Propel Morning Briefing Mast Head CPL Learning Link Paul's Twitter Link Star Pubs & Bars Banner
Morning Briefing Strap Line
Mon 8th Jun 2020 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day: 

Wasabi appoints advisors to help assess strategic options: Wasabi, the sushi and bento chain led by Henry Birts and backed by Capdesia, has appointed the restructuring team at KPMG to advise on its strategic options and assist with ongoing discussions with landlords regarding current rental arrangements. The business, which was founded in 2003, is looking to move towards a variable, turnover-based system with regard to rents on its 51 stores, 42 of which are in London and heavily reliant on office workers and tourists. Birts told Propel: “This is a very challenging time for our industry and the future for all of us is highly uncertain. Pre-covid-19, we had a thriving brand and business, known for its high-quality, fresh, fast and excellent value offer. There is now a big question mark over how and when demand will recover, and as it does we then have the challenge of managing capacity and speed of service in our kitchens and front-of-house alongside restrictions around social distancing. We are working extremely hard to flex our operating model in the light of this uncertainty but this is not going to work unless our fixed costs, primarily our rents, also reflect this economic reality. It is nevertheless our belief with the support of all of our stakeholders, including our landlords, we can adapt to once again be a healthy and sustainable business, preserving jobs, playing our part in the broader economic recovery and continuing to serve our customers both safely and efficiently.” Last month the company reopened its Ealing store for takeaway and delivery only as part of a phased programme of reopening. The group has since reopened its sites in Hammersmith, Borough High Street and High Street Kensington. Last May investment firm Capdesia made a significant equity investment to recapitalise Wasabi, reduce its level of debt – with the continued support of existing lender HSBC – and, as it said at the time, “lay the foundations for an exciting growth plan over the coming years”.

Industry News:

Sponsored message – S4labour launches new product to help navigate the return to work: S4labour is launching Shift4Grabs, its shift swapping and shift posting product, to help support flexible working as operators start to return. Shift4Grabs will allow managers to post shifts that need filling and allow employees to swap their shifts within their own site and across the wider company. The product, which sits alongside the core offering, is initially being offered for free to support operators as they navigate back towards reopening. Chief customer officer Sam Wignell said: “We expect staffing sites will be harder than ever as we reopen. Operators will be navigating social distancing, variable weather and potentially staff being required to self-isolate meaning the variability in availability and demand will change on a daily basis. We want to support our customers in helping them move their teams around sites as required.” The product works through the S4labour app enabling and empowering managers and employees to act quickly to the ever-changing situation. If you have information you would like to feature in a sponsored message, email
S4labour is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Barber – mid-market restaurant segment may prove the most resilient: Jamie Barber, founder and chief executive of Hache and Cabana, has said the mid-market segment of the restaurant industry, such as casual dining, may prove more resilient than the high-end and quick service segments as the UK comes out of lock-down. Speaking as part of Propel’s “navigating the coronavirus” series, Barber also said he was still concerned about behavioural changes that have happened during the lock-down and its long-term impact, which could lead to a change in the restaurant model. Barber said: “My theory is the high-end establishments have relied on an older clientele, being based in urban, central London locations with high rents, and international visitors, and that will come under pressure. I also think at the lower end, quick service – however you define it, and it might include the Pret-type of model – requires volume and I don’t think that is going to be there in the numbers it was before. So potentially that middle sector has more of an ability to stretch its offering, its price point, and its distancing. It doesn’t mean it will be out of the water, just maybe more resilient than the other two.” In terms of the furlough scheme, Barber was a strong advocate of a flexible approach. He said: “I felt the switch on was going to be a lot harder than the switch off. I still think that. A transitional, flexible furlough scheme was something I thought was going to be absolutely critical and I am pleased the government has brought that forward to 1 July. But I am still concerned about the behavioural changes that have happened during this period. All of us have had a much more flexible working arrangement and the idea of everyone flocking back into offices five days a week as soon as you are allowed to, I can’t see happening. I think there is a lot of fear left in the economy about going out to restaurants. I think there will be a spike in demand straight after restaurants reopen, but I think that will be short-lived. So, people will have to cope with a different model for restaurants than the one that has been sweated out for the past 20 years or so.” Barber will share more of his thoughts in the video, which will be released on Monday (8 June). Meanwhile, readers can support independent sector journalism and get their news 12 hours early (at 7pm each night) with a Propel Premium subscription. It costs £395 plus VAT per annum for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers. Email to sign up.

