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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Thu 10th Mar 2016 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Restaurant Group boss – ‘we’re prepared to sacrifice like-for-likes to grow bottom line’: The Restaurant Group chief executive Danny Breithaupt has told Propel the company is prepared to sacrifice like-for-like sales growth in order to increase its bottom line. The company reported on Wednesday (9 March) a 7.9% turnover increase in 2015 as it passed 500 sites for the first time but has seen like-for-like sales fall 1.5% in the first ten weeks of 2016. Meanwhile, analysts warned the company could now become the subject of private equity bids – its shares fell 22.7% to 420p. However, Breithaupt said he was willing to “give a bit back” on like-for-like sales if it meant the company continued to profit overall. He said: “For example, where we have an existing Frankie & Benny’s and we want to put a Chiquito and a Coast to Coast there, the like-for-likes are going to be impacted but it’s good for the overall growth of the group. Given our results in 2015, it was always going to be difficult to get off to a good start this year. I’d rather have total profits grow and give a bit back on the like-for-likes because that’s the right thing to do because it’s important to grow space.” The Restaurant Group expects to open a similar number of sites this year as it did in 2015 – 44. Breithaupt said he expected the figure to break down as 12-15 Frankie & Benny’s, ten Chiquito and Coast to Coast sites, and six pub restaurants with the remainder concessions. He added: “The leisure business is our key driver. Between those three brands, we’re looking at 35 sites. We are continuing to move away from being a single brand group (with Frankie & Benny’s) to a more balanced portfolio. Both Coast to Coast and Chiquito are seeing some real momentum. Coast to Coast is doing extremely well at the moment. We’ve got some interesting stuff going on this year – the new menu is doing very well. The other thing is we are creating jobs. We created 1,500 jobs last year and another 1,500 this year – mostly full-time. For our industry that’s a real positive. For me, it’s a positive the group is continuing to expand and we can create that level of employment. We are extremely proud of our results, which are the best the group has produced. We have got off to a difficult start this year but we are not alone in that – and there are 42 weeks still to go.” (See Company News for Peel Hunt broker’s note on The Restaurant Group)

Industry News:

Readers sign up to Propel Premium service: Operators, drinks companies, law firms, accountants, distributors and marketing firms are among the first companies that have signed up to receive the Propel Premium subscription service, which launched on 1 March. The current free service to all existing readers remains the same, but readers can opt to upgrade to receive the Propel Premium service. Propel Premium subscribers will be able to receive the Morning Newsletter, which is sent at 6.30am each weekday, 12 hours earlier at 6.30pm the day before. Subscribers will also receive a copy of the Propel database of 500 multi-site companies, which will be updated every six months, and receive a digital version of Propel Quarterly magazine a week before publication. For operators, annual subscription costs £345 plus VAT per year, with an extra £50 per additional subscriber at each company. For suppliers, annual subscription costs £445 plus VAT, with an extra £50 per additional subscriber at each company. To subscribe to the Propel Premium service, email adam.dickinson@propelinfo.com

Nando’s to explore food waste-powered restaurants in UK: Nando’s is exploring the possibility of food waste-powered restaurants in a bid to take energy management in its UK sites “to the next level”. Nando’s UK energy, waste and water manager Julie Allen told edie.com the group was discussing the purchase of green gas credits, which would see food waste sent to an anaerobic digestion plant to be turned into methane. The gas would then be pumped into the national grid or used to generate electricity. Allen revealed Nando’s is in discussions with a German company to give it the ability to store liquid food waste in tanks. She said: “It would be beneficial if we could power a percentage of our restaurants with food waste.” Allen said Nando’s had already brought in energy-saving initiatives, including 85% use of LED lighting in new-builds and extractor fans that only operate while chefs are cooking which, she said, had produced energy savings of about 37% compared with conventional fans. Tasked with monitoring and reducing energy consumption across Nando’s 360 UK restaurants – all of which have been fitted with monitors – Allen has also applied staff initiatives, with each site’s energy consumption compared with the same period a year ago and staff encouraged to improve performance. Allen said: “We’re using league tables for each restaurant to try to drive competition.”
 
