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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Tue 31st Mar 2020 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Insolvency law changes could protect operators regarding rent: The insolvency law changes alluded to by the government at the weekend could include a debt enforcement moratorium, which would protect landlords and operators regarding non-payment of rent including debt repayments secured on commercial premises. As part of changes announced by business secretary Alok Sharma, the government stated: “The UK’s Insolvency Framework will add new restructuring tools including a moratorium for companies giving them breathing space from creditors enforcing their debts while they seek a rescue or restructure.” With tension between operators and landlords escalating, changes to the insolvency laws and the introduction of a debt enforcement moratorium have been a key lobbying focus for UKHospitality. Chief executive Kate Nicholls told Propel: “This is another welcome move by the government that provides much-needed support for hospitality businesses. While we need to see all the details, we’re grateful ministers continue to listen and act quickly in a way that’s going to protect operators and safeguard as many sector jobs as possible.” London Union chief executive Jonathan Downey, who was the first to propose a debt enforcement moratorium, said: “It’s too soon to assume anything but this looks promising. This kind of moratorium exists in English law but a company would normally have to be going into administration to benefit. If this is a moratorium to protect companies from creditor action outside an insolvency procedure, it’s fantastic news and will be a huge help to many businesses.”

Industry News:

Propel and Digital Blonde to host free webinar covering best use of marketing and social media during the pandemic: Propel and Digital Blonde are partnering to host a free webinar covering the pandemic’s effect on marketing and social media. The webinar will take place on Friday (3 April) at midday and has been launched following the postponement of this month’s Social Strategy In A Day event. The webinar will include data on current changes in consumer behaviour and how the market is likely to look when people start socialising again. It will also cover how social media usage has changed during the pandemic and what this means for you and your marketing in the long run. The Digital Blonde team will also reveal the social media messaging you should focus on now and in the coming months as a guide to how brands should behave during the crisis. Propel managing director Paul Charity said: “We know many people due to attend the Social Strategy In A Day event are keen to keep their learning and knowledge up to date. While we have only planned the first webinar, Propel and Digital Blonde are happy to run more in the coming weeks if enough marketers are interested in this support and learning opportunity.” To register for this free event, email

Propel Premium subscribers to receive updated multi-site companies list featuring 1,600 businesses: Subscribers to Propel Premium will receive an updated version of the database of multi-site companies next week. Another 100 businesses have been added to the list, taking the total to 1,600. The database features information such as number of sites, type of operation and key people at the business. Propel Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out, discounts to attend Propel conferences and events, and regular columns from insights editor Mark Wingett. An annual premium subscription costs £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers. Email

BeatTheVirus – CPL Learning, S4labour and Fourth waive Yapster connection fees: CPL Learning and S4labour, which are both part of Propel’s BeatTheVirus campaign, are waiving their Yapster connection costs during the lock-down. Scores of companies including hospitality technology company Fourth, have registered to take up Yapster’s Unleash The Underdog offer, which gives firms free access to the communication app while their teams are furloughed. S4labour has cut the rates of a number of its services and is providing dedicated furlough support, while CPL Learning offers free courses – including Personal Resilience and Mental Health Support Champion – and a 75% discount on its other e-learning courses. Yapster chief executive and co-founder Rob Liddiard said: “We are grateful to our friends at Fourth, CPL and S4 for their kind gestures and as proud as ever to work alongside them in this industry to provide what support we can at this challenging time.” S4labour chief product officer Richard Hartley added: “Many operators we’ve spoken to are concerned about communicating with front-line colleagues while their general and area managers are on furlough. We’ve been working with Yapster to help our customers do this as efficiently as possible so we’re delighted to be able to provide this extra support.” Ryan Pulford, of CPL, said: “During this challenging time the value of these partnerships has never been greater. We have united to help protect our industry and all those who are part of it.” Readers can email questions for our BeatTheVirus experts to Please use BeatTheVirus in the subject line. 

