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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Tue 26th Jun 2012 - Stella Inns, TCG and Rex Restaurants

Story of the day:

Tim Martin – industry victim of “inexcusably bad science”: JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin has criticised the constant health “myths” and scare stories that target different food and drink items as based on questionable evidence and “inexcusably bad science”. Martin appeared on Radio Four’s You and Yours programme yesterday to challenge claims that there was too much salt in British diets – and in some pub and restaurant menu items. Martin told Morning Briefing: “It seems like there is a myth du jour at the moment. We have the lowest consumption of salt in Europe. The expert on Radio Four reported he’d like to reduce the recommended salt level per day from six grams to three grams. The average salt consumption per head in Italy is 11 grams – and they live longer than we do.” Martin points out that a succession of health scares over food items have proven to be plain wrong. He cited advice in the past to limit consumption of eggs, health scares over alcohol unit consumption and questionable advice over coffee. Of the appetite to read health scare stories, Martin said: “There’s a semi-religious need to see salvation in medical paths to redemption.” On You and Yours yesterday, he called a health specialist claiming there are excessive salt levels in UK diets a “liar”. “I did slightly lose my rag,” he told Morning Briefing. “ I told him that what he should be saying is that salt is an essential part of our diets – if you don’t eat it you die. A lot of the so-called evidence in other areas has turned out to be nonsense.”

Industry news:

Food service operators bought £10bn of food in 2011: Market insights and consultancy firm Horizons estimates that foodservice operators bought £10bn of food in 2011 – an increase of £120m or one per cent on the year before. But inflation meant that there was a fall of 2.7 per cent on food purchases in real terms. For more information contact Peter Backman at Peter.Backman@hrzns.com

Portman Group seeks new independent chairman: The Portman Group is looking for a new chairman for its Independent Complaints Panel, which regulates the promotion and packaging of alcohol through a code of practice. Current chairman Sir Richard Tilt completes six years as chairman of the Complaints Panel at the end of 2012. An honorarium of £12,000 is paid for the role, along with reasonable travel and out-of-pocket expenses.

British Telecom will lose £240m on Premier League gamble: A note entitled “Not so Premier League” analysts at Espiro Santo have claimed that BT’s £738m bid for 38 Premier League matches a season from 2013 “comes at a considerable cost”. The note claimed that BT faced additional production costs of £95m over the course of the deal and was only likely to recoup around two-thirds of the total outlay. The analysts also argued that BT would effectively be forced to wholesale its rights to BSkyB for economic reasons.

McDonald’s previews its Olympic Park colossus: Burger giant McDonald’s previewed its Olympic Park mega-site yesterday – the largest McDonald’s in the world with 20 till points and 1,500 seats. The venue, which be knocked down after the games, will be staffed by 500 of the firm’s best-performing employees, with as many as 200 working at any one time. Around 75 per cent of the building’s fittings will be recycled or re-used after it is demolished.

Lobby group calls for removal of colouring chemical from Coca-Cola: Britain’s Children’s Food Campaign has called for the removal of a chemical in Coca-Cola that provides its colouring. In the US, the company has moved over to a new production process that reduced the level of the chemical, 4-methylimidazole.

Tonks criticises Fearnley-Whittingstall over cod advice: Restaurateur Mitchell Tonks has criticised chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall over his calls for the public to switch from cod to lesser-known kinds of fish. Tonks said: “I think what it has done is create confusion. You can’t replace eating cod with gurnard and bass because there isn’t enough of it.” 

Inverness to review midnight curfew again: The licensing authority in Inverness is to review an nine-year-old curfew on nightclubs admitting customers after midnight. The curfew was introduced in 2003 as a way of easing pressure on police and taxi ranks. Highland Licensing Board looked at the curfew in 2010 after receiving an e-petition from people who wished to see it removed but decided to leave it unchanged. Pat Hayden, of the Highland Local Licensing Forum, said the curfew gave visitors the wrong impression of what the city was like late at night. She said: “We feel people are being told that it is not safe to be in town at night because of the curfew.”