Supper app to launch Seedrs crowdfunding campaign: Food delivery app Supper, which brings healthy and home-cooked meals to consumers in south west London and Wokingham, Berkshire, is to embark on a Seedrs crowdfunding campaign to help the business progress. The app is hoping to raise £400,000 by 13 May to use specifically for marketing and advertising purposes. It will also use part of the investment to bring in new members of the team, including customer service managers and a marketing expert. Founder of Supper Duncan Scott said: “We are very excited by the prospect of being able to really grow our platform now. We have had a great six months and in that time proved that our concept works and is scalable so now is the time to concentrate on growth, both in our existing geographies and finding new areas to introduce.”
 
Shake Shack stock plunges despite sales growth: Shake Shack told investors this week it expects sales to slow in 2016 while labour costs rise because of the company’s decision to increase pay for its workers this year. Despite strong like-for-like sales in 2015, along with lower food and labour costs, the company’s stock plunged more than 11% following the announcement. Shake Shack stock is currently trading below $38 a share, well off the chain’s all-time high of $96.75 reached in May last year. Shake Shack chief executive Randy Garutti said like-for-like sales would rise 2.5% to 3% for the full year, a significant slowdown from the 13.3% in 2015, including 11% in the fourth quarter ended 30 December. The company said the strong traffic experienced in 2015 would be difficult to sustain this year. “We do expect traffic to continue to be positive,” Shake Shack chief financial officer Jeff Uttz said. “But we don’t think current numbers are sustainable for the long term.” Shake Shack operates 84 sites and said it expected to add a number of new markets in the US this year, as part of a more flexible development strategy. Garutti said: “Our real estate opportunities are stronger than ever. We remain confident in our ability to execute on our growth plans.”

CAMRA welcomes £3.6m community pub business support programme: The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has welcomed a £3.6m community pub business support programme to prevent the threat of closure for local pubs in England through support for community ownership. Chief executive Tim Page said: “With 27 pubs closing every week, CAMRA welcomes this great news from the community pubs minister Marcus Jones. Pubs play a key role in communities, increasingly providing services, which go above and beyond their traditional role. This programme will provide groundbreaking and comprehensive support for communities seeking to buy local pubs to save them from closure. The announcement of The Community Pub Business Support Programme recognises the valuable contribution our pubs make in our villages, towns and cities, and brings confidence to communities who want to keep their pub open for business. We would like the government to build further on its support of the pub by cutting beer duty and ensuring that planning permission is required for a pub to be converted to any other use.” CAMRA has actively campaigned for the preservation of local pubs by encouraging communities and pub-goers to persuade their local council to list their pub as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). So far more than 1,250 pubs are listed as ACVs and CAMRA aims to increase this to 3,000 by the end of 2016.

Company News:

M&B rolls out contactless payments and Apple Pay across its estate, launches Toby loyalty app: Mitchells & Butlers has launched contactless payments and Apple Pay across its estate as part of the company’s ongoing investment in digital technology. The roll-out of contactless payments has now been completed across its 1,700 sites and Mitchells & Butlers said it would continue to innovate its digital platforms and utilise technology to enhance “the guest experience”. Other innovations include the launch of the Toby Carvery loyalty app, improving online booking functionality, and driving Dining Out gift card sales online through a variety of platforms and partnerships. Chris Hopkins, Mitchells & Butlers commercial and marketing director, said: “Digital technology continues to grow at pace and we continue to look for new opportunities to integrate these technologies into our business to help us enhance our offers, support our brands and ultimately deliver a better service to our guests.”
 
