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Fri 9th Oct 2020 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day: 

Propel Multi Club digital live webinar looking at ‘navigating the new normal’ opens for bookings, two free places for operators: The next Propel Multi Club Conference will take place on Thursday, 5 November and will take the form of a day-long digital live webinar focusing on “navigating the new normal”. The event, which starts at 10am, is free for operators, who can claim two places by emailing anne.steele@propelinfo.com. Speakers include Stephen Owens, managing director of pubs and restaurants at Christie & Co, who will provide an overview of the effect of covid-19 on the pub, restaurant and hotel property market – and where it goes from here. Tim Shield, of John Gaunt & Partners, will talk about the opportunities and challenges that face the sector as it adapts to the covid era – and emerges from it. Andrew Ball, partner at hospitality specialist haymacintyre, which has 140 clients in the sector, will provide insights on the key accountancy issues all operators need to be aware of generated by covid-19. Robert Cook, chief executive of TGI Friday’s, will talk to Propel insights editor Mark Wingett about how the business has navigated lock-down with a new management team and new ideas. Richard Hodgson, chief executive of YO!, will discuss how the company used the crisis to evolve into a fast casual operator. Simon Potts, chief executive of The Alchemist, will talk to Mark Wingett about navigating the crisis, opening new sites, listening to its teams and evolving its culture. BrewDog chief operating officer David McDowall will talk about how the company fought back against the crisis and lessons it learned from its international businesses. The NPD Group’s Dominic Allport will talk about the impact of covid-19 on consumer behaviour and trading, and looks forward to highlight the likely winners and losers from the market rebound over the next 12 to 18 months. Andy Hornby, chief executive of The Restaurant Group, will talk to Mark Wingett about how the Wagamama owner approached the crisis, the restructuring of the business and the lessons learned. There will also be two panel sessions. Mark Wingett will talk to Kevin Charity, founder of Coaching Inn Group; Andy Laurillard, founder of Giggling Squid; Peter Borg-Neal, founder of Oakman Inns; and Prue Freeman, founder of Daisy Green about how covid-19 changed their businesses, their leadership style and the sector for the better and the worse. Meanwhile, sector investor Luke Johnson, UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls, Robin Rowland and London Union founder Jonathan Downey will talk to Mark Wingett about what comes next for the sector.
 

Industry News: 

Propel Friday Wrap video series with guest Brasserie Bar Co chairman Mark Derry: Propel continues its new Friday Wrap video series on Friday (9 October) at 3pm. The new series, sponsored by leading payment app OrderPay, sees Mark Stretton, former sector journalist and now head of sector PR firm Fleet Street Communications, and Propel’s insights editor Mark Wingett discuss that week’s key issues facing the UK’s hospitality sector, with a leading sector operator or expert. This week they are joined by Brasserie Bar Co chairman Mark Derry to discuss trying to trade against ever-changing government restrictions and fear of further lock-downs; the positives and negatives of having a diversified business; and the ongoing rent situation.
 
Mark Wingett to look at change at the top at Cote as part of latest Premium column: Propel insights editor Mark Wingett will look at the change at the top at Cote, and what could be more dark days ahead for the hospitality sector, in the latest Premium Opinion, which will be sent to subscribers on Friday (9 October) at 5pm. There will also be the latest sector whispers from Premium Diary. 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 Mark Wingett. Subscribers also receive access to our database of multi-site companies, which has grown to 1,600 businesses. An annual premium subscription costs £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers. Email anne.steele@propelinfo.com
 
