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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Tue 14th Dec 2021 - Propel Tuesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Sector sales down by 9% following Plan B announcement: Hospitality sales dropped by 9% following the government’s Plan B announcement last week, according to the latest data from S4labour, the online labour-scheduling management system from Catton Hospitality. Figures showed a like-for-like decline when compared with 2019 levels, felt by both London and non-London sites but with the capital hit the hardest. London experienced a 16% drop in sales last week on 2019 levels while non-London sites saw a smaller 7% fall in weekly sales. Richard Hartley, chief product officer at S4labour, said: “Even though there is not a noticeable change in hospitality sales as a result of Plan B, the announcement will certainly not help the situation – likely affecting corporate-led venues’ sales the hardest. Speaking to customers, operators have experienced hundreds and hundreds of lost covers and cancellations. As a result, hopefully the sector sees resilient consumer behaviour as well as no further restrictions.” Prime minister Boris Johnson announced the new measures last week to help stop the spread of the Omicron variant, including advice to work from home and, from Wednesday (15 December), vaccine passports for entry to nightclubs and events where large crowds gather. This followed mask-wearing being made compulsory for most public venues, including cinemas and theatres, from last Friday (10 December). Downing Street was roundly criticised by industry leaders for introducing the restrictions, saying they will prove disastrous for an industry already struggling to survive. Since the announcement, hospitality operators have reported droves of cancellations of Christmas party bookings. Meanwhile, a quick poll from customer feedback platform HGEM revealed the industry is torn almost down the middle over Plan B’s impact on consumer confidence. Having asked whether consumer confidence would dramatically be influenced by additional restrictions such as compulsory mask wearing in public spaces, working from home guidance and the implementation of covid passports for large venues and nightclubs, HGEM got 70 responses from hospitality professionals. Their answers revealed a near-perfect split, with 47% voting “yes” while 53% voted “no”. 

Industry News:

Propel Premium Advent Video Calendar to feature Phil Eeles: Propel has launched its Premium Advent Video Calendar, giving subscribers access to a great video each day in December from our autumn conference series. Each day in December in the run-up to Christmas, Premium subscribers will be sent a video featuring some of the sector’s leading operators, who will share insights, advice and expertise. The next video – which will be sent at 9am today (Tuesday, 14 December) – features Phil Eeles, co-founder of Honest Burgers, who talks about restructuring the company in an attempt to not become a chain, by changing people’s roles and responsibilities, and “shaking the tree” of the whole business. Earlier this month, Premium subscribers received the fifth edition of The New Openings Database, which is produced in association with StarStock. The database showed the details of 366 newly announced site openings and upcoming launches. Premium subscribers also receive access to two other databases – the Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, and the Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group. 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, regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Propel group 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. To subscribe, email
Proof of booster jab may soon be needed for nightclub entry: Health secretary Sajid David suggested during a speech to the Commons on Monday (13 December) that only those who can prove they have had a booster jab will soon be exempt from having to show a negative lateral flow test to get into nightclubs in England. However, he added this exemption would only come into force once all adults have had “a reasonable chance” to get the booster jab. This followed a statement in which Javid said people will need to show a negative lateral flow test to get into nightclubs and venues where large crowds gather unless they are double vaccinated. Booster jabs are being offered to all people aged 18 and over from this week, leading to queues outside vaccination centres and on the NHS booking website. Prime minister Boris Johnson last week announced a raft of new measures to combat the spread of the Omicron variant, including vaccine passports being required for entry to nightclubs and large-scale venues from Wednesday (15 December). 
Business rates relief vital to save jobs and businesses, says UKHospitality Cymru: UKHospitality Cymru is calling for business rates relief to form the centrepiece of a new year financial support package to protect thousands of hospitality jobs in Wales. “The Welsh government’s Budget is now around a week away and it represents a crunch time for hospitality,” said David Chapman, executive director for UKHospitality Cymru. “A generous business rates relief package could help save thousands of jobs in Wales. The Welsh government’s foresight in providing 100% business rates relief for the last two financial years, alongside other economic support measures, has helped keep many firms afloat and their staff in jobs. New relief for 2022-23 will be vital to keeping our businesses alive. It is now clear trading in November and December – traditionally when hospitality makes profits to see it through the fallow months to follow – is falling way short of viability. Every Welsh hospitality business will be stretched to breaking point just to try to trade through to April, when they will face colossal cost hikes from full business rates, VAT reverting to 20%, new higher national insurance contributions and food and energy inflation.” 
Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a UK hospitality client that is looking to hire a head of HR that will be London based and overseeing the whole group of five operations, which is a mix of restaurants and bars – all premium. A minimum of Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development level 5 or equivalent is required for the role. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “It is essential the candidate comes from a premium restaurant/pub group with multiple sites – on this occasion we aren’t considering a hotel background.” The salary is up to £80,000 plus 10% bonus. For more information on this role and to apply, email

Company News:

Mackenzie – we need to do some work on our accommodation, under no pressure to do any M&A: Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of Greene King, has said the company needs to do some work on the accommodation across its portfolio, which includes the Old English Inns brand. He told Propel: “We have got just over 3,000 rooms across the estate. If you look across those rooms, it is fair to say they are probably some of the most uninvested parts of the business over the past decade. It is something we are focusing on and is very much about how do you segment those rooms to make sure you are giving the right offer to the right people, there is no point having one brand that sits across everything. We are starting to build refurbishment plans into our future brand plans.” Greene King was linked earlier this year with running the rule over the Coaching Inn Group, which was subsequently acquired by RedCat Pub Company, but Mackenzie said the business was under no pressure to do any M&A. He said: “If we do, it will be strategic rather than for reasons of scale. We will take a look from opportunity to opportunity but there is a lot to do in Greene King’s existing estate. There is an absolute focus on that. I am not saying we are not going to participate because I don’t know what is going to come up. It would have to be aligned to our strategy. We keep a very open mind, but heavily focused on what we can do with the existing business. Being private helps us, there is no pressure to do something.” In terms of the group’s Locals division, the business is currently evaluating some of the innovation it has recently introduced into parts of that estate. He said: “When you look at Locals as a whole, there were three types of pubs in that – real proper locals (Proper Locals), Pub & Kitchen – more food-led end of Locals; and then more the middle ground, mainstream, which is Pub & Social – local pubs that have the combination of a little bit of food, lot of sport and social activities. We have taken a couple of those sites and really looked at how we can move them forward, and drive our investment programme. Lots of little bits of innovation, which we are evaluating and seeing what bits work before rolling them out further.”
Tequila Mockingbird secures West End debut site, plans three or four openings next year: South London-based bar operator Tequila Mockingbird has secured its first site in London’s West End, as it looks to open three or four new bars next year, Propel has learned. The company, which was founded in 2015 by cousins Jonathan Bas and Jake Brennan, is to open a basement bar at 42 William IV Street, Covent Garden, under the former Les Deux Salons site that has recently been taken on by the Jones Family Affair. It is Tequila Mockingbird’s eighth site in London, and fifth acquisition in the last 18 months. Bas told Propel: “This is our first site in London’s West End and is a long-awaited step for us, coming off the back of a very strong period trading since reopening when restrictions ended in summer. The company has performed above and beyond all expectations, with turnover and profit records being smashed every week, both in existing sites and our more recent new openings. We look forward to launching the site in the spring and have plans for a further three to four openings throughout the course of the year.” Earlier this year, the company appointed Tony Scott, formerly of Adventure Bar Group and Be At One, as its new operations director, as it looks to build a head office team that will fuel further expansion over the next five years. Davis Coffer Lyons acted on the Covent Garden deal on behalf of Shaftesbury.
Prospect Pubs & Bars to make London debut as it secures sixth site: Prospect Pubs & Bars, owned by Dan Shotton and Mark Draper, who sold Redcomb Pubs to Young’s in 2019, has secured its sixth site. The company has taken on the lease of The Cambria in Camberwell, south London, and is undertaking a £600,000 upgrade of the pub with Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars. It is the third Star Pubs & Bars site that Prospect Pubs & Bars has taken on in 16 months – and its debut London venue. Closed since December 2019, building work has started at The Cambria with a reopening date scheduled for late March. The refurbishment will see new areas created to drink, dine and entertain. Downstairs, an expansive 40-cover garden room will have a retractable roof while upstairs will feature a dining room that’s also available for private hire. Outside, a front terrace will offer additional seating for up to 70 guests. Food will focus on classic pub dishes alongside small plates and extensive grill options. The drinks offer will feature beer, ale, wine, spirits and cocktails, no and low-alcohol options and barista-style Fairtrade coffee and tea. Draper said: “In spite of the pandemic, we’re on track with our expansion plans. We’re excited to bring The Cambria back to life and back into the heart of its vibrant community. These last couple of years have demonstrated the strength and value of a good local community pub, one that customers can call their own and where they can feel at home.” Earlier this month, Prospect Pubs & Bars revealed it would open its fifth site in mid-January – the Joiners Arms in Bloxham, Oxfordshire. As previously reported, the group plans to increase its rate of openings to between five and seven sites a year from 2022.
