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Mon 27th Jul 2020 - Propel Monday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

We Hear You campaign finds 94% of consumers happy with new pub and restaurant safety measures: The We Hear You initiative, launched earlier this month by restaurant intelligence platform Yumpingo and CGA and backed by UKHospitality, has reported 94% of respondents who have visited pubs, restaurants and bars in England since lock-down eased were satisfied with their visit and safety precautions, while 96% were happy to recommend the venue they visited to friends and family. Almost two-thirds (65%) of respondents had visited more than one venue since the 4 July reopening and, from the 4,866 customers who provided feedback, more than half (52%) felt their experience wasn’t compromised by safety precautions. Of those that felt their experience was compromised, 88% understood the precautions were necessary, while almost half (48%) admitted the experience felt “different”. Operators’ safety measures are an important factor when it comes to consumer confidence, with more than three-quarters (77%) stating they considered safety measures before visiting a venue, while almost half admitted to pre-visit nerves. The majority of those who have dined out stuck to places they know well, with only 14% trying new venues. However, 91% said their overall experience made them feel reassured enough to visit again. The free We Hear You initiative allows real-time monitoring of customer sentiment in a number of ways including QR codes or integration with Wi-Fi and order and pay platforms, enabling diners to complete a one-minute review of their experience. Operators can monitor and respond to consumers regarding safety precautions and view net promoter scores at brand, store, shift and dish level. Brands participating in the scheme include YO!, Zizzi, Loungers, Robinsons, PizzaExpress and Leon. Yumpingo chief executive and founder Gary Goodman said: “We hope We Hear You will not only provide customers with a sense of confidence but also relieve some of the pressure operators across the UK face with new guidelines and rules.” Click here for more information about the We Hear You initiative. To download the full report, click here.
UKHospitality and Yumpingo are Propel BeatTheVirus campaign members

Industry News:

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Jyotin Sethi to feature in latest ‘navigating the coronavirus’ video: In the latest in Propel’s video interviews with leading operators about “navigating the coronavirus” pandemic, Mark Wingett talks to Jyotin Sethi, co-founder of JKS Restaurants, about reopening across different formats; evolving its delivery offer; future-proofing the business by exploring different revenue streams; the need to be bold; and what the government still needs to do. The video will be released on Monday (27 July). 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 anne.steele@propelinfo.com to sign up.

Consumers eager to start spending in leisure sector in third quarter: Having stayed at home for most of the second quarter of 2020, consumers are eager to start spending again in the leisure sector during the third quarter, according to the latest Deloitte Consumer Tracker. UK consumers’ more positive mood follows a record decline in consumer confidence in the first quarter of 2020. Net consumer spending intent for the third quarter is highest in the restaurant and going out categories, up quarter-on-quarter by 65 and 60 percentage points respectively. While almost one-third (31%) of consumers told Deloitte they would visit pubs and coffee shops within a month of reopening, the figure is lower for restaurants (22%), suggesting recovery in that segment may come later in the third quarter and beyond. Consumers indicated a slower recovery in the travel industry as intended spending on holidays and hotel stays, while up 38 percentage points from the first quarter, remain in negative territory (minus 3%) and have yet to reach the same level as this time last year. However, with year-on-year job security and career progression sentiment down 13 points (to minus 20%) and 21 points (to minus 22%) respectively, caution remains. Having started the year with record low unemployment rates, a separate Deloitte survey revealed 90% of chief financial officers expect a reduction in hiring during the next 12 months. Simon Oaten, partner for hospitality and leisure at Deloitte, said: “The leisure sector was among the first to be hit by the pandemic as opportunities to travel and spend on out-of-home activities were limited. Social distancing may slow recovery but, after many months at home, the jump in consumers wanting to drink out again suggests many are seeking a taste of ‘normality’. While restaurant returns may be slower, many in the leisure sector will be encouraged by incoming government initiatives that should help the industry rebound in the short term.” Deloitte surveyed 3,000 UK consumers between 19 and 23 June as some lock-down measures were lifted and non-essential shops reopened.