BBPA warns north of England lock-down could destroy pubs as minister refuses to rule out hospitality closures: The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has warned the introduction of a lock-down, as part of a new tiering system, in the north of England could destroy pubs there. It comes after communities secretary Robert Jenrick did not rule out shutting pubs and restaurants in the region as the government looks to prevent the spread of coronavirus. In response, the BBPA has asked the government for evidence-based, proportionate measures – calling into question the effectiveness local lock-downs on pubs will have in stopping the spread of the virus. It notes no hard evidence has been given yet to suggest pubs, with their strict adherence to government guidelines, are unsafe, making it unclear if such blanket measures will make a major difference. However, the BBPA said whatever the additional restrictions the government decides to implement are, they must be accompanied by additional and adequate financial support. The trade body said this would be crucial for pub businesses, with another closure pushing many of them to breaking point and forcing them to lay off staff, write off stock and cover fixed costs with low or no revenue at all in a bid for survival. BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “Our sector is already facing the 10pm curfew, rule of six, table service-only and low levels of consumer confidence, meaning many are already struggling to stay open. A local lock-down would push many to breaking point – forcing them to close for good with countless jobs lost, impacting livelihoods and communities forever. Quite simply, the Job Support Scheme is not fit for purpose to save jobs in businesses facing a local lock-down. Proper measures need to be taken, as they were in the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, if jobs are going to be saved. Grants will also be needed for businesses impacted by local lock-downs to survive this period. On top of this, our sector across the whole of the UK needs an extension to the VAT cut and business rates holiday, and substantial beer duty cut, if it is to have any chance of a recovery.” Jenrick earlier told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was “commonsensical” the longer individuals spend in pubs, the more likely they are to transmit the virus and stressed the need to “take action decisively”. But he said he was working with chancellor Rishi Sunak to consider fresh support for the hospitality sector because businesses could be put in a “really difficult, intolerable position”.
 
Liberum – we expect up to a 30% reduction in supply in the eating and drinking-out market: Liberum leisure analyst Anna Barnfather has predicted the eating and drinking-out market will see between a 10% and 30% reduction in supply as the covid pandemic “shakes the leisure sector to the core”. But she said it should lead to better rent deals and landlord packages for those operators in a position to expand. In her Back To The Future report, Barnfather said while the recovery ahead will “present its own unique challenges”, not least from unpredictable regulation and tapering government support, it will also “provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the more agile and engaging operators to gain market share”. She named cafe bar brand Loungers, Ten Entertainment Group, Marston’s and The Restaurant Group as being in this dynamic. Barnfather said: “We assume eating/drinking out will return to a new ‘normal’ by the second half of 2021. Consumer confidence and discretionary income spend will slowly build from record lows. Demand in city centre/travel hubs will remain constrained given the working-from-home culture and ‘supporting local’. Suburban, community-led operators will emerge as winners. There will be an acceleration in delivery, embracing technology and balancing health and atmosphere. There will be a clear polarisation between the winners and losers. While location will play its part, the bifurcation towards premium and value will also see the squeeze of the middle market with an overall, circa 10% to 30%, contraction in supply. This is already evident by the long list of company voluntary arrangements, administrations and restructurings largely across casual dining, which was already struggling prior to the pandemic. This should be to the benefit of pubs in general, as reflected in the reopening split with 90% of pubs and 78% of restaurants having reopened post lock-down. More specifically, Loungers, which has reopened all of its sites, and the re-sized The Restaurant Group, with its renewed strategy to focus on Wagamama and growing the rural pub estate, will likely see significant market share gains from the reduced competition and better rent terms. Similar dynamics appear to be playing out across gyms, bowling centres and hostels, where independent operators are shuttering, providing a clear opportunity for the larger, better capitalised operators.”
 
Punch boss – pub sector has again been ‘disproportionately targeted’: Punch chief executive Clive Chesser has said the pub sector has again been “disproportionately targeted” following the Scottish government’s decision to close all internal hospitality spaces at 6pm and ban the sale of alcohol indoors for a fortnight. Chesser pointed out just one of its 38 pubs north of the border had been contacted by NHS Test & Protect since reopening in July – because the industry had gone to “great lengths” to ensure covid-safe environments. He said: “While we agree nothing is more important than protecting the health of our communities, the latest announcement is bitterly disappointing and, once again, pubs are being disproportionately targeted. There is a distinct lack of evidence in the paper published that points to the virus being spread in pubs. Our pubs provide a controlled environment for guests to enjoy a safe experience and these latest restrictions not only put independent businesses, such as our pubs, at greater risk of failure but also put communities at more risk of gatherings now taking place in unregulated environments. We call on the Scottish government to immediately publish the details of a meaningful support package to ensure our businesses are able to close safely and, more importantly, reopen on 26 October.” Only ten of Punch’s Scottish pubs are outside the central belt region where licensed premises are restricted to takeaway only. 
 