Bibendum launches delivery app for operators: Drinks distributor Bibendum and owner C&C Group have launched an app – Local – that helps operators offer home delivery or click and collect. Consumers can place orders online or by phone and find their local delivery area by entering their postcode or visiting the locations page. The only things businesses need to set themselves up on the app are a logo, menu, contact details and a Stripe Connect account. All costs of developing Local and fees for each site that join will be covered by Bibendum apart from a 2% transaction fee on every order.
Bibendum is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

More than 150,000 sign petition urging government to support directors of small limited companies: More than 150,000 people have signed a petition urging the government to help small UK businesses that operate under a limited company and fall outside the “void” of current financial support. Business owners are lobbying for the same assistance that’s given to PAYE and self-employed staff. These are individuals who have their own company and take their income from the business as a small salary and the rest as dividends. Under current government support, directors of limited companies can claim 80% of their PAYE payments but are unable to work while doing so while their dividend payments, which make up the bulk of their income, aren’t taken into account. Small business owners want to be entitled to 80% of their filed average earnings up to £2,500 – just as employed and self-employed workers are. They said this should include dividends, which are already taxed. Nick Steele, operations director of hospitality recruitment company Coniston Scott, told Propel: “Many small supplier businesses within catering and hospitality are in exactly this situation. Many people are in financial trouble with little or no help from government compared with that which normal ‘employed people’ or technically ‘self-employed’ get. There are a large population of law-abiding tax-paying small business owners – who were asked to trade as limited companies by a previous government – that are on average mid incomes and fall into this trap but there’s little or no help for them.” So far, more than 153,000 people have signed the petition on

Leon-led £1m fund-raise for NHS workers passes halfway milestone in first few days: The funding campaign spearheaded by natural fast food brand Leon and actors Damian Lewis, Helen McCrory and Matt Lucas, which is looking raise £1m to supply 6,000 meals a day to NHS front-line staff, has soared past the halfway mark only days after launch. #FEEDNHS was launched on Just Giving on Friday (27 March) and, at the time of going to press, had raised almost £530,000 from more than 13,700 supporters. Wasabi, Tortilla, Peach Pubs, Rosa’s Thai, Hop, Pizza Pilgrims, Franco Manca, Farmer J, Tossed, Hache, Abokado and Nusa Kitchen joined Leon to launch the not-for-profit initiative. Dishoom has since joined and it’s thought other operators and suppliers are set to come on board. The campaign states: “Some of our heroes are working 20-hour shifts. With cafes and eateries shut there’s a need to get healthy hot food to the hospitals. We are spearheading a campaign with Leon to get 6,000 meals a day into London hospitals for critical care staff and then hopefully across the nation. The aim is everyone will get one hot meal a day. We are starting this initiative in partnership with Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and UCLH Healthcare NHS Trust and hope others will be inspired to roll it out across the nation. No-one is making money out of this – any profits will go back into the NHS. Businesses that want to participate can visit to find out more.”

Government pays tribute to heroes keeping the nation fed: Environment secretary George Eustice has paid tribute to the “food industry heroes” working around the clock to keep the nation fed. In an open letter he praised the “extraordinary response” to the “greatest health challenge this country has faced in our lifetime”. Eustace wrote: “I want to pay tribute to all those who are working around the clock to keep the nation fed – in our fields, processing plants, factories, wholesalers, stores and takeaways – and all those moving goods around the country. The government has taken unprecedented steps to close cinemas, leisure centres and other public venues and instructed people to stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives. However, there are many key workers crucial to the resilience of our country. Our NHS staff will be working harder than ever in the weeks ahead. Those of you working to provide the nation with food and other essentials are also delivering a vital service. Everyone working in the food and drink industry has rallied in an extraordinary way to respond to this challenge. Having worked in the food industry myself, I’m enormously proud and thankful for all the work you have done in recent weeks and will be asked to do in the weeks ahead. In many cases you are the hidden heroes – and the country is grateful for all you have done.”

Best Bar None pays tribute to national co-ordinator Mick McDonnell: Mick McDonnell, former national co-ordinator of Best Bar None, the Home Office-supported community safety programme operated by pubs and bars, has passed away following a short illness. Lord Smith of Hindhead, Best Bar None chairman, said: “It is with great sadness I have to report Mick McDonnell passed away on Sunday (29 March). I know he will be greatly missed by his many friends and colleagues in the Best Bar None community. Our thoughts and condolences are with his family at this very sad time.”

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a growing global food brand that is seeking an experienced head of IT. This is a great opportunity to join a dynamic, modern and people-first business that’s creating vibrant and fresh food products across multiple international regions. The ideal candidate will have previous experience within a similar sector (hospitality or retail with POS/CRM) with a strong understanding of implementing IT services at UK businesses and creating new digital products and services. You will be required to work cross functionally across the business, ensure all hardware and software is functioning correctly and lead strategic planning of IT group-wide. The salary is circa £85,000 plus benefits. Email
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Company News:

