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Sun 25th Apr 2021 - Weekend Press Roundup – all the leisure stories
Hornby – early signs were that The Restaurant Group “can turn the corner” after the restructuring: Andy Hornby, chief executive of The Restaurant Group said that the early signs were that the company “can turn the corner” after the restructuring. “We said at my first set of results that we wanted to reduce the total number of outlets we had from 650 to 400 to 450 over five to six years. Bluntly, and I take no pleasure in saying this, it took six months,” he said. He defended the group’s controversial use of a CVA, an insolvency procedure, to shut sites after criticism from landlords. “We got a very clear vote of support for the CVA. And not just that. The Wagamama side of the business hasn’t been restructured, yet with constant dialogue we’ve moved quite a lot of landlords towards more of a turnover-based structure.” Decisions taken when the pandemic hit may have been calm, but they were also decisive and to a degree of ruthless. Within weeks, Hornby had bolstered The Restaurant Group’s balance sheet with a £57 million equity-raising and had shed 250 lossmaking or otherwise uneconomic restaurants by putting its Chiquito business through an administration and its Frankie & Benny’s restaurants through a company voluntary arrangement. Almost at a stroke, he had resolved the Gordian Knot of the group’s struggling leisure division, mostly located on cinema parks. “I took over in August 2019 and spent my first-year grappling with what to do. It was genuinely a very difficult conundrum, because we had 350 sites in the division with an average lease expiry of seven years still to run – twice as many as we needed.” Inevitably, there have been accusations that his use of a CVA, in particular, shafted the group’s landlords. “I genuinely think that is just not the case. We got a very clear vote of support for the CVA. And not just that. The Wagamama side of the business hasn’t been restructured, yet with constant dialogue we’ve moved quite a lot of landlords towards more of a turnover-based structure.” Difficult a process though it has been, Hornby believes that the restaurant industry is moving towards a more collaborative relationship with landlords. “Just over 50% of our sites are on at least some element of turnover rent. That has got to be more sensible: if things are going well, the landlords get more; if you hit an absolute brick wall like a pandemic and you have to shut, you share the pain. Yes, it was tough, but it definitely wasn’t over-Draconian.” Some commentators have questioned why he didn’t simply get rid of the leisure division, along with the small airport concessions business, and refocus on its two highly regarded growth brands: Wagamama, a Japanese noodle bar chain famous for its communal tables; and Brunning & Price, its food-led pubs chain. The answer is that the pared-back division of about 150 mainly Frankie & Benny’s sites, once it is fully up and running, will be “very, very cash-generative” – money that will be used to expand its two-star brands. Which begs the question: How does Wagamama manage to keep delivering industry-leading sales year after year? Hornby takes none of the credit himself. “If you look back, it’s been a decade-long outperformance and I think it can carry on. I wouldn’t be sitting here otherwise.” The biggest plus, he says, is that Wagamama is very hard to copy, while it has “an obsession with fresh food that is absolutely in the DNA of the business”. He also cites the communal seating arrangement as a big advantage. “The flexibility of the seating is key: if you’re busy, people shunt along; if it’s quiet, people spread out. It is a hugely powerful tool. Wagamama really is a phenomenal business.” (The Times)