Footfall drops again on UK streets: Footfall on UK streets is dropping again with weekend (3 and 4 October) averages 46% down compared with February, according to the latest data from Wi-Fi solutions provider Wireless Social. Footfall was down 42% and 43% on Saturday and Sunday (26 and 27 September). The picture looks even worse in certain regions enduring local lock-downs, with Manchester currently 55% down on February figures while Liverpool dropped 60% on Saturday (3 October). On the Saturday and Sunday of 26 and 27 September, Manchester was down 51% and 54% respectively while Liverpool suffered a 44% fall. Wireless Social also examined data collected since the hospitality sector’s reopening in July to see if there were any behavioural changes in recent months and discovered men were more likely to go out and eat at the start of August but women found their confidence during the Eat Out To Help Out scheme and went out more than men. On the scheme’s closure, women then shied away somewhat and men have taken the lead since. Analysis also found it was 25 to 35-year-olds who ate out the most between July and September in 2019 but, in 2020, during the same months they ate out exactly the same amount of times as 35 to 54-year-olds. The biggest change cited in age groups was the 18 to 24s, who ate out, on average, 1.8 times during July to September in 2019, however, during the same period in 2020 this dropped substantially to 1.65. The main age group that ate out more during July to September this year compared with 2019 was 45 to 54-year-olds, bucking the trend of decreased visits. Wireless Social suggests this could be tied in with previous findings from July, where data showed 45 to 54s were slower to start eating out once the hospitality sector reopened but once they did, and they found a restaurant they were comfortable in, they returned and ate out more than younger generations.
Wireless Social is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Hospitality job postings ‘tip into freefall’: Research by job site Indeed has discovered new job postings in hospitality and tourism have plummeted by 61% since the end of August. It also said the availability of jobs in the sector has dropped a further 9% since the introduction of the 10pm curfew on 24 September. Similar analysis shows the food preparation and service sector has dropped by 26% and 11% respectively. Meanwhile, job postings in all other sectors at Indeed have risen after an initial drop following the end of the Eat Out To Help Out scheme. Indeed expects a further hit when pub closures come into force across the central belt of Scotland on Friday (9 October). Indeed UK economist Jack Kennedy said: “This summer’s encouraging signs of recovery in the food, drink and hospitality sectors slipped into reverse after the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme finished at the end of August. Since the imposition of a nationwide 10pm curfew, the number of new vacancies has tipped into freefall. The industry is now braced for even more pain, with Scotland ordering the temporary closure of some pubs and banning the serving of alcohol indoors at those that can remain open. At their lowest point during lock-down, new job postings in these sectors were down 95% compared with their 2019 level. Progress has been made since then, but the gradual ratcheting up of restrictions – even though they still fall short of a second lock-down – has curtailed employers’ hiring intentions. Hiring levels continue to improve across the wider economy, but for Britain’s hardest-hit sectors it feels like a case of one step forward and two steps back.”
 
Grant scheme introduced in Northern Ireland region as coronavirus restrictions bite: Finance minister Conor Murphy has announced hospitality businesses in Derry/Londonderry and Strabane can access grants worth at least £800 per fortnight as new covid-19 restrictions have forced sites to temporarily close. Murphy said: “The restrictions imposed in Derry and Strabane are necessary to preserve lives, but they have a very damaging impact on the hospitality sector. Small businesses will receive £800 for every two weeks they are closed. Larger businesses will receive £1,200 for two weeks. This is above comparable schemes on these islands. The Executive is doing its best to mitigate the economic impact of covid-19. However, the main support needed for businesses that cannot trade fully is wage subsidy. The end of the British government’s furlough scheme at the end of this month is, therefore, deeply worrying and I again call for this scheme to be extended, particularly for businesses forced to close.” The grant scheme is in addition to the 12 months rates holiday, which will continue until the end of March 2021.
 

