Story of the Day:
Tim Martin – big task for the industry is getting tax equality with supermarkets but sector ‘needs to get its act together’ to make it happen: JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin has told Propel the big task for the industry over the next six to 12 months is to get tax equality with supermarkets – but believes the sector “needs to get its act together” to make it happen. VAT for the hospitality and tourism industry rose to 12.5% on Friday (1 October) following its drop to a rate of 5% in July last year to help the sector during the pandemic. The rate is due to return to its normal level of 20% in April. By comparison, supermarkets pay zero VAT on food, and are able to use that saving to sell alcohol to customers at a discounted price. Wetherspoon has put its prices up as a result of the VAT increase and Martin told Propel the business hoped to avoid further price increases “for now”. Speaking following the company’s full-year results, Martin said: “The big task is to get tax equality with supermarkets. It makes sense, will help high streets and politicians are gêner receptive – if only the trade can get its act together. As for the future, regrettably uncertainty still prevails. Transmission of the virus has been low in pubs yet we’ve been repeatedly closed for the first time in UK history.” Martin said the current fuel “crisis” had resulted in a relatively low impact on the business up to now, but the situation could “of course, worsen at any minute so the entire pub industry is anxious”. He added: “Cellars, overall, are as full as 2019, but a small number of individual products have been out of stock from time to time.” Martin said the company’s £750m investment project was progressing but the business was “seeking normality before going all-out”. He added: “We’ve put about half a dozen large projects on-site so far and plan to put about 20 on-site in the next few months.” In terms of trends, Martin said: “We’re seeing pressure on real ale, pressure on draught generally. Perhaps that’s down to fewer older people socialising. We’re seeing an increase in fruit cider, spirits and some premium lager. Long-established products such as Abbot Ale, San Miguel and Stella are doing particularly well. The standout product for us at the moment is Strika, a herbal liqueur, which is a substitute for Jagermeister. It’s trading well above Jagermeister’s level of two or three years ago, when we delisted it.”
Updated Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies sent to subscribers:
The updated Propel Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies,
which is produced in association with Virgate, has now been sent to Premium subscribers. The database contains 74 new companies. This brings the total number of businesses listed up to more than 2,000, running in excess of 60,000 sites. Premium subscribers also received a 6,100-word report on the new additions to the database. The comprehensive database is updated monthly and provides company names, the people in charge, how many sites each firm operates, its trading name and its registered name at Companies House if different. Alongside this, Premium subscribers will also receive the third edition of the New Openings Database,
which is produced in association with StarStock, on Wednesday (6 October), at midday. It focuses on newly announced openings and upcoming launches in the sector and is updated every month. Premium subscribers also receive access to Propel’s library of lockdown videos and Friday Wrap interviews and now also have access to a curated video library of the sector’s finest leaders and entrepreneurs, offering their insights on running outstanding businesses in the sector. Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out, plus regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Propel insights editor Mark Wingett. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Propel Premium for a year for £895 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The regular single subscription rate of £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers remains the same. Email email@example.com to sign up.
Watson – I think among the independents there is a bit of covid fatigue out there: Clive Watson, chairman of City Pub Group, owner and operator of circa 50 premium pubs across southern England and Wales, has said he believes among independent pub operators there is “a bit of covid fatigue out there”, which could provide expansion opportunities. Speaking on Propel’s Friday Wrap series, Watson said: “We are not looking for packages of pubs, but growing one by one. Typically we will look at acquiring from independents. I think among the independents there is a bit of covid fatigue out there. They have weathered the storm, got through it, but some of the state aid is starting to be withdrawn over the next six months. I think over the Christmas period when people are reflecting on their lives, they will start thinking about whether they want to go through to 2022 and may see it as an opportunity to cash in their chips. We have typically been very good in that area, and we have not bought any packages building up the estate we have now. We keep our ears close to the ground and we play with a very straight bat when it comes to dealing with independents and I think that’s why we will pick up more sites during the course of next year.” Toby Smith, the company’s chief operating officer, said the group would take a steady approach to reaching its ambition to grow its estate to in excess of 100 pubs, and the market over the next couple of years, would provide a great opportunity to acquire sites. He said: “There is a window there. I don’t think it is going to be a short one and you won’t have to rush out and take advantage of that in the next three to six months. Since we announced our results the other week, the phone has been pretty hot in terms of opportunities coming our way. We will say no to many more than we say yes to, but there are on-market and particularly off-market opportunities that are coming our way to allow us to steadily, and efficiently, add sites to our geographical clusters. We are also looking for businesses that grow our site Ebitda averages, businesses that can really count to the scorecard.”
