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Thu 23rd Dec 2021 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Boxpark planning to quadruple in size over next five years: Boxpark plans to grow its estate from three to 12 sites over the next five years, founder Roger Wade has told Propel. Boxpark – which operates sites in Shoreditch, Croydon and Wembley and will open its debut Boxhall concept site in Bristol next April – announced plans to expand when it secured a multimillion-pound investment from private equity firm LDC in September. Wade, who this month celebrated Boxpark’s tenth anniversary, has now revealed the nature of those plans. He said: “We’re looking to roll out a further three sites in London and another six outside London, either under Boxpark, which are bigger schemes, or Boxhalls, which are based more around food, music and beer halls. We’ll be looking to roll out two or three for the next five years – we need to grow organically and build the business on firm foundations. For us, it’s not about running around the country trying to do loads of sites – it’s about going from three to 12 sites, and then review it from there. We’re very controlled about what we’re doing – we don’t believe you should expand until you have something really profitable to expand, and it’s taken until now to get a really profitable model going. The big thing for us going forward is letting our traders focus on their content – their food – and we’ll do the rest. We’ll do the business side, create traffic for them and help them convert it into paying customers. We don’t just give them a site, we’re not happy until they’ve made a sale.” Wade also sees the potential of customer data to the future of his concept but admits, like many things which has helped his business evolve, he stumbled across it by accident. “I would say 99% of the hospitality industry don’t have any data on their customer, at best they might have a booking system,” he added. “At Boxpark, every single person has to sign up to a black card, and we have full visibility on all our customers. The whole industry needs to take a leaf out the book of the big digital companies, where you’re able to communicate with your customer and have knowledge of their behaviour. We’ve just started to roll out order by mobile, so we’ll have data not only on who’s coming to our site, but also what they’re buying. Data is key, but to be frank, we’re not geniuses and we didn’t foresee the future. We just rolled it out as it was a requirement during the pandemic to sign up and to know all your customers, and we didn’t want to go down the NHS app route. We then realised the power of it and have now converted it into a loyalty scheme where customers can earn points to spend at our bars.”

Industry News:

Propel Premium Advent Video Calendar to feature Guy Meakin: 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 December 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 video – which will be sent at 9am today (Thursday, 23 December) – features Guy Meakin, UK trading director of Pret A Manger, on how the brand has had to adapt its model, the development and success of its subscription model, embracing delivery, and the role digital will play in its future growth strategy. 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 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. 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

Government reminded hospitality key to economic recovery as growth revealed to be slower than first thought: UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls has sent a reminder to government that the industry is crucial to the UK’s economic recovery following revelations that growth has been slower than first thought. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed UK economic growth slowed more sharply than first believed between July and September, while fears mount that Omicron will send the recovery into reverse. Nicholls tweeted: “More importantly, almost all the real GDP growth during the third quarter came from hospitality. There is no economic recovery without hospitality, and that is why it is so important to ensure industry properly supported not just now but through a longer slower recovery post Omicron.” The ONS said the economy expanded by 1.1% in the third quarter compared with an initial estimate of 1.3%. This marks a sharp pullback on growth in the second quarter, when UK output increased by a revised 5.4% following the easing of covid restrictions. The economy is now widely expected to contract in December after new Omicron restrictions came into force, with concerns further measures could affect the first quarter of 2022. However, the UK economy has recovered more ground on where it was pre-pandemic thanks to a stronger rebound than first thought in 2020 and is now 1.5% below where it was at the end of 2019. This compares with the previous estimate of 2.1%, although it still leaves the UK lagging behind many other advanced economies, where output in already back above pre-pandemic levels. The monthly breakdown of GDP in the third quarter showed a contraction of 0.1% in July, followed by expansion of 0.1% in August and 0.6% in September 2021, as the lifting of restrictions boosted hospitality in particular. But the economy eked out growth of just 0.1% in October, and all signs point to a further slowdown over the fourth quarter.