Hotel Chocolat to raise £50m with AIM float: Hotel Chocolat has unveiled plans to float on AIM as it seeks to raise £50m to fuel further expansion. The business, which was founded in 1993 by Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris, has 84 stores across the UK and since 2013 has operated the Anglo-West Indian-themed Roast & Conch restaurant in Boar Lane, Leeds. Hotel Chocolat will use the proceeds, raised from the issue of new shares and the sale of existing shares by certain shareholders, to invest in increasing its UK manufacturing capacity and to open new stores. Co-founder and chief executive Angus Thirlwell said: “Hotel Chocolat is built on our core values of authenticity, originality and ethical trading. We are very excited at the prospect of listing as it is the next logical step in our growth plans and will enable us to accelerate the many initiatives that we have in place, in particular additional investment in our British chocolate manufacturing, in new stores and in our digital offering.”
 
Antic acquires JD Wetherspoon pub in South Norwood: Antic, the Downing-backed London pub operator led by Antony Thomas, has acquired a JD Wetherspoon pub in South Norwood. JD Wetherspoon said The William Stanley was being sold and the High Street pub would close on Sunday, 20 March. It will be taken over by Antic, which operates more than 35 sites across the capital, reports the Croydon Guardian. A JD Wetherspoon spokesman said it had been a “commercial decision” to sell the pub, but would not provide further details. He added The William Stanley’s 40-odd staff would all be offered jobs in other JD Wetherspoon pubs. Last September, Thomas said Antic was lining up a site in South Norwood. He added at the time: “It is an existing pub so I can’t say anything more until it is announced but we should announce within a couple of months.”
 
Star Pubs & Bars to extend retail skills workshops for licensees and staff: Star Pubs & Bars is to invest in a further series of free retail skills workshops for its licensees and their key staff in 2016. This follows the successful launch in 2015. About 50% of its pubs will have benefited from attending the workshops by the end of the year. As well as helping licensees improve standards and sales in their pubs, the workshops are intended to meet multiple operators’ requirement for staff training and development. In a new move for the leased sector, multiple operators who have at least one pub with Star will be invited to include senior staff across all their pubs on the Star workshops. Four workshops will focus on social media, merchandising and retail standards, customer service and drinks quality. Star is taking a different approach to course programming in 2016 with course topics, times and locations based on demand from its licensees. 99% of attendees of the 2015 workshops said they would recommend the workshops to other licensees. All materials have been created by Star Pubs & Bars to ensure their relevance to leased pub operators. The workshops are delivered by ABV using experienced trainers selected by Star, all of whom have also run their own pubs and restaurants. Lawson Mountstevens, managing director of Star Pubs & Bars, said: “We know from talking to licensees that getting good quality staff training is a major issue, particularly for multiple operators wanting to provide consistency. Staff increasingly expect employers to invest in their development not just pay them a wage. We hope that as well as helping our licensees deliver outstanding service, this initiative will also play a part in helping them recruit and retain great people.”
 
Deep Blue Restaurants reports turnover increase but pre-tax loss following investment exit, secures additional funds for expansion: Deep Blue Restaurants, which operates 16 fish and chip restaurants, has reported an increase in turnover but made a pre-tax loss following the exit of the Rapid Realisation Fund investment. The company saw turnover increase 7.1% to £5,464,434 for the year ended 29 September 2015, compared with £5,101,423 the year before, according to accounts filed with Companies House. Like-for-like sales grew by 11.8%. However, it made a pre-tax loss of £453,536, compared with a profit of £851,337 the previous year. This was due to Rapid Realisation Fund reducing its loan from £1.5m to zero and a £95,894 loss on the disposal of its store in Crawley, West Sussex. The company stated: “Our events business continued to operate successfully at main sporting and leisure events including The Oval, Twickenham and various music events. We introduced a delivery service in October 2014 and while we experienced a material increase in the average revenue of those stores offering the delivery service we will be focusing on improving the efficiency of the service before it is rolled out to other stores. In November 2015, the company secured additional investment, which will allow for a renewed phase of expansion in 2016 and beyond. The company will continue to pursue a policy of acquiring existing businesses and improving operating profit through a combination of operational efficiencies and economies of scale. The company will also consider new sites in desirable locations. In February 2016, the company agreed a new five-year contract with The Kia Oval to operate two mobile units between 2016 and 2020. The contract has an approximate value of £1.4m and provides excellent brand visibility to the circa 22,000 capacity crowds that enjoy The Kia Oval in the spring and summer months. The company is in the process of developing an online ordering system, which will allow customers to order food online for collection and/or delivery. The directors believe that there is significant opportunity in offering such a service if associated costs can be controlled. The new system is expected to be fully operational by April 2016.”
 