Better pay as a staff retention tool ramps up wages across the hospitality sector: Hospitality businesses already battling mounting food, drink, supply and utility costs are also facing wage hikes as they battle to retain their staff. The use of pay as a retention tool is rapidly inflating wage bills across the hospitality sector in which one in six jobs remain vacant, according to the latest Business Confidence Survey from CGA and Fourth. Three quarters of business leaders in the pub, bar and restaurant sector have increased wages in a bid to attract and retain staff. Those who have increased pay have done so by an average of 11% for current staff and by 13% for newly hired team members, the survey found. Highlighting the industry’s mounting labour crisis, the third-quarter poll revealed only 18% of those surveyed feel confident about recruitment and retention over the next 12 months, compared with 67% in the last Business Confidence Survey just three months ago. Three in five anticipate hiring staff at a greater rate than usual this year, up 15 percentage points from the last survey, while an average of 6% of staff are currently in isolation. “These figures illustrate the full scale of hospitality’s recruitment and retention crisis,” said CGA director Karl Chessell. “Thousands of businesses are now critically short of staff, while many of those who have sufficient labour face a fight to keep hold of it. Gaps at front and back of house and fast-rising wage costs threaten to derail the industry’s recovery, and sustained, targeted government support is urgently needed to tackle the problem.” Fourth managing director Sebastien Sepierre added: “Hospitality is nothing without people, and the sector is in a desperate battle to find the staff it needs to rebuild after a devastating 18 months. With the right business landscape, hospitality has the potential to drive the UK’s economic recovery. But the current operational environment is extremely tough, and these results lay bare the workforce challenges senior leaders must solve.”
Technical problems plague launch of Scotland’s covid passport app: Scotland’s new vaccine passport app was hit by technical glitches after launching just 12 hours before the scheme went live. The NHS Scotland Covid Status app was made available to download shortly after 5pm on Thursday (30 September), but complaints were flooding in within hours as users struggled to access their details. A Scottish government spokeswoman insisted the issues were likely to have been caused by extremely high initial traffic and advised anyone whose data is not found to try again a couple of hours later. But Scottish Conservative party leader Douglas Ross called on the government to compensate anyone who misses an event or any business that loses income through the app not working, while Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Jackie Baillie branded the launch a “complete shambles”. The app launch came after Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) Scotland lost a legal bid to delay the rollout, although a grace period was agreed until Monday, 18 October before the scheme is legally enforced. Scotland’s deputy first minister John Swinney said: “This is a very limited scheme, and we hope this will allow businesses to remain open and prevent any further restrictions as we head into autumn and winter. I would encourage people to download the app and help our drive to keep the virus under control. Scotland is not unique in introducing such an approach – certification schemes are in place across Europe, and the Welsh government is also planning similar measures.” There are currently no plans in Scotland to introduce certification for the wider hospitality industry, but this will be kept under review over the autumn and winter months.
Pub opening times extended in Northern Ireland: Pubs and hotels in Northern Ireland will be allowed to stay open until 2am up to 104 nights per year, in new laws which came into effect over the weekend. In the first substantial changes to liquor licensing laws in the country in 25 years, drinking-up time has also increased to one hour, and all additional restrictions over the Easter weekend are being removed. Communities minister Deirdre Hargey said the changes will give pub and hotel licence holders “more flexibility” and that further changes will be implemented in phases over the next few years. “This first phase will see restrictions on Easter opening being lifted, meaning Easter weekend next year will be the same as any other weekend throughout the year,” she added. “It includes pub and hotel licence holders being able to apply for later opening, providing them with more flexibility, particularly in the lead up to Christmas and the new year. It will also see drinking-up time increased from 30 minutes to one hour, which will support a more gradual dispersal of people from licensed premises. My department will continue to engage with stakeholders to bring the remaining provisions of this reform into operation. Most of the remaining provisions will come into effect in April 2022, with some others requiring a slightly longer period.”