“They’re stealing our customers and we’ve had enough” – is Deliveroo killing restaurant culture?: The Observer takes an in-depth look at the impact of Deliveroo on the restaurant sector, especially the impact of “dark kitchens” on local restaurant scenes. Talk to restaurateurs about their experiences with Deliveroo over the past year, though, and a more complex picture emerges. The Observer has spoken to several cafe- and restaurant-owners in the neighbourhood and, with one exception, who is broadly neutral, all of them are critical of the company. Everybody insists that the commission levels are far too high and that local independents are paying over the odds compared with national chains and prestige brands. There is anger too that restaurants are at the mercy of Deliveroo’s way of ranking them within the app, with little transparency over why some outlets are at the top and others become lost to obscurity down below. “They woo you with honeyed words and push users towards you at the beginning, so it seems like it’s working out, then you drop like a stone,” claims one. “They’re stealing our customers and we’ve had enough – we’ve told them to come and remove their machines,” says another, referring to the fact that when a restaurant joins the platform it can bring with it a host of devoted fans who Deliveroo can market to other restaurants. “It’s robbery, pure and simple.” None of the interviewees begrudge Deliveroo the right to charge restaurants for the service it is providing. Their grievances revolve around the fact that by assuming the role of market gatekeeper, the company has a responsibility to play fairly, and that in this regard it is falling short. Speculation abounds that favoured restaurant names, of the type rarely to be found in this part of the city, are able to cut better deals than smaller outlets that are rooted in their communities but have no economic clout when it comes to negotiating fees. Many refer to the fact that unlike their own firms, Deliveroo pays no UK corporation tax, and the restaurant owners suspect the net effect of the company’s operations is that money flows out of a poor neighbourhood – Tottenham’s unemployment rate is currently the fastest growing in the country and its level of child poverty is almost double the national average – and into the pockets of far-flung global investors. But despite these complaints, almost every restaurant owner says they have no choice but to remain on the platform because that is where the customers now are. Nearly all requested anonymity in this article for fear that speaking out against Deliveroo could see them relegated down the app’s search rankings. The Observer requested an interview with a representative of Deliveroo to discuss criticisms made by its restaurant partners but was told that no one was available. To read the full story click here(The Observer)

Covid-19 recovery – Britain toasts reopening: The economy is bouncing back strongly from its covid-19-induced recession as shoppers return to high streets, and outdoor diners pack back into pubs and restaurants as restrictions ease. Customers also rushed to hairdressers and beauty salons as they reopened in England this month. Barclaycard reported a 438% week-on-week spike in spending on hair and beauty treatments for the week commencing 12 April, 62% higher than the same week in 2019. Jonathan De Mello, partner at retail consultancy CWM, said the long third lockdown had contributed to the spending “frenzy”, and meant that demand was higher than seen in the last reopening in June. “There’s been a lot of pent-up demand, and that’s coinciding with people starting to return to the office.” Ben Broadbent, a deputy governor of the Bank of England, told the Sunday Telegraph this weekend that Britain should expect “very rapid growth at least over the next couple of quarters”. Consumer behaviour is changing, with a higher proportion of shopping and food ordering expected to stay online even as shops and restaurants reopen. David Page, chairman of Fulham Shore, which owns the Franco Manca and Real Greek chains, said demand had been strong at the group’s sites with outdoor dining. Fulham Shore’s restaurants can currently run at only 30% of normal capacity, but sales have been up 15% on pre-pandemic levels. “There’s been big pent-up demand,” Page said. “Now there’s a bit of a release, spending is much higher per head.” For restaurateurs, much depends on the availability of outdoor space. Ian Payne, chairman of the Slug and Lettuce-owner Stonegate, said that only 30% of the group’s managed pubs were open, and about 65% of its leased and tenanted pubs. “At those pubs that are open, trade has been pretty positive up until about 8pm when the sun goes down – then trade drops off considerably because it’s so cold. Pubs with very large outdoor areas are doing reasonably well but those with smaller outside areas are struggling. It’s better than nothing, but it’s still nowhere near where we’d like to be.” Economists at Barclays said total spending in the week to 16 April was 15% above February levels. While parts of the economy were still struggling – such as transport – the Barclays economists expected a steady recovery. Along with a “summer of joy” as restrictions end on 21 June, the Barclays’ economists said it was possible that GDP could rise 8% over the next three quarters of the year – “equating to a peacetime record”. (Sunday Times)

Scrap social distancing in June to give people control of their lives, say scientists: Social distancing should be abolished in June to allow people “to take back control of their own lives”, a letter signed by 22 leading scientists and academics says. The open letter states that “a good society cannot be created by obsessive focus on a single cause of ill-health” and calls for all restrictions to be lifted on 21 June – the final date in Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown. Mass community testing is also unnecessary, say the signatories, who favour a more targeted approach along with encouraging hand-washing and surface cleaning. They are also urging the government to scrap vaccine passports as covid “no longer requires exceptional measures of control in everyday life”. Ending social distancing restrictions would allow family members from different households to meet up inside and give many grandparents the opportunity to hug their grandchildren for the first time in months. The scientists – from a broad range of specialities and all sides of the political spectrum – insist the “theoretical risk” of vaccine-immune strains or a new virus surge should not outweigh the harms caused by lockdown rules, including damage to children’s education and the nation’s mental health. Their comments come as it was announced that more than half the UK population has now received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. Real-world data from the UK has shown the extraordinary success of the jabs, which slash infection and are also likely to cut transmission of the virus. (Sunday Telegraph)

