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Wed 17th Mar 2021 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Reilley – the government must bring landlords and tenants to the negotiating table: Landlords and tenants must be brought to the negotiating table by the government in order to avoid catastrophic business failures when the rent moratorium finally comes to an end, according to Loungers chairman Alex Reilley. Speaking at the Propel Multi Club conference, Reilley said the government’s unwillingness to step in was a mistake and “it needs to bring the disputing parties to the table so they know what’s acceptable and what’s not”. He said what was not acceptable was the stance by certain landlords to engage in no dialogue as they wait until the end of the moratorium when they will take “destructive action”. He said “They are sweating it out until the moratorium ends and then they’ll send in the dogs.” Reilley said it was not the larger landlords employing such tactics and cited Hammerson, British Land, and Landsec among others as taking a collaborative and supportive approach. He said: “They’ve been willing to engage. But there are a significant proportion of landlords – mainly regionals with 100 to 200 properties – who are not even prepared to answer an email. There has been no dialogue, never mind an agreement.” Whereas much of the interaction between the hospitality sector and government has involved representatives of the whole industry, Reilley said the rent issue was not relevant to all companies and therefore government should be engaging with the areas most affected. He added: “For freehold, asset-backed pub companies it’s not an issue. It’s more about leasehold businesses where they are coming up against landlords.” Although he acknowledges the situation was a “very complicated ask”, Reilley said the government needs to try to help sort out the problem especially as he points out it would be sad to see people lose their jobs from businesses failing after the government paid out furlough for a year. He said: “The government could be in a position where it has provided enormous support to employees but then their employers no longer exist. It would be a monumental waste of money.” Propel Premium subscribers will receive access to the video of the Propel Multi Club conference featuring Reilley and other industry leaders from today (Wednesday, 17 March). They should email now to receive an access code to view the conference. An annual premium subscription costs £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers. To sign up, email

Industry News:

Propel Premium subscribers to receive access today to Propel Multi Club Conference video: Propel Premium subscribers will receive access today (Wednesday, 17 March) to the video of the first Propel Multi Club Conference of the year. Premium subscribers should email now to receive their code to view the conference. 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 Propel insights editor Mark Wingett. Propel is also to improve its service for Premium subscribers by publishing a monthly updated list of multi-site operators – with a standalone report. The new multi-site list will be sent to subscribers at the end of each month with a report on new companies and changes in the list. A refreshed list of circa 1,600 companies will be sent out to all Premium subscribers at the end of March. It provides company names, the people in charge, how many sites each firm operates, its trading name and its registered name at Companies House if different, and what each business specialises in. In a new feature this year, there is a synopsis of what the business does and significant news associated with it. The list will then be updated at the end of each month. An annual premium subscription costs £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers. Email

Scottish government must reconsider restricting alcohol sales and imposing curfews ahead of sector reopening, trade bodies warn: The Scottish government must reconsider restricting alcohol sales and imposing curfews, sector trade bodies have said. Scottish pubs and restaurants are set to reopen from 26 April, first minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced. They will be allowed to serve customers outdoors – in groups of up to six from three households – until 10pm. Alcohol can also be served outdoors and there will be no requirement for customers to buy food. Operators will also be able to serve food and non-alcoholic drinks indoors until 8pm. Full indoor hospitality is set to reopen on 17 May but with a curfew of 10.30pm and max dwell time of two hours. Travel restrictions will also be lifted from 26 April. UKHospitality Scotland executive director Willie Macleod said: “We put forward a reopening proposition to the Scottish government that would have given us more flexibility, but at least we do now have a plan. There is, however, going to be significant disappointment from businesses that hospitality will be so tightly restricted in the first weeks of the reopening. We had proposed alcohol be served indoors with a meal, so for that not to be allowed is a major disappointment. Restricting outdoor spaces to just six people from three households will likewise be a significant barrier to viability. The curfews, 10pm for outdoors and 8pm for indoors, will also seriously restrict businesses’ ability to break even.” Scottish Hospitality Group spokesman Stephen Montgomery added: “Hospitality played no part in the second wave and the government recently confirmed it had no evidence to justify the restrictions on the sector. Despite that, the government is persisting with two fundamental flaws in its approach to easing restrictions. The first is alcohol is still taking the blame with no justification. The second is there’s no logic at all for the cut-off times. On both issues the industry has put forward practical, realistic and sensible proposals that balance economic and public health interests. We urge the government to review its stance on alcohol and the arbitrary curfews it is imposing.”