The Guardian provides list of major coffee shop players: The Guardian has published a list of the top eight coffee chains in the UK. They are: Costa Coffee (1,342 outlets with a 40.4 per cent market share); Starbucks (743 outlets with a 30.7 per cent market share); Caffe Nero (490 outlets with a 14 per cent market share); AMT Coffee (65 outlets with a 1.7 per cent market share); Caffe Ritazza (55 outlets with a 1.4 per cent market share); Café Thorntons (37 venues with 0.9 per cent market share); Esquires (35 venues with a 0.8 per cent market share); and Coffee Republic (29 venues with 0.6 per cent share of the market).

US giant reveals plan to reverse sales declines at two key brands: Darden Restaurants, the largest fast-casual operator in the US with 1,994 units, said it plans to offer customers new value options at its flagship 792-strong Olive Garden and 704-strong Red Lobster brands to reverse recent like-for-like sales declines. A new “Two for $25” promotion will start at Olive Garden next week. Like-for-like sales at Olive Garden fell 1.8 per cent in the quarter that ended 27 May and fell 3.9 per cent at Red Lobster. The declines were blamed on “disappointing promotional performance”.

Company news:

Stella Inns re-opens Punch’s Two Lifeboats: Stella Inns, the East Midlands multiple operator headed by Tim Joudrey, has re-opened The Two Lifeboats Hotel in Sheringham, Norfolk after a £200,000 co-investment with owner Punch Taverns. Joudrey said: “The transformation is amazing. Since we opened just a couple of weeks ago we have seen a massive uplift in trade.” Future plans include refurbishing the six letting rooms at the pub in a boutique hotel style. A new menu includes fresh fish and a series of gourmet nights are planned. Joudrey set up Pub Matters three years ago to run distressed tenancies-at-will for tenanted operators after running his own pubs and offering consultancy work in the sector. Pub Matters has had success with around a dozen community wet-led pubs in the Midlands and converted agreements into substantive leases, which are then moved to his Stella Inns business.

TCG – England games provided a boost denied by weather: Managed operator TCG has reported England football games in the Euro Championships “provided a much-needed boost” in a challenging market where unpredictable summer weather “isn’t doing the pub trade any favours at all”. Chief operating officer Nigel Wright said: “Looking at the tournament as a whole, the 5pm kick-off for the first England game was very good for town centre pubs, as people came in to watch straight after work, while the 7.45 kick-offs were better for suburban and community pubs, as customers settled in for the evening to watch the matches with friends and family. For the England versus Italy match on Sunday night, we saw much higher levels of trade than we’d expect on a typical Sunday night at suburban and sports-focused venues. We hope that football fans will come out in good numbers this week for the semis and the final, but clearly it won’t be anything like the levels of trade we’d have seen if England were still in the running.” William Lees-Jones, of North-West brewer and retailer JW Lees, claimed the football was a damp squib. He said: “If sport is on terrestrial television then people stay at home. Last week sales were down 3.2 per cent.”

Employers need to be more flexible: McDonald’s UK chief executive Jill McDonald has argued that employers need to be more flexible to attract female workers. Speaking at Women 1st’s 2012 Conference, McDonald said: “Employers need to be more flexible in terms of how they get women into the workplace. Some jobs are not part-time but lots of jobs can be done part-time or through re-allocation.” She insists the company’s £36 million training and development budget would “truly be the last budget we would cut”. Just two of McDonald's’ 12-strong board are women. “I want to increase that,” she said.

La Tasca scores highest ever customer satisfaction score: La Tasca, the Spanish tapas chain, has scored a remarkable 95 per cent satisfaction level in 200 online feedback forms filled out in the last week. Chief executive Simon Wilkinson said: “This is a fantastic achievement by the operations team. The business we inherited just over a year ago was inconsistent in all aspects of the guest experience, so to move the dial so drastically in such a short time frame is testament to every single employee.”

Residents raise £400,000 to buy pub: Residents of Great Haseley, near Oxford have raised £400,000 to buy the village’s only pub, The Plough, from Punch Taverns. Most of the money was raised in just eight weeks after about 120 people invested their own money – an average of just over £3,300 each. The people of Great Haseley now plan to take out a bank loan so they can re-thatch the pub and build a small restaurant extension. It’s been re-let to a tenant.