Northern Ireland nightclubs to close, pubs and restaurants return to rule of six and table service: Nightclubs in Northern Ireland will be forced to close from 27 December under fresh restrictions to tackle the spread of Omicron, with indoor standing events also prohibited. From the same day, hospitality venues will return to the rule of six and table service only. Nightclubs in the country will have to close their doors from 8pm on Boxing Day – a further blow after they were the last in the UK to reopen, on 31 October. This follows the announcement earlier this week of the closure of Welsh nightclubs from 27 December. Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford followed that by today announcing of a return to the rule of six and two-metre social distancing to Welsh hospitality venues, as well as table service in licensed venues. Similar measures were yesterday announced for Scotland, with one-metre social distancing for hospitality and leisure venues and table service for those selling alcohol from 27 December.

Tighter hospitality restrictions in Wales will lead to business closures, Senedd warned: New restrictions on hospitality businesses in Wales will have devastating financial impacts and could lead to closures and job losses, UKHospitality Cymru has warned. The Welsh government has announced from 6am on Boxing Day, the rule of six will apply to pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres, while two-metre social distancing will apply in all public settings. Table service and collecting of contact details will return to all licensed premises, while face coverings will be required in all hospitality settings apart from when seated. Large events, both indoors and outdoors, will also be banned, with the maximum number of people allowed at an event set at 30 indoors and 50 outdoors. This follows the news last week Welsh nightclubs would close on Monday (27 December). First minister Mark Drakeford also announced there will be £120m made available for nightclubs, hospitality, leisure and tourism businesses – double the new £60m package announced last week – but that’s still not enough, according to UKHospitality Cymru. “The new restrictions virtually close Wales’ events industry and take all other hospitality businesses much further into sub-viable trading,” said executive director David Chapman. “Hundreds of millions of pounds of business have been lost in the run up to a very quiet Christmas, and things will now get worse. Our customers have dwindled to a trickle, and this news will only make matters worse.” Chapman noted Welsh ministerial calls for furlough to be reinstated and said it was vitally needed to top up Welsh government support funding. “Welsh government tells us it has pushed its own financial boundaries as far as it can, but the new package falls way short of the huge scale of the business that will be lost,” he added. “Cash reserves are long gone, loans are being repaid and costs are soaring. We need the UK government to help our businesses in Wales immediately. If not, there could be very serious permanent damage done to this industry in just a few weeks.”

Hotel cancellation rates down on 2020 but fears Omicron will see them rocket again: Hotel booking data shows December cancellation rates in 2021 are much less than last year but there are fears Omicron could cause a fresh surge in cancelled bookings. December cancellation rates for pre-Christmas bookings have averaged 11%, while the final two weeks of December currently sit at 10%. While 2021’s pre-Christmas December cancellation rate is almost three times that of 2019 (4%), the present figures are a far cry from 2020 levels, where for the three-week period between 1-20 December it was 50% – just ahead of the heightened restrictions tipping it to 80%. The data, compiled by hotel technology provider Profitroom, came from the UK hotels within its 3,500 worldwide hotel database – predominantly made up of four and five-star properties. Andrius Remeikis, senior business development manager at Profitroom, said: “Compared with 2020, this year’s December cancellation rate has been far more manageable for hoteliers – and it’s been low enough for operators to continue. However, despite this, it’s a lot higher than pre-pandemic levels, which shows that, even without enforced lockdown measures being in place, hotels have been facing a very tough time already. With rumours swirling about greater restrictive measures to come any day, hoteliers will be in fear of the cancellation rate rocketing as it did last year – leaving a devastating impact in its wake.” Jane Pendlebury, chief executive of the Hospitality Professionals Association, added: “We’ve gone from hoping for a bumper Christmas to merely clinging on, with forecasts and forward planning in disarray. Rumour and conjecture in recent days and weeks have served to dent consumer confidence, which has hugely impacted revenues.”

Hospitality Apprenticeship Showcase returns to House of Commons in 2022: The Hospitality Apprenticeship Showcase (HAS) will return to the House of Commons next year after being forced online in 2021. The HAS brings together companies to display the diverse range of roles within the industry and reiterate the importance of cross-party support for the sector. For the past five years, more than 1,000 hospitality apprentices have showcased their skills to lords, ladies and MPs in Westminster. Next year’s event will be hosted by Mike Wood MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group, on Wednesday, 9 February. He said: “It is now more important than ever that we promote hospitality as a viable, stable career prospect for both young people, and indeed people of all ages. As we navigate the economic and social downturn as we emerge from this pandemic, I am certain hospitality will prosper as it rebuilds with first class learning and development  programmes, investing in lasting careers.”