UKHospitality obesity regulations could be a ‘slap in the face’: UKHospitality has said it is keen to work with the government to address the issue of obesity but extra regulations and costly measures could be a “slap in the face” for the sector as it fights for survival. The call follows the government announcement of a Better Health initiative, which will include restaurant and takeaway chains having to publish the number of calories in meals. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “Menu labelling could cost as much as £40,000 per menu run for some businesses, disincentivising innovative and sustainable approaches and stifling efforts to offer exciting and healthy meals. A well-intentioned targeting of child obesity is at risk of evolving into an interventionist approach that heaps a burden on hospitality businesses when they are at their most vulnerable and fighting for survival. We are keen to work with government to address obesity but the extra regulatory and cost burdens of measures such as menu labelling couldn’t come at a worse time. Hospitality has played its part in lock-down, feeding and accommodating vulnerable people and key workers. Now, as we focus on securing jobs and helping the economy and communities to recover, a raft of costs and regulatory burdens would be a slap in the face.”
UKHospitality is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Shaftesbury chief executive – business rates review delay a ‘frustrating blow’: Brian Bickell, chief executive of landlord Shaftesbury, has said the government’s decision to delay the review of business rates is a “frustrating blow to the recovery of retail and hospitality businesses across the West End”. Bickell said: “The decision to delay may further threaten the survival of some businesses as they try to recover, and leave many more struggling for the next three years on pre-pandemic business rates, set in a very different economic environment. We know many of our occupiers are doing everything they can to attract customers and remain open despite the much-diminished footfall since the start of lock-down. As that footfall begins to come back, we also know they are working to bring back as many employees as possible and this delay by the government on business rates will only serve to put more jobs and livelihoods in our shops, bars and restaurants at risk. We continue to do everything we can for our occupiers, looking at innovative ways to help their businesses survive and recover from the deep economic impact of the pandemic. We recognise the government has provided stimulus to try to get more customers back to the retail and hospitality sectors, but we ask the government reconsiders the timings of this review and acts with urgency to change the damaging, unfair and outdated business rates structure and save as many businesses and jobs as possible.”

Number of shifts in UK hospitality sector down almost 70% on pre-lock-down levels as sector ‘limps back into life’: The number of shifts in the UK hospitality sector is still down 68.9% on pre-lock-down levels showing the industry is only limping back to life, according to analysis by income streaming provider Wagestream. Even in England, where pubs, restaurants, bars and cafes have been able to open since 4 July, the number of shifts carried out by workers is still down 58.3%. The rules on reopening have varied in Wales and Scotland. Welsh pubs, cafes and restaurants have only been able to reopen outdoors since 13 July and in Scotland they were only permitted to open indoors from 15 July. In Scotland, the number of shifts being worked is still down 73% since before lock-down. The analysis showed that in early April, when many hospitality businesses were closed and only a handful were offering takeaway and delivery services, mostly to support NHS staff, the number of shifts had dropped 98% compared with normal. Despite the gradual reopening of the sector, the number of shifts being offered to staff is only increasing at a rate of 3% per week, Wagestream said. Chief executive and co-founder Peter Briffett said: “Pubs and restaurants must stage a dramatic fightback if they are to survive but they can only do that if people are willing to get back out there and spend. We know the vast majority of pubs, bars and restaurants have moved heaven and earth to make it business as usual as far as the comfort, safety and enjoyment of guests is concerned and we really hope they are rewarded for that in the weeks to come.” Briffett added he hoped the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme would “help put the afterburners on” and drive more footfall to UK hospitality venues.

Occupancy levels at UK hotels improve slightly as leisure market shows signs of life: Occupancy levels in UK hotels improved slightly week-on week as the leisure market began to show signs of life, according to the latest data from STR. For the week ending 19 July, occupancy increased to circa 33%, compared with about 30% the previous week. Weekend occupancy increases were evident across the regions, with occupancy reaching 44% on Saturday, 18 July. London hotels saw an occupancy rate of 24% for the same date. Bournemouth saw the highest occupancy level for the week (65%), with London having the lowest (22%), which Emanuel said suggested the leisure market was beginning to return. Average daily rate showed an improvement and was down 35% compared with the previous year. STR director Thomas Emanuel said while the number was still down significantly, it was “certainly an improvement” on recent months. As a result, revpar has also shown an improvement but was down between 69% and 88% during the seven-day period. Emanuel said short-term bookings in Birmingham and Manchester were particularly picking up. Meanwhile, European hotels have seen an improvement in performance but were at an all-time low for the month of June, according to STR data. Occupancy levels were down 72.8% year-on-year, at 21.6%, while average daily rate fell 34.8% to €83.69 (£76.22) and revpar dropped 82.3% to €18.11.

Motorway service station visits surpass pre-pandemic figures but dwell times decrease: Motorway service station visits during the first week in July surpassed figures from the same period four months ago, an increase of 4.46%, according to a study by management and technology company GroupNexus. However, dwell time decreased 14% to 30 minutes compared with the week commencing 16 March. The most visits took place between midday and 2pm. Highlights from the report include visitor numbers rising 55% between 15 June and 4 July in the south west as the second wave of restrictions eased, suggesting people are in search of more rural locations amid increased demand for staycations.  Service stations in Scotland were 31% busier and those in Wales 35% during the same period. Total visit numbers in the week following Super Saturday were higher but dominated by budget, mid-range and family cars, perhaps motivated by the ability to dine out or grab a bite to eat while shopping, the company said. GroupNexus director Elli Morris said: “The pent-up frustration from lock-down seems to have led to an increase in footfall to ‘holiday’ locations, heralding the rise of the staycation. This surge in visitors will help boost local businesses but, while people are returning to a post-pandemic world, we have also learned there is apprehension and the public are proceeding with caution. We are working with our clients on some new technology initiatives that will assist them in managing increased queues and social distancing measures.”