Welcome Break installs Changing Places toilets to enhance disabled facilities: Independent motorway service operator Welcome Break has installed state-of-the-art assisted accessible toilets at four of its sites. The company has put in Changing Places toilets to ensure anyone who needs the help of a carer to go to the toilet now has suitable facilities. They have been installed at the Membury, South Mimms, Hopwood and Gordano service stations and will be added to the company’s Corley site in the near future. Changing Places toilets are a special facility for those who have learning disabilities or are severely disabled. They include a height-adjustable changing bed and ceiling tracking hoist, as well as additional space and a peninsular toilet with space for carers on either side. Chief executive Rod McKie said: “As a company we feel that our facilities should be accessible for everyone. We want to be able to make life easier for carers and people who have severe disabilities. These toilets make such a huge difference to people, and will help our customers go to the toilet comfortably and with dignity, which are small privileges that everyone deserves.”

Humble Grape to open second site: Humble Grape, the wine bar and shop from James Dawson, is to open a second site in May. Following the success of the Battersea opening last year, Humble Grape is set to bring its concept to a 3,600 square foot space on St Bride’s Passage, just off Fleet Street. The site, formerly The Press House Wine Bar, once a famous drinking den for journalists, is tucked away down a cobbled street and hidden in the vaults of St Bride’s Church. This will be a 200-seat wine bar, shop, events space, private dining room and wine-cellar. Humble Grape directly imports handcrafted wine from small, sustainable, independent vineyards worldwide, avoiding the industry-standard markups from agents, importers or distributors. Dawson said: “I started Humble Grape in 2009 with a handful of wines that I’d discovered on my travels. I ran wine tastings for my friends and family and delivered cases on the back of my motorbike. Now we import over 200 wines, and have a loyal following. Many of my customers invested in our crowdfunding raise on Seedrs enabling me to launch the first Humble Grape wine bar and shop in Battersea, the mission being to make great quality wines accessible for all. The bar was so well received, we’re now in the position to bring the concept to central London.”

Fine Thai dining group Patara to open sixth London restaurant: Fine Thai dining group Patara is planning to open its sixth London restaurant – in High Street, Hampstead. The company has filed planning and licensing documents as it seeks to move into a site formerly occupied by French restaurant Aubaine, reports the New Camden Journal. Patara Restaurant Group opened its fifth London venue in Berners Street in November, with other sites in Soho, Oxford Circus, Knightsbridge and South Kensington. It also operates casual dining restaurant Suda in Covent Garden and a further five worldwide in Singapore, Vienna, Geneva, Beijing and Bangkok.
 
Yoobi to open second site in Oxford Circus in May: Yoobi, London’s first temakeria, will open its second site in Oxford Circus in May. The concept, which was founded in 2012 by Nicolas Steiner and Carolina Rodrigues, draws inspiration from Japanese traditions and the flavours of Brazil. Significantly larger than its Lexington Street counterpart, Yoobi Oxford Circus will have 64 covers and boast its own unique design; simple in style, yet with a strong focus on colourful graphics and the vibrancy of Brazil. Although still a fast, casual dining restaurant at heart, Yoobi Oxford Circus will also boast table service and outside seating. A long terrazzo marble sushi counter will be the focal point of the room that will also serve as dining space under a large interior canopy. The focus of Yoobi’s menu lies with temaki (Japanese hand rolls) that come wrapped in a crisp nori (seaweed) cone and are typically designed to be eaten by hand. The Oxford Circus site will introduce a selection of new Brazilian-influenced dishes, including seared pincaña temaki (Brazil’s most popular cut of beef) with a spicy teriyaki sauce. Yoobi has also created London’s first “Sakeria”, a unique range of Brazilian-Japanese fusion cocktails made with an array of Japanese sakes and fresh Brazilian flavours.
 