BBPA – government must give pubs and brewers a fairer tax burden: The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has called on chancellor Rishi Sunak to cut beer duty, extend business relief rates for pubs and permanently lower VAT for all food and drink sold in pubs. Sunak will deliver his latest budget on Wednesday, 27 October, and the BBPA has made a submission highlighting the vital role pubs and brewers play in supporting more than 900,000 jobs across the UK and contributing £26bn to the economy. It said the government must invest in pubs and brewers, who have a leading role to play in the recovery, in the form of a fairer tax burden and more level playing field with other European nations post-Brexit. BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “Investing in our brewers and pubs is investing in our communities and society to build back better. The government must do this by reforming VAT, beer duty and business rates that currently place an unfair burden on pubs and other hospitality businesses. In return we will create jobs, boost the local economy and help our communities reconnect and unite again. Investment in our sector can help the country build back better with stronger communities, more jobs and a boost to villages, towns and cities across the country.” The BBPA is backing the Long Live the Local Campaign, which has so far been signed by more than 92,000 people.
Job of the day: COREcruitment is supporting a Glasgow hotel business as it looks to appoint a new general manager. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “They will take overall responsibility for customer management and the day-to-day operation of the hotel while contributing to the overall achievement of the hotel’s goals; ensuring consistent standards of service are maintained. They will contribute to the profitability of this branded hotel through the monitoring of revenue and budgets, management of the team, and maintaining effective cost controls. They will create an environment where the team are motivated and encouraged to maximise sales. It is essential the manager has the ability to lead, coach and animate the team, leading with passion and enthusiasm, with a hands-on approach. They will also need to have strong business acumen with good P&L experience and proven success in a similar role.” The position is paying up to £50,000. Anyone interested can email Lara@corecruitment.com
D&D London in talks over £100m takeover deal: Restaurant operator D&D London is in exclusive talks to be acquired by UK-based investment firm Montecito Equity Partners, in a deal which is expected to value the business at about £100m. Sky News reported talks over the future of D&D – which owns prominent London restaurants such as the Bluebird in Chelsea, Coq d'Argent in the heart of the City, and Skylon on the South Bank ¬– were thought to be several weeks from being concluded and Interpath Advisory, the former restructuring unit of KPMG UK, has been advising on the sale. The exact structure of the acquisition of D&D was unclear and it is possible LDC could retain a small stake in the business. D&D owns and operates some 40 restaurants in major cities in the UK (London, Manchester, Leeds) and overseas (New York, Paris). D&D, which was founded by Sir Terence Conran, launched its latest restaurant earlier this month, when it opened the alpine-inspired Haugen in Stratford, east London. A new venture in Birmingham is scheduled to open next spring. D&D is named after the current chairman Des Gunewardena and deputy chairman David Loewi, who took on the business when they bought a stake in Conran Restaurants in 2006. In 2013, LDC, the private equity arm of Lloyds Banking Group, took control of the then 32-strong business, in a deal thought to be valued at about £50m. The buyout firm considered listing D&D on the stock market in 2015 but a flotation did not materialise. At the time, it was thought LDC was hopeful of securing a valuation in excess of £100m for D&D, with Zeus Capital, the investment bank, overseeing the process. It is thought Gunewardena has been seeking new investment in the business over the past year to take advantage of growth opportunities both in the UK and internationally. Montecito, which is based in Kensington, was founded last year by Pravir Singh, a former UBS executive who “led coverage for a number of the bank's most substantial billionaire clients”, according to the investment firm’s website.
