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Fri 18th Sep 2015 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

MOD Pizza founder tells Propel there’s a market opportunity in the UK for hundreds of stores: MOD Pizza founder Scott Svenson has claimed there is a market opportunity for hundreds of MOD Pizza stores in the UK. Svenson and his wife Ally, who grew Seattle Coffee Company from three UK sites to 68 in just 22 months when they lived here during the 1990s, told Propel the company would look at sites within the M25 for the UK launch. On Monday, it was revealed the company is entering the UK in a joint venture with Sir Charles Dunstone, who also operates Five Guys in the UK. Svenson told Propel: “Our most loyal following is in suburban sites where units are a community gathering place. We will be very involved in the UK operation – I expect to come over to the UK four or five times next year. We chose to become involved in a joint venture with Sir Charles Dunstone because the ‘purpose’ behind MOD Pizza is incredibly important – we call it purpose beyond pizza. We’re huge admirers of Sir Charles and it’s an opportunity to partner him in a special opportunity.” Svenson said that, in lime with the size of the PizzaExpress and Nando’s estates in the UK, the potential of MOD Pizza is “massive – hundreds of stores”. MOD Pizza offers artisan style pizza cooked in three or four minutes with limitless customisation opportunities for a set price of $7.47 for all pizzas regardless of topping choices – about half the price charged by competitors. It offers enhanced staff benefits and engagement, with wages starting at $11-an-hour – and reports almost no turnover among its 72 general managers. Average turnover is between $1.2m and $1.3m per site in the US, occupying an average of 2,500 sq ft of space and providing between 60 and 80 seats per site. Svenson told Propel that like-for-like sales are in double digit growth this year – he indicated “north of 12 to 13%”. MOD Pizza is growing from 31 stores last December to 100 sites by the end of this year – it opened site number 72 yesterday (Thursday, 17 September). The strategy is to add another 100 sites in the US in 2016. Rent as a percentage of turnover at its 18 mature stores in Seattle is below 10%. “We’re expecting that percentage to be higher in the UK,” he said. MOD Pizza has raised $75m in equity backing and has no debt, with a 100-strong support centre function. Svenson added: “We’ve been preparing diligently for fast growth for a long time. Having 100 staff in the support centre is an incredibly large number for a company of this size. But to grow rapidly it’s right to lay a lot of track in front of the train.” Of the UK fast casual dining scene, Svenson said: “It’s one of the most dynamic and competitive in the world – I’ve been super-impressed.”

Industry News:

Mike Tye, James Horler, Phil Thorley and Ann Elliott to discuss principles of leadership at Propel Multi Club Conference: A panel of sector leaders will discuss “principles of leadership” at the Propel Multi Club Conference on Thursday, 5 November at the Lancaster, London. Elliotts strategy director James Hacon will talk to former Spirit chief executive Mike Tye, Thorley Taverns operations director Phil Thorley, Ego Restaurants chief executive James Horler and Elliotts chief executive Ann Elliot, who has undertaken a large survey on the subject, about the principles of high quality leadership. Operators of multi-site pub, restaurant and foodservice companies can book up to two free places by emailing Adam Dickinson on

Sector companies are invited to benchmark themselves: More than 70 companies took part in the first sector Benchmarking Survey last year, conducted by Propel in partnership with accountants haysmacintyre. All contributions are confidential and go to haysmacintyre without being seen by Propel. Companies are invited to take part in this year’s survey by clicking through on the link below (it should take about 15 minutes to complete) – all contributors receive a copy as soon as it’s published: Deadline for inclusion has been extended to Friday, 25 September.

Boutique Bar Show to stage range of talks for bar and restaurant owners: The Boutique Bar Show is holding a range of talks for bar and restaurant owners at this year’s event. Attendees to the show, which takes place next Tuesday and Wednesday (22 and 23 September) at the London Art House in Islington, can benefit from management development sessions by Watershed School, which works with Bristol-based cafe brand Loungers and steak restaurant company Hawksmoor. There will also be advice on developing a digital marketing strategy with Ignite Digital, which counts D&D Restaurants among its clients along with consumer insights from bar website All sessions are complimentary at the show, which is described as an “intimate drinks exhibition”, promoting new and up-and-coming brands.