RedCat acquires The White Horse Hotel in Romsey: RedCat Pub Company, the investment vehicle from ex-Greene King chief executive Rooney Anand, has acquired The White Horse Hotel in Romsey, Hampshire, for an undisclosed sum. The 600-year-old former coaching inn, which comprises 29 en-suite letting bedrooms with extensive bar, restaurant, private dining and lounge space, will be operated by the Kevin Charity-led The Coaching Inn Group. Situated in the centre of Romsey, the property’s The Stables have been developed to provide a large function facility for 100 guests. Kevin Marsh, head of licensed leisure at Savills, said: “The asset received interest from a wide range of buyers and we are delighted to complete a deal with RedCat.” It becomes the 23rd site to come under the Coaching Inn Group, which RedCat acquired earlier this summer. Since then it has transferred across four of the seven pubs it acquired from Dominion Hospitality earlier this year to Coaching Inn Group. 
Ellen Chew opens third Mrs Chew’s Chinese Kitchen site with new kiosk format at Bicester Village: Singaporean restaurateur Ellen Chew has launched the third site under her Mrs Chew’s Chinese Kitchen concept, at Bicester Village in Oxfordshire. Chew, founder of the Chew On This group, has opened the 50-cover outlet in a sheltered outdoor area in Pingle Drive. The debut site for Mrs Chew’s Chinese Kitchen opened in Birmingham’s Grand Central last year and was followed by a restaurant at Westfield London in September this year. The Bicester Village site is a smaller kiosk version and serves a paired-back offering of the full menu. Dishes include two-day dry-aged Cantonese roast duck rice, and Sichuan Dan Dan noodles. Mrs Chew's Chinese Kitchen offers “unpretentious and authentic” Chinese food prepared from scratch every day, with a focus on fresh ingredients. Chew, who founded Chinatown's Malaysian and Singaporean Rasa Sayang, also operates Lotus Leaf in Westfield Stratford; Arôme Bakery in Covent Garden; Lobos Tapas in London Bridge and Soho; and Shan Shui and Simply Noodles in Bicester Village, under the Chew On This umbrella. 
SSP signs Malaysian airport partnership deal to expand F&B offering: SSP Group, the UK-based transport hub foodservice specialist, has struck a partnership deal with Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) to expand its presence across key travel hubs in Malaysia. The agreement will see SSP operate 29 units across six lounges over a five to seven-year term at MAHB airports, including Kuching International and Kuala Lumpur International. SSP will introduce a variety of new brands across the airports including Asian crispy chicken specialists 4Fingers and several Old Town White Coffee outlets – a “kopitiam” coffee shop chain based in Malaysia offering premium coffee and tea blends and authentic meals, including asam laksa and nasi lemak. These will sit alongside operators such as Subway, Coffee Bean, Tea Leaf, Jamie Oliver and Hard Rock Cafe. SSP will also be working with The Serai Group, a Kuala Lumpur-based family-run Malaysian hospitality company, to open outlets in Kuala Lumper International. Jonathan Robinson, chief development officer for SSP Asia Pacific, said: “Our detailed knowledge of this market and our strong brand portfolio, plus a phased investment plan aligned to the return of travellers, mean the food and beverage and lounge offers at these airports will be perfectly tailored to meet the needs of the passenger demographic, while providing significant opportunity for commercial growth. We’re looking forward to working with MAHB to enhance the overall airport experience for travellers, while also increasing our presence in this important Asian market.” SSP has a presence in around 180 airports and 300 rail stations in 35 countries globally and operates more than 550 international, national and local brands across 2,800 units.
Jollibee to open Nottingham site with new take-out design: Jollibee, the Philippines fast food group, will open its latest site in the UK on Thursday (16 December), in Nottingham, complete with a new take-out design. The site, which is on the corner of the city’s Clumber Street and Upper Parliament Street, will be the first of the brand’s openings in the UK to feature a take-out window. The company said the new design is aimed at those who want an “even faster bite to eat without having to go inside”. It will be the sixth site launched by the brand in 2021 across England and Wales, as part of the company’s £50m European expansion plan. The business will next make its debut in Scotland early next year, with openings in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Jollibee, which operates about 1,200 sites worldwide, plans to be in “every major city in the UK”, and is planning a further 15 to 20 openings here next year. The company said it would invest £30m to open 50 sites in the UK by 2025. The business expects to invest almost £1m per site.
