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Fri 17th Dec 2021 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Sector shutting sites early and planning redundancies as businesses hit by ‘double whammy’ amid record covid cases: Industry bosses are shutting sites early and planning redundancies as the impact of the Omicron variant and “Plan B” restrictions wreaks havoc on the sector. Pubs and restaurants are being hit by a “double whammy” of staff absences and plummeting consumer confidence as the return to working from home emptied city centres. Daily virus cases on Thursday (16 December) surged to a record 88,376 and are set to rise further in the coming days and weeks. Chancellor Rishi Sunak held one-on-one crisis talks virtually with business and hospitality chiefs from companies including Prezzo, Black Sheep Brewery, Nando’s, Greene King, Whitbread and Adnams amid concerns over the impact of covid messaging. Clive Watson, chairman of City Pub Group, told the Standard he was closing the group’s venues in the City and other office-dominated areas on Friday (17 December) – five days early as there was “no one around”. Greene King chief executive Nick Mackenzie said sales in its pubs in some parts of London are down as much as 70% compared with the same time in 2019. Latest footfall figures for the West End on Wednesday (15 December) show the number of people in the area down 8% on the previous Wednesday, and 37% on the same day in 2019. Train journeys across Britain have fallen to July levels, with industry revenue down 23% week-on-week, meaning it is now at just 43% of pre-pandemic levels. Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton said he had already lost £1m-worth of bookings this month since the “Plan B” measures were announced last week. Barrafina Drury Lane in Covent Garden said that “staff members isolating makes the services non-viable”, while Kol in London’s Marylebone said it had “no option” but to temporarily close while “key team members isolate”. Darjeeling Express near Leicester Square reported a “double whammy of staff sickness combined with huge cancellations of groups”. Almost four in five (78%) of pub operators have reported trade being “significantly” down on 2019 levels since “Plan B” measures were announced, according to a new survey by the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII). More than three quarters (76%) are having to reduce staff hours, and almost one in four are already saying they will be letting staff go. More than half (53%) are having to reduce their trading hours. Meanwhile, the British Beer & Pub Association said three million pub visits were cancelled in the past week alone as it too called on the government to support the sector. BII chief executive Steven Alton said: “The immediate and devastating impact of the prime minister’s announcements over the past few days is now clear to see. We need support for these essential businesses now, not in the new year, as quite simply they will not survive without it. Our members have asked for vital support in the form of the reintroduction of grants, a continuation of the lower rate of VAT and a cancellation of business rates.”

Industry News:

Propel Premium Advent Video Calendar to feature Keith Bird and Pranee Laurillard: Propel has launched its Premium Advent Video Calendar, giving subscribers access to a great video each day in December from our autumn conference series. Each day in the run-up to Christmas, Premium subscribers will be sent a video featuring some of the sector’s leading operators, who will share insights, advice and expertise. The next three videos – which will be sent at 9am today (Friday, 17 December), tomorrow (Saturday, 18 December) and Sunday (19 December) – feature a panel focusing on the concepts looking to make their mark in a post- covid world, including Keith Bird, chief executive of Maragume Udon and Pranee Laurillard, founder of Lime Squeezy Thai Kitchen; Itsu chief executive Julian Metcalfe; and Amy Heather, Just Eat director strategic accounts UK. Earlier this month, Premium subscribers received the fifth edition of The New Openings Database, which is produced in association with StarStock. The database showed the details of 366 newly announced site openings and upcoming launches. Premium subscribers also receive access to two other databases. The latest Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, and the Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group. Subscribers also receive access to Propel’s library of lockdown videos and Friday Wrap interviews and now also have access to a curated video library of the sector’s finest leaders and entrepreneurs, offering their insights on running outstanding businesses in the sector. Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out, regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Propel group editor Mark Wingett, who, as part of this week’s column, pays tribute to Stephen Thomas. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Propel Premium for a year for £895 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The regular single subscription rate of £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers remains the same. To subscribe, email jo.charity@propelinfo.com