Five Guys secures additional £25m capex facility as full-year revenue falls 11%: The parent company of the European arm of better burger brand Five Guys secured an additional £25m capex facility earlier this year, as the impact of the pandemic saw revenue at the 165-strong business fall 11% to £233m in 2020. Five Guys European Holdings – which oversees the brand’s restaurants across the UK, France, Spain and Germany – posted an operating loss for the year of £14.2m against a £4.6m profit in 2019, while its pre-tax losses widened from £34.9m to £59.8m. The group, which opened 22 sites during the period and now employs more than 5,000 people, had £93.9m of bank debt at the end of the year. Full-year revenue in the UK stood at £164.2m in 2020, down from £173.2m the previous year. In some instances, the group said it had benefited from monthly and quarterly waivers of lease payments. Five Guys France obtained a €7m loan in June 2020 and Five Guys Spain obtained a €6m loan in March 2021 from local banks as part of the local government schemes designed to tackle the negative economic impact of coronavirus. The loans will be repaid in instalments from 2022 to 2026. The business said: “In light of the impact of the ongoing covid-19 virus pandemic on the group's earnings, the lending bank agreed to make certain amendments to, and waivers in relation to, the original facilities agreement. Covenants for the second quarter and third quarter of 2020 were waived as part of the amended agreement, being replaced by a minimum liquidity covenant for these quarters. The group remained within its amended banking facility covenant limits throughout 2020. Based on the group's forecast, it will continue to be within its covenant limits in 2021.” The business said despite the inevitable adverse impact of lost revenues, it was able to flex its operations based on the functions in place at the time in order to mitigate as far as possible the downside impact of the unprecedented circumstances associated with the pandemic. Examples include the introduction of kerbside collection in the UK and launch of a delivery proposition in Germany. In May, Five Guys UK chief executive John Eckbert said the brand was going to open up to 50 new sites in Europe this year, including up to 25 in Britain.
BrewDog sees strong trading in UK bars since reopening: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog has seen strong trading in its UK bars, particularly in the regions since reopening with its London sites starting to recover. The company, which operates 105 bars globally, also said trading is ahead of expectations in its recently opened UK sites. It comes as the company reported turnover in its bar division fell to £25.2m for the year ending 31 December 2020, compared with £47.1m the previous year. Pre-tax losses rose to £10.5m from £653,000 the year before. Retail managing director James Brown told Propel: “In March 2020 we closed almost all of our 105 locations globally with the exception of our Brisbane taproom, the covid crisis impacted our bars business extensively. While we maintained a strong takeaway and delivery presence through our BrewDog Now app, trading remained challenging. Since reopening our UK estate has seen strong trading performances in particular regional locations with central London and business district locations slower to recover. Since the end of August we have seen a step change in both trade and footfall, particularly in London and are now trading in line with 2019 sales. We are also trading ahead of expectations in our recently opened new locations in Exeter, Plymouth, Ealing, Bath and our Manchester hotel.”
Malhotra Group reports leisure division seeing ‘buoyant’ trading, new ‘partnership’ strategy ‘highly effective’: Newcastle-based pub, restaurant and hotel operator Malhotra Group has reported its leisure division has seen “buoyant” trading since restrictions were lifted while its new “partnership” strategy has been “highly effective”. The company said a continual programme of refurbishments and strategic improvements across the portfolio is ongoing with a number of new projects also in the pipeline. These include a project for a complex of bars, restaurants, nightclubs, a luxury hotel and a rooftop swimming pool in an area encompassing Grey Street, Cloth Market and Mosely Street in Newcastle that has recently received planning consent from the city council. Building work is expected to start in 2022, which will take about 30 months to complete. The company has also acquired 1 Mosely Street and the adjacent property in Pilgrim Street, for which planning permission has also been obtained, for a 25-bedroom aparthotel plus three bars and a rooftop restaurant. The company stated: “Our leisure division has seen a strategic shift in recent years to focus on operating high quality assets. In addition, in some limited instances, have moved away from being the sole operator of all trading activities at a leisure venue, and instead have entered into ‘partner’ arrangement with a third party that leases and operates part of our facilities. We have found this to be a highly effective strategy, meaning our income stream is now a hybrid of (mainly) trading income but also includes an element of rental income. In Osborne's bar we have introduced a new collaboration with Brack Burger, which has a large student following, and has provided an uplift in footfall together with additional rent.” It comes as the company reported turnover in its leisure division fell to £1.0m for the year ending 31 March 2021, compared with £8.4m the previous year, as a result of the “significant” closures caused by various lockdowns. Ebitda reduced to a loss of £1.8m, compared with a profit of £0.1m the previous year. The division made a pre-tax loss of £1.8m, compared with a loss of £1.3m the previous year. The company also operates in the care home and property sectors. Overall, turnover fell to £30.9m, compared with £38.1m the year before. Pre-tax profit was down to £1.0m, compared with £5.4m the previous year.