Smashburger plans to open Brighton venue, second in UK: Better burger brand Smashburger is planning to open a venue in Brighton, its second in the UK. A planning application has been submitted to put in a new shopfront on a unit in North Street, currently occupied by Mucho Burrito, reports Brighton & Hove City News. Smashburger, which has 335 restaurants in 35 US states and seven countries, was founded by former McDonald’s executive Tom Ryan. It signed a partnership with AL Ventures, part of the MSG Group, last year to launch in the UK. The company plans to open 35 restaurants in the UK in the next few years, with the first in Milton Keynes set to launch in May. Smashburger’s name derives from the “smashing” process used to cook its burgers.
 
Former Punch Taverns chief executive Giles Thorley to head Finance Wales group: Former Punch Taverns chief executive Giles Thorley has been appointed head of the Finance Wales group. Thorley will take up his post as chief executive on Monday, 4 April and will lead the group as plans to create the Development Bank for Wales are implemented. Thorley joins Finance Wales from private equity company TDR Capital, where he had been a partner since 2010, and which he joined after nine years at Punch Taverns, first as executive chairman and then chief executive. He was also a founding member of the Principal Finance Group. Thorley told Business News Wales: “Finance Wales is a key Welsh financial institution and continues to play a pivotal role in the Welsh economy. I’m keen to build on its strengths and harness its expertise to ensure Welsh SMEs make an even greater economic contribution in future. With the recent launch of the new Wales Business Fund and other Welsh government funds, these are exciting times. I’m looking forward to making the vision for the Development Bank for Wales a reality and significantly improving the funding and support available for Welsh SMEs.” A qualified barrister, Thorley holds a law degree from the University of London and is a member of the Bar Council of England and Wales.
 
Scandinavian-inspired bar and restaurant planned for Exeter’s new dining quarter confirmed as second site for Kupp: The Scandinavian-inspired bar and restaurant planned for Exeter’s new Queen Street dining quarter has been confirmed as the second site for London-based concept Kupp. The company, which launched in Paddington, has signed a contract with Aviva Investors to open the 6,000 square foot site at The Guildhall Shopping Centre just off Queen Street. The business, described as having the intention “to provide a high-quality, casual, all-day, food and drink offer within a relaxed and comfortable environment”, will be one of the largest units covering two floors and an outdoor seating area within Market Square. Inspired by Scandinavia, the menu is designed for grazing, sharing and social eating. The food is described as “simple”, “colourful” and “flavourful” and focuses on Scandinavian ingredients using cooking techniques such as in-house pickling, curing and smoking. Drinks include tank conditioned beer, wine, fresh juices and cocktails such as Kupp’s Aquavit Collins. Drawing on inspiration from the Swedish Fika style of enjoying a coffee break, which is more about socialising than drinking coffee, Kupp will feature its own unique espresso and filter coffee blend, created especially for the brand and complemented by freshly baked breads and pastries, which customers can enjoy in-store or as “grab-and-go” items. Steve Cox from Kupp said: “We are really excited about bringing Kupp to Exeter and being part of Queen Street. We considered many locations for our first casual dining venue outside the capital and we feel the city and the location is exactly the right choice.”

Wahaca to open 21st site – in Brighton in April: Mexican restaurant brand Wahaca has announced it will open its 21st venue – in Brighton on Friday, 15 April. The 130-cover venue will open in a grade II-listed building in the Colonnades, on the corner of North Street and New Road, which formerly housed Strada restaurant. Former MasterChef winner and Wahaca co-founder Thomasina Miers told The Argus: “We cannot wait to dish out proper tacos and tequila to the good people of Brighton. It’s a city with an amazing sense of culture, sustainable living and, importantly, knowing how to enjoy itself. My siblings both live here and have been pestering us about how Brighton needs a Wahaca – we look forward to getting stuck in.” 
 