Gordon Ramsay forced to fight Russian ‘typosquatter’ in court over bogus website: For years, Gordon Ramsay has forged a reputation for being a chef with a penchant for an expletive-laden row on one of his many television shows. But earlier this year he was forced to let his lawyers do the talking after a Russian man tried to cash in on his Michelin starred culinary fame. In 2019, Kushnarenko Oleksii set up “”, having changed just one letter of the star’s real website As well as pictures of a suitably stern looking Mr Ramsay, it featured his recipes and links to his restaurants, including London-based Petrus, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea and the Savoy Grill on the Strand. It also had links to websites and recipes by Jamie Oliver, another British chef and television personality. In January, Mr Ramsay’s lawyers filed an official complaint to the World Intellectual Property Organisation insisting the Russian national was “typosquatting” the chef’s real site and in breach of trademarks already registered in Britain, America and the European Union. They argued Mr Oleksii’s website name was “confusingly similar… with the only difference that the letter ‘a’ is replaced with the letter ‘u’, so ‘ramsay’ is replaced with ‘rumsay’.” They added: “In result, there is a risk that the disputed domain name may be perceived as being owned by or otherwise affiliated to the complainant [Mr Ramsay], particularly given that the associated website features the complainant’s own recipes and contains numerous references to him and his restaurants.” The chef’s lawyers claimed Mr Olekiss was “using the disputed domain name for commercial gain in connection with sponsored advertising or affiliate links for various products, including cooking apparatus and Mr Ramsay’s own books.” Mr Oleksii was informed about the legal action and even asked if he wanted the legal arguments translated into Russian. But, he failed to respond. The panel hearing the case found Mr Oleksii’s website breached Mr Ramsay’s trademarks, despite one letter having been changed. As a result, the site was “confusingly similar”, registered in “bad faith” without Mr Ramsay’s approval and so likely to have been set up for “commercial gain”. They ordered the site to be removed from the internet. Mr Oleksii could not be traced on Saturday night. Mr Ramsay declined to comment. (Sunday Telegraph)

London’s luxury shops and restaurants try to lure customers back after lockdown: West End landlords have also been working with the tenants and councils to make whole neighbourhoods more enticing. Cadogan has worked with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to add 900 alfresco dining seats in the area. Pavilion Road, Chelsea’s food quarter, has been permanently pedestrianised. Modern shoppers want their retail therapy to include “experiences” and Instagram-able moments. Amid the plane trees on Sloane Square, the Botanist restaurant has set up a tequila and pizza pop-up. The French-themed restaurant Colbert has built an area for customers to play pétanque. Across the square, the Royal Court Theatre is putting on “espresso plays”. Andrew Goodwin of Oxford Economics says British consumers are champing at the bit to spend. Overall retail sales smashed expectations by rising 5.4% in March compared to the month before, led by a 17.5% increase in sales of clothing even before restrictions on non-essential shops were lifted. “This meant that total retail sales were 1.6% above their pre-pandemic level, despite a large chunk of stores being forced to operate via online or click-and-collect only,” adds Goodwin. The picture is a bit more mixed for restaurants, especially in the capital. Last Saturday night, London restaurants only pulled in half the bookings they did on the equivalent day in 2019 but for Manchester the figure was 85pc. Experts say this may partly be the result of more venues in London remaining closed as it is harder to organise outside seating. Nationwide, though, creative al fresco solutions resulted in a full 60pc of reservations compared to the equivalent Saturday in 2019. It’s a good time to be in the pergola business. Caravan has six bar and dining venues across London, two of which enjoyed their best week ever last week, according to Chris Ammermann, a co-founder. “Everyone is so thrilled and relieved to be back and enjoying that human contact that we crave,” says the New Zealander. “It’s really cold in the evening at the moment but that resilient British spirit has been very evident in the past couple of weeks. One of our barmen said to me it’s like customers are enjoying every drink as if it’s the last one of their lives.” (Sunday Telegraph)