West End sushi restaurant fined £6,000: A sushi bar in the West End has been fined £6,000 after inspectors found filth-encrusted equipment and food over the floor. City of Westminster health officers were called in to inspect the Mitsukoshi restaurant in Lower Regent Street after complaints. The inspectors discovered mould in the fridge, a saucepan rack above the oven dripping in grease and greasy deposits and food spillages on the kitchen and storeroom floor.

Crab Quay House set to open in Brixham: A new £500,000 restaurant, Crab Quay House, will open next month next to a new fish market in Brixham. It be managed by Suzanne Ley, who worked with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at his Axminster's River Cottage Canteen. She said: “I'm really eager to get stuck into the deli and fishmonger element of the business. Being in and adjacent to the fish market we'll have unique access to what is some of the best seafood produce in Europe, if not the world.”

Restaurant Group opens two bars at Glasgow airport: TRG Concessions, part of the Restaurant Group, has opened two Scottish-themed bars in Glasgow airport. The William Beardmore, named after the founder of the renowned Scottish engineering and ship-building group, is a classic bar-restaurant and offers a wide range of food including breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as children’s meals. Traditional Scottish meals, including haggis, neeps and tatties, are also available. Caledonia is a café-bar with a contemporary design that incorporates an ‘island’ bar with a counter fashioned from oak previously used in whisky barrels.

London restaurant chain becomes the first to be recognised for commitment to healthy eating: A Lebanese restaurant chain has become the first to be recognised by Westminster Council for its commitment to healthy eating. Maroush, which has sites in Edgware Road and Brompton Road, has worked closely with the local authority to offer healthy options on menus, such as salad or vegetarian dishes. The scheme is being piloted by the council alongside the NHS and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.

The Daily Mail reports on the rise of the breastaurant sector: The Daily Mail has reported on the rise of the breastaurant sector - bars and restaurants that feature attractive barmaids - in the US. Market research firm Technomic has reported the top three chains recorded growth of 30 per cent or more in the past year. Tilted Kilt had annual sales of $124 million last year, reflecting growth of 33 per cent. By the end of this year, the company expects to have 95 locations, up from 57 at the end of last year.

Whitbread boss repeats - Costa will not be de-merged: Whitbread chief executive Andy Harrison has repeated his insistence that there are no plans to hive off its Costa Coffee business. “We are 100 per cent focused on growing Costa,” Harrison said in a conference call with journalists last week. “There are no plans to spin it out.” However, Financial Times columnist Jonathan Guthrie argued: “In its success, Whitbread is sowing the seeds of its dissolution. Costa, celebrating its 41st consecutive quarter of sales growth, could easily end up dwarfing Premier. But background pressure for a demerger may only prove irresistible if performance flags.”

A £2.5m nightclub opens in Chelmsford next month: A new £2.5m nightclub, Evoke, will open in Chelmsford’s Chancellor Hall, a venue renowned for its live music events, next month. The venue will feature an ice bar, a Japanese VIP lounge called Koudou for over- 25s and a dance floor that aims to evoke memories of Ibiza, live music and comedy nights. Owner is Steve Webb who also runs The Bay Horse pub in Chelmsford.

Rex Restaurants opens Brasserie Zedel with a ground-level café: Rex Restaurants, which runs The Delauney and The Wolseley, opened its much-anticipated Brasserie Zedel, off Piccadilly Circus, yesterday with a ground-level café offering patisseries, petit plats and grignotages (snacks). The new venue is described as a “large bustling Parisian brasserie transported to the heart of London”. It will offer “remarkably low prices” – patisseries cost between £2.75 and £3.75 - and feature Art Deco interiors and host a “Bar Americain”, a live music venue, and “The Crazy Coqs”, a live music and cabaret venue. The venue occupies the site of the former Atlantic Bar & Grill. The David Collins-designed interiors reference the building’s Art Deco heritage. For much of the space, the 1930s interiors created by West End stage set-designer Oliver Bernard have been restored.

Former Hotel Du Vin chef takes on Brakspear pub: Former Hotel Du Vin chef Aaron Christopher has taken on his first pub, The Rose and Crown in Henley – in partnership with experienced pub manager Alan Woolgar. The Brakspear pub had been closed for almost four months and has been refurbished. Christopher said: “We were toying with the idea of taking over a place and this one popped up. It’s a great place for our first project.”

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