Wet-led pubs in Northern Ireland set to reopen on 10 August: Wet-led pubs in Northern Ireland are to be allowed to reopen on Monday, 10 August. The move has been welcomed by Hospitality Ulster, which said it had “brought a sense of relief” to publicans across the country and would give them a “fighting chance” to save their businesses. However, the trade body said the industry was still worried about profitability because of social distancing restrictions. A statement from the Northern Ireland executive said: “The executive has agreed an indicative date of 10 August for the reopening of indoor pubs and bars selling only drink (wet-led pubs). This relaxation will be ratified in advance of the indicative date depending on the prevailing covid-19 situation at that time.” Hotels, restaurants, food-led pubs and beer gardens have been open since the beginning of July. Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neil said: “While we would have liked an earlier date, it is welcome news our wet-led pubs finally have a date for reopening. We know reopening will be the first step in a very long journey back to normality. After months with no custom or income and a growing number of bills, the financial viability of many of these pubs is at risk and they will require ongoing support in the time ahead.”

Perth pub brings back karaoke by installing shower cubicle: The Half A Tanner pub in Perth, Scotland, has installed a full-size shower cubicle so it can resume karaoke nights. Karaoke has been off the menu in UK pubs since the coronavirus outbreak, with loud volume and singing banned. However, the shower cubicle allows people to sing along to their favourite hits safely as punters in the bar listen to their efforts via headphones, like a silent disco, while watching on television screens. Singers taking part are given disposable microphone covers, while disinfectant is blasted through the cubicle to keep it clean. A pub spokesman told the Evening Telegraph: “We were trying to think how we could bring karaoke back safely. At the moment we can’t have any loud volume because of the risk of projecting covid-19 particles – we can’t have loud music or people singing and shouting. We thought ‘everyone likes to sing in the shower’ so we brought in a full-size shower cubicle that’s all kitted out with a television screen and silent disco kit. That way we can still do karaoke in a fun and safe way. We have been inundated with messages from people asking to book the cubicle.

Job of the day: COREcruitment is looking for a sales executive, based in west London, to work for a luxury resort and spa business. This Monday to Friday position will include the responsibility of representing, promoting and actively selling the resort’s facilities to holidaymakers and business clientele. The five-star resort is based in Cyprus and has an excellent reputation. The ideal candidate will have a genuine passionate for hospitality, hotels and tourism and have extensive hospitality sales experience. The salary is up to £35,000 plus a great bonus. Interviews will begin during the coming weeks and anyone interested can email their CV to tyronschreuder@corecruitment.com
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Company News:

Oakman Inns sees like-for-like sales up 20% after launching version of Eat Out To Help Out: Oakman Inns and Restaurants said it has seen like-for-like sales up 20% year-on-year since the company launched its own version of the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme earlier this week. Oakman’s vouchers are available until Wednesday, 29 July and, like the government scheme, are valid from Monday to Wednesday. The vouchers entitle customers to 50% off food and non-alcoholic drinks up to a maximum value of £10 per person. The chancellor’s initiative doesn’t start until August. When Oakman launched its scheme, chief executive Dermot King said: “Frankly, we thought we all needed a bit of cheering up ahead of August. With prospects of good weather and some lovely pub gardens to visit, this is our way of thanking our friends and loyal regulars for supporting us since we reopened.” As well as the 20% spike in the past week, King told the Guardian the company had seen like-for-like sales up year-on-year since it reopened its 28-strong estate. He said: “With social distancing issues – reduced capacity and no standing at the bar, for instance – we expected to take a hit but like-for-like sales for the first two-and-a-bit weeks were between 3% and 4% up on last year.” King said the six-month VAT cut on food and soft drinks had helped offset pandemic-related costs, with money left over for offers to tempt customers. 