PM seeks to relax two-metre rule to save hospitality jobs: Boris Johnson is pushing to reduce social distancing from two metres to one metre under plans to accelerate the reopening of the economy after he was warned millions of jobs could be lost. The Sunday Times stated: “Johnson is believed to be keen to slash the distancing rule if the science shows it is safe to do so. A group of six senior ministers – dubbed the ‘Save Summer Six’ – has been set up to figure out how to get the UK back to something approaching normal life by July. The group believes changing the social distancing rule is the key to restarting the economy and if two metres remains the standard it will prevent many businesses from being able to reopen. Business secretary Alok Sharma reportedly told Johnson in a meeting last week if the hospitality sector is unable to get back up and running it could cost millions of jobs, prompting the prime minister to blurt out: ‘Christ!’ As a result Johnson is believed to have resolved during a meeting with chancellor Rishi Sunak on Friday (5 June) to quicken the easing of lock-down, with one cabinet source saying Johnson wants the country to be ‘back to normal’, or as near as possible to it, by the summer.” 
Pubs set to lose equivalent of 200 million visits over next six months: Customers intend to visit pubs about 12% less often – the equivalent of about 200 million visits by regular pub-goers over the next six months, according to new research. The study into understanding the future behaviour and attitudes of UK pub customers by KAM Media, in association with the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII), found Generation Z and younger millennials in particular were keen for pubs to reopen. A third of people aged between 18 and 34 have said they expect to visit pubs more often after lock-down than they did before. A total of 52% of respondents aged between 18 and 34 said they plan to visit a pub at least once a week when lock-down measures lift. But only 6% of those aged 55 and above said they would visit a pub more often. A total of 48% of respondents said they intend to visit city centre pubs less often. Pub goers said the reasons they will visit will change slightly too. Pubs are likely to see fewer business meetings and remote working – at least to begin with – and live sport in pubs is another key area that will be negatively impacted. KAM Media managing director Katy Moses said: “There is definitely a significant group of younger customers who will be relieved when pubs finally reopen their doors, which is cause to celebrate! However, overall the pub industry is going to have to work hard to gain their customers’ confidence. It’s no surprise older customers are generally much more cautious. And for many younger customers, financial concerns will impact whether they choose to spend money on eating and drinking out.” BII chief executive Steve Alton said: “We have no doubt our members will adapt their approach to ensure the safety of their customers and teams is balanced with a great pub experience.”
KAM Media is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member
McVeigh launches petition to support sector reopening as part of new grass roots campaign: Charlie McVeigh, the founder of Draft House, has launched his grass roots campaign that celebrates the nation’s love of pubs and pints, and promotes a swift and safe return to restaurants and drinking venues. #ProjectPint features a centrepiece petition asking the government to “Free the Pint” – to allow all eating and drinking venues to reopen, and to take care of their customers, while adhering to social distancing. The key asks of government are to have Britain's pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants back – like they were – as soon as possible, when it’s safe; allow the 3.2 million people in the industry to keep their jobs and play their part in rebuilding communities and restoring the economy to health; and to let