Company News:

The Oakman Group bucks trend to register highest sales quarter in its history despite ‘untested scientific theory’: The Oakman Group, which consists of Oakman Inns and Ashmore Inns, recorded a 40.6% improvement in sales for the 13-week period ending Sunday, 4 October, of £15.1m with Ashmore Inns’ four fledgling sites contributing £1.3m. Oakman Inns’ 24 pubs and restaurants showed a like-for-like increase of 25.4% – up £2.7m from the same period in 2019. Wet sales were up 12.7% and food rose by 45.5%. Room sales across the estate were down 52.3%. The highest sales quarter in the group’s history comes as many in the sector face an uncertain future “due, to a certain extent to the government’s use of untested scientific theory”. Even removing the benefits of VAT cuts and the Eat Out To Help Out initiative, the business would still enjoy double-digit growth in like-for-likes. Staff numbers have also increased during the period. Executive chairman Peter Borg-Neal said: “We have made considerable progress to restoring the damage done to our balance sheet during lock-down. Our pubs, which are situated mainly in commuter belt market towns and in destination locations, have a substantial food offer, extensive internal areas and, in most cases, large gardens, have been ideally suited to the new trading conditions. Also key was the development of an industry-leading covid-safe protocol. Less welcome has been the unfair and illogical restrictions placed on our industry [by the government]. We would like to see the removal of the current curfew arrangement, which, remarkably, manages to damage both public health and the economy. I would also appeal to the government to recognise further support is required for the night-time economy that has suffered disproportionately to date through no fault of its own.” Oakman Inns is planning to install modular glazed garden pods in time for winter that are warm, bright and light and sit six people.

TRG sees new remuneration policy and restrictive share plan approved despite shareholder opposition: The Restaurant Group (TRG) has seen its new remuneration policy and proposals to replace the performance-based long-term incentive plan (LTIP) with a restricted share plan approved – although more than a third of shareholders opposed the changes. At an annual general meeting on Thursday (8 October), 63.17% of shareholders voted in favour of the new remuneration policy and 63.36% in terms of the restrictive share plan. The new scheme has caused controversy because it sees chief executive Andy Hornby receive a fixed annual payout on top of his £630,000 base salary. But TRG had argued the change was needed as the current LTIP was “no longer appropriate” and “management would not be incentivised” and, therefore, was “not in the long-term interests of the company and its shareholders”. Chairman Debbie Hewitt said: “We have signalled our intention the 2021 grant (due to be made in March 2021) will be at the lower level of 100% of salary using the five-day average closing share price over the period immediately prior to grant, with this lower level intended for subsequent grants. We will continue engaging with our shareholders in the coming months. The circumstances surrounding this year’s award are exceptional. Our management team has proactively taken voluntary executive pay cuts of up to 40% and waived the payment of bonuses that were approved pre-covid. This is a long-term scheme and the 2020 award will only vest in full in three years’ time if the underpins are achieved (and would then be subject to a further two-year holding period). In the short term, the senior team continues to take pay cuts while the company is still making use of the government’s furlough scheme.”

Star Pubs & Bars boosts rent concessions for leased and tenanted pubs: Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars is to extend rent concessions for its leased and tenanted pubs throughout November at a cost of £2.8m – and will then review them on a monthly basis for the foreseeable future. It will see pubs benefiting from the same rent reductions they received in October during November. Pubs will be given a 30%, 35% or 50% reduction depending on their individual circumstances and the government support they have been able to access. The move brings the company’s total investment in rent reductions to £27.8m since the end of March. In addition, the company confirmed it would continue to review rents in areas where there are local lock-downs that prohibit pubs from opening altogether. To date the company has cancelled rent for its pubs in Aberdeen, Bolton and Leicester while they have been forced to close. The group is also cancelling rents entirely for more than 100 of its pubs forced to close for on-premise sales in Scotland’s 16 day Central Belt lock-down from Friday (9 October). Lawson Mountstevens, Star Pubs & Bars managing director, said: “The introduction of the 10pm curfew and additional restrictions in many areas are impacting consumer confidence and are a major blow to licensees who have worked so hard to get their pubs safely back up and running. Alongside the whole industry, we’re urging the government to put further financial assistance in place to offset these measures and to clarify their plans as a matter of urgency in order to bring some much-needed certainty to the hospitality sector and prevent further business closures.”