Goodbody – we’d be surprised to see TRG raise further equity: Goodbody leisure analyst Paul Ruddy has said he would be surprised to see The Restaurant Group (TRG) attempt to raise further equity at the moment. The Telegraph reported TRG was exploring a move to shore up its finances after being forced to shelve a £500m debt restructuring. TRG has already proposed to put Chiquito and Food & Fuel in administration. Ruddy said: “At end of 2019, TRG had cash and cash equivalents of £50m, borrowings of £324m and a drawn overdraft of £10m. It has a £220m revolving credit facility due in Dec 2021, a £10m overdraft and the £225m Wagamama bond (total £455m with £324m drawn). Put together, this meant cash net debt of £287m and more than £160m of cash and facilities. We would assume there was negligible cash burn in January and February so the group would have entered this crisis with good room in its facilities. TRG set out a scenario last week encompassing a ten-week shutdown in leisure before normalising in the second half and a 92% decline in concessions with a recovery to minus 32% in the second half. In this scenario, net debt would be in a range of £209 to £263m on an Ebitda range of £95m to £105m. It would retain £75m of cash liquidity throughout the remainder of the 2020 financial year. This assumes concession rents are turnover based and assumes a 50% reduction in its rent roll. Working capital is made up of £188m of payables with £48m of receivables and prepayments. It is prudent to expect an unwind of payables in the early part of this crisis but this would have been factored into the company guidance last week. The statement noted it had adequate facilities to weather this storm. We struggle to see how the situation has changed so meaningfully in a week. If this crisis is more prolonged than TRG’s scenario, or rent/supplier negotiations prove more difficult than its assumptions, there is the possibility management will need to take further action. In our view another equity raise is unlikely to be well received given the group raised significant equity to buy Wagamama 15 months ago. Having said that, these are extraordinary times and Wagamama is a good business, the concessions business will return strongly with passenger numbers, the pubs have good freehold backing and the potential administration of Chiquito is another step on the way to righting the challenges in the legacy leisure business. We would be surprised to see the group raising equity at this point given its comments on available cash and facilities last week – but the duration of this crisis remains the big unknown.”

McDonald’s asks customers to choose which burgers they want back on the menu: McDonald’s has emailed customers on its UK database asking them to choose which burgers they want back on the menu when its stores reopen. The email urges customers to keep an eye on its social media channel. In the latest newsletter, McDonald’s said it was also working on a new website to give families some “Happy Meal magic at home”. The company temporarily closed all 1,350 branches in the UK last week. A spokesman told The Sun: “Since our closure we have received hundreds of messages from people telling us what they already miss from McDonald’s. We will keep in touch with our fans and followers as we start preparing our menu for reopening.” McDonald’s initially offered a takeaway service following the lock-down but decided to close altogether after customers flouted rules and menu items began to appear on eBay. The company said it donated leftover stock to food banks and charities.

Palmers cancels rent for April as it ‘stands by our people’: West Dorset-based brewery and pub company Palmers has cancelled its tenants’ rent for April and will review the situation on a “month by month basis”. The company, which runs 53 pubs in Dorset, Somerset and Devon, has furloughed the majority of staff with no redundancies, while board members have made “substantial” salary sacrifices. Chairman and managing director Jonathan Palmer said: “We put together a financial support package of retrospective rent reduction of 50% for March before the virus hit. This package has been expanded to zero rent for April and will be reviewed monthly. We won’t be collecting this at a later date, hence we’ll continue to support all our licensees during this difficult period. We’re in this together with our wonderful licensee partners and hope that, with our support and their drive and determination, we’ll be in the best position to hit the ground running when it’s safe to do so. As a small business ourselves, we have also been hit for six. We took the difficult but inevitable decision to pause brewing at the Old Brewery in Bridport for the first time in its 226-year history. With the exception of key essential functions, all Palmers employees are now on furloughed leave at the government’s reduced salary level of 80% to maintain job security in the long run. Nobody has been made redundant and we aim to keep it that way as we look to the future and an eventual return to normality. The prime minister has asked us all to ‘stand by our people’, and we have done exactly that. We are busy planning for the future and helping our licensees work on exciting new menus and reasons to visit when the time comes.”