Kitchen nightmares: An exodus of European staff and the furlough effect mean hospitality bosses are finding it surprisingly hard to hire. As pub and restaurant owners rush to bring back employees after months of closure, they have hit an unusual snag. Despite a wave of job losses (with the Office for National Statistics pointing towards 355,000 fewer employees in the industry), in some areas staff are proving hard to come by. Last week, PizzaExpress said it was looking for 1,000 workers as it prepared to reopen restaurants. Bosses fear the staff shortages are a result of workers leaving the industry and young Europeans returning home. Asma Khan, owner of Darjeeling Express in Covent Garden, London, has managed to hold on to her staff but said other restaurants were scrambling for recruits. “There’s a real panic,” she said. “Everyone is looking for a general manager or a sommelier.” Khan, blamed the shortage on an outflow of young staff who found other jobs after becoming disillusioned with hospitality. “The industry has lost out because it hasn’t given any importance to its workers.” Michael Warren, managing director of Harbour Hotels, said the labour market was the most challenging he had seen in 30 years working in hospitality. “It’s a double whammy from Brexit and covid,” said Warren. His group, based in Christchurch, Dorset, manages 15 hotels, mostly in tourist hotspots including Brighton, Padstow and St Ives. “There aren’t any new young European staff coming into the UK, and the impact of lockdown means many [who were already here] have returned to their countries.’’ Turnover for the business was around £66 million in 2019, but last year revenues were down 35%. To compete with supermarkets and Amazon for workers, Harbour is offering bartenders and waiters up to £14 an hour.” Warren said: “The pendulum is swinging in favour of employees.” Ahead of next month’s reopening, Bruce Poole is trying to recruit bar and waiting staff for his Michelin-starred south London restaurant, Chez Bruce. “The vast majority of our staff are European, and most have gone home,” said Poole. There was already a shortage of hospitality staff in the capital, he said, but covid has left the industry in “uncharted waters”. “We know that we’re going to be busy, and we know demand is going to be up, but we don’t quite know where the staff are.” (Sunday Times)

Deliveroo has been hit by claims it is imposing ‘extortionate’ fees on businesses: Deliveroo is gobbling up more than 50% of the takings at some restaurants by charging commission on VAT, discounts and even refunded meals. With thousands of independent outlets still dependent on takeaways or home orders, many have turned to the delivery giant in an effort to keep their operations afloat. But the company has been hit by claims that it is imposing ‘extortionate’ fees on businesses. George Kontakos, owner of family-run Greek restaurant The Olive Grove in Cambridge, accused Deliveroo and other delivery firms of taking advantage of small venues during the covid crisis. “We’re in a fortunate position where we can carry on operating, but despite having good sales we’re not making any money because of Deliveroo and third-party delivery apps,” he said. “We’ve had so many messages from people saying they thought that by buying on Deliveroo, they were helping their local restaurant. In fact, it is exactly the opposite.” Under a deal agreed with the restaurant, Deliveroo charges commission of 33% for orders below £25 and 30% on anything higher, but a recent invoice shows The Olive Grove was billed on gross sales, including VAT and discounts, and the total fee equated to 54%. The restaurant was charged for sales of £6,104 even though special offers and refunds meant they actually took in only £5,091. After all deductions were made, Mr Kontakos was left with £2,835. “Instead of charging us commission on the value of the order after the discount, which is what you would assume, they charge the commission on the amount before the discount, even though this amount has not been cashed,” Mr Kontakos said. “They do this to inflate the commission they get. There is no way for you to make any money. We’re having to pay Deliveroo commission on the tax that we pay to the government. It’s mind-blowing. The solution is a commission cap of 20%, which has been introduced in other cities like New York.” A spokesman for Deliveroo, which insists all discounts offered are voluntary, said: “We have a positive track record of helping our small restaurant partners. This will continue to be our priority as restaurants look towards reopening.” (Mail on Sunday)