Douglas Jack – Shepherd Neame ahead on trading and debt reduction: Peel Hunt leisure analyst Douglas Jack has said Kent-based brewer and retailer Shepherd Neame is ahead on trading and debt reduction. Issuing a ‘Buy’ note on the shares with a target price of 1.100p following the company’s trading update, Jack said: “ Managed like-for-like sales, which were positive throughout the last decade, were down 7.9% in the 13 weeks since 4 July. Only open sites are in this calculation so total sales should be lower, due to the phased reopening programme. Reflecting the sales mix, we estimate the retained 15% VAT cut benefited like-for-like sales by circa 6%. A total of 22% of the managed estate is in central London, and almost all these sites are now open. Tenanted like-for-like income is down 27% due to management providing substantial rental support to its licensees. Rental income is thus deliberately lagging the recovery in drink sales. Almost all the tenanted estate is open; only 6% of the tenanted estate is in central London. Between January and June, net debt rose by just £500,000 to £84.4m. However, at that point, there was £12m of additional (largely tax) liabilities. As of 26 September, net debt had fallen to £82.4m, with additional liabilities reduced to £6.9m, implying a £7m (8%) reduction in underlying net debt in just three months. In comparison, the company has £132.5m of debt facilities. After factoring in the impact of the phased reopening programme, taking circa 25% off sales in the first quarter, managed like-for-like sales are still ahead of our 2021E assumption of minus 35% in the first half (July to December 2020), followed by sales that are 15% below 2019 levels in the third quarter, and 10% below 2019 levels in the fourth quarter. Our assumption for the tenanted estate is more cautious, assuming a 38% decline in profits. The company has been generous in relation to rent; we assume this will continue. Our 1,100p target price equates to 11 times 2022E EV/Ebitda in line with the company’s historic average. This is based on 2022E Ebitda forecasts that are below the 2019 level. The net asset value is 1,407p per share. It is founded on property values that are based on long-term sustainable cash flows.”
 
@Pizza fund-raising effort passes £1m mark: Edinburgh-based pizza concept @Pizza has raised more than £1m on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube towards its new drive-thru concept. The business’ original target of £820,000 was hit within six hours of the campaign launch. So far, 900 investors have pledged £1,030,340 and the campaign is 125% funded with 16 days remaining. As previously reported, @Pizza plans to be the UK’s first drive-thru pizza brand. The raise is taking the form of a convertible loan that will earn 10% interest per annum until it converts. Convertible loan holders will have an option to convert their capital into shares at a 25% discount if @Pizza raises equity within the next 36 months. The funds will be used to expand through a mix of permanent sites and semi-permanent outlets – the latter of which will be drive-thrus in the form of shipping containers. @Pizza – which currently has two restaurants, in Edinburgh and Birmingham – is looking to build a portfolio of 20 to 30 sites across the UK in four or five “clusters”. The shipping containers will occupy spaces of between 22 and 30 square metres. The drive-thrus would be able to make up to ten pizzas a minute, with customers offered unlimited options to customise. They would be able to order via an app with the option of collection or delivery to their vehicle. @Pizza is also due to open a site at the St James Quarter development in Edinburgh.
 
Terry Laybourne to open another Cafe 21 at Fenwick, in York: 21 Hospitality Group, led by restaurateur Terry Laybourne, will open another Cafe 21 at Fenwick site, in York. The opening will bring the total number of restaurants in the 21 Hospitality Group to seven. The Newcastle-based group operates Cafe 21, Saltwater Fish Company and Porterhouse Butcher and Grill, all in Fenwick’s Newcastle store, as well as flagship restaurant 21, The Broad Chare and St.Vincent on the city’s Quayside. Laybourne said: “This is an exciting time for 21 Hospitality Group and I’m delighted to be once again working with Fenwick to introduce our dining experience to another of their stores. We’ve already collaborated on a number of restaurant projects and it’s a partnership that works very well, so I’m looking forward to bringing our great food to locals and visitors to York. Many people from the north east visit York too so, hopefully, they will enjoy seeing a familiar brand, and eating familiar food while they’re there.” Neil Setterfield, store director at Fenwick in York, added: “We are very much looking forward to the launch of Cafe 21 in our store. Visitors to Fenwick in Newcastle have been enjoying Terry Laybourne’s great food for almost 15 years and I’m thrilled that visitors to the York store will soon be able to indulge in the same experience. Terry is an expert in his field, and highly regarded in the hospitality industry, so we are privileged that he’s bringing his food to Yorkshire.”
 