Dardis – thousands and thousands of businesses will now collapse in January: Patrick Dardis, chief executive of Young’s, has said that thousands of hospitality business could go bust by January because of a “fear campaign” and a lack of financial support from the government following the surge in the Omicron variant. Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Dardis said a surge in cancellations for Christmas bookings would be dire for the hospitality sector, which relies heavily on the holiday season for its earnings. He said the mixed messaging from government about risks and restrictions was leaving patrons “terribly confused” about whether to keep their bookings at a time when restaurants and pubs were already “hanging by their fingernails”. He said: “Unfortunately, with the latest fear campaign that’s being run, it’s damaging so many businesses that could have possibly survived, and as a consequence, thousands and thousands of businesses will now collapse in January. There are a lot of individual owner-operators who’ve been running their businesses for years and have thrown the kitchen sink – people have lost their marriages, they’re losing their livelihoods, and this is the last straw. This is the bit that they were desperately clinging on to and it’s been taken away from them without any support from government.” He called for business rates to be scrapped and a permanent reduction in VAT. Nick Farr, co-owner of Hertfordshire brewery Farr Brew, which operates six pubs, told the BBC the business has been hit with around 450 cancellations in the past seven to ten days, which has had a “devastating” impact. Sam Morgan, owner of Birmingham restaurants Craft and Eight, said his businesses had seen a “rapid decline” in bookings, with more than 600 cancellations. “We’ve got a perfect storm,” said Morgan, who last December launched a legal challenge against the government, claiming it has failed to provide adequate financial support to the sector during the pandemic. Conservative MP Anne Marie Morris tweeted: “If we’re effectively telling people not to visit hospitality this Christmas then this needs to be accompanied by immediate sector specific financial support from HM Treasury.”

Lawson – we have to consider the impact that predicting a doomsday scenario has on people in the sector: Jonathan Lawson, chief executive of Channel Islands and West Country-based brewer and retailer Liberation Group, has said the industry has to consider the impact of “predicting a doomsday for our sector” on whether people stay in it or join it. Writing in this week’s Propel Premium, Lawson said: “Our ability to work together as a sector and to raise the key issues to the government has been a real strength during this timeframe, and has no doubt been crucial in gaining vital support that has enabled us to navigate an incredibly challenging period, and we are right to raise these concerns once again. However, I think there also has to be a learning for us in how we raise these concerns and the impact this has on people who will be considering whether to stay in our sector, leave or hopefully join. At different stages during the pandemic, I believe we sailed too close to predicting a doomsday for our sector, in which case why would you stay or join if you have a roof to keep above your head and want a progressive career? We are right to challenge this government on additional support, we have already demonstrated our importance to the economy and have been a key driver in its recovery. But this challenge needs to be done in a way that does not stress people who are already part of this wonderful sector, or deter those who are considering joining or returning to the amazing world of food and drink.” Lawson will share more of his thoughts in this week’s Premium Opinion, which will be published on Friday (17 December) at 5pm. To subscribe, email jo.charity@propelinfo.com

Merlin Entertainments calls for planning reform as Supreme Court rejects bid to quash Legoland Windsor development permission: Merlin Entertainments has called for reforms to the planning system as the Supreme Court rejected a bid to quash permission for development at its Legoland Windsor resort. The decision means the options for challenging this planning permission – issued by the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead Council in April 2019 and rubberstamped by government – are finally exhausted. Merlin can now proceed to implement the plans it first applied for in June 2017. This includes a holiday village with lodges in a woodland setting, providing additional on-site accommodation for guests. Over the past 30 months, Merlin has been unable to proceed with its multimillion-pound investment in the attraction as activists sought to overturn the local planning authority’s decision in the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of England and Wales. Each application made by the activists was unanimously quashed by the courts. A Merlin spokesman said: “It therefore can’t be right that decisions made by local and national politicians to enable economic growth can be disrupted and delayed by activists to this extent through repeated legal challenges, with little to no risk of costs sanctions. If the government is serious about making the UK a more attractive place to invest, it needs to make sure that our planning system is fit-for-purpose.”