hospitality operators do what they are best at – running their sites while keeping customers and staff safe. Of equal importance, under the banner “Let the Pint People Speak”, #ProjectPint will be giving a voice to everyone who misses their community pub or neighbourhood bar, and will encourage them to tell their stories on the campaign’s social feeds, using the hashtags #ProjectPint and #FreeThePint. #Project Pint also aims to combat the “Fear of Going Out”, which pub operators say is one the key threats to the sustainable relaunch of community venues. The campaign has the support of breweries and hospitality operators, as well as UKHospitality. McVeigh said: “With the forced closure of our community pubs, bars, restaurants and clubs we have lost something incalculable from British daily life. It is essential we get them back open absolutely as soon as it is safe, to start to repair the immense social and economic damage caused by coronavirus and lock-down.” The petition can be found here.
Scottish hotels showing ‘muted demand’ in summer months as cancellations still outpacing bookings: Hotels in Scottish cities are showing muted demand during the summer months with cancellations still outpacing bookings, according to the latest data from STR. Forward looking data revealed Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow are looking “quiet” during the summer months even though hotels are expected to reopen, with Aberdeen showing no business on the books during January, February and March 2021. STR director Thomas Emanuel said: “We can see there is some stronger business on the books for Edinburgh and Glasgow from August through to November but cancellations are still outpacing bookings at the moment. The decline in Aberdeen is down to corporate cancellations. In Edinburgh and Glasgow, the rate of cancellations is slowing.” In Scotland, 24 hotel projects have been deferred since the start of 2020 while nine have been abandoned, but Emanuel said the country still had a “robust” pipeline. Meanwhile, across the UK, occupancy remained static in the week ending 31 May, at about 30% on weekdays and 20% at weekends. In May, occupancy in Britain stood at 24%, with some cities seeing small increases compared with April. The highest occupancy rate during the month was in Glasgow, at 39%, with the lowest in Manchester, at 18%. Emanuel said he believed occupancy rates had now hit the bottom “and the only way was up”. Revpar also saw “very little change” in performance, with declines during the week ending 31 May of between 79% and 89%. Average daily rate declines softened slightly during the period – down 39% year-on-year, but there are still no signs of recovery, said Emanuel.
Ireland to reopen pubs early: Pubs that serve food in the Republic of Ireland can reopen with table service only from 29 June, it has been confirmed. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Ireland is accelerating the roadmap and there would now only be four phases, instead of five. The decision is a major fast-tracking for most pubs that were looking at a date of 10 August before they could reopen. Varadkar told the Irish Mirror the reopening would apply to “pubs and bars that can operate as if they were restaurants, but they won’t need to have a restaurant licence though”. On the other side of the border, Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said “urgent” action was required from Stormont and described it as “ludicrous” how on the same day it would be possible someone could purchase a pint of beer in a bar in Ballina but not in Belfast. “With the government in the Irish Republic announcing it is bringing forward its dates for when retail and hospitality can reopen, the Northern Ireland executive urgently needs to follow suit,” said Neill. “Our local retail and hospitality sectors have now had their doors shut for almost three months to help stop the spread of covid-19 with costs still rising and no income in their tills.”