Safety of customers and staff continues to be priority for sector, says UKHospitality: The safety of customers and staff continues to be a priority for the sector, UKHospitality has said, as it welcomed the government’s commitment of additional funding to provide safer public spaces for women. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “It should be highlighted the hospitality sector already works incredibly hard on this issue. We have numerous partnership schemes in place to ensure the safety of customers on a night out. Schemes like Best Bar None, Pub Watch, Drinkaware and Ask for Angela have been adopted by the sector to ensure safety is central to the running of businesses. The welfare of our customers and our staff is a priority. In recent years, our businesses have invested considerable sums of money in their security and surveillance to ensure that venues our safe. This must be matched by resources on the streets from local police and other civic bodies. That does not mean we can relax our efforts. We must continue to work hard to provide safe environments and we will regularly review our practices to see how we can be even more effective. We will be in contact with Thames Valley Police to learn from their experiences from Project Vigilant and share best practice throughout the industry, and to share our own expertise. It is critical all stakeholders are involved in making our streets safe for everyone.”

Pubs set to miss out on £54m bonanza this St Patrick’s Day: Pubs will miss out on a £54m bonanza on lost beer sales on St Patrick’s Day on Wednesday (17 March), according to the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA). The trade body said 14 million pints would have been sold but won’t due to lockdown rules and reiterated the need for pubs to open without restrictions on the proposed date of 21 June. Pubs across the UK also remain unable to sell takeaway beer this St Patrick’s Day too, due to lockdown restrictions that mean they can only sell food for takeaway. BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “A pint in the pub on St Patrick’s Day is always a joyous occasion, but sadly this year it will not happen. Hundreds of thousands of pub-goers, if not millions, across the UK will be devastated they cannot enjoy a cold one at their local. It’s a real disappointment for our pubs too, which will miss out on what would have been a big boost to their trade and at a much-needed time too. Instead, they will miss out on selling some 14 million pints. That’s £54m in trade that would have been warmly welcomed by them. It is a great shame pubs cannot even sell a takeaway pint. It is abundantly clear the government must ensure all our pubs are fully reopened on 21 June as indicated on the roadmap. We urgently need to get the pub reopen and operating without restrictions so the recovery can truly begin.”
Coronavirus hits top restaurants’ values worldwide, Starbucks retains first spot in Brand Finance list for fifth year: The impact of covid-19 saw the total value of the world’s top 25 most valuable restaurant brands drop from $162.1bn (£117.3bn) in 2020 to $153.9bn (£111.4bn) in 2021, according to Brand Finance Restaurants 25 2021 report. Despite recording a 6% drop in brand value to $38.4bn (£27.8bn), Starbucks has retained top spot for the fifth consecutive year. According to Brand Finance, the coffee chain, which has more than 30,000 stores globally, used the pandemic to further differentiate itself from rivals and adapted to focus on speed and convenience in its service. This included ramping up the pace of the construction of drive-thru stores, a renewed focus on a loyalty rewards scheme and further integration of digital technology across the business – all of which are reflected in a surge in drive-thru and mobile orders, accounting for 90% of all orders in the US in the third quarter of last year. US companies took the top eight places in the rankings with only China hot pot restaurant chain Haidilao and Canadian quick service restaurant brand Tim Hortons taking ninth and tenth positions respectively. McDonald’s, KFC, Subway, Domino’s, Taco Bell, Dunkin’ and Pizza Hut took places two to eight. In fact, US fast food chains dominate the Brand Finance Restaurants 25 2021 rankings, claiming 20 out of the total 25 and US brands account for 92% of the total brand value in the list. The only bar or pub brand represented on the list was JD Wetherspoon, which ranked 21st. Jack in the Box was the fastest growing restaurant brand, surging 84% to claim 16th place; Papa John’s was the highest ranked newcomer, claiming 19th place; and McDonald’s continued to reign as the world’s strongest restaurant brand, with a “Brand Strength Index” score of 86.9 out of 100.
Customers to demand more from technology even after restrictions ease: Since summer 2020, three quarters (76%) of consumers have pre-booked to eat or drink at a hospitality venue and almost half (45%) are ordering food and/or drinks via mobile when eating out, according to the latest GO Technology report from Zonal and CGA. The report suggested covid-19 has fundamentally transformed the relationship consumers and hospitality operators have with technology, and this is likely to be developed further when the sector reopens. It added more than half (56%) of 18 to 24-year-olds would prefer to order online even after the country has been safely vaccinated. The research showed a quarter of respondents found the idea of tracking orders on their mobile devices appealing while a fifth would like to be able to create bar tabs or repeat previous orders. Virtual and augmented reality technology has also become increasingly attractive to younger adults, particularly in a late-night environment, where a third of users said they are very interested in virtual reality tours and experiences. Zonal group product director Alison Vasey said: “While some tech solutions were implemented as a necessity during the covid-19 crisis to facilitate reopening, our new research shows customers’ expectations now are tech will help to enhance their hospitality experiences even further.” The GO Technology report found almost a quarter of consumers have now ordered from platforms such as Deliveroo and Just Eat more often than usual – double the number who said the same in April 2020 during the first lockdown. 
Zonal is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Inquiry launches into rebuilding hospitality and tourism in towns and cities: The All Party Parliamentary Group for Hospitality and Tourism has opened a written consultation as part of its new inquiry “After the vaccine – saving the UK’s town and city centres post-covid-19”. The inquiry is taking a holistic review of the future of hospitality and tourism businesses in town and city centres across the UK. The consultation tackles a diverse range of issues including business operation, business taxation and how to rebuild the industry in a green and sustainable way. The group said it would welcome contributions from businesses, trade associations, think-tanks and other relevant bodies to assist with the final report. Oral evidence sessions began last week, with significant engagement from MPs from across the political spectrum. The final report aims to set out the support hospitality and tourism businesses in town and city centres need in the short term, along with a series of recommendations for government on how to maximise the potential of these sectors by creating a positive trading environment.