Wendy’s opens first UK dark kitchen site, Brighton opening confirmed: Wendy’s, the third-largest quick service restaurant chain in the US, has opened its first dark kitchen site in the UK, in partnership with Reef Kitchens, Propel understands. The Wendy’s dark kitchen unit opened late last week off Regis Road, Kentish Town, with delivery available through Deliveroo. In August, the brand signed up Reef Kitchens as its first franchisee in the UK. The company said it had signed a development commitment with Reef to open and operate 700 delivery kitchens over the next five years across the US, Canada and the UK. Wendy’s said it would build on its successful test of eight delivery kitchens that have already opened in Canada. The company expects Reef to open about 50 delivery kitchens in 2021 in those three regions, with the remainder being opened between 2022 and 2025. Meanwhile, Wendy’s has confirmed it has secured a site in Brighton, as part of its UK rollout. As previously revealed by Propel, Wendy’s, which last week opened its third site in the UK since it made its return to these shores in June, in Oxford, is taking the ex-Gap site in Brighton’s Western Road. The company has secured the site on a new 20-year-lease, subject to five-yearly upwards-only rent reviews. It is thought Wendy’s fought off strong competition from two other global brands, believed to be Jollibee and Popeyes, to secure the site. Wendy’s, which opened in Reading and London’s Stratford earlier this summer, is set to open in Romford and Croydon before the end of this year. It is also believed to have lined up openings on the ex-Royal Bank of Scotland site in Camden High Street and in Peterborough. Savills is aiding the brand’s expansion in the UK. Callum Mortimer, of GCW, acted for the landlord on the Brighton deal.
Honest Burgers plans Bath site: Honest Burgers, the Active Partners-backed business, is looking to further add to its regional presence with an opening in Bath. The circa 45-strong business, which is led by Frank Hayes, has applied to open a site in an empty unit in the city’s Cheap Street. Earlier this summer, Propel revealed Honest Burgers had secured the former YO! at 5-14 St Paul’s Churchyard. Pre-pandemic, it had previously been in talks to take the ex-Ernest Jones site in Paternoster Square. Earlier this year, Propel revealed Honest Burgers had taken the former ASK Italian site in Watford’s Market Street. Honest Burgers has also secured a site at the City North development next to Finsbury Park station.
Australian chef Roy Ner to open Mayfair restaurant: Israeli-born, Australia-based chef Roy Ner is to open a new restaurant in London’s Mayfair, as part of joint venture with Australian hospitality group Seagrass. The Middle Eastern-influenced Jeru is set to open at 11 Berkeley Street before the end of this year, and feature an in-store bakery, open kitchen and bar area. Ner is an award-winning chef, who was executive chef of Sydney restaurant Nour. Seagrass currently operates the Butcher and the Farmer concept at the O2 Arena, Ribs & Burgers in Teddington, in the UK. The group operates circa 30 sites in Australia across six brands.
Two Tribes partners with Young’s to launch Islington pub and live music venue: London-based craft brewer Two Tribes has linked up with London pub retailer Young’s to launch The Salt Room in Islington, north London, Propel has learned. Formerly known as the John Salt, the Upper Street venue, which will reopen on Friday (8 October), has been transformed by Two Tribes, with a series of live music events planned through the autumn and winter. It's located a stone’s throw from Two Tribes’ flagship venue, Campfire in King’s Cross, and the collaboration marks the brand’s first foray into bricks-and-mortar since launching Campfire on its brewery’s doorstep last April. Two Tribes’ founder Justin Deighton has been working with Young’s at various sites throughout the summer, showcasing its core range of beer. Food offerings will include Campfire’s Metroland caramelised beer wings, and a selection of classic burgers from Youngs’ Burger Shack. Deighton said: “Two Tribes has always been about collaboration, and after a summer of good beer, music and festivals we are looking forward to taking up roots at The Salt Room. We’re honoured to have worked with Young’s on this project, and together we have created a spot that has something for everyone. We are looking forward to welcoming in a great roster of DJs throughout the autumn and winter months and can't wait to get going.”