Marina O’Loughlin – nine new restaurants I can’t wait to book: That the hospitality industry is fierce and indomitable has been demonstrated throughout the duration of the pandemic. There have been the pivots to delivery, or grocery stores, or specialist retailers; the community enterprises, where kitchens more used to serving fine food have been repurposed to feed the NHS or those who are struggling. The sheer pig-headed determination is awe-inspiring. Most of all I’m jaw-on-floor with admiration for those who, in defiance of all apparent logic or wisdom, have opened or are planning to open a business during all this madness. With official reports indicating that up to one in five hospitality businesses could fold without further government intervention, this seems like a level of bullishness to make one gasp and stretch eyes. That question again: bravery or insanity? I don’t know the answer, but I can continue to applaud and support and hope. So here are a few interesting restaurants laughing in the face of official reports, determined to defy the odds with their new enterprises: Lerpwl – the popular Barrie brothers’ new restaurant on Liverpool’s Royal Albert Dock; Manzi’s – the long-awaited latest from Messrs Corbin and King in London’s Soho; Fern in Newcastle’s Jesmond Dene House; Open Kitchen in Manchester; Robin Wylde – chef Harriet Mansell’s upcoming restaurant in Lyme Regis; Imad’s Syrian Kitchen in London’s Soho; Rafa’s Diner in Glasgow; Brutto – new venture from Polpo co-founder Russell Norman; and Sonny Stores in Bristol. (Sunday Times)

Polpo co-founder Russell Norman to launch new restaurant Brutto: Sunday Times restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin writes: “Call me a fan, but even a whisper of a new opening from the master stylist Russell Norman – the man behind the hugely influential Polpo restaurants – has me on high alert. Noticing a new Instagram account. I went digging and it seems that, yes, after leaving the group last year, he has an exciting project on the go, possibly in Smithfield, almost certainly called Brutto (Italian for ‘ugly’). Contrary to the name, there’s no doubt it’ll be beautiful – Norman’s places always are – but with the hearty, rustic Tuscan menu as inspiration, the food is bound to be as much of a draw as the decor.” (Sunday Times)

The Botanist signs deal to open in Ipswich: The final contract for The Botanist restaurant to move into the Old Post Office building on Ipswich Cornhill has now been signed – and the company is aiming to have it open in September, well in time for the Christmas season. A planning application for listed building consent to change the interior of the Old Post Office has been lodged with Ipswich Borough Council and planning officers are currently studying it. It is expected to be discussed by members of the council’s planning and development committee within the next few weeks – and providing it gets the go-ahead, work to prepare the restaurant should get underway. The Botanist has already started recruiting staff for the new restaurant. (Ipswich Star)

Gordon Ramsay lands new Apprentice-style series Future Food Stars: Gordon Ramsay has landed a new show called Future Food Stars on the BBC. The chef will star in the upcoming programme which will have an ‘Apprentice-style’ format. The new series will involve 12 entrepreneurs hoping to receive a life-changing restaurant investment. The show would have the acronym FFS which is reportedly a play on words after his iconic series The F Word which helped his rise to fame. A TV source told The Sun: “The Beeb will start filming in the summer. It was meant to get under way last year but was cancelled due to the pandemic. Now the hospitality industry is getting back on its feet after -taking such a battering, there’s a real sense of hope and opportunity out there, which is what this prime-time show is all about.” (The Sun)

Price of a pint rises to £7 as pubs hike prices to claw back for lockdown losses: The price of a pint has shot up to £7 as some pubs hike costs in a bid to claw back for lockdown losses. Since reopening on 12 April, a pint of Peroni has gone up by 60p in one boozer in Roehampton, South West London, from £6.40 to £7. Others have slammed the “shocking” prices, with one punter claiming a pint of Sam Smiths at their local has gone up by £1.10. It’s standard to see prices rise by around 4p and 5p on an annual basis, Monico Leisure Ltd beer consultant Marion King told The Daily Mail. But she blasted a 9p rise as “absolutely ridiculous” and anything over 12p “just scandalous”. She added that normally she would advise pubs add 10p on the price of a pint annually but that this year her company has had to add 20p to keep up with rising costs at the brewers. Drinkers across the UK have already noticed the price hikes. One person wrote on Twitter: “Anyone else gone back to their local pub and discovered the prices have gone up quite a lot? My local has put 40p on a pint.” Another said: “I paid £3.20 at my local before covid. Last night it was £4.70 a pint. That’s a massive increase and not something that a lot of people have disposable income for.” A third punter said they were hopeful pints would drop below £5 each again after forking out £11 for two. One landlord said she’d been left with no choice to push up prices after her brewery hiked their costs. She said: “[We] have to put up prices to reflect that once open as we can’t swallow the extra cost right now!”. Pubs have been among the hardest hit throughout the coronavirus pandemic, being forced to close multiple times under lockdown restrictions. (Daily Mail)

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