Delivery and takeaway sales in November double on 2019 levels: Hospitality groups’ delivery and takeaway sales continued to grow in November, the latest edition of the CGA & Slerp Hospitality at Home Tracker shows. The Tracker reveals Britain’s leading managed restaurant and pub groups recorded a 97% increase in sales by value compared with the levels of November 2019. Sales were just 1% below November 2020, when businesses were subject to much tougher restrictions on eat-in trading than they are now. November’s research shows delivery sales were 192% higher than in 2019 – far outstripping the 25% growth in takeaways. This reflects consumers’ switch from picking up food to having it delivered to their door, a trend boosted by lockdowns and the popularity of third-party delivery providers, the Tracker said. While 2021-on-2019 growth has slowed since hospitality venues reopened earlier this year, deliveries and takeaways are likely to attract another wave of interest given current restrictions, CGA and Slerp said. Combined, deliveries and takeaways accounted for just over 28 pence in every pound of spending at managed groups in November 2021. Growth in this sector continues to be much higher than in eating and drinking out, with the November edition of the separate CGA Coffer Business Tracker – which has a different cohort of contributing companies – indicating managed groups grew their sales by just 2% from November 2019.

Davis – pubs must champion cask ale to stop it disappearing from our pumps: Leading retail commentator Glynn Davis fears cask ale could join the list of victims of covid-19 unless more pubs start promoting it. Davis pointed to figures from the British Beer & Pub Association (BPPA), showing cask sales in pubs was down a hefty 40% between April 2021, when pubs reopened, and July 2021. During this period, 113 million pints of cask beer were sold in pubs, compared with 189 million during the same period in 2019 before the pandemic hit, according to the BBPA. This followed a pre-pandemic period of cask sales falling by 17% between 2014 and 2019. “Cask ale has probably never been under greater pressure and is arguably fighting for its survival,” said Davis, writing exclusively in Propel’s Friday Opinion. “What makes this situation so disappointing is that when pubs have reopened after the various lockdowns, the beer that many drinkers have sought out first has been cask because of its unique nature and its umbilical cord-like link to pubs. Few things have escaped the impact of the pandemic, and although cask ale is only one very small piece of the overall hospitality puzzle, its accelerated demise represents a sad situation for the industry as it’s part of the fabric of the British pub. I’m hoping pubs champion more cask ales, and that I’m not alone in being increasingly thirsty for this unique product before it becomes another victim of covid-19.” Davis will share more of his thoughts in this week’s Friday Opinion, which will be published on Friday (17 December) at 11am.

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a premium restaurant brand in London that is looking to hire a head of marketing. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “This is an extremely exciting opportunity for the right candidate. They will need to be proactive to enhance strategy, be able to build on existing marketing plans and work collaboratively across the team to deliver against agreed initiatives.” The base salary for this role is £100,000. For more information and to apply, email Abbie@corecruitment.com
 

Company News:

Rosa’s Thai appoints Steve Seager as new property director: Rosa’s Thai Cafe, which is backed by TriSpan, has appointed Steve Seager, formerly of Cote Restaurants, as its new property director, Propel has learned. Seager spent more than 11-and-a-half years as property director at Cote, where he played a key role in its journey to becoming a national brand. He previously worked for Tragus Holdings and Strada as acquisitions director. He is understood to have joined the circa 30-strong, Gavin Adair-led Rosa’s at the start of the month to further accelerate site growth, building on a pipeline that includes sites already secured in King’s Cross, Cardiff and York. Rosa’s recently confirmed it would be opening a site on the former Joe’s Kitchen unit in Coney Street, York, and is also set to take the final unit in Cardiff’s Church Street scheme, which currently houses Pho, Mowgli, The Botanist and Honest Burgers. This summer, Rosa’s added to its London estate with openings in Baker Street and Grafton Way. 