UberEats appoints Matthew Price as new general manager for UK and Ireland: UberEats has appointed Matthew Price to oversee its operations in the UK and Ireland. Price, who replaces Sunjiv Shah as the company’s general manager for UK & Ireland, has spent the past seven years working for the company’s Rides division, including a stint as head of strategy and planning – UK, northern and eastern Europe. He said: “Having spent almost seven years working to build a platform that helps you ‘go anywhere’, I am now excited to help consumers ‘get anything’ across more than 330 cities and towns, while being a true partner to 46,000 restaurants and merchants on our platform. It’s been a busy first couple of weeks shadowing the team, meeting with restaurant partners and experiencing our flexible earning opportunity as a courier in London!”
Team behind Moo Cantina to open Soho site: The team behind Moo Cantina in London’s Pimlico is set to open a new site in Soho. The Argentinian cafe and wine bar concept, which is led by Luis Palacios, is understood to have secured the former Byron site in Wardour Street for an opening next year. Lewis Craig acted on the deal. 
Brewhouse & Kitchen launches ‘craft champions’ scheme: A new “craft champions” scheme from Brewhouse & Kitchen, the 23-strong brewpub group, includes a guest beer that raises awareness of safety for females out after dark. The scheme sees Brewhouse & Kitchen free up draught lines to rotate between guest beers from smaller breweries. One of the first to feature is from Mothership brewery, an all-female beer collective who have created Text Me When Ur Home – a 6% hazy IPA developed following the tragic death of Sarah Everard earlier this year. It is hoped the beer will help raise awareness around women’s safety on their way home after dark, and a charity that funds grassroots women’s organisations. Brewhouse & Kitchen marketing manager Gail Bunn said: ‘With 50% of our guest base being female, we take their safety extremely seriously, so this is a great opportunity for us to support.” Speaking about the programme as a whole, head of marketing Matt Preisinger added: “It has always been part of our core values to provide opportunities to smaller breweries. We aim for Brewhouse & Kitchen to act as an incubator for small and dynamic breweries so we can help to have a positive impact in propelling the UK craft beer industry forward.”
Zetland Capital Partners acquires bingo hall portfolio let to Buzz Bingo: Zetland Capital Partners, the London-based private equity firm, has announced it has agreed to acquire a portfolio of 37 bingo halls let to Buzz Bingo, for an undisclosed sum. Zetland said the acquisition is one of the largest UK leisure real estate transactions in 2021 and the largest UK bingo real estate transaction in the last few years. Earlier this year, Caledonia Investments announced it had sold its majority shareholding in Nottingham-based Buzz Bingo to Intermediate Capital Group (ICG) for a nominal fee. ICG, which is already a long-term investor in Buzz, is injecting £18m into the business, which was restructured via a company voluntary arrangement last summer. Ahmed Hamdani, managing partner at Zetland Capital Partners, said: “We are excited to have acquired this diverse portfolio of assets, led to one of the major bingo operators in the UK. We have partnered with an experienced team that will enable us to create additional value in this significant leisure estate.” In the last few months, Zetland has invested in Portobello Starboard, a platform backed by Zetland and operated by Portobello Brewery, which bought 12 freehold pubs in London, and acquired hotels in Manchester and Edinburgh from Macdonald Hotels.
Massarella Catering Group opens new cafe in Barnsley: Massarella Catering Group, a family-run company that traces its origins to an ice cream business founded in 1864 by Italian émigrés to Sheffield, has opened a new cafe – inside Next at Barnsley’s The Glass Works. Caffe Botanico’s serves a lunch menu including a range of freshly made sandwiches on locally sourced bread. Freshly baked pastries and cakes are also on offer, as well as gourmet coffee, loose leaf tea and iced blended drinks. Massarella’s operations director, Giorgio Bergomi, said: “As a family company based in South Yorkshire for more than 150 years, we’re pleased to be able to bring one of our new brands to Barnsley. We’re really excited to have opened and can’t wait for everyone to experience our tasty treats.” Massarella Catering Group’s eateries typically operate out of department stores such as John Lewis, Next and Atkinsons across the north of England. The group’s other brands include Caffe Massarella, Angelica’s Tea & Cake, Cafe Etto, Wild Mint Kitchen Cafe and Cafe Zest.