Stonegate sells £1.2bn of bonds to finance Ei Group deal: Stonegate Pub Company sold £1.2bn of bonds on Friday (24 July) to partly finance its £3bn acquisition of Ei Group. According to the FT the financing package, which consisted of five-year sterling and euro tranches worth £950m and €300m respectively, marked one of the biggest sterling-denominated “junk” bond deals ever. Stonegate paid relatively high rates of interest compared with recent debt deals in a sign of investors’ caution about an industry that has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. The sterling bond maturing in 2025 offered investors a coupon of 8.25% while the floating-rate euro notes also maturing in 2025 priced at 93 cents on the euro. A banker on the deal said Stonegate was paying so much because drinking in pubs was an “indoor activity”, meaning the businesses were at greater risk of shutdown if coronavirus cases re-emerged. “Investors would want to be compensated for potential volatility,” the banker said. The banker also noted most of the deal wasn’t in euros but in sterling – a smaller, less liquid bond market in which investors tend to demand higher returns as compensation. Stonegate, which is backed by private equity firm TDR Capital, agreed a £3bn takeover of Ei Group in July 2019. It finalised the deal in March, weeks before the government ordered pubs to close to reduce the spread of coronavirus. The group is hampered by a “lack of visibility of how things are going to play out”, Helen Rodriguez, senior analyst at credit research firm CreditSights, told the FT. She added that while “local community pubs in small towns” were likely to return to normal levels of activity, the “vulnerability to Stonegate is bars in city centres where offices aren’t being used”. The debt is secured against the equity of subsidiaries that hold the group’s pubs – a feature that has reassured some investors. “The commercial property backing gives me a bit of comfort,” one said. “You can always sell some of these properties.” Together, Stonegate and Ei Group have 4,749 sites across the UK. Almost 80% of Stonegate’s managed venues were trading by 19 July, according to an investor presentation that also valued the company’s assets at £4.1bn. Stonegate declined to comment.

Creams reports record sales driven by delivery: Dessert parlour operator Creams, which has 88 sites in the UK, has reported record sales for the 52-week period ended 31 March 2020. FY20 group system sales increased 3% to £43.4m, compared with £42.0m the previous year, against a backdrop of “challenging trading conditions in the rest of the UK casual dining market and the severe impact of covid-19 on trading during the final month of the year”. Delivery sales through Deliveroo, Just Eat and UberEats grew to represent 24% of group system sales in FY20, compared with 14% the year before. Regarding current trading, Creams reported a 67% increase in delivery sales for the year to date supported by new marketing campaigns and an exclusive brand partnership with The Cheesecake Factory. June 2020 group system sales increased 103% compared with April 2020 following the gradual reopening of the majority of the brand’s stores. Creams also reported a 132% increase in order volumes in June 2020, compared with April 2020. It said several cafes were recording “outstanding like-for-like sales growth” despite being closed to dine-in customers during lock-down. Two Creams stores are due to open, in London’s Old Street and Morden. Last week Creams marketing director Lauren Haslewood told Propel the sites would offer a new format aimed at grab-and-go and delivery and offer a limited menu. The company said it had a further five openings scheduled for the next few months. In its financial report the company said it would continue to “develop its people and invest in technology and infrastructure to drive order volume and provide a strong platform for growth”. The brand said it would also advance plans for international expansion. Eight new Creams Cafes opened during the financial year, while the brand welcomed 4.3 million customers during the period and rolled-out a new savoury range. Creams chief executive Adam Mani said: “Even with the impact of covid-19 the brand has experienced exceptional sales and growth. This is testament to the hard work and passion of our team and franchisees. Even during lock-down we continued to innovate our product line while developing a robust delivery offer. We are very well placed to enhance our reputation as the leading dessert cafe brand.”

McDonald’s mandates face masks in the US, delays dine-in: McDonald’s has said it will require customers to wear face coverings when they enter its US restaurants as the number of new virus cases continued to surge in many states. The move will come into effect on Saturday, 1 August. McDonald’s joins a number of operators in the US to make face coverings mandatory – Starbucks has issued a mask mandate for customers who visit its company-owned locations, while other major retailers include Walmart, Target and Kohl’s, Reuters reports. McDonald’s said more than four-fifths (82%) of its restaurants were in states or localities that required facial masks for employees and customers. A joint statement from McDonald’s USA president Joe Erlinger and Mark Salebra, chairman of the National Franchise Leadership Alliance, said: “It is important we protect the safety of all employees and customers.” Erlinger and Salebra also said in cases where customers declined to wear masks it would put “additional procedures” in place to “take care of them in a friendly, expedited way”. Meanwhile, McDonald’s said it would delay reopening its venues for dine-in for another 30 days. It is also adding protective panels in the back and front of restaurants to help with social distancing. On Wednesday (22 July), McDonald’s reopened circa 700 restaurants in the UK for dine-in in a move that will allow some of its venues to take part in the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme. The company also announced price reductions on select menu items due to the temporary VAT cut. McDonald’s had already reopened UK sites for drive-thru and takeaway. 