Rock & Rose set to open second site: Restaurateur Lorraine Angliss is planning a second site for her Rock & Rose restaurant concept in London. Angliss, who already operates a Rock & Rose site in Richmond, is understood to have lined up an opening in Chiswick for next March. It is thought that the ex-Bill’s site in Chiswick High Road will house the new opening. Angliss also operates the Little Bird cocktail bar concept in Chiswick and Battersea, plus Annie’s restaurant in Chiswick. Angliss first began working in hospitality more than 30 years ago, having helped Bill Wyman open his Sticky Fingers burger restaurant group in 1989.

McDonald’s settles a lawsuit against former chief executive Steve Easterbrook: McDonald’s has settled a lawsuit against former chief executive Steve Easterbrook, taking back his severance payment valued at $105m. The fast-food chain fired Easterbrook in November 2019 following an investigation that determined he had a consensual relationship with an employee. Despite this, the company still paid out a severance worth $42m in cash and equity at the time. In August 2020, McDonald’s filed a lawsuit alleging that Easterbrook had lied to the company and destroyed evidence regarding three additional employee relationships. As part of the settlement, Easterbrook returned his severance package and apologised for his behaviour. Easterbrook said: “During my tenure as chief executive, I failed at times to uphold McDonald’s values and fulfil certain of my responsibilities as a leader of the company. I apologise to my former co-workers, the board and the company’s franchisees and suppliers for doing so.” McDonald’s chairman Enrique Hernandez Jr. said: “This settlement holds Steve Easterbrook accountable for his clear misconduct, including the way in which he exploited his position as chief executive. The resolution avoids a protracted court process and allows us to move forward. It also affirms the board’s initial judgment to pursue this case.”

Six new Premier Inns to open early next year, including first on Guernsey: Whitbread is planning to open a further six Premier Inn hotels before the close of its 2021-22 financial year. Three will be based in London and two in the Channel Islands, including a first ever Premier Inn on Guernsey. Another first for the chain will be its debut hotel in a National Park, at St Davids in Pembrokeshire. A major 60-bedroom extension to the Edinburgh Princes Street hotel is also timetabled to open in February 2022. This follows Whitbread opening more than 3,100 new bedrooms in the UK and Ireland this year, including 25 new Premier Inn and hub by Premier Inn hotels, plus two extensions to existing hotels. Alex Flach, UK development director for Premier Inn, said: “We’re continuing to deliver our strategy of expanding Premier Inn and hub by Premier Inn in locations where we see strong, long-term demand for our style of affordable hotel accommodation. Central London and other major cities have been a particular focus of our expansion this financial year, with 14 new hotels opened in London, Dublin and other major UK towns and cities so far, and many more exciting locations nearing completion and due to welcome guests before the end of February. Outside of the main cities, we have added new locations in popular market towns and traditional leisure and adventure locations as our customers continue to seek affordable, high-quality accommodation close to beauty spots, coastlines and outdoor attractions.”

Douglas Jack – franchise dispute resolution means Domino’s UK now free to ‘unlock significant latent potential’: Peel Hunt leisure analyst Douglas Jack has argued the resolution in the dispute between Domino’s Pizza UK and its franchisees means the business is now free to “unlock significant latent potential”. Issuing a “buy” note on the shares with a target price of 475p, Jack said: “The cost to Domino’s is largely developments we would have expected anyway. It is investing circa £20m, spread over three years, in digital acceleration, personalisation, e-commerce app development and in-store innovation; increased marketing investment to support new national campaigns and promotions; an enhanced food rebate mechanism for franchisees to encourage order growth, conditional on franchisees meeting new store opening targets and order count thresholds and an improved new store incentive scheme to reward, encourage and accelerate new store openings. In return, franchisees have agreed to open at least 45 new stores per annum collectively over the next three years; participate in new national promotional deals; prioritise, test, and roll-out new technology and product innovation and to test new store formats and support changes by Domino’s aimed at driving efficiency across the system. The company expects the 2021E results to be in line. We are holding our forecasts for 2022E. As we previously said, any resolution should be self-financing. We are upgrading our 2023E profit before tax forecast 3% to reflect the emerging benefits of this resolution (before the franchisee dispute, like-for-like sales used to average 9% per annum). The company has increased its medium-term expectations and now expects to achieve at least the upper-end of the previously announced targets of £1.6bn to £1.9bn of system sales, and now expects to exceed the medium-term target of 200 new stores.”