Market Halls’ crowdfunding campaign closes after raising almost £800,000: Market Halls, the London-based food market hall operator that launched a £600,000 crowdfunding campaign in August, has closed the fund-raise. The campaign raised £787,240 from 530 investors over a 60-day period. The company, which launched in 2018 and has sites in Fulham, Victoria and Oxford Street, is set to add a fourth, in Canary Wharf, next year. It is also believed to be looking into live performances, corporate events and festivals, rapid delivery partnerships and flexible working spaces as parts of its investment plans. The fundraising campaign gave the business a pre-money valuation of £30m. In June, four of the group companies launched company voluntary arrangements (CVAs), which wrote down all debt – and these were approved unchallenged by 99% of creditors. The CVAs also led to a restructure of the business where the Try Market Halls group was sold to MarketHalls Group, a new holding company owned 60% by Gees Court Partners, 15% by management and the rest split between early investors. The company generated revenue of £15m in FY20 prior to the pandemic, and of this, it said £10m was generated by its traders and £5m by its bars.
MeatLiquor to open its new site in Clapham Old Town this week: Scott Collins-led concept MeatLiquor will launch its new site in Clapham Old Town, south London, on Wednesday (6 October). The 12-strong group, which recently opened its first pub, the Dartmouth Arms in London’s Forest Hill, secured The Yard site at 13-19 Old Town, formerly operated by City Pub Group, earlier this summer. The launch marks ten years since MeatLiquor opened its first restaurant, a pop-up above a pub in New Cross, which was so successful it led to the opening of the first MeatLiquor restaurant in Welbeck Street in London’s West End that same year. Collins said: “We’re all revved up for the new opening. This site will be a great addition to south west London with a massive garden, two bars, a pool table and televised sports on five screens, as well as MeatLiquor cocktails and draft beers galore.” Collins previously worked for and was a shareholder in the Clive Watson-led Capital Pub Company, and said at the time of taking on the Dartmouth Arms that MeatLiquor may look to do more pubs going forward.
Buzzworks gives more than 500 staff the day off work as a ‘well-being day’: Independent restaurant and bar operator Buzzworks Holdings will close its entire business on Monday (4 October) to introduce a new “well-being day” for its workforce. Buzzworks’ 13 venues across Scotland will all close, giving more than 500 team members the chance take part in activities to help boost mental health and well-being. During lockdown, the Buzzworks team raised £100,000 at its Lido Troon pop-up cafe, half of which was donated to industry charity Hospitality Action, with the other half going to the Buzzworks staff well-being fund. The company doubled that total for the well-being day, and local teams were given free rein on how the funds should be spent, with activities planned including archery, cycling, paintballing and crazy golf. Buzzworks managing director Kenny Blair said: “The introduction of a well-being day is just one part of an ongoing programme of initiatives that support our people in work and at home. Throughout lockdown, so many of our people gave back to the local community by volunteering, either raising money for charities or by giving back time and donations of hot food. Now it’s time for us to give back to them and reward our people with a day where roles are reversed – they are the guest, and the focus is 100% on them.”
Michelin-starred Pony & Trap to reopen as cookery school and restaurant: The Michelin-starred Pony & Trap gastropub in Chew Magna, owned by chef Josh Eggleton and his sister Holly, is to reopen as a wedding venue, cookery school and restaurant. The Eggleton siblings have also opened a new restaurant, Pony Bistro, in Bedminster, Bristol. A statement on the website said: “The Pony & Trap closed amidst the covid pandemic in March 2020, and will never return under the same guise again. Renamed The Pony Chew Valley, it will reopen in spring 2022, no longer as a gastropub, but as a wedding venue, cookery school and restaurant. While coming to the decision to call curtains on The Pony & Trap was not an easy one, it certainly is a very exciting new beginning to re-imagine ourselves as The Pony Chew Valley. It is an emotional time, as the past 15 years were nothing short of wonderful, but one thing that we are sure of, is the times ahead will be just as amazing.”