Domino’s Pizza reports global sales up 14.4% in third quarter: Domino’s Pizza has reported global sales increased 14.4% in its third quarter ending 6 September 2020. Like-for-like sales were up 17.5% in the US because of changes in consumer behaviour during the pandemic as the business continued its positive sales momentum. The international division saw like-for-like sales grow 6.2%. The figures marked the 107th consecutive quarter of international like-for-like sales growth and the 38th consecutive quarter in the US. Total revenue in the quarter increased 17.9% to $968m, compared with $821m the year before. The company added 83 stores during the period – 39 internationally and 44 in the US. Diluted earnings per share were up 21.5% to $2.49 in the quarter. The company estimated there were fewer than 300 international stores temporarily closed as of 5 October. Chief executive Ritch Allison said: “Our strong third-quarter results, once again, demonstrated our focus on value, service, quality and innovation to meet customer needs.”
 
Rudie’s Jerk Shack returns to full-service format with third site, in Brixton Village: London-based Rudie’s Jerk Shack, the Jamaican-inspired concept from Matin and Michelle Miah, is to make a return to the full-service format with the opening on its third site. The husband-and-wife team will launch the restaurant in Brixton Village next month after agreeing a deal with landlord Hondo Enterprises. Split across two levels, the 50-cover restaurant, with indoor and outdoor table service, will be located in Market Row. The menu will feature its famed “Real Jerk”, with meat and fish marinated for 24 hours in their secret blend of herbs and spices, before being grilled and smoked slowly over charcoal in a steel drum. Traditional Jamaican street food dishes will be given the contemporary Rudie’s treatment alongside a rum bar. Michelle Miah said: “Having spent a lot of my childhood days in Brixton with my Jamaican grandma, I know authenticity and flavour is key when serving Jamaican dishes. Matin and I have spent years travelling to Jamaica, researching, tasting and trying as much as possible and we are so proud of what we have created.” The Brixton site will join Rudie’s Jerk Shack’s two grab-and-go outlets, at Boxpark Shoreditch and Borough Market. 
 
Fitter Body Ladies gym opens seventh site: Fitter Body Ladies, a gym targeting women aged 30 and over, has opened its seventh site with two more in the pipeline. The business, founded by husband and wife team Ricky and Alex Knight, has taken the last available unit at Royal Oak Trading Estate in Daventry, Northamptonshire, on a three-year lease. The couple started the company because Alex struggled to find any gyms that were for ladies only and also helped to provide guidance regarding weight loss and nutrition. As a mother of two, she wanted to get back to feeling the way she did before having kids, reports The Business Desk. Alex said: “It’s great to see the positive impact that we have on local communities when ladies join us to transform the way they look and feel. Our members continue to inspire me when they join us having always hated exercise and then within a few weeks, they’re addicted – they have more energy, more vitality and so much more confidence.” Whittle Jones acted as managing agents on behalf of Northern Trust – owner of the retail estate.
 
Clapham Leisure to double up with WC Bloomsbury opening in November: Clapham Leisure is to open a second WC site to complement its original in Clapham. The wine and charcuterie bar in Lamb’s Conduit Street is a former Victorian water closet and a grade II-listed building. It will serve sharing boards, small plates, wine and cocktails at the site that “descends from unassuming entrances on pedestrian level”. Clapham Leisure, founded by Andy Bell and Jayke Mangion, has ensured the 120-year-old “at-risk” premises has been painstakingly preserved while paying homage to the surrounding area’s rich history. A portrait of Thomas Coram – a philanthropist who founded the London Foundling Hospital nearby to look after abandoned children in 1752 – hangs above the bar in tribute to his work. Clapham Leisure co-founder Jayke Mangion said: “We’re so pleased to be opening the doors of WC Bloomsbury. It’s a project we’ve been working on behind the scenes for a while now, so seeing it come to light is really exciting for us. We’ve worked hard to create a welcoming place in an unexpected and unique space. No pretences, no egos, just an honest offering with honest prices. We’re all about everyone having a good time in a laid-back, simple environment.” Clapham Leisure also operates Nue Ground, Old Town Tavern and four Brickwood cafes.
  