Further Starbucks sites in US make move to unionise: More Starbucks sites have made moves to unionise in the wake of the first unionised US store since the 1980s. Workers at two stores in Massachusetts have filed for union elections to join SEIU affiliate Workers United, citing inspiration from the union organising campaign in Buffalo, New York. The workers at stores located in Commonwealth Avenue in Boston and Harvard Avenue in Brookline, Massachusetts, announced their intent to unionise in a letter to Starbucks chief executive Kevin Johnson. Workers noted understaffing has been a severe issue in stores throughout the Boston area, an issue cited by workers in the Buffalo area ahead of the union drive, as some Starbucks locations in the region have closed or reduced hours. Three more store locations in Buffalo are waiting for their union elections to be scheduled. A Starbucks store location in Mesa, Arizona, has also filed for a union election. In response to the union victory, Starbucks management posted a letter for workers saying they were “saddened” by the results of the election.

Just Eat launches Asda partnership as it expands grocery offer: Just Eat has partnered with Asda, marking the platform’s first tie-up with a major UK grocer. From January, customers in five initial locations across the UK will be able to purchase items from Asda via Just Eat’s platform. Just Eat said the partnership was a  significant step in its plan to expand its grocery offer. The locations of the five stores in the pilot will be confirmed early in the new year, and Just Eat anticipates growing the partnership in 2022. The partnership will offer up to 1,000 items available for customers to buy daily. Andrew Kenny, managing director UK at Just Eat, said: “We live in an on-demand world, and as the UK’s largest food delivery aggregator, we want to ensure we are getting our customers the food they want, when they want it.” Simon Gregg, vice-president of online grocery at Asda, added: “We’re always looking for new ways to offer customers more choice and extend the number of delivery options available. The trial will also see Asda become more accessible to a wider customer base through Just Eats’ significant presence in the on-demand food delivery space.” Just Eat Takeaway.com already supports almost 10,000 grocery and convenience stores on its platforms globally, including partnerships with brands such as Spar, Shell and 7-Eleven. The partnership with Asda builds on a longstanding relationship with the grocer’s cafe operation, in which Just Eat delivers pizzas and meal deals from Asda Kitchen, the in-store diner. This service runs across 42 locations nationwide.

Burmese restaurant concept Lahpet to double up with Covent Garden opening in February: Burmese restaurant concept Lahpet is to open its second site, in The Yards, Covent Garden, in February. The 2,500 square-foot site will launch at 21 Slingsby Place, with the two-storey venue featuring a robata grill. The restaurant will seat 100 covers inside, while there will also be a large, heated terrace on the first floor, seating 50 guests, and a small courtyard at the front, seating 20. Lahpet opened its first site in Shoreditch, east London, in 2018. Founders Dan Anton and head chef Zaw Mahesh, who are both of Burmese heritage, will offer a menu serving small and large plates and noodle bowls, with new dishes including roasted pork belly and bamboo shoots made with shallot, fermented soya bean paste, garlic and chilli. There will also be a creative cocktail list, wine and craft beer. Anton said: “We’re thrilled to be opening our second restaurant in the heart of the West End, it’s a fantastic site with huge potential. We can’t wait to have the opportunity to introduce more of the varied and vibrant food of Myanmar to London.” CBRE is the asset manager on behalf of Longmartin Properties – a joint venture between Shaftesbury and the Mercers’ Company – and Colliers, and DCL acted for The Yards. Lahpet represented itself.