Harvey Nichols announces Grey Goose as cocktails partner for revamped Fifth Floor Bar: Harvey Nichols will partner with Grey Goose vodka for the cocktails menu at its refurbished Fifth Floor Bar, which will officially reopen on Sunday (13 March). The new drinks menu will feature “reinterpretations of classic cocktails” and include Grey Goose Le Fizz (vodka with St Germain elderflower liqueur, lime juice and soda water). Each cocktail will feature vodkas from Grey Goose brands – Original, La Poire, L’Orange, Le Citron, Cherry Noir, Le Melon and XV Spirit. A light bites menu will be available throughout the day. The bar’s new interior draws inspiration from “classic French luxury” and features leather, brass, marble and dark wood with blue leather banquettes and private booths. Grey Goose UK brand ambassador Myles Donneky, who collaborated with the Harvey Nichols mixology team to create the drinks menu, said: “We’re delighted to be working with Harvey Nichols to bring their customers in London a truly premium bar experience in-store.” The Grey Goose vodka brand is part of Bacardi’s portfolio.
 
Savills markets Northallerton leisure opportunity: Agent Savills has been instructed to market the former Ruston Hospital in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, which has planning permission for use as a restaurant, bar, or pub. The property, located in the High Street, is available either leasehold or freehold with vacant possession. Surrounding properties are a mix of retail, restaurants, residential and pubs, and a new Marks & Spencer Foodhall is set to open at the rear of the property at the end of 2016. Comprising of two adjoining buildings, the site totals 9,623 square feet over ground and first-floor levels. There is also an outside seating area at the back that extends to 0.21 acres. Stuart Stares, of Savills licensed leisure team, said: “Benefiting from such a strong position, this site presents a fantastic opportunity to develop a new leisure offering in this affluent market town. Furthermore, this sizeable property could be split up to create separate units.” 
 
Bill’s and Wildwood set to open in Bournemouth: Bill’s Restaurants, owned by Richard Caring, and Tasty brand Wildwood are set to open in the same building in Bournemouth, Dorset. The restaurant brands are lining up empty units in Bristol and West House, which is also home to Starbucks, in Richmond Hill. The former Richmond Classics unit will be home to Wildwood, which is expected to open this summer. Meanwhile, Bill’s has applied for permission to put tables and chairs outside the NatWest Bank, with the restaurant itself apparently set to open inside the former Lola Lo. The plans, for 22 tables behind green timber hoardings in the space in front of the bank, said the restaurant would be open until 11pm seven days a week, reports the Bournemouth Echo. No formal planning or licensing application for the former Lola Lo unit has yet been made. But the application for seating said people “would be able to appreciate the character and beauty of the historical building while enjoying their food”.
 
Harry Ramsden’s opens second ‘assisted service’ site in New Brighton: Fish and chip brand Harry Ramsden’s has opened a new restaurant in New Brighton on the Wirral – its second site to feature “assisted service”. The 1,750 square foot venue is at Marine Point next to Morrisons. The 60-seat restaurant spans two floors with customers also given the option to take away their meals. As well as table service, it features a refreshed brand design and new menu, which includes breakfast, afternoon tea, desserts and the opportunity to have wine or beer with a meal, reports Insider Media. Harry Ramsden’s opened its first “assisted service” site nearby at the Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet in Ellesmere Port last month.

Robinsons strengthens Welsh estate with two major investments: North west brewer and retailer Robinsons will strengthen its Welsh estate by reopening The Royal Ship Hotel in Dolgellau on Friday (11 March) following an 18-month refurbishment, with another – The Mulberry at Conwy Marina – to open on Monday, 18 April. William Robinson, managing director of the company’s pub division, said: “We are extremely proud of our Welsh pub estate and are fortunate to have some exceptional locations and properties. The refurbishment of this existing managed house has reinforced our commitment to this site and the hotel is now fully equipped to deliver the needs of the expanding tourism market in the area.” The Royal Ship is within Snowdonia National Park and features 23 bedrooms across three floors. The new menu includes Welsh steaks, mussels and Moroccan lamb cutlets, alongside pub classics such as The Royal Ship’s burger made using Robinsons Old Tom ale. Simon Taylor, Robinsons retail operations manager, said: “In 2014, there were ten million overnight trips to Wales by the British public with 64% visiting for holidays so it’s important that we continue to help fly the flag for Welsh tourism within the area.” Robinsons operates 300 sites, spanning the north west, Cumbria and north Wales.