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a growing independent foodservice company that is looking to appoint a group manager. The family-owned business provides catering to the educational sector. A COREcruitment spokesman said, “The position would suit someone with a passion for high quality food. Driving licence and vehicle is a must as travel is required.” The role is based in London and the salary is £38,000. For more information and to apply, email amber@corecruitment.com
 

Company News:

3Sixty Restaurants hits 25-site mark as it secures second Welsh site, remains Ebitda positive despite pandemic: 3Sixty Restaurants, led by James Horler, has exchanged on its second Welsh site as part of its joint venture with Mitchells & Butlers (M&B), Propel has learned. 3Sixty Restaurants has secured the Groes Wen Inn in Penhow. The pub, which is run under M&B’s Vintage Inns brand, is set to reopen as an Ego restaurant in March. The opening will take the total estate to 25 sites. About £700,000 is being invested in the refurbishment and Horler told Propel he expected further sites to follow in 2022. “Now is the time to expand,” he said. “Since May, trading has been really strong and that has allowed us to move into a position where we have no debt and the consumer seems to love what we do. A lot of the cancelled bookings we have had in the past week or so have been replaced by walk-ins but I’m concerned about the possibility of further restrictions after Christmas. New Year’s Eve is our highest gross trading day of the year. We have a number of dishes especially for this occasion so I’m trying to see how long I can wait before I have to place that order to avoid potential wastage.” Horler spoke to Propel as 3Sixty Restaurants reported its financial results for the year ending 28 March 2021 in which the business remained Ebitda positive. Adjusted Ebitda stood at £568,000 versus £1.8m the previous year. Revenue in the period was £13.1m against £26.8m the year before with its sites being closed for the majority of the year. As previously reported, £2m borrowed through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme was repaid in August. Meanwhile, the company’s £5m revolving credit facility was renewed at that time and remains undrawn. The business now employs 1,050 people and no redundancies have been made during the pandemic. The new opening will create about another 50 jobs. Horler said the number of Ego Club members had now grown to 400,000. M&B formed the partnership in August 2018 when it bought sector investor Luke Johnson’s minority share in 3Sixty. 

The Alchemist seeing sales still ‘holding up very well’ in regional cities, ‘ongoing discussions’ on number of new sites: Simon Potts, chief executive of The Alchemist, has told Propel sales are “still holding up very well” against pre-pandemic levels in its regional city sites, which account for 75% of its 20-strong estate, despite a “deeply polarised consumer environment”. But he warned ministers need to be clear and timely about any restrictions they intend to impose “as the inability to plan properly is causing enormous strain”, and the government must compensate affected businesses “fairly and quickly” for the damage that has been done. The company, which made its Scottish debut in October when it opened in Edinburgh, is in “ongoing discussions” about a number of new sites. While the emergence of the Omicron variant and the government’s “Plan B” restrictions have had an impact, Potts said trading between July and November was “absolutely transformative”, with overall sales up 40% on the same period in 2019. The business said the temporary business rates reduction “has been helpful in terms of profit conversion”, and the additional cash generated has enabled it to pay down agreed HM Revenue & Customs payment plans over the summer period “without significantly impacting the company's positive cash position”. In March, The Alchemist refinanced its bank debt, with some of the existing debt being replaced by £5m borrowed under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme. This refinancing facilitated a period with no capital debt repayments. At the same time, existing shareholders supported the business through new equity investment of £1m. The company stated: “Together with strong cash generation from trading, the business is on a very sound financial footing.” Potts spoke as The Alchemist reported turnover of £16.6m for the year ending 31 March 2021 versus £45.9m the year before, with many of its venues only able to trade for 17 weeks of the year. As a result, pre-tax losses rose to £8.2m from £1.6m the previous year. Potts said: “I am pleased with the way we negotiated the period, keeping teams on and engaged at all levels and ensuring our wider supporting cast of suppliers and landlords came with us on the journey. We worked exceptional hard on that approach, convinced we would come out of the bruising year stronger and hungrier to return The Alchemist business to growth. There have been well documented challenges along the way of course and we are grateful for the efforts of everyone within the business who has helped to deliver those results, but we are delighted to be looking forward with confidence to 2022 and beyond.”