Travelodge writes to customers inviting them to vote on CVA: The Sunday Times has reported Travelodge has been accused of driving “an oil tanker through centuries of property legislation” by using a “loophole” to let customers vote on a restructuring that will damage landlords. The newspaper said: “The budget hotel chain, which has 564 sites in the UK, is desperate to stop property owners voting down a proposed company voluntary arrangement (CVA), an insolvency process through which tenants can cut costs. It has written to customers who have bookings – and so are technically creditors – inviting them to vote. Under the plan, landlords would forgo £144m in rent. Travelodge’s owners, hedge funds Avenue Capital Group and GoldenTree Asset Management and investment bank Goldman Sachs, would inject £40m and make £100m of reserves available.”

Company News:

Revolution Bars Group raises £15m, identifies trial sites for reopening: Revolution Bars Group, the operator of 74 bars trading under the Revolution and ‘Revolución de Cuba brands, has raised £15m to resume its refurbishment programme and “take advantage of opportunities that may arise in the near term”. A total of 75,017,495 new ordinary shares are to be issued at a price of 20p per share following the placing and open offer. Directors of the company subscribed to a total of 660,000 shares in the placing. Revolution Bars Group also plans to delist from the main stock market and move to AIM. Chief executive Rob Pitcher said: “The fund-raising will ensure Revolution Bars Group has a more appropriate capital structure as we emerge from this uncertain period and will allow the group to resume its successful refurbishment programme and take advantage of potential opportunities which may arise in the near term. We are now focused on reopening our bars, when safe to do so, to meet the pent-up demand from our young customer base and get back to creating fun and memorable experiences for our guests and our teams to return Revolution Bars Group to growth.” According to an email to staff seen by the Manchester Evening News, Revolution Bars Group is set to trial reopenings at its Revolución de Cuba outlets in Manchester and Derby and its eponymous sites in Bristol, Brighton, Huddersfield and Liverpool. The email reportedly said it would “help the group to test new procedures and policies put in place to operate safely in a covid-19 world”. The sites will have safety measures including screens, personal protective equipment for staff, hand sanitising stations, disposable menus and would be cashless. Although the email to staff suggests a July reopening could be on the cards, Revolution Bars Group has said its current “base scenario” is to reopen in August. Due to social distancing restrictions, its August sales are estimated to be about 55% of the same month in 2019.
McDonald's to add delivery at 500 sites this week: McDonald's is to add delivery back at more than 500 sites this week. UK chief executive Paul Pomroy said in a letter to customers: “We will switch McDelivery back on in more than 500 restaurants, with the help of our delivery partners UberEats and Just Eat. As with our drive-thru operations, it might take a little longer. We expect demand to once again be high and both of these factors might impact service times. But I know you'll continue to show the patience we've seen and I thank you again for your understanding. We are working hard behind the scenes to open for longer and offer more services. I hope within a few weeks we will be able to start trialling breakfast service. Please continue to bear with us. Employee safety remains my top priority and we will only move forward with new services and menu items when we're confident we can do so while still enabling a safe working environment. Adjusting to our new safety and well-being procedures is our top priority, but it isn't easy, and I am particularly grateful to the patience and kindness you have shown our employees as we get used to the 'new normal' at McDonald's. Smaller teams, limited menu, reduced hours, face coverings and Perspex screens have all impacted how we do our jobs – but these measures are there to help keep our teams and our franchisees' teams safe.”
Leon appoints MD for Feed Britain service: Natural fast food brand Leon has appointed Laura Riches as the new managing director of its online delivery service Feed Britain, Propel has learned. Riches was previously at Naked Wines, where she was marketing director. The company, which has been offering the delivery service inside the M25, extended it to Brighton and Oxford last month. The service offers a range of boxes containing “essential grocery items as well as restaurant quality meals” while also giving a helping hand to the catering industry. The company said Feed Britain provides a route to market for suppliers whose revenues have been severely impacted by coronavirus. Up until this point the initiative came under the remit of Leon UK managing director Shereen Ritchie. However, Ritchie’s focus is believed to have moved to looking after reopening more parts of the brand’s core estate. Last week the company reopened a further five sites, to take its opened estate to 21. It also launched a menu with 15 new dishes, saying it was its “most affordable menu ever”, with no dish above £5.95. It also reduced its breakfast meal deal to £4.50.
Island Poké begins expansion into Europe: Island Poké, the White Rabbit Fund-backed concept, will begin its expansion into Europe this week, with the opening of its first site in Paris. The company, which announced plans to become the key consolidator in the European poké market earlier this year, opens a site in Rue Saint-Honoré in the 1st arrondissement of the French capital on Monday (8 June). It is also on-site for a second opening in France, in Montpelier. Under a new joint venture agreement, the company plans to open 42 sites in the next five years in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland, with the majority of sites in France. The James Porter-led business plans to open 13 sites in the first year under the new agreement, ten in the second and 12 in the third. The company, which has yet to reopen any of its eight sites in London, launched a DIY home kit at the start of last month.

Columbo Group lines up Manchester opening: The Columbo Group, led by Steve Ball and Riz Shaik, has lined up the first regional opening for its The Blues Kitchen concept, in Manchester. Propel has learned the company has secured the former Walkabout site in Quay Street, in the Deansgate area of the city. Columbo Group, which was founded in 2006, currently operates three sites under the bar, restaurant and live music concept – in Camden, Brixton and Shoreditch. The company’s other London-based venues include the Jazz Café, XOYO, Phonox, The Old Queens Head and The Camden Assembly. Nick Garston, of the Found Agency, acted for Columbo Group on the Manchester deal.