San Carlo launches Christmas gift box initiative: San Carlo Group, the north west-based restaurant business, is launching a Christmas gift box it says is ideal as a present to employees. The threat of no Christmas parties at restaurants has led the 16-strong group to introduce its £40 box as a way for companies to say thank you to staff while offering an alternative to the annual get-together. The Business Desk reports the box contains: a San Carlo gold embossed gift card preloaded with £30, £40 or £50 to be used at any San Carlo restaurant (except Selfridges and House of Fraser) that can be redeemed within 12 months; a bottle of either mini Prosecco DOC or San Carlo’s own-label pre-mixed Negroni cocktail; and a bag of confectionery. San Carlo managing director Marcello Distefano said: “With large gatherings of people likely to be restricted for the foreseeable future, we’re all having to rethink how we thank and celebrate with our colleagues this Christmas. This comes during what has already been a very stressful year for so many. Sending a gift box is a simple way to deliver a message of thanks wherever needed, people can choose to celebrate as and how they wish at a time that’s best for them.” The boxes can be pre-ordered now with deliveries being made in November and December.
  
Crazy golf concept Plonk to open socially distanced course in Peckham: London-based crazy golf concept Plonk is to open a socially distanced course in Peckham. The company has taken over a large space in Peckham Levels to create the venue, which will launch on Friday, 23 October. It will be its biggest course to date and will be fitted with floor-to-ceiling ball lifts, huge ball runs, loops, ramps, jumps and its signature mini golf games. The arcade will be lined with pinball machines, retro arcade cabinets, foosball tables and ping-pong while the bar will serve cocktails, beer and wine. Food will be supplied by many of the operators within Peckham Levels. Every hole will be at least two metres from the next while stools with barrel tables will be placed next to each hole. Hand sanitising stations will be placed across the venue and capacity will be reduced for the foreseeable future. Co-founder Elliot Scott said: “It’s so good to finally be able to offer south London some of our Plonk madness. Our new space will create one the safest, socially distanced spots in town. All the usual Plonk toys will be there, providing our signature token of entertainment but we’ll be aiming to create a course like no one has seen in the capital before.”
 
Simmons Bars offers Boozy Bags cocktails to take home after curfew: Simmons Bars, which operates 16 sites in the capital, has launched its first range of takeaway cocktails. The “Boozy Bags” can be purchased so customers can take a tipple home post-10pm. Each bag contains three servings of one of Simmons’ best-selling pre-made cocktails in a 70cl bottle, cups, garnishes, instructions on how to serve and a bag of ice, and costs £15 – therefore £5 per serve. Cocktails range from Long Island Iced tea to Negroni. A Simmons Bar spokesman said: “The main point of difference between our product and what is already available on the market is that Simmons will offer multiple serves in each Boozy Bag rather than the ubiquitous single-serve options currently available, which lines up with Simmons’ aim to be the ‘best party bars’. We, just like the rest of the industry, are feeling the impact of the poorly conceived 10pm curfew and felt that we had to launch a takeaway product to make sure we stay at the forefront of the London party scene. At an entry price of £15, we are hoping Boozy Bags will be a big hit.” Simmons Bars is also exploring the option of home deliveries. 

Foosball Club kicks off in London: Table football concept Foosball Club has opened, featuring four championship tables. The site offers pizzas and drinks, plus three retro-style arcade machines with a choice of 80 games on each one. Customers are able to book seating areas for four people while each privately booked zone will host up to six people. Booking slots come in two or four-hour windows. Foosball Club founder JP Thompson said: “It’s great to finally give London a professional set-up of foosball for everyone to enjoy. We wanted to capture all the fun and talent of the professionals and put it into a venue where all of London can enjoy.” Wall-mounted screens give the more serious player tips on how to learn moves and trick shots. A wood-fired pizza oven is used to offer diners pizzas with toppings such as cotto ham, wild mushrooms, mozzarella and pomodoro; and fennel sausage, caramelised red onion, spinach, mozzarella and pomodoro. A pizza and craft beer can be pre-ordered online for £12.50. 

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