Gloucester Brewery closes crowdfunding campaign after raising more than £530,000: Gloucester Brewery has closed its campaign on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube after raising more than £530,000. The company hit its initial £500,000 target last week and was offering 9.09% equity in return for the investment, giving a pre-money valuation of £5m. Gloucester Brewery has now closed the campaign, having raised £531,573 from 861 investors. Founded by Jared Brown in 2011, the company will use funds to further develop its new Warehouse Four space to include events space, a sustainable wedding venue and the region’s first waterside taproom and self-serve bar. The company opened the Tank bar in Gloucester in 2015, and in 2020 brought out its own range of spirits. Sales across the group exceeded £1m in 2019, and prior to the pandemic it had been profitable for three years, with 2019 profits of £40,863. Its post-covid recovery has been impressive too, with revenue in August 2021 up 612% on January 2021, from £15,600 to £116,000, and average monthly growth of 39% over the last six-month period. The company, which has pledged to become carbon neutral by the end of next year, is also aiming to grow its portfolio of bars across the south west.

Vinoteca to open Borough Yards site next month: Wine bar, shop and restaurant concept Vinoteca will open its new site at London’s Borough Yards next month. The two-storey site will offer an informal set up on the ground floor, with the site having a particular focus on small, sustainable producers – combined with sourcing ingredients for daily-changing menus from the local Borough Market. A mezzanine floor will provide a view straight down to Southwark Cathedral, and the site will have about 100 covers in total. Vinoteca co-founder Charlie Young said: “Every single one of our 200 wines at Vinoteca Borough Yards has been carefully sourced and is a bottle we are proud of. Our attitude to finding the best small suppliers extends to everything we do, which is why we are so excited to be opening within such a fantastic community.” Vinoteca opened its debut site in 2005 in Farringdon, which has been followed by new wine bars in Marylebone, Chiswick, King’s Cross and the City.

Valary Hotels acquires Leicester property for third site: Hotel company Valary Hotels has acquired the Hilton Leicester Hotel for an undisclosed sum. The freehold property is the third addition to Valary Hotels’ portfolio of UK hotels, which now totals 523 bedrooms. The four-star, 179-bedroom Hilton Leicester Hotel will see investment across its facilities, which include a bar, two restaurants and eight meeting rooms as well as a LivingWell Health Club with indoor swimming pool, gym and sauna. Following refurbishment, the hotel will operate under a franchise agreement with Hilton Hotels and Resorts under the DoubleTree brand and will be managed by Countrywide Hotels. Rajiv Nathwani, owner of Valary Hotels, said: “We are delighted to have acquired this hotel. Being born in Leicester, it is very close to my heart. We plan to significantly invest in the hotel and refurbish the property throughout.” JLL acted on the deal.

Indian Hotels Company to freshen up F&B offer at London site with new restaurant and bar: Indian Hotels Company is freshening up the food and beverage offer at its Taj hotel in London’s Westminster. The hotel, in St James, will open TH@51 in January – with the name referencing both its location at 51 Buckingham Gate and the Treehouse rooftop bar at The Taj Dubai. Taking inspiration from the Treehouse, the new restaurant and bar will feature a glass dining room, open kitchen with robata grill and chef’s table. Focusing on global food with a creative spin, the menu draws inspiration from flavours around the world. Dishes will include the Korean roast – baby chicken, Korean smoked peppers, sticky honey sesame potatoes and buttered kale; and Paneer Wellington – baked puff pastry, spiced tikka masala, garlic, baby spinach and mascarpone makhana. The bar will offer an experiential cocktail menu split into different sections, each representing one of the earth’s unique biomes. 

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