Wagamama ‘not in a race’ to reopen rapidly: Emma Woods, chief executive of The Restaurant Group (TRG)-owned Wagamama, has said it is “not in a race” with its rivals to reopen restaurants rapidly, stressing diners will only be welcomed to dine in restaurants when it is “absolutely safe”. Woods said Wagamama was working towards July for the first reopenings but stressed its schedule will be dictated by “safety and feedback from staff and customers”. “It’s important to be clear that this is not a race,” she told PA. “Our priority has been safety throughout this process and that won’t change. Like our delivery operations, we’d expect to start a small trial and open in a phased way but don’t want to have false start by rushing. We hope all Wagamamas will be open in the next six or nine months but it is very early days.” She also said not all sites would be able to reopen under current two-metre social distancing guidelines, with a small number of restaurants “too small”. However, Woods said she was “encouraged” the government has started to talk about the possibility of one-metre distancing, in line with the World Health Organisation. Woods spoke as Wagamama launched a click-and-collect service and also plans to expand its delivery operations to 100 restaurants nationwide. Last month Wagamama announced plans to reopen 67 sites nationwide for delivery after shutting all its restaurants in March due to the lock-down. The company said click-and-collect was available at all the reopened sites and would expand to 18 more outlets on Thursday (11 June) and another 15 sites by the end of July. Customers are able to pre-order and select a collection time to avoid a queue at the restaurant by using the click-and-collect service. All of its the delivery and collection sites operate daily with reduced opening hours of 4pm to 9.30pm. On Sunday (7 June) Propel revealed TRG has begun negotiations with landlords regarding the future of its circa 290-strong leisure division, with a company voluntary arrangement believed to be one of a number of options being looked at. Wagamama, TRG’s airport concessions business and Brunning & Price are not affected by the discussions.
West Berkshire Brewery hits £750,000 target on Seedrs: West Berkshire Brewery, the David Bruce-chaired group, has fulfilled a £750,000 fund-raise on crowdfunding platform Seedrs to support its growth, including an “ambitious plan” for the Maverick Pubs portfolio. The company is offering 9.35% equity in return for the investment, giving the business a pre-money valuation of £7.27m. Propel understands the company had seen revenue increase to £6m-plus before the coronavirus pandemic hit, with revenue collapsing 85% by the end of March. However, it is understood the business has subsequently managed to recover, mainly through online beer sales and through packaging work from other bigger regional brewers. The company is now thought to be doing 65% of pre-coronavirus sales without any pubs being open, which accounted for most of its revenue, and without its own pubs and brewery bar.
Rare Restaurants reopens Gaucho in Richmond for delivery and click-and-collect, booking lines back for all sites: Rare Restaurants – the Investec and SC Lowy-backed parent company of Gaucho and M Restaurants – has reopened its Gaucho site in Richmond, south west London. It is the fourth Rare Restaurant outlet to reopen and is offering delivery through Deliveroo and UberEats as well as click-and-collect. As well as offering its classic menu, the site will be trialling “some new grab-and-go items as well soon”. Both Gaucho and M Restaurants have opened their booking lines with the company hoping to open in a month’s time, on 4 July. The group said it has been working hard to implement new safety measures and has introduced new reduced contact “mindful dining” service standards across all Gaucho and M Restaurants. Mindful Dining will see in-restaurant social distancing measures enforced, along with offering reduced contact. The company is also introducing “service distancing” for guests who would like a no contact service when visiting the restaurants. Additional measures include foot-powered hand sanitisers at the door, and temperature checks and face masks for staff, who will change into uniforms only once they arrive. Leather-bound menus will be replaced by disposable ones and salt and pepper shakers will be available in sachets on request. All restaurants will be reduced by 30% in capacity. Despite the changes, chief executive Martin Williams said he was confident people have missed the hospitality industry and restaurants would be busy, which Gaucho and M Restaurants are prepared for and able to accommodate.