The Hush Collection reveals expansion plans with 2021 trading ‘beyond expectations’: The Hush Collection – the 12-strong London-based restaurant group consisting of Hush Mayfair, Cabana and Haché, led by Jamie Barber and Ed Standring – has “traded well and beyond expectations” throughout 2021 and revealed its expansion plans. Its 2021 highlights include an international franchise debut for Cabana in Saudi Arabia, with a second site in the pipeline and further international expansion across the Middle East planned for the coming years. Little Planted Kitchen, launched as a premium vegan delivery brand during lockdown and operating out of 11 London sites, has also been further developed and will be relaunched in time for “Veganuary”, in January 2022. The group has also repaid a HSBC loan out of cash flow and invested in modernising its estate, while all its London restaurants have reopened and retained a high staff count. Barber, chairman of The Hush Collection, told Propel: “It has been an incredibly challenging time for hospitality, but we are immensely proud of our performance. The business has shown agility and adaptability, and these results are a testament to that as well as our loyal team. Our restaurants have traded well this year and beyond expectations. As such, we are well-placed to ride any additional pandemic headwinds.” The Hush Collection provided the update while releasing in its financial results for the year ending 27 December 2020, where long periods of lockdowns and restrictions saw its restaurants experience a “significant covid-19 slowdown”. Despite this, turnover reached £8.42m, down just 20% on 2019 (£10.57m), while a combination of tight controls, landlord negotiations and government support kept the Ebitda loss to just £388,915 against a positive Ebitda of £645,283 in 2019. Other significant factors were the initial Little Planted Kitchen launch and keeping the Haché business trading, pivoting to delivery and take-away, which led to a five-fold increase in sales and like-for-like growth for some restaurants.

Celebrity DJ to double his Leeds portfolio with late night dining concept: Celebrity DJ and reality TV star Tom Zanetti is set to open a second venue in his home town of Leeds, with business partner Kane Towning. The late-night dining concept, which originally had a working title of Baby Doll but will now open in the new year under a different as-yet-unannounced name, will be based in the Electric Press, just off Millennium Square. It follows in the footsteps of Zanetti’s cocktail and brunch bar Dollhouse, located in the city’s Call Lane. Taking inspiration from premium destination venues across London, Dubai and Ibiza, guests at the new venue will be able to dine on globally inspired small plates in an immersive restaurant before, as the evening goes on, it turns into a drink and dance setting, with live DJs and performers. Split over two levels, the venue’s ground floor will have a lounge with VIP tables as well as a heated indoor courtyard and outside terrace. The first-floor restaurant will boast luxury VIP booths and a private dining area for up to 30 people. Zanetti said: “We were ahead of the game with Dollhouse and spotted a gap in the market for that VIP vibe that no other venue offered – a glamorous club for the city’s elite. Leeds has one of the best nightlife scenes in the country but it is crying out for that cool, late-night dining concept that people currently have to travel to London, Manchester and overseas for. It’s time to level Leeds up again and hold our own against the other major cities.” Zanetti and Towning have invested more than £300,000 into the project.

Deliveroo continues ‘Editions’ roll-out with three new London sites, eyes further expansion: Deliveroo has launched three new London sites for it delivery-only Editions kitchens – in Acton, Brent Cross and Dulwich. The kitchens will host restaurant partners including Five Guys, Tortilla, Pasta Evangelists, Dishoom, Shake Shack, Chilango and independents such as Tao Tao Ju and Bleecker Burger. This follows the opening of Editions sites in London and Bristol earlier this year, alongside the recent launch of Hop, its first delivery-only grocery store, in partnership with Morrisons. The new kitchens form part of Deliveroo’s plan to grow its Editions service and roll out more sites across the country. This follows a period of strong growth, with UK and Ireland total orders increasing by 87% in the first nine months of 2021, compared with the same period last year. Will Shu, chief executive and founder of Deliveroo, said: “We are really excited to expand our Editions kitchens and bring amazing cuisines to even more consumers across the country. Our delivery-only Editions kitchens have been a game-changer for the food delivery industry and will continue to play a vital role in helping restaurants recover from the pandemic and drive growth.” 