Tossed trading subsidiary appoints administrators: Zest Food, the trading subsidiary of healthy eating brands Tossed and Vital Ingredient, has appointed Simon Bonney and Michael Kiely, of business advisory firm Quantuma, as joint administrators. All the company’s 260 staff have been made redundant and Quantuma will work with Zest Food’s directors in the coming weeks to find a buyer for the business’ assets. Founded in 2004, Zest Food operated 20 central London sites, trading as Tossed in 14 of them. In March 2018, the group acquired Vital Ingredient with the aim to create “one of the largest healthiest eating groups in the UK”. The group reported a turnover of £17.9m in the year to 31 March 2019. Following a period of closure triggered by the pandemic, Zest Food reopened four stores in June on a trial basis, which later closed because of insufficient trade. Quantuma partner Simon Bonney said: “Now is a very challenging time for hospitality businesses in London, especially for food establishments that rely heavily on walk-in sales. Despite Zest Food’s considerable efforts to assess all options, including restarting its operations, the directors took the difficult decision to close again and lay off all 260 of its workforce. In the coming weeks, our primary focus will be to ensure we work closely with the board to find a suitable buyer for the company’s assets.” In December, Zest Food’s creditors approved its company voluntary arrangement. At the time the company said the Tossed-branded stores remained in growth despite “market difficulties, systemic cost inflation and macro uncertainties”. However, the Vital Ingredient stores had traded “significantly below expectations” since their acquisition, which led to an “unavoidable” restructuring of the whole company.

Nando’s to trial feeding chickens algae and insects in eco push: South African restaurant chain Nando’s plans to feed its chickens algae and insects as part of efforts to sharply reduce its carbon emissions in the next decade. The FT reports the brand, which operates 930 outlets worldwide, will look at alternative sources of chicken feed to reduce its reliance on soy, which is the second-biggest contributor to global deforestation after the beef industry. The plan is part of a range of measures Nando’s will announce for its UK and Irish division on Monday (27 July) to cut direct carbon emissions from the business to zero and halve the carbon footprint of the average meal in its restaurants by 2030. Colin Hill, chief executive of Nando’s UK and Ireland, said: “We are launching ambitious commitments that will set a strong example for what our industry can do to make a genuine difference.” He said Nando’s would be the first in the restaurant sector to combine “improvements in environmental sustainability with animal welfare” – something that’s difficult to achieve as higher-welfare animals live longer and therefore consume more feed, increasing their overall carbon footprint. Other ways Nando’s is looking at reducing the carbon impact of chicken feed include changing to a more sustainable method of wheat production, known as agro-ecological growing, and sourcing more sustainable soy. It also plans to increase its range of vegan options, use slower growing – and therefore healthier – chickens and source all its gas from renewable sources by 2022. Nando’s said menu prices wouldn’t increase as a result of the changes, nor would it switch any of its suppliers.

Ramsay – below-average restaurants will ‘fall by the wayside’: High-profile chef Gordon Ramsay has said below-average restaurants are going to fall by the wayside while coronavirus will also “flush away the unwanted” operators. “What’s going to happen is the good are going to survive and the below average are going to fall to the wayside,” Ramsay said in a BBC podcast with fitness coach Joe Wicks. Ramsay said: “I think these are exciting times because it has flushed away the unwanted. These are very testing times – but this isn’t about making money, this is about giving your staff and customers confidence you’re backing them. We’ve got a tough corner to turn with the restaurants reopening – a lot of anxiety – so there’s a lot to play for and that’s what keeps me on my toes. I have always dealt with things head on. When you let things sit and fester the situation becomes ten times more serious.”

Positive response to reopening gives Flat Iron confidence to push on: Flat Iron, the nine-strong “single steak” dining concept backed by private equity firm Piper, will reopen its second site this week following a positive response from consumers to the reopening of its London Bridge restaurant earlier this month. The Jo Fleet-led company said the response from consumers to the reopening of its Tolley Street site had given it confidence to reopen another. On Tuesday (28 July), the business will reopen its site in Commercial Street, opposite Spitalfields market. The business is also set to take part in the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme. The company said any of its restaurants that reopened in August would also take part in the scheme.

Bitters ‘n’ Twisted Venues closes two Birmingham sites: Birmingham-based multi-site operator Bitters ‘n’ Twisted Venues has shut two of its sites in the city. The company has closed cocktail bar Island Bar in Suffolk Street and Buffalo & Rye restaurant in Bennetts Hill. Established in 2006, Island Bar was dubbed “Birmingham’s original cocktail bar”. The venue stated on its website: “It is with great sadness and disappointment we have decided to close Island Bar after almost 14 years of cocktail fun and games. The reasons are obvious, with the coronavirus pandemic destroying most of our business but also due to the lack of landlord support we received, which has meant the situation has been exacerbated and sadly we don’t currently see any light at the end of the tunnel. We hope to continue to welcome you at our other Bitters ‘n’ Twisted venues once they open in August.” Founder Matt Scriven told Propel the company had also shut Buffalo & Rye with the decision being “more about the size of the restaurant as the lease comes to an end”. Bitters ‘n’ Twisted Venues’ other sites in Birmingham include The Victoria and The Jekyll & Hyde. It also operates Bodega Cantina sites in Birmingham, Leicester and Worcester.