Deadline looms for Sunday Times Best Companies list applications: There are two weeks to go until registration for the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For List 2016 closes on Friday, 2 October. Last year’s winner of the Best Big Companies category was TGI Friday’s. A spokesman told Propel: “This year, we really want to encourage businesses of all shapes and sizes to register for the list so that we can celebrate those who may not have been recognised previously for the effort they are putting into employee engagement.” The Sunday Times Best Companies Lists – which are entering their 16th year – offer opportunities for all organisations over 50 employees. The categories include The 25 Best Big, 100 Best Mid, 100 Best Small and 100 Best Not-For-Profit organisations. This ensures a wide variety of companies are eligible. To enter, visit or call a client engagement specialist on 01978 856222.

M&B research – full English is favourite breakfast meal when eating out: The full English is the favourite breakfast meal in the UK when eating out, according to a new survey. The dish was the choice of nearly half (47%) of people polled in the survey by Mitchells & Butlers, although just 6% eat it on a daily basis. The perfect English breakfast according to the 2,000 people surveyed is: fried eggs, smoked bacon, thick sausages, grilled tomatoes, fried mushrooms, toast and baked beans. There was no place for black pudding, fried bread or hash browns. People in the north prefer brown sauce with their full English while in the south they choose tomato sauce. When eating a full English, the majority (55%) opt for tea as their drink of choice with fresh orange juice second (41%) and coffee third (35%). The research also showed 67% of Brits eat breakfast every day and most (51%) eat breakfast alone. Mitchells & Butlers breakfast marketing expert Jo Hudson said: “Our research also discovered that far from being unadventurous, Brits are happy to chance their arm and try new things for breakfast. Lobster Benedict, eggs Benedict, breakfast burgers, egg and marmite soldiers, salmon and scrambled eggs – more than a third of the nation (34%) have tried all these. But they keep coming back to the full English when they want a great breakfast meal out.”

Prestigious new award for pub chefs is launched: The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) and the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group are launching the Parliamentary Pub Chef of the Year award in partnership with Nestlé Professional. The prestigious new award seeks nominations from all MPs to recognise a pub chef or chefs in their constituency renowned for their great food. Entries will be judged by an expert panel and will be presented in the new year. Pubs serve almost a billion meals a year, with more and more pubs recognising that great food will attract more customers. Pubs are also vital to the local economy in every part of the country, offering valuable and flexible employment, with about 900,000 UK jobs dependent on the trade. With a national shortage of pub chefs, earlier this year the BBPA, in conjunction with the British Institute of Innkeepers and the Perceptions Group launched the Pub Chef Passion initiative, including a short film aimed at promoting the pub chef as a career option. This award seeks to build on that work, and encourage young chefs towards a career in the pub trade. Brigid Simmonds, BBPA chief executive, said: “I am delighted to be launching this new award. A career as a pub chef is exciting and demanding, and it offers young people development, rewards and a great working environment.”

Company News:

London Evening Standard names seven more companies where service charge is not passed to staff: The London Evening Standard has named seven more restaurant and pub companies where service charges are not handed directly to staff. It claims Masala Zone, Draft House, Polpo, CAU, Fortnum & Mason, Banana Tree and Mango Tree all add 12.5% to the bill but the money is not given to staff serving customers on top of their wages. The companies said the money is evenly distributed to all restaurant staff through a “tronc” system, where tips and service charges are collected in a central pool before being handed out. Business secretary Sajid Javid has launched a review of the “confusing and disparate area of restaurant service charge” after the practice was exposed at several companies. Polpo, which runs nine tapas-style restaurants, said it welcomed the review and added: “If a better scheme is proposed we will support and implement it.” Argentinian restaurant CAU said: “The way the service charge is distributed depends on the individual’s pay rate, seniority and job title. 100% of service charge is distributed. Any additional tips go directly to that member of staff.” Ranjit Mathrani, who runs Indian restaurant Masala Zone, said: “It is perfectly possible for all the service charge to be distributed.” Pub company Draft House founder Charlie McVeigh said: “We allow all members of the front of house team – including pub management – to benefit from the service charge. But it is completely untrue that the system has changed. At busier times of year the troncmaster has always retained some service charge to allow for the boosting of staff pay during quieter periods and to also ensure that all staff receive full total pay when they are on holiday.” Fortnum & Mason said it stopped distributing the charge after pay rose for staff from £6.50 to £7 an hour and added: “It ensures market rates for entry-level staff, it fosters career development, and allows the opportunity to reward individual performance.” Mango Tree in Victoria denied the allegation while Far East restaurant Banana Tree, which operates a similar policy to Fortnum & Mason according to the Standard, did not respond to requests for comment.

The Columbo Group opens new club in Brixton, Blues Kitchen to follow next month:
London-based The Columbo Group has launched its new bar and club Phonox in Brixton and will follow it up by expanding its Blues Kitchen concept in the south London district. The company, led by Steve Ball and Riz Shaikh, has opened Phonox on the site of the former Plan B nightclub. It will then open its third Blues Kitchen on Friday, 9 October on the site formerly occupied by Electric Social. Like its sister sites, the venue will offer authentic Texan barbecue food, live music seven nights a week and one of the biggest bourbon selections in London. The concept was launched in Camden in 2009 and opened a second site in Shoreditch last year. Ball said: “Brixton is currently one of the most exciting areas of London for restaurants, bars and clubs so we’re thrilled to be a part of it.” The two openings will bring the number of bars, clubs and restaurants in The Columbo Group’s portfolio to nine.

Bermondsey Pub Company reopens Northampton site: Bermondsey Pub Company, one of Enterprise Inns’ managed segments, has reopened The Sevens pub in Northampton following a £160,000 revamp. The company has refurbished the Weedon Road pub, which is just a stone’s throw from Northampton Saints rugby stadium, creating seven new jobs. Food is provided by Franks Hamburger House, with the pub being its fifth site. Manager Dan Coles said: “With all the excitement building around the Rugby World Cup, it’s a great time to be relaunching The Sevens and we’re looking forward to establishing the pub as the place to be in Northampton, to meet friends and family in a fun, friendly atmosphere. As well as reaching out to new customers, we’ll be welcoming back old regulars, including members of the pub’s pool team.” The Sevens is the 14th managed pub to be opened by Bermondsey Pub Company and follows the opening of the nearby Mail Coach in May.

Michelin-starred restaurant Hedone to close next month and reopen with half as many covers, no menus and shorter hours: Swedish chef Mikael Jonsson will close his Michelin-starred restaurant Hedone in Chiswick, west London, on 10 October and reopen it with half as many covers, no menus and shorter hours. Jonsson said he wanted to focus on quality not quantity and more intricate dishes. When it reopens on 21 October, it will seat just 20 and serve dinner from Tuesday to Saturday only, and lunch on Saturdays only. Jonsson told Bloomberg: “We want to be able to push forward with all the ideas we’ve got in embryo. People will just tell us how much they want to spend, and two tables sitting beside each other who want to spend the same amount of money might get two completely different meals.”

Lebanese offer planned for Star Pubs & Bars site in Hampstead: A Star Pubs & Bars site in Hampstead, the White Horse, sold off a lease premium of £100,000 by agent Fleurets, is to reopen on 10 October as a new Lebanese gastro-pub concept called Habibe Ana. Spokesman Sacha Kardar told Propel: “We are opening a Lebanese gastro-pub with a lounge bar feeling. We have done everything to change the mood to a trendy modern style. We shall be having lounge music, good wines, champagne and cocktails.” Elysia Wilson-Gunn, of Fleurets, said: “This was a quick assignment with high demand due to the location. The assignment of the existing tied Star Pubs & Bars leasehold interest has now concluded and the property is currently under refurbishment and will be reopening in mid-October.”