Crieff Hydro announces redundancy risk for 241 employees: Scottish independent hospitality company Crieff Hydro has announced 241 jobs are at risk of redundancy from the start of August. The company is reportedly planning on cutting more than a quarter of its workforce across its seven hotels. Chief executive Stephen Leckie said a consultation was under way with his employees, and the final number of redundancies could change depending on further support for the hospitality industry and how the lock-down restrictions currently in place are eased. The company had taken steps in an attempt to reduce costs, and has been using the UK government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. But revenue lost during the closure of its hotels during the coronavirus outbreak is expected to amount to £17m in the current financial year. Leckie said: "For every month we've been closed with zero income, we've had to pay £500,000 just to keep our buildings safe and secure. This would have a profound effect on any business. When we closed at the end of March, it was one of the darkest days in our 150-year history and this is another. As a family-run business built on the strength of our people, discussing potential redundancies is the toughest step we've ever had to consider.”
Coqfighter launches burger concept: Chicken and beer concept Coqfighter has launched burger concept Goodburger. The concept has initially opened for delivery from the company’s new outlet in Brockley, south east London, but plans are in place for dine-in once lock-down restrictions are lifted. Known for their fried chicken outlets, founders Troy Sawyer, Deacon Rose and Tristan Clough have now expanded into beef at the premises in Coulgate Street. The menu includes a cheeseburger, bacon cheeseburger, green chilli burger, blue cheese burger as well as chicken salt fries. The site is also offering the traditional Coqfighter menu. Coqfighter operates a restaurant in Soho and has outlets at the Boxpark sites in Croydon and Shoreditch. Since the pandemic hit, Coqfighter has shut them all and is instead running deliveries from commercial kitchens in Finsbury Park, Hackney Wick and Shoreditch. Originally from Melbourne in Australia, Sawyer, Rose and Clough moved to London in 2013 and launched Coqfighter in 2015 as a pop-up in The Star By Hackney Downs. From there they moved on to pop-ups and residencies in pubs across London before opening their own sites.
Goodbody – Whitbread well placed to help wider hotel market recover after lock-down: Goodbody leisure analyst Paul Ruddy has argued Whitbread is well placed to help the wider hotel market recover after lock-down. He said: “Whitbread was arguably one of the few leisure stocks that looked healthy from a liquidity position as we moved through the coronavirus crisis. As such, it was somewhat surprising to see the group undertake a £1bn rights issue alongside its full-year results, though the equity raise is solving for leverage not liquidity. The rights will essentially ensure Whitbread will emerge from the current crisis in ‘the strongest possible position’ and will allow it to take advantage of the structural opportunities that it sees in UK and Germany. Overall, Premier Inn looks well placed to partake in the recovery relative to the wider hotel market.”
Six Shepherd Cox hotels put into administration after failing investors: Six hotels belonging to property company Shepherd Cox have been placed into administration after investors became concerned about their returns. Shepherd Cox operates a range of properties around the country. The six hotels – in Bicester, Chesterfield, Darlington, Hartlepool, Manchester and Sedgefield – called in administrators from Quantuma earlier this month. Each of the Shepherd Cox companies is a special purpose vehicle (SPV) that owns a hotel and sold hotel rooms to investors with the promise of a guaranteed fixed return. The SPVs were unable to meet these guaranteed payments and were held by the High Court to all be insolvent. Law firm Crowell & Moring has been appointed to the case. Partner Paul Muscutt said: “The ruling of the Insolvency and Companies Court is the right result for the investors who can now begin to get answers in relation to the management and running of their investments. In the next phase, our team will be advising the administrators in investigating the affairs of the companies and the directors and realising assets to maximise returns to the creditors.”
Michelin-starred Fitzrovia restaurant Pied à Terre launches ‘vegan feast’ delivery service: Michelin-starred restaurant Pied à Terre in Fitzrovia, central London, has launched a “vegan feast” delivery service. Owner David Moore is currently offering the service on Saturdays only with delivery available within a five-mile radius of the Charlotte Street site. Orders have to made by 8pm on a Friday. Collection is also available from the restaurant. The menu includes mushroom spelt risotto and coconut rice pudding with mango puree. 

Return to Archive Click Here to Return to the Archive Listing
Punch Taverns Link
Return to Archive Click Here to Return to the Archive Listing
Propel Premium
Beefeater London Peach Gin Banner
Taylors of Harrogate Banner
Zonal Banner
Toggle Banner
McCain Banner
Zonal Banner
Harrogate Spring Water Banner
Restaurant Collective Banner
Heineken Banner
Nordic Spirit Banner
Sky Banner
Trail Banner
Cawston Press Banner
Hellmann's Banner
Camile Banner
Pepper Banner
Heineken Banner
Bizimply Banner
Arch2Order Banner
Stint Banner
Fentimans Banner
COREcruitment Banner
KAM Media Banner
Access Banner
Startle Banner
Cynergy Bank Banner
Pago Banner
Veneers Banner
Wireless Social Banner
John Gaunt Banner
Punch Taverns Link Punch Taverns Link
Pepper Banner