Marco Pierre White’s son continues expansion of Luccio’s concept with Surrey opening: Marco Pierre White’s son Luciano has opened the third site under his Italian restaurant concept Luccio’s, in Woking, Surrey. The first Luccio’s opened in Dorchester at the end of last year, followed by a second in August, in Exeter, and has now arrived in Woking’s Commercial Way. All three restaurants are former Carluccio’s sites. His signature dishes, prepared with the help of executive chef Liam Sing – with whom Pierre White used to work at Koffmann’s – include Sophia Loren’s gorgonzola dolce, baked tagliolini with ham and fresh Italian black truffle pasta. “Liam and I are very hands-on,” Pierre White told Surrey Live. “We are in our third business now and we like to work in the restaurants, get to know all the chefs and pick them ourselves.” Meanwhile, Marco Pierre White is set to add a rooftop restaurant in the Norwich Hotel, in Norwich’s Thorpe Road, to his portfolio after the hotel’s expansion plans were given the green light. “We investigated various options nd we agreed the best way forward would be to refurbish and substantially extend the hotel,” Jason Parker of planning consultants Parker Planning Services, said: “It will create something of high quality and interest in terms of the celebrity rooftop restaurant. This is going to be a great project for Norwich, securing the long-term future of the site and providing additional local jobs as well as a high-quality hotel and restaurant.”

Cru Holdings takes Inverness cocktail bar and bistro for seventh site: Highlands-based operator Cru Holdings has acquired The White House cocktail bar and bistro on Inverness’s Union Street for its seventh site. The acquisition comes with an extension of the property’s tenancy by 20 years. Cru Holdings’ other premises are Prime, Bar One, Scotch & Rye, The Classroom, The Wee Bar and The Keg – all based in Inverness too. Director Ken Loades said: “When the opportunity presented itself to add The White House to the Cru Holdings family, we knew it was the right move.”

New £1m all-day café bar and club concept opens in Leeds’ Granary Wharf: Canal Club, a new £1m waterfront cafe bar and club, has open in Leeds’ Granary Wharf – featuring food, cocktails and live entertainment. The menu includes world tapas dishes and light bites such as beet hummus toast, sliders, salt and pepper squid and sweet potato crostini, while at weekends, an all-day brunch is available. Among the cocktail offerings are a royale berry spritz with gin, pink fizz and soda, and a burlesque martini with red vodka, pineapple, vanilla and fresh lemon. Over at the Canal cafe is a selection of coffees and grab ‘n’ go breakfast options and sweet treats, including freshly baked goodies from The Savvy Baker. Operations director Jade Renner said: “We’re happy with what we’ve created here at Canal Club. The feedback from our launch party has been overwhelmingly positive and we can’t wait to welcome everyone.”

New social enterprise cafe opens its doors in London’s Mayfair: A cafe aiming to provide on-the-job training for young people with learning disabilities has opened in London’s Mayfair. Fair Shot Cafe has opened its first flagship venue in South Molton Street, serving speciality coffee from Curious Roo, vegan salads from Spier Salads and freshly-prepared foccia sandwiches. Founder and chief executive Bianca Tavella hopes to help her workforce gain the skills needed to begin a career in hospitality. Tavella raised £300,000 in private funding for the venture and secured favourable terms on the site from landlords Grosvenor. She said: “Currently in the UK, young people with a learning disability face 94% unemployment, and for those that do find employment, 80% are either fired or leave due to inadequate support and training. With Fair Shot, we aim to make real social impact on how business owners hire, train and support this community of extremely willing, extremely capable individuals.”

Wagamama opens Swansea site: Wagamama, the pan-Asian brand owned by The Restaurant Group, has opened a new restaurant in Swansea. The company, which operates more than 150 restaurants across the UK, has taken the former Frankie & Benny’s site in Little Wind Street for its fifth Welsh restaurant. It sits 136 people inside, with space for a further 56 outside. Wagamama’s Swansea restaurant is one of several new openings in the city in recent weeks. New to the Castle Arcade is two independents, American-style doughnut shop The Dough Works and Stinky Boys, an award-winning chicken wings pop-up turned into a sandwich shop. Rainbao, a Korean-style street food restaurant where the chefs prepare meals right in front of the guests, opened this month in Princess Way, while Asian-inspired quick-service restaurant Chopstix, which has 72 outlets across the UK, opened in the former Starbucks Coffee unit in Oxford Street. London-based Fortdene has also applied for planning permission to open a fish ‘n’ chip shop with indoor seating and a delivery service in Union Street.

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