Company News:

Whiteside – we may need to consider a second brand at some time in the future: Greggs chief executive Roger Whiteside has told Propel the food-to-go operator may need to consider acquiring a second brand at “some time in the future”. He told Propel: “We have no plans to acquire a second brand given the long runway of growth still in Greggs although our strategic roadmap does acknowledge we may need to consider that at some time in the future.” The 2,058-strong company has increased its overall growth target for its estate from 2,500 UK shops to 3,000 at a rate of about 100 net openings a year, although Whiteside said this could be accelerated if attractive sites became available sooner, and was confident further opportunities would arise in central London, city centres across the UK and in transport hubs. Whiteside said: “People are worried city centres won’t be busy as we recover from the pandemic, but they will still be busy, maybe not as busy at first. There are also opportunities to secure sites at a good level, which wasn’t there before.” He also saw retail parks as an area for future expansion. He said: “There are about 1,300 retail parks in the UK and we only have about 100 Greggs in those locations, so there is certainly potential to do more here.” Whiteside also said the company would trial a build-your-own sandwich service later this year for its click and collect customers through its Reward scheme, after testing the offer at a single site in Scotland. It will also offer the same trial for its pizzas and toppings. Click and collect has been rolled out across the entire estate and delivery made available from more than 600 shops. He said hot food remained a key area of focus, and the combination with delivery opens the “opportunity for development of our offer to compete in later day trading”. In terms of exploring dark kitchens, Whiteside said the company had already got 2,058 of those across the country, “which we can tap into when needed, especially for evenings”. 