Craft beer delivery service HonestBrew hits £300,000 Crowdcube target: Craft beer delivery service HonestBrew has reached its £300,000 target on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube in return for 15% of its equity. The company has seen 224 investors pledge £300,850 and it is now “overfunding” with 15 days left. The pitch states: “We work with some of the best craft breweries from around the world, delivering their beer to thousands of customer’s homes and workplaces all across the UK. The HonestBrew platform is designed to provide a service that gives our customers access to the expertise and variety that they would expect from a craft beer pub – wherever they are in the UK. We have beers from over 50 different breweries from the UK, Europe, USA and Australasia.” HonestBrew claims to ship thousands of bottles across the UK every month, with 9,000 users and 28% growth on average for each month for 12 months prior to June 2015. The largest single investment is £150,000.

BrewDog to launch first bar in Belgium tomorrow: Scotland-based brewer and retailer BrewDog will launch its first bar in Belgium tomorrow (Saturday, 19 September). The company is opening the 240-capacity BrewDog Brussels at Putterie/Putterij 20 in a listed building formerly home to a check-in centre for the Belgian national airline Sabena, directly opposite the Central Station. BrewDog Brussels features a terrace while a mezzanine floor will launch in six months’ time, adding a beery library, newspapers, board games and art exhibitions to the bar’s features. BrewDog co-founder James Watt said: “We’re buzzing to be opening in Belgium; it’s a country with an exceptionally rich and interesting beer heritage, playing home to a vast world of lambics and gueuzes through to dubbels and tripels brewed by trappist monks, and we’re proud to be joining the scene. The city’s passion and community around the craft beer industry is obvious, and the guest beers will reflect the incredible alchemy to come out of local, independent breweries.” BrewDog plans to roll out across Europe with further openings in the UK, Germany and Italy planned for 2015.

Patisserie Valerie opens first north east site in Newcastle: Patisserie Valerie, the company that has sector investor Luke Johnson as executive chairman, has launched its first site in the north east of England in Newcastle. The company stated on its website: “After numerous requests from the people of Newcastle, our store has finally opened on Grainger Street, right in the heart of the city centre! Open seven days a week, our Newcastle store is the perfect place to enjoy delicious barista made coffee and lovingly handmade cakes.” Originally opened in Soho by Madam Valerie in 1926, surviving a bombing during World War Two and reopening on Old Compton Street, the company now has over 80 sites nationwide. The company secured its 34th site in London last week in Fulham Broadway and is also planning an outlet in the capital at Wandsworth. It is set to expand its presence in the north west with a store in Preston and will be opening at the new Resorts World Complex in Birmingham.

Harry Ramsden’s to leverage Rugby World Cup to highlight alternative menu items: Fish and chips brand Harry Ramsden’s is set to use the Rugby World Cup to kick off a new consumer campaign, highlighting the variety of alternative dishes available within its outlets. The brand is introducing “Harry’s Try of the Week” from today (Friday, 18 September) until 31 October, to promote other items now available within its restaurants, takeaways and quick service restaurants across the country. As part of the campaign, Harry’s wide selection of pies, wraps, chicken and sausage options are just some of the items that will be spotlighted within Harry’s outlets during the Rugby World Cup, which kicks off at Twickenham tonight. Joe Teixeira, chief executive of Harry Ramsden’s, said: “As we successfully re-position the Harry Ramsden’s brand, our outlets are continuing to increase in popularity with a growing customer base, due to our long standing reputation for quality, service and value and, of course, our fish and chips. As a family oriented brand, we know that one off events like the forthcoming Rugby World Cup present a real opportunity for generations of families and friends of all ages to share good times together. So, with that in mind, our ‘Try of the Week’ campaign offers an excellent opportunity to highlight that, with our extensive menu, everyone can choose something to enjoy at Harry’s, every time.”