Chipotle to ‘experiment’ with raising prices on third-party delivery apps: Chipotle is to “experiment” with raising prices on third-party delivery apps. Speaking on an earnings call, chief financial officer Jack Hartung said the company planned to test increasing prices on delivery orders from aggregator sites to learn how consumers might respond. Tests will begin this quarter with a more formal roll-out in the fourth quarter. “Similar to what many of our peers are already doing, we’re about to experiment with delivery menu prices as a way to potentially help offset delivery fee headwinds,” Hartung said. A spokeswoman told Nation’s Restaurant News the test would include a “modest” price hike to “potentially help offset some of the fees we are seeing from the increase in delivery”. The test applies only to menu prices on third-party aggregator apps, where commission fees can run as high as 30%. The spokeswoman said the company would test various price increases in different markets to see what resonated with consumers. During the pandemic, Chipotle added UberEats and Grubhub as delivery partners. Before the crisis, the company had only worked with Postmates and DoorDash. Chipotle’s decision comes as it continues to see digital sales surge. For the second quarter ended 30 June, digital sales increased 216.3% to $829m. That broke the previous quarter’s record of $372m. Digital sales accounted for 60.7% of sales. Digital sales are almost equally split between order-ahead and delivery, Chipotle said.

Qoot to extend Eat Out To Help Out scheme until end of September: Qoot Restaurant Group, which operates a number of fast-growing brands in London, will extend the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme by an extra month. Plant-based brand By Chloe, The Lebanese Bakery and Dominique Ansel Bakery will all take part, with guests able to claim a 50% discount, up to £10, on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday until 30 September. Scot Turner, Qoot Restaurant Group vice-president of operations, said: “The initiative has come at a welcome time for the industry. Building consumer confidence at a time when we know there’s still a lot of uncertainty can only be a positive. As a group we have taken a lot of steps to ensure our restaurant and dine-in environments are as safe as possible for our staff and guests. We have extended the discount scheme until the end of September to show our commitment to our guests. We hope consumers take full advantage and show their support to keep our beloved industry alive.” All three brands will also continue to offer 50% off for NHS and other key workers. Qoot has opened a number of new delivery kitchens in recent months, including for its recently launched Vegan Dough Co concept. The business continues it plans for expansion through its existing portfolio of brands with new openings planned for the final quarter of the year. These include international brands from within its portfolio that will make their debut in the capital such as Kuwait chef Ahmed Al Bader’s hot sandwich concept 77 Josper Bar.

Corbin & King to reopen Bellanger as pop-up: A year after closing its Bellanger site in Islington, north London, Corbin & King has said it plans to reopen the site. In an email sent out at the weekend, Jeremy King has indicated the site, which the company was close to selling before the pandemic, would reopen initially as a pop-up that could turn into something more permanent. He also asked the company’s customers for their opinion on plans for the site in Islington Green. King wrote: “It is almost exactly a year since we announced the closure of Bellanger and I can still acutely remember being inundated with messages of disappointment and pleas to reconsider. It did make us hesitate but the truth of the matter was we felt we hadn’t quite got it right in fulfilling the needs of Islington. The reality of more than three years of insufficient levels of business meant we couldn’t financially sustain it. But times have changed and we’ve always been rather wistful about how much we enjoyed our position on the Green and all the loyal customers. So we set to wondering about trying again and, having had the agreed sale of the site scuppered by the pandemic and with so many more of you working from home, we asked ourselves whether we should reopen as a ‘pop-up’ initially and, if it proves popular, continue next year? Thoughts were along the lines of a new all-day menu inspired by Brasserie Zédel, a change of appearance to make it more casual, and a sense of being more ‘accessible’? This further led us to think the best help we could get on making these decisions would be from you.” The message asks recipients to fill out an anonymous questionnaire before adding: “Hopefully we will open the doors again in August.”

Nigerian restaurant concept Enish opens sixth site with Brixton launch: Nigerian restaurant concept Enish has opened its sixth site as it strengthens its presence in London with an opening in Brixton. The company has opened the venue in Coldharbour Lane at a site formerly occupied by Majestic restaurant. The restaurant is open daily and has a late licence until 4am at the weekend, reports Brixton Buzz. Enish brings a “taste of Nigeria and a special twist to some of your favourite dishes”, according to its website. The company has four other sites in the capital – in Croydon, Finchley Road, Ilford and Lewisham – as well as a restaurant in Dubai.

Hoxton reopens all-day lounge at Southwark hotel with four restaurant residencies: Hoxton, the hotel brand owned by investment company Ennismore Capital, has reopened all-day neighbourhood lounge Albie at its Southwark site featuring a line-up of kitchen residencies. Of the four pop-ups available at Albie, Tandoor Chop House and Eggbreak are existing Ennismore concepts that have been cooking dishes in the capital for a number of years, while Pecking Order and Tandoor Tacos are new creations. The four residencies are on rotation daily but, where the pop-ups are at the stoves at the same time, guests will be able to order dishes from as many menus as they fancy. Pecking Order will offer Nashville-style hot fried chicken while Tandoor Tacos, little sister of Tandoor Chop House, will bring flaky paratha bread packed with a mash-up of Indian and Mexican flavours, spices and pickles. Tandoor Chop House will bring a section of its dishes to Albie, while Eggbreak will serve its breakfast menu from 7am to 3pm daily. Albie will also serve an all-day drinks menu, including coffee, fresh juice, cocktails and natural and low-intervention wine. All of Albie’s restaurant residences are available to eat in, takeaway or for delivery via Deliveroo.