Edinburgh’s first arcade cafe set to open this summer: Edinburgh’s first arcade cafe is set to open this summer. Michael Cox is launching Konbo, which will offer a “vintage arcade experience within a cafe environment”, combining fine coffee with nostalgic gaming from the late 1980s to 1990s. He plans to open the business in the Tollcross area of the city, but declined to reveal an exact location because negotiations were still taking place with the landlord. Cox said a planning application would be submitted in the coming weeks. He told the Scotsman: “I’ve been sourcing games and planning this project for a couple of years now. I want to bring back the social element of gaming. These arcade machines appeal to people of all ages, and I think it’s important to have a space where they can be enjoyed together. In Scotland, arcades have almost died out. In Japan they survive because they are treated like social hubs with their own communities. This shows that the classic arcade is a viable alternative to modern online gaming – provided the venue and the atmosphere is right. We’ll have coffee and food available during the day, and the aim is to have beer and evening attractions as well.”
 
Restaurant Group agrees terms for Frankie & Benny’s and Chiquito venues at Barnstaple development: The Restaurant Group has agreed terms to open two venues – a Frankie & Benny’s and Tex-Mex brand Chiquito – at the proposed Anchorwood Bank development in Barnstaple. Plans have been lodged with North Devon Council to build restaurant space alongside housing at the site. Andrew Pegg, of Wessex Investors, which is behind the project, told the North Devon Journal: “We are delighted to have attracted two very strong family restaurant brands to Barnstaple and believe they will fit in very well with the rest of our site and complement the existing food offer in the town.”
 
Hawthorn Leisure strengthens senior management team: Hawthorn Leisure has further strengthened its senior management team, appointing Matthew Ward as chief financial officer and Jennie Walton as head of marketing. Ward will take up his role on Monday, 4 April, having held a number of senior management roles across the retail, travel and transport sectors, most recently with the Co-operative Group. Walton will bring her wealth of experience in brand development and innovation into Hawthorn’s growing businesses Last Orders and craft beer concept Artisan Tap. She will also offer a range of marketing support packages to those who work in partnership with the company within its 350-strong leased and tenanted divisions. Chief executive Gerry Carroll said: “The appointment of both Matthew and Jennie further endorses the strength of the Hawthorn management team as we continue to grow and develop the business. We are delighted that both Matthew and Jenny bring with them bags of talent and energy as well as a real passion for the business.”
 