JD Wetherspoon resubmits plan for Downham Market site, eyes Lutterworth: JD Wetherspoon has resubmitted plans to turn a historic pub in Downham Market, Norfolk, (population: 9,994) into a new site. The company exchanged on the purchase of the White Hart in Bridge Street earlier this year. But last month it withdrew the plans, at the request of West Norfolk Council, which required more information, even though it said it still intended to move on to the site. And now it has resubmitted the planning applications, one for listed building consent, to the borough council for a single-storey extension at the back of the building and internal alterations. A JD Wetherspoon spokesman said: “As the building is heavily listed, the planners asked us to get a digital survey completed of the existing building to base the drawings on as opposed to hand-measured plans.” Meanwhile, JD Wetherspoon has lodged plans to open a large pub in Lutterworth, Leicestershire (population: 9,900). The company has applied to Harborough District Council to convert the historic former police station site on the corner of Leicester Road and Gilmorton Road, creating 15 jobs.

Leon launches autumn menu: Healthy eating brand Leon has launched its autumn menu after its biggest revamp to date. The company has introduced new items following customer feedback as it encourages them to break their habits with its #LoveSomethingNew initiative. A major development has been the addition of more vegetables with new dishes including roasted cauliflower salad and roasted aubergine pot, both served with chimichurri to drizzle over. There is also a new Better Burgers range, more meatball varieties and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Leon chief executive and founder John Vincent said: “We have to match the nutritional needs of the individual and the environmental needs of the planet. Making vegetables taste good is a great way of creating that harmony.” Leon was founded in 2004 and has 25 restaurants across the UK with its next site due to open at Birmingham New Street Station at the end of September.

London multi-site operator takes on third pub: London multi-site operator Tom Gavaghan has taken on his third pub in the capital – after returning to the Ravenscourt Park pub he ran for six years. Gavaghan, who also runs the Andover Arms in nearby Aldensley Road and the Lord Palmerston in Tufnell Park, has reopened the Thatched House in Dalling Road, where he was landlord from 2002-2008. Following his departure, the pub’s name was changed to the Butcher’s Hook but he has restored its historic name. Gavaghan, who has also set up a website that helps struggling and new landlords make successes of their pubs, told GetwestLondon: “It’s about bringing the Thatched House story back. It’s been here for the past 160 years. It had lost its identity. I want it waving its flag as part of the community again. That’s what pubs are – they’re the heart of the community, they’re landmarks, they’re where people celebrate and commiserate and share their stories.”

Som Saa co-founder – ‘crowdfunding a great way to keep character of restaurants alive’, first permanent site to open in February: The co-owner of Thai restaurant Som Saa, which reached its £550,000 target on Crowdcube in just four days to fund a permanent site in London, has hailed crowdfunding “as a great way to keep the character of restaurants alive”. Andy Oliver, who is a former Masterchef finalist and is heading up the kitchen with Mark Dobbie, also said Som Saa is set to secure a 70-seat site near Spitalfields and open in February. Som Saa, which has operated a pop-up in London Fields since October, raised £700,000 on Crowdcube with most of the 100 investors being customers and Oliver revealed it turned down approaches from investors who wanted to front all the money. He told the London Evening Standard: “They’re (the customers) going to be real advocates for our business. They’ll be excited to tell their friends they’ve got a piece of the restaurant. That will be a good thing for our future. It makes sense. We wanted to keep control and have shareholders we like and want to involve, who can choose the direction of the restaurant. There are investors out there who would want to turn Som Saa into a Nando’s or a chain that maybe has loads of business potential. But it’s not inspiring, and it’s not why we are in the industry. I’m sure we’ll see more restaurants doing crowdfunding. It’s an exciting way to raise money, especially where people can come and touch and feel it. Restaurants are one of the best businesses for interacting with your customers.”
Prezzo to open new restaurant in Blackpool: Prezzo is to launch a new restaurant in Blackpool, Lancashire. The company is opening the 82-seat venue in Victoria Street, on the site of the former Liberal club, which was last home to fashion shop Republic. It is investing £700,000 transforming the site, which is due to open on Tuesday, 10 November, creating 15 jobs. Spokesman Eddie Gershon told the Blackpool Gazette: “We are looking forward to opening our first Prezzo restaurant in Blackpool. Blackpool is a vibrant town and we are confident the new restaurant will appeal to locals as well as holidaymakers.” The company has more than 250 restaurants nationwide, including one in neighbouring St Annes.