Joule’s makes hotel debut with Forton brewery taphouse launch: Shropshire brewer and retailer Joule’s, which is headed by Steve Nuttall, has launched its latest brewery taphouse, The Swan Hotel in Forton, Shropshire. The venue is the first hotel in Joule’s estate. The Swan has undergone a six-month renovation and focuses on locally sourced seasonal food and Joule’s beer from the company’s brewery only 11 miles down the road. The £250,000 investment includes reclaimed panelling from a mansion in Lowestoft, Suffolk. Joule’s brand director Victoria Colclough said: “The Walnut Room is made of solid English walnut, featuring four pairs of pilasters, each hand-carved and tapering. Two very finely carved central fireplaces of classical design with a hand-carved monogram make up the centrepiece. When we saw the pieces, they were a perfect match for The Swan to reflect the pub’s quality and our ambition for its bright future.” The pub will be run by brothers Alex and Rich Marsh. Market Drayton-based Joule’s estate stretches across Shropshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire and Wales.

AKA Restaurants appoints head of new projects to lead The Hut expansion: Isle of Wight-based AKA Restaurants has appointed Martin Howard as head of new projects to lead the expansion of its The Hut offer. Howard has joined from property consultant Space-retail, where he most recently headed its London office. He has previously worked in property acquisition roles with The Restaurant Group-owned gastro-pub brand Brunning & Price and brewer and retailer Greene King. AKA Restaurants was founded by brothers Matthew and George Adams and operates waterfront restaurant The Hut in Colwell Bay.

Dozens of landlords ditch Travelodge to set up rival operator: Dozens of Travelodge landlords are set to ditch the hotel chain to set up a rival company following an acrimonious battle over rent cuts during the pandemic. About 80 hotels will desert Travelodge to sign new leases with new brand Goodnight. The brand will launch in January 2021 in conjunction with management partner Village Hotels, which owns hotels in 31 locations around the UK. Travelodge slammed the move, saying sticking with it remained the “best choice for landlords”. A Travelodge spokesman told City AM: “Travelodge delivered class-leading results for the five years prior to the coronavirus crisis and we are confident it will return to that strong performance in the future. With a covenant strengthened by its new funding arrangements it remains the best choice for landlords looking to the long-term prospects to benefit from the trends for low-cost budget hotels across the UK.” The move, first reported by the Telegraph, follows a bitter dispute between Travelodge and the owners of its hotel sites after the budget hotel chain tried to force them to accept rent cuts of more than £140m during the pandemic. Travelodge, owned by hedge funds Goldentree, Avenue Capital and Goldman Sachs, also proposed rent reductions until 2021. The Travelodge Owners Action Group, which represents owners of more than 400 of the chain’s 580 hotels, threatened in May to block the rent cuts and set up a rival company, dubbed Travelodge 2.0. Travelodge hired Deloitte to oversee a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) with creditors in a bid to break the impasse and save the company’s 10,000 staff. A further £100m was raised from debt markets, while Travelodge’s owners pledged to inject fresh capital. Landlords have until mid-November to walk away from new rent terms agreed under the CVA.

Ottolenghi uses innovative packaging method to launch ready meals offering: Chef Yotam Ottolenghi has launched a ready meals service with a packaging method that extends ingredients’ shelf life without freezing. Ottolenghi Ready offers six recipes available to order online for delivery or by collection from the chef’s Notting Hill and Islington sites. The service is set to be extended nationwide. Ottolenghi Ready features MAP (modified atmosphere packaging), a method that extends the shelf life of food without using preservatives by removing oxygen and preserving ingredients at their freshest. Ottolenghi’s team said the meals would keep in the fridge for up to ten days and would only require reheating in a saucepan. The meals can also be frozen for up to one month. Recipes have been adapted from Ottolenghi’s test kitchen and cookbooks, alongside new dishes. The range includes braised spinach and herbs with paneer and lime; spiced lamb ragu with harissa, apricots and green olives; and shakshuka with red peppers and tomatoes. Ottolenghi reopened his Fitzrovia restaurant Rovi on 9 July, while the team continues to offer the Rovi At Home dinner kits from Notting Hill and Islington. The kits plus picnic boxes for collection were launched during lock-down.