Yum! Brands chief executive forgoes salary for rest of 2020, redirected to general managers and employee relief fund: Yum! Brands chief executive David Gibbs will forgo all salary for the rest of 2020 with the money redirected to general managers and an employee relief fund. Gibbs was set to earn a base salary this year of $900,000, according to an SEC filing made by the company. Gibbs’ salary will be redirected as one-time $1,000 bonuses to the company’s almost 1,200 general managers at KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and The Habit Burger Grill to “acknowledge their efforts managing teams and business continuity affected by covid-19”. The salary will also be redirected to the Yum! Brands Foundation Global Employee Medical Relief Fund. The fund will provide “financial hardship grants to those directly impacted by covid-19, including company and franchise restaurant employees with a covid-19 diagnosis or who are caring for someone with a confirmed diagnosis”. It will also help other front-line workers and “those facing food insecurity”. Yum! said it intends to grow this fund through voluntary donations. Last week Taco Bell chief executive Mark King announced initiatives to help employees and the wider community, including donating $1m to a campaign to end childhood hunger in America and donating excess produce to food banks.

Pizza Punks aims to feed 2,500 NHS staff, Yard Sale crowdfunds for 5,000 front-line meals: Pizza, music and cocktails concept Pizza Punks has launched a campaign to feed 2,500 NHS staff. The company, which is led by Brad Stevens and has outlets in Glasgow, Belfast and Newcastle, has partnered with suppliers Italicatessen and Eco Runners to launch the initiative by donating enough pizza to feed 500 people in each city. Stevens said: “We would love to feed more and are asking for donations of £10, £20 or £50 via our online voucher store. All funds go directly towards making and delivering pizza to staff at the Royal Infirmary and Queen Elizabeth hospitals in Glasgow and RVI in Newcastle. This is a non-profit scheme – our teams are volunteering their time.” Meanwhile, London-based Yard Sale Pizza’s NHS fund to feed 5,000 NHS staff, which it launched with supplier Salvo 1968 on Friday (27 March), has already raised £10,000, providing enough pizza to feed 1,000 people. As part of the crowdfunding campaign people can buy meals for NHS workers. The business has also been carrying out regular pizza drops to hospitals in the capital including Homerton, Whipps Cross and The Royal London.

Dominique Ansel sets up Bakery Supports initiative, Murger Han gives front-line workers free takeaways: Dominique Ansel Bakery, which is owned by Qoot Restaurant Group, has set up an initiative that has already seen stock worth £10,000 donated to hospitals near its sites in Belgravia and Covent Garden. The Bakery Supports initiative will also see the company donate 1,000 hot cross buns to hospitals during Easter weekend. Dominique Ansel Bakery is also giving front-line workers free hot drinks and will set up a gifting service where people can choose a box or hamper to be delivered to teams at St Thomas’, Chelsea and Westminster, and St Mary’s hospitals. Qoot also operates the By Chloe, Lebanese Bakery and Gentleman Baristas brands. As reported by Propel last week, Qoot is using its venues to offer complimentary meals to all schoolchildren eligible for free meals but unable to attend school. Eligible children receive a free lunchbox compromising a sandwich, drink and snack. The company also said there will be no redundancies, while all staff still working will receive free food on their shift and to take home. Qoot said it also offers weekly online self-care webinars. Meanwhile Murger Han, which operates two sites in London, is allowing anyone working for the NHS, police or other emergency services to pick up a takeaway for free. London’s first Xi’an restaurant, Murger Han in Euston, and the company’s second branch, Murger Han Han in Mayfair, offer hand-made biang biang noodles, clay pot dishes and soup alongside dumplings, skewers and their namesake meat sandwich, the “murger”. 

Quattro and Fresh Direct partner to help vulnerable people: Food manufacturer Quattro Foods and supplier Fresh Direct have partnered to supply healthy food to vulnerable people during the pandemic. Sam Brower, managing director of Portsmouth-based Quattro Foods, told Propel: “As a result of the restaurant closures we’ve lost most of our business. As we also supply NHS Wales with bespoke soup designed to aid patient recovery, we’re doing everything we can to remain open and continue manufacturing. Unfortunately, as a supplier we’re not entitled to some of the benefits being offered to the hospitality industry such as rates relief. If we want to continue manufacturing safely, we also can’t furlough our staff. It’s really tough but, having been offered the opportunity to buy some ingredients at cost by Fresh Direct, which has also been hit hard by industry closures, we have asked them to donate it to us for free and we’ll use our staff and capacity to produce what we can and make sure it’s distributed to vulnerable people and local care homes via the Hive charity in Portsmouth. It’s the least we can do.