Scheme for restaurant, nightclub and boutique hotel plan in Bradford given go-ahead: Plans for a restaurant, nightclub, boutique hotel, function venue and a champagne delivery service have been given the thumbs-up by a licensing panel. Award-winning Indian restaurant The 1875, formerly of Menston, was granted a 24-hour licence for its new premises in Bradford city centre. It will see the former Gasworks nightspot in Ivegate transformed into what entrepreneur Manjinder Sarai described as “Bradford’s only independent destination brand, venue and boutique hotel”.
There’s A Beer For That partners with Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube: There’s a Beer For That has launched the next phase of its campaign to reignite Britain’s love of beer through a partnership with Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube. Through four exclusive videos, the content will showcase beer and food pairings, all explained by The Food Busker John Quilter. A branded content hub will host the videos on The recipes, created by Quilter exclusively for the partnership, show a range of beer styles and food matching rules and will all work to demonstrate how these dishes can be enhanced by pairing with three styles of beer. The videos will also introduce the Jamie Oliver audience to the There’s A Beer For That’s #BeerMatch tool, which provides instant beer recommendations for favourite foods via Twitter. Since its launch in November, #BeerMatch has had almost 7,000 mentions from about 2,500 unique users, with a reach of 73 million. There’s A Beer For That digital audience lead Louise Doherty said: “Working with Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube is a genuinely perfect partnership for both sides – There’s A Beer For That can reach a new audience of food enthusiasts, and our beer expertise provided an added bonus for the Food Tube audience of foodies who are always on the look out for the latest trends in food and drink.”

New Papa John’s franchisee opens second site, plans seven more: New Papa John’s franchisee Abhishek Sachdeva has opened in Bolton, nine months after opening his first site in St Helen’s. He plans to open seven more Papa John’s within the next two years, with the help of the company’s franchisee incentive scheme. “Bolton is a great location for us,” said Sachdeva. “The city is undergoing much regeneration and it is densely populated with a mix of families and students all tempted to try our top quality pizza.” Papa John’s is currently running an incentive scheme to help franchisees in the early stages of growing their businesses which includes discounted royalty fees, contribution towards marketing spend plus free equipment for new stores opening in the “enterprise development zones” of the Midlands, Wales, the north west, north east and Scotland.

Plans for £10m scheme housing Nando’s, TGI Friday’s and Bella Italia in Hanley approved: Plans for a £10m development that will house Nando’s, TGI Friday’s and Bella Italia, the brand owned by Casual Dining Group, in Hanley, Staffordshire, have been approved. The scheme, which was granted permission by Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s planning committee, will see the three brands move into units that will be built on derelict land off Etruria Road – next to the Old Plough pub and opposite the Whitbread-owned Premier Inn. Joint developer and landowner Simon Bland told the Stoke Sentinel: “Because the tenants are already secured we can deliver this development in the next 12 to 18 months. The site will no longer be derelict and the development will improve the entrance to the city centre.” The scheme will be less than a mile away from the Intu Potteries shopping centre’s new leisure development, which opens this year and will include seven restaurants and a cinema. Its bosses objected to the Etruria Road development.

Darlington-based multi-site operators take on third venue – and first pub:
Darlington-based multi-site operators the Foffano family has taken on its third venue – and first pub – in the area. The family, which owns Foffano’s restaurant and Little Foffano’s Deli, has reopened the Foresters Arms in Coatham Mundeville, owned by Enterprise Inns. In line with the family’s other businesses, The Foresters Arms – also managed by chef Sylwester Michalak – will offer a variety of locally sourced and high quality dishes. Emma Foffano told The Northern Echo: “We’ll make sure this pub is a community pub, which it always was in the past. We’d love to carry on taking part in the kind of events it has always been involved in. Our aim is to give people a traditional English pub with good food that people can enjoy. I’ve had two successful businesses and I’m sure we can make this pub a third.” The pub closed earlier this year when former landlady Kate Umpleby left.