Wasabi appoints first retail MD after success of Sainsbury’s link up: Wasabi, the sushi and bento chain led by Henry Birts and backed by Capdesia, has appointed Kate Lucas as its first managing director of retail after seeing the retail sales value in Sainsbury’s of its home bento range rise to £14.7m – a 96% year-on-year increase. Lucas joins Wasabi after more than a year as chief commercial officer at Plenish Drinks. Previous to that, she spent four years as managing director at KIND Snacks and eight years in various management roles at Gu Puds. At Wasabi, she will be tasked with building out and leading its grocery retail team, following on from the successful launch of the range in Sainsbury’s in 2019. Birts said: “It’s no secret 2020 and the beginning of 2021 has been challenging for hospitality but what’s been really positive has been seeing how well our 13 SKU home bento range has been doing at Sainsbury’s, as consumers seek out restaurant quality meals at home. We’re now the number one brand in oriental chilled meals and also the fastest growing ready meal brand in 2020, and we believe there are huge opportunities to scale our home bento range and to build the Wasabi brand further through the retail channel. Not every town and city in the UK has a Wasabi restaurant (yet), but we’re nonetheless seeing strong sales in places where our name is becoming synonymous with quality chilled supermarket meals rather than high street outlets. We’re looking to the future with confidence and Kate’s appointment is a sign of our intentions to invest seriously behind the grocery channel and become a major player in the market.”

Wagamama commits to ‘opening up’ differently in support of young people’s mental health: Wagamama, The Restaurant Group-owned business, has launched Japanese-inspired outdoor benches so “friends can reconnect through real conversation as we all gradually ease out of lockdown”. The specially designed benches will appear in key cities across the UK, starting in Brighton, Bristol and Manchester, and according to the business “mark a turning point as we start to rebuild far too many broken relationships”. The company said the pandemic has intensified mental health struggles especially for young people, so it wants to shine a light on the challenges that many young people will face coming out of lockdown. It said: “The pressure for life to go back to normal will be overwhelming for some and Wagamama wants to focus on giving people the opportunity to have real conversations and connect with their closest friends. An iconic feature of the restaurant, Wagamama’s benches have aided conversation and connected people since it opened its doors in 1992. So, while UK diners aren’t yet allowed to meet their loved ones on the famous benches in restaurants, Wagamama will bring the benches to them.” The government’s roadmap allows two people to meet, socially distanced, on a bench and Wagamama will also be serving up free cups of green tea and encouraging people to “take a moment to sit at the bench and open up with one another about how they are really feeling”. It said it has worked closely with its charity partner Young Minds and mental health campaigner Ben West to “fight for the mental health of this generation to be made a priority”. Wagamama chief executive Emma Woods said: “We can’t nourish young people in our restaurants at the moment but we do want to support them coping with the pressure to put their game face on and ‘party’, as soon as lockdown eases.” Wagamama is set to reopen circa 75 of its sites for outdoor use from Monday, 12 April. 

Ramsay set to push forward with expansion plans: Chef Gordon Ramsay is set to push forward with expansion plans for the UK, after lining up a number of sites for his fledgling Street Burger concept. As previously flagged up in Propel Premium, Ramsay has secured the ex-Byron site in London’s Charing Cross Road for an opening under the new burger concept, which he launched at the start of December last year in the One New Change development in St Paul’s. The new 2,070 square foot restaurant, spread over two floors, is set to open in April for outdoor dining. It is thought the chef is also in talks to take the ex-Gourmet Burger Kitchen site in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, for another Street Burger site. Ramsay is also believed to have made the highest offer to take the former Giraffe site in The Oracle in Reading. He has also been linked with an opening in Kensington High Street. Ramsay currently has 35 restaurants around the world and plans to open a fourth site under his Street Pizza concept at the Battersea Power Station development where Mother Pizza previously traded. In August, accounts for Ramsay’s restaurant business showed he was still planning to open 50 venues across the UK. It is thought many of these will come through his fledgling Street Burger and Street Pizza brands. A further opening of the burger concept is planned for the unit under the chef’s new cooking school in Woking, Surrey. Nick Weir, of Shelley Sandzer, acted on the Charing Cross Road deal on behalf of landlord Gascoyne Holdings. 

