan to ‘contribute to a better world’: Food-to-go operator Greggs has launched a sustainability plan with ten objectives including offering healthier options, ending food waste and going carbon neutral. The Greggs Pledge aims to hit its targets by 2025 and realises stakeholders are increasingly focused on the way companies operate and behave, and want “more transparency and disclosure” on how businesses are “contributing to a better world and future”. Its ten commitments focus on three key areas: stronger, healthier communities – to play its part in improving the nation’s diet by helping to tackle obesity, providing free breakfasts to schoolchildren and giving surplus food to those most in need; a safer planet – to become a carbon neutral, zero-waste business; and creating a better business – to increase the diversity of its workforce, and to use its purchasing power responsibly, with the aim of making things better in its supply chain. Its commitments are aligned with the ambitions of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are: growing Greggs breakfast clubs at schools; putting an end to food waste – by 2025, creating 25% less food waste than in 2018 and working towards 100% of surplus food going those in need; supporting communities; helping customers make healthier choices – by 2025, 30% of the items on Greggs’ shelves will be healthier options; going carbon neutral by 2025; building the shops of the future; using less packaging; embracing diversity; implementing sourcing sustainability; and protecting animal welfare. Greggs chief executive Roger Whiteside said: “It is our duty to stand for more than just profit, and our history shows we are doing exactly that. We have a proud reputation of giving back to our people, suppliers and communities, and we know more can be done to change the world for the better.” 

Whitbread prepares to open five seaside hotels as it readies for expected staycation boom: Whitbread is readying itself for the expected staycation boom with five new seaside Premier Inn hotel locations set to open this spring and summer. The openings, which are a mixture of freehold and leasehold developments, will add 545 bedrooms to Premier Inn’s network. They kick off with a 100-bedroom hotel and Cookhouse & Pub restaurant at Sandown seafront on the Isle of Wight, which opens on Friday (26 February). This will be followed with new hotels in Scarborough’s North Bay (105 bedrooms), Bournemouth’s West Cliff (105 bedrooms), Blackpool’s North Pier (150 bedrooms and Cookhouse & Pub restaurant), and Thurso (85 bedrooms). Since prime minister Boris Johnson’s announced his reopening roadmap on Monday (22 February), Premier Inn said it has seen an increase of almost 400% in searches on its website for coastal location stays in May and a similarly strong increase in searches of more than 330% for July and more than 240% for August. Alex Flach, UK development director at Whitbread, said: “Almost half of all Premier Inn customers stay with us on leisure breaks every year. Our leisure guests are a crucial part of our business and we have been steadily expanding our network in popular leisure and seaside locations to meet existing demand from our guests and caterer for the growing trend for UK breaks and staycations. They mark the start of a busy year for new Premier Inn hotel openings and we are continuing to seek new acquisition opportunities to grow and improve our network in select locations across the UK and Ireland.” Whitbread is continuing to grow its hotel business in the UK, Ireland and Germany where it has a combined network of more than 90,000 Premier Inn and hub by Premier Inn bedrooms open and in its secured development pipeline.

BrewDog achieves certified B Corp status: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog has achieved certified B Corp status – making it the biggest beer business in the world to be awarded the accolade to date. It comes following more than a year of rigorous assessments across its business, and BrewDog said it showed its commitment to building a “new kind of business that balances purpose and profit”. BrewDog has already become the world’s first carbon negative beer business, through its work to double offsetting its emissions. Co-founder James Watt said: “After decades of inaction we have a climate crisis on the horizon, and our certification as a B Corp business is another huge part of BrewDog’s commitment to considering the impact of our business decisions on the global community. The business landscape is changing so much and the impact of covid-19 is only going to accelerate that change. The future of business is B Corp.” Meanwhile, BrewDog has strengthened its eco-friendly credentials by making a £14m investment to install a bioplant at its Ellon headquarters. Watt tweeted: “The facility will convert our organic process waste to site generated biomethane (replacing all of our grid gas) and further reduce our water usage by more than 40%.”

Point A Hotels reports 300% increase in bookings since PM announces reopening roadmap: Point A Hotels, which operates nine sites across the UK, has reported a 300% increase in bookings since prime minister Boris Johnson announced his reopening roadmap on Monday (22 February). The company said there was clear pent-up demand from consumers to travel once restrictions are lifted. Managing director Nic Wenn said: “We are over the moon to see Brits confidently making holiday plans once again. I think this again highlights the importance of the hospitality sector in the recovery of the country as a whole.”

Honest Burgers to launch ‘Support Our Suppliers’ special: Active Partners-backed Honest Burgers is launching a special burger in March – the Support Our Suppliers – paying homage to, and championing three of its longest standing suppliers. In collaboration with La Latteria, Crown & Queue and The Gay Farmer, the burger comprises Honest beef with La Latteria smoked mozzarella, Crown & Queue “Devil’s Mortar” Bermondsey ‘njuja, The Gay Farmer’s basil pesto, rocket and pickles, alongside Honest’s signature rosemary salted chips. Honest said the burger has been made in collaboration with the trio in order to best support them and these bulk orders will help boost these “much-loved artisans”. Honest Burgers head of collaboration Adam Layton said, “We’ve worked with La Latteria, Crown & Queue and The Gay Farmer for years, with their produce often showcased in our monthly specials and local burgers. These three businesses are not just the hidden network that makes our restaurants tick, they’re also the personalities behind the relationships that make hospitality such a wonderful industry to work in.”

Schnitzel Forever goes from delivery-only to permanent site: Sausage specialist Schnitzel Forever is set to move from its delivery-only model to a bricks and mortar site in Stoke Newington. Customers can expect to tuck into its classics, such as veal, chicken, pork loin, seabass, halloumi and mushroom schnitzels. It also serves schnitzels as burgers alongside side dishes, desserts and soft drinks. The business will open in Church Street, when government-imposed restrictions are lifted.

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