LWC secures drinks supply deal with Barburrito: LWC, the UK’s second largest drinks wholesaler with a turnover of more than £200m, has secured a deal to supply burrito chain Barburrito. The Manchester-based company will supply a full range of drinks to Barburrito, which currently operates 12 sites across the UK and plans to grow significantly over the next two years. LWC account manager Keith Haslam said: “We are delighted to bring Barburrito on board. Our national coverage and unrivalled product range allowed us to secure this prestigious chain.”
BBPA forecasts Rugby World Cup beer boost: The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has forecast the Rugby World Cup will see pubs sell over 25 million extra pints, with over 2.5 million watching at least one game in the pub. Most of this boost to beer sales will come from UK residents (20 million pints) but the BBPA also expects the thousands of visitors to the UK to boost sales by five million pints. The total impact on turnover for pubs, in beer sales alone, is expected to be about £86 million. BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: “The Rugby World Cup is a great opportunity for pubs, and they will be making the most of it. Nothing can match the atmosphere of the Great British pub when it comes to big matches, apart from actually being there. And for those visiting the UK for the tournament, the pub is a huge attraction.”

JW Lees launches ‘Beer Hop’ campaign: North west brewer and retailer JW Lees has launched a campaign to promote cask ale and try new beers. The company has created the website – – as part of its “The Great JW Lees Beer Hop” initiative, where users can find a selection of beers that match their favourite tastes, select a pub for to drink them in and receive a code to purchase three third trial drinks for the price of two. The fruit machine-styled “Beer Hop” selects the beers based on the users’ favourite tastes but it also recommends something a little different to try. Cask ales selected for the first “Beer Hop” include JW Lees Bitter, Drayman’s Reward and Brewer’s Dark. Initially the “Beer Hop” is available to selected JW Lees managed houses but the objective is to expand it throughout the north west, north Wales and Yorkshire to JW Lees licensees and free trade customers.

Merlin – Alton Towers accident led to 11.4% decline in resort park revenues: Merlin Entertainment has reported the accident at Alton Towers on 2 June has led to a 11.4% drop in resort theme park revenue for the 36 weeks to 5 September. However, the business has traded in line with revised expectations over the summer period, bringing year to date constant currency revenue growth to 3.8% and like-for-like revenue growth to 0.3%. At actual exchange rates, total revenue growth year-to-date was 2.2% reflecting predominantly the strength of sterling against the euro. The company stated: “The trends we reported at the half year have continued throughout the summer. The performance of our Legoland Parks Operating Group has remained strong, with very positive guest satisfaction. However, this has been offset by the impact of reduced visitation across the Resort Theme Parks Operating Group, primarily at Alton Towers Resort, and euro weakness impacting visitation at our London attractions. While near term challenges remain, the group is making good overall progress on its growth strategy. We have significant new investments planned across the estate and are well placed to deliver these in 2016 and beyond. As announced on 27 July 2015, Alton Towers Resort, and to a lesser extent the UK Resort Theme Parks estate, has seen significantly reduced visitation following the accident at Alton Towers on 2 June. As anticipated, this has continued over the summer peak season, exacerbated by relatively poor weather in the UK in August, resulting in like-for-like revenues in the Resort Theme Parks Operating Group declining by 11.4% year-on-year. Based upon summer trading and forward bookings, Resort Theme Parks’ Ebitda is now expected to be in the lower part of the guided range of £40-50m in 2015. As previously communicated, this guidance assumes that trading in the UK theme parks improves to a degree in the balance of the year as the product mix shifts towards the Halloween offering. Although difficult to assess at this stage, we continue to believe that there may be an ongoing adverse impact on the Resort Theme Parks Operating Group profitability in 2016.”

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