LabTech launches initiatives to aid emergency services and the vulnerable in Camden community: Camden Market owner LabTech has launched a number of initiatives in a bid to help the emergency services and people in its community who are vulnerable. The company is offering free accommodation to NHS workers and their families, the elderly, and people at high risk of eviction at STAY apartments across its Camden estate. Events space Camden House is being used as a common room for emergency service workers to use for breaks, with LabTech providing free tea, coffee and breakfast. Meanwhile, the venue’s kitchen is hosting Camden Soup Kitchen three days a week to allow the charity to feed the homeless during the coronavirus crisis. LabTech is working with the emergency services and Camden Council to implement the initiatives. LabTech chief executive Yaron Shahar said: “London is facing a unique challenge and we all have a responsibility to do what we can to help. These initiatives provide assistance where it’s needed in the community and we will continue to investigate other ways in which we can provide further support at this crucial time.” LabTech has also launched a campaign to encourage Camden residents to use a contactless click-and-collect service from hospitality companies in its estate, while a temporary rent-free period has been brought in for all its market tenants. LabTech’s portfolio is valued at more than £3bn. The company recently launched eco-led development Buck Street Market.

William Grant & Sons shifts production to ethanol for hand sanitiser: William Grant & Sons has shifted production at its distilleries in Girvan in Scotland, Tullamore in Ireland and Tuthilltown in New York State to produce hand sanitiser for at least the next eight weeks. Girvan and Tullamore are producing ethanol to be supplied to hand-sanitiser manufacturers, while Tuthilltown is producing, packaging and distributing hand sanitiser to healthcare providers. The company confirmed it isn’t profiting from the work. Chief executive Simon Hunt said: “We can divert technology and people skills to contribute to the essential work of protecting people. Our teams are determined to do what they can to help.” Meanwhile, entrepreneur Namai Bishop has launched the Spirit Of Britain campaign that sees UK craft distilleries produce and provide free batches of hand sanitiser to front-line workers. Separately, the BritSpirit Community Interest Company has been set up via a Spirit of Britain Go Fund Me link to provide food and care to the isolated and elderly. Bishop said: “We have been overwhelmed by the passion from craft spirit producers up and down the country.” What are you doing? How are you diverting your resources? Email

Neighbourhood cafe Beam to open third London site, in Notting Hill this summer: Independent neighbourhood cafe Beam is pressing ahead with plans to open its third London site, in Notting Hill in the summer. Beam focuses on healthy breakfast, brunch and lunch dishes inspired by Mediterranean and British cuisine. The site in Westbourne Grove will feature mid-century modern interiors to create a “warm, cosy and chic vibe”. The Beam menu includes goat’s cheese and beetroot benedict, Turkish eggs and a vegan breakfast alongside halloumi wraps, gluten-free buttermilk pancakes and brioche French toast. Family-run Beam made its debut in Crouch End in 2013, opening a second site, in Highbury, five years later. Founders Ozgur and Sidar Akyuz said: “We are excited to bring Beam to west London. We hope to provide locals with a space to catch up with friends and family over breakfast and brunch.”

Foodhub makes senior appointments, offers technology for pubs and restaurants to set up takeaway services: Food delivery platform Foodhub has made two senior technology appointments amid plans to triple its growth in 2020. Former GoDaddy director Philip Mostyn has been appointed chief operating officer, while Paul Hodkinson, formerly of SamsonVT, is the company’s new chief technology officer. Foodhub is offering its zero-commission technology free for three months to enable pubs and restaurants to set up delivery services within 48 hours. Mostyn said: “We are all in the dark about how covid-19 is going to fully affect the wider economy and we need to support one another in any way we can. We have the technology and resources at our disposal to help pubs and restaurants. We feel the right thing to do is offer our solution for free so they have the option to offer a continued service.”

Administrators close Northern Powerhouse Developments hotel portfolio: Philip Duffy and Sarah Bell, of Duff & Phelps, who are joint administrators of Northern Powerhouse Developments, have temporarily closed seven of the group’s hotels with immediate effect. The hotels are in North Wales, Pembrokeshire and West Yorkshire. Duffy said: “It is clear the hotel and catering sector is set to face a tough few months, with income and revenue severely hit by the widespread travel restrictions in place across the UK and worldwide. As a result, we have no choice but to close these hotels temporarily as the world addresses the covid-19 crisis.”

Signature Brew launches ‘pub in a box’ delivery service: East London-based craft brewer Signature Brew has found a way to deal with the government’s enforced closure of all pubs by “bringing the pub to you”. The company has launched a Pub In A Box initiative, which features a selection of beer, glassware, snacks, a pub music quiz and exclusive Spotify playlists curated by music journalists to be delivered anywhere in the UK. For London-based customers, Signature Brew will endeavour to get orders hand-delivered by musicians who have had their tours cancelled. The price will depend on “how many beers you order”, while the box will also include beer mats because it “wouldn’t be a pub without them”.

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