London’s first 100% vegan pub reopens with new restaurant following Club Mexicana departure: The Spread Eagle, London’s first 100% vegan pub, has reopened to reveal a new restaurant following the departure of Club Mexicana’s kitchen residency. Founders Luke McLoughlin and Sherri-lee Estabrook, who opened the pub in Homerton more than two years ago, have created a menu that features their take on pub classics as well as East End dishes while staying true to the pub’s 100% vegan status. Dishes, which will change regularly to reflect the seasons, will initially include a vegan spin on pie, mash and liquor as well as two new signature burgers – The Buffalo (foraged chicken of the woods mushroom, hot sauce and blue cheese), and The TSE Burger (Beyond Meat patty and house-made burger sauce). The pub also has a new outdoor drinking and dining space. Club Mexicana, the Mexican-inspired vegan street food restaurant founded by Meriel Armitage, had been operating a residency at the pub since it opened. Club Mexicana is currently operating at Kerb’s Seven Dials Market and Street Feast’s Dinerama while its Soho restaurant remains shut.

Michelin-starred restaurant Wilks to close permanently: Michelin-starred, modern European restaurant Wilks is to close permanently. The venue entered lock-down in March but will not reopen. A post on the Bristol restaurant’s website states: “Despite the announcement of the government allowing us to reopen, we have decided not to do so. It has been an absolute joy running our restaurant since 2012. Wilks’ success is undoubtedly associated with the amazing people we’ve met and worked with over the years. The restaurant is on the market, ready for the next people who want to take this special premises. Chandos Road is well known for being one the best streets in Bristol for quality independent restaurants and we hope it will always remain that way.” Owners James Wilkins and Christine Vayssade put the restaurant on the market in October under a guide premium of £175,000 and an annual rent of £27,500 per annum. The site previously housed restaurants Culinaria and Red Snapper. Wilkins said at the time: “We have been approached for an exciting and challenging new project outside the UK we couldn’t turn down. Christine and I travelled with our jobs for years before settling in Bristol and the idea of discovering a new country is enticing. 1-3 Chandos Road has been a successful restaurant for over 25 years and we look forward to handing over the reins to someone who can take it in their own direction.” 

Hotel Chocolat to create 200 jobs as online sales surge: Hotel Chocolat is to create 200 jobs in its chocolate-making factory and distribution site after a surge in online demand during the pandemic. The company said customers switching online during the lock-down helped to mitigate the impact of closing its stores. Hotel Chocolat said digital sales surged to more than 200% year-on-year growth in the quarter to 30 June as shoppers bought Easter and Mother’s Day gifts online. It said sales subscriptions also jumped by 47% in the quarter against the same period last year. Hotel Chocolat said 119 of its 125 UK stores were now open for business, with sales at its high-street sites performing more strongly than those in “city centre” locations. While total sales from stores are lower against the same period last year, digital growth “remains very strong” and group sales since the end of June are “in line with management expectations”. Total sales in the six months to 28 June fell 14% to £45m because of the impact of store closures. The group said it expected pre-tax profit for the past year to be in line with expectations. Angus Thirlwell, Hotel Chocolat co-founder and chief executive, said: “The acceleration of change in the retail landscape has galvanised us to speed up our plans and investments in the opportunities we were already pursuing. Online, our brand is set to a significantly faster growth trajectory, delivering gifts, subscriptions and household indulgence. Some of this is attributable to covid-accelerated change but new concept launches and digital enhancements have also supported growth.”

Wireless Social adds host of hospitality brands to books: Wi-Fi solutions provider Wireless Social has added a host of hospitality brands to its books since lock-down restrictions were eased, including Fuller’s, Loungers, Dirty Martini and Adventure Bars. Wireless Social supplies the guest Wi-Fi and customer behaviour at more than 5,000 pubs, restaurants and bars across the UK, providing operators with actionable insights collected from Wi-Fi social media log-ins and by tracking customer behaviour in terms of visits, frequency, recency, dwell times and loyalty. This enables operators to segment and target their marketing communications more effectively. Fuller’s marketing director Jane Jones said: “We are delighted to be working with Wireless Social to gain a deeper insight into our guests’ behaviour to help us further our marketing strategies. By using the analytics from the Wi-Fi, it means we can really refine how people are interacting with us and tailor segmented relevant messages to them.”
Wireless Social is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Britvic gets clearance over French sale: Britvic has received clearance from the French authorities to sell three juice-manufacturing sites, its private label juice business and its Fruité brand to fellow soft drinks company Refresco. Britvic will retain ownership of the Pressade and Fruit Shoot brands, which will be manufactured by Refresco as part of a long-term partner arrangement. The transaction wouldn’t affect the Teisseire and Moulin De Valdonne brands or the private label syrups business, which are all manufactured at the remaining site in Crolles. Following clearance, it is anticipated the deal will now close in the autumn. Britvic entered into exclusive talks with Refresco over the sale in November.

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