London-based coffee roaster set for second cafe site: Exmouth Coffee Roasters, the London-based artisan specialty coffee roaster and cafe brand, will open a second site for its Grounded concept, next spring. The site, based at Camden Market Hawley Wharf, will offer all-day breakfast and brunch dishes, plus comprehensive vegetarian and vegan offerings. It will also feature a 15-metre-long wall of coffee from around the world, a selection of brewing and serving kits and a line-up of coffee silos, where visitors can customise their own blends in a dedicated interactive bar. The 1,600 square-foot site will have a double frontage, opening on to both Castlehaven Road and the Wharf’s central courtyard, and will have space for 60 covers inside and 20 outside. Founded in East London in 2013, Exmouth Coffee Roasters operates a roastery and a handful of coffee shops across Clerkenwell’s Exmouth Market and Whitechapel, but this will be only its second Grounded site. A company spokesman said: “This is a landmark move for us, the first site outside of our east London home. We aren’t just a cafe, we are a network of dedicated coffee lovers that aim to use our expertise to help people buy and prepare the best possible product.” Colliers and CBRE represented Camden Market Hawley Wharf.
Caffe Concerto opens latest London site: Caffe Concerto, the patisserie chain that has a portfolio across London, Birmingham and the Middle East, has opened another site in the capital. The company has launched its 18th London site, at 143 Long Acre, at the entrance to Covent Garden restaurant destination The Yards. Spanning three floors and catering for 180 covers, the flagship unit measures 4,000 square feet. Caffe Concerto also has a Birmingham site, six in Saudi Arabia and one each in Qatar and Dubai. Company director Stephano Borjak said: “We are delighted to have opened in Covent Garden and are looking forward to seeing our guests enjoy our programme of live music. Caffe Concerto has always sought to provide memorable experiences for our guests that go beyond just serving quality food. We are very fortunate to have secured such a fantastic location at the gateway to The Yards, one of London’s leading restaurant destinations.” Landlord Longmartin Properties, a joint venture between Shaftesbury and the Mercers’ Company, was represented by CBRE, while Caffe Concerto dealt direct.
Owner of Leeds-based Japanese restaurant to launch £2m luxury Chinese venture: The owner of Japanese restaurant Blue Sakura, based at the Merrion Centre in Leeds, is to open a luxury Chinese restaurant at the scheme. About £2m is being invested in Blue Pavilion, which will open in the building at 82-90 Merrion Street next summer, creating up to 50 jobs. The restaurant will occupy more than 7,100 square foot of space over the ground and first floor. Guests at the 130-cover restaurant, which will include an exclusive VIP private dining room, will enjoy oriental fine dining alongside live entertainment. In addition, an adjoining first floor karaoke venue, K Kube, will accommodate an additional 40 customers over seven rooms. Tong Huang, director at Blue Pavilion, said: “Following the success of Blue Sakura, we are confident Blue Pavilion will prove a huge hit with discerning diners looking for innovative Chinese cuisine and first-class entertainment facilities.” Charles Newman, associate director, estates at Town Centre Securities (TCS), owner of the Merrion Centre said: “While customers have a fantastic existing range of venues to choose from at the Merrion Centre, the addition of Blue Pavilion is set to bring something unique by combining top-class Oriental cuisine with cool karaoke and live entertainment under one roof.”
Mocktails secures £1.9m to help fund growth into Asian and Gulf regions: Mocktails, the alcohol-free ready-to-drink cocktail brand, has secured a £1.9m investment to help facilitate future growth. The cash injection, completing investment of more than £5.5m, will see the company, founded by Bill Gamelli and launched in the UK in 2018, expand into the Asian and Gulf markets. Lead investor Adrian Keller, chairman emeritus of DKSH Group, specialists in market expansion services in Asia, has also joined the Mocktails board of advisors. He said: “We see clearly the lifestyle of the next generation of consumers is not only a sea change for the drinks industry, but also related to the same driving forces behind the plant-based food revolution. Mocktails is a leader in the rapidly growing adult alcohol-free drinks business poised to grow globally.” The new funding will also go towards increasing production capability, new product development and expanding its marketing and sales teams. One of the new appointments is former Drake & Morgan marketing director and Soho House Group head of marketing Pooja Sharma-Jones, as chief marketing officer. “This is an extremely exciting time for us at Mocktails, and I’m thrilled to be part of a brand that’s driving innovation in the alcohol-free sector,” Sharma-Jones said. “We’re here to show people choosing not to drink alcohol for whatever reason that it’s still possible to enjoy the experience and theatre associated with cocktails and mixology.”

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