Nick Batram – Restaurant Group is a ‘dish turning increasingly cold’: Peel Hunt leisure analyst Nick Batram has said The Restaurant Group is a “dish turning increasingly cold”. Retaining a ‘Hold’ note on the shares with a target price of 459p following the company’s full-year results on Wednesday (9 March), Batram said: “The recent trend of disappointing updates has continued at Restaurant Group. Confidence has taken a seismic hit and will take time to recover. The big question is whether the horse has bolted or whether there is worse to come? However, the business remains highly cash generative, the balance sheet is robust and we wouldn’t be surprised if private equity were not taking a closer a look at these levels. The group full-year results statement was in line with expectations with FY15 Ebit growing 10.5% to £88.9m in line with Peel Hunt estimates. Full-year like-for-like sales of +1.5% was already disclosed at post close trading update but for the record were below initial market expectations at the start of the year. Profit before tax rose 11% to £86.8m, while earnings per share improved 12.8% to 33.8p (boost from lower tax charge). The full year dividend per share rose 13% to 17.4p (Peel Hunt estimates 17.0p). The group ended the year with net debt of £28.4m (Peel Hunt estimates £31m). In terms of new openings, there were 44 with ten closures. Like-for-like sales in the first ten weeks of the year fell 1.5%, albeit against a tougher comparative in the prior year (+2.5%), but in line with the trend it exhibited in quarter four 2015, which saw like-for-likes fall from +2.0% to 1.5%. Frankie & Benny’s (more than 260 stores), the group’s largest brand bore the brunt of the tougher trading on the back of weaker cinema attendances in January. The group is still planning to open circa 44-45 sites in FY16, with management pleased with the strong returns generated from new sites in 2015. We downgrade our below consensus numbers; FY16 profit before tax by 3% from circa £92m to £89m and FY17 profit before tax by 5% to £94m. This will result in earnings per share of 34.5p for FY16 and 36.5p for FY17. We forecast 0.5% like-for-like sales decline for FY16 and flat like-for-likes for FY17, though see risks to the downside for FY16. The reaction to yet another downgrade will be vicious today and there is no doubt there will be little confidence in the numbers going forward. This represents a challenge when it comes to valuing the stock. Recognising the risk to forecasts we believe 7x FY16 EV/Ebitda is a reasonable starting point. At this level, we believe private equity may start running the slide rule over the business. We also recognise that the balance sheet is in good shape and cash flow strong. Sentiment will undoubtedly take time to recover. We reduce our target price to 459p and keep our ‘Hold’ recommendation.”
 
Woody Grill owner fined over food hygiene offence: The owner of a Woody Grill branch has been fined £30,000 after customers complained they had fallen ill when they ate at a site in west London. The owner pleaded guilty in court to eight hygiene offences after a catalogue of filthy conditions were uncovered at one of its restaurants in Uxbridge Road, Shepherd’s Bush. The company was investigated by Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s environmental health team following complaints from people who had fallen ill after they had eaten at the restaurant. Following an inspection, officers found dirty food preparation surfaces, chopping boards and fridge door handles in the kitchen. Other serious failings included cooked food not protected from raw food, animal droppings found in the back store with no pest control measures in place and no safety paperwork. Owner Cengiz Erpolat, who owns six Woody Grill restaurants across London, was fined and also ordered to pay costs of £4,327.50 and a £120 victim surcharge at Hammersmith Magistrates’ Court.
 
Fourth to put Success Express Tour back on the road: Fourth, the cloud-based, cost-control solutions provider to the hospitality industry, will launch its Success Express Tour in May, involving free insight and support workshops to its customers across the UK. Last year, the Success Express Tour visited almost 60 companies and 249 users. This year’s tour will visit Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham and London between 10 and 19 May. The tour will focus on Fourth’s hospitality systems – HR programme “People System” and inventory solution “FnB”. Ben Hood, Fourth chief executive, said: “We understand how important it is for customers to understand every detail of Fourth systems to maximise their business-building potential and will be sharing all of the hints and tips they need during these training events.” Fourth provides “solutions that give customers complete control of their spending in key business areas, including labour, inventory, purchase-to-pay, HR and payroll”, with more than 52,000 users worldwide.
 
Propel partners with Digital Blonde for Advanced Social Media Masterclass: Propel is partnering with digital marketing company Digital Blonde for the Advanced Social Media Masterclass, building on last year’s Social Media Masterclass with all-new content. The event takes place on Wednesday, 20 April at One Moorgate Place in London and will provide a comprehensive overview of how to make the best use of social media. Digital Blonde founder Karen Fewell will share research into the importance of social media in customers’ lives as well as insight into the psychology of food and drink marketing in order to produce persuasive social media activity. The day will also include advice on using storytelling techniques to achieve stronger results in marketing and social media campaigns as well as how to use analytics to develop a social media strategy. There will also be a first-look at Digital Blonde’s “Love, Lust and Trust” research, which will unveil the best loved pub and bar brands and what can be learned from their social strategies. Tickets are £295 for Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers members and £345 for non-members and to book email adam.dickinson@propelinfo.com

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