Nychas – dark kitchens are the best way to test the water for Neat Burger: Stasi Nychas, co-founder of the Lewis Hamilton-backed plant-based concept Neat Burger, has said dark kitchens will be the best way for the brand to test the water when it comes to launching outside London. Speaking at the Propel Multi Club conference, Nychas said Neat Burger had managed to navigate covid-19 with its dual strategy of opening more physical stores and additional dark kitchens across London largely intact. From operating with one bricks-and-mortar restaurant in central London and a dark kitchen in Battersea pre-covid, the company has since expanded to three physical outlets and four dark kitchens. Nychas said: “We always planned to have dark kitchens – but maybe not with as big a role as they now have. The strategy is to continue with opening both. We now cover most of London so we’ll look to expand beyond [the capital] this year into the regions. Certain places in cities you can put a bricks-and-mortar store but dark kitchens are the best way to test the water.” He said this testing would be most critical compared with London where he suggested the plant-based offer could be put anywhere. He believed this wouldn’t be the case across the whole of the UK. However he is finding the audience for vegan, plant-based foods is growing. He said: “We don’t expect our customers to all be vegan or vegetarian. We just want there to be an alternative. There is also the ethos and sustainability of the product. Some of our employees have changed the way they eat because of this factor.” The company plans to launch an additional seven sites across London, with a further 20 dark kitchens offering delivery-only to follow. It has already secured sites in Victoria and Canary Wharf, and according to the Evening Standard, further new sites will be opened in Ealing, Bishopsgate, Finsbury Park, the King’s Road and at “two major shopping centres”, which are yet to be confirmed. Propel Premium subscribers will receive access to the video of the Propel Multi Club conference featuring Nychas and other industry leaders from today (Wednesday, 17 March). They should email now to receive an access code to view the conference. An annual premium subscription costs £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers. To sign up, email

Wright Brothers appoints Henry Harris as chef and beverage director: Wright Brothers, the oyster specialist and seafood wholesaler, has appointed Henry Harris to the new position of chef and beverage director. Harris’ role covers food, drink and service in Wright Brothers’ four restaurants, product development for Wright Brothers’ online at-home range, and as an ambassador for Wright Brothers’ wholesale business. Harris, who stepped down as chef-director of Harcourt Inns last year, will put his spin on Wright Brothers seafood classics and add some new dishes to the menu. These will be inspired by his wealth of experience from Harvey Nichols, Harcourt Inns, Racine and Bibendum. Wright Brothers co-founder Ben Wright said: “We were extremely proud to have served Henry at Racine and even prouder today to be working with such an experienced and respected chef on this exciting new chapter for Wright Brothers. Henry shares our passion and vision for great food, drink and hospitality, as well as our values when it comes to nurturing talent and inspiring teams.” Harris added: “After almost 20 years as a customer and friend of Wright Brothers I’m excited to be working with Ben, Robin [Hancock] and the teams in the dining rooms and kitchens to start a new chapter for Wright Brothers.”

Supper to launch pick-up points in London parks: London-based premium food delivery service Supper has secured access to key pick up areas within central London parks. Customers will be able to order food from restaurants on the Supper platform and enjoy the dishes outdoors. Official delivery pick-up points will launch in 13 of London's parks and green spaces. Working with location app, What3Words, the pick-up points will be available in Regents Park, Hyde Park, Holland Park, Kensington Gardens, St James's Park, Green Park, Russell Square, Lincoln Inn Fields, Whitehall Gardens, Battersea Park, Parsons Green, Shoreditch Park and Primrose Hill. Founded by Peter Georgiou in 2015, Supper uses a fleet of specially adapted scooters and directly employed drivers to cater for the premium end of the market.

Starbucks expands support for blind and visually-impaired customers at North American restaurants: Starbucks is expanding support for blind and visually-impaired customers at its North American sites. The company will introduce large-print and braille menus to all of its outlets across the United States and Canada from this summer. The company has also begun offering a service that connects blind and visually-impaired customers to live trained visual interpreters who can help them make their purchases. The service, Aira, allows customers who download the Aira app to have the layout of restaurants described to them and to have the menu read to them, as well as to get more specific details of what’s in front of them, such as ready-to-eat and drink options. The addition of Aira is part of Starbucks’ ongoing initiative to improve its service to people with sensory disabilities. Starbucks said the braille menus were being developed in partnership with National Braille Press.

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