Sector again calls for further support as restaurants, pubs and bars ‘lose average of £10,000 in week before Christmas’: Pubs, bars and restaurants lost £10,335 on average in the week leading up to Christmas, according to new data from UKHospitality. On Christmas Day takings were down 60% compared with 2019, the figures found. The average losses are above the maximum £6,000 cash grants offered to each affected venue by chancellor Rishi Sunak as part of his £1bn fund announced last week. City centre and London venues were hardest hit, with the rise of the Omicron variant of covid-19 and new work from home instructions knocking pre-Christmas celebrations badly, the trade body said. The latest figures have led to further calls for the government to ensure more support is offered to the sector as it struggles to recover. By comparison, data from the weeks prior to Omicron emerging showed average sales had been at 98% of pre-pandemic levels, leading many to hope for a successful festive period. December is typically equal to three months’ worth of trading, UKHospitality said, meaning the recovery in the sector and the economy more broadly could now take far longer as a result of the latest variant. Chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “Hospitality businesses have been hit hard during a key trading period – and this after missing out on the crucial Christmas and New Year sales last year. Restrictions must be kept to a minimum and must be lifted as quickly as possible to help an already beleaguered sector or many will simply not survive – and those who do make it through face a return to 20% VAT in April. In order to help the industry recover and return to growth, the government must commit to keeping VAT at 12.5% and offering enhanced rates relief. Further support will also be needed should additional restrictions be imposed or the tougher measures in Scotland and Wales be retained into 2022.”
Burger King UK agrees deal to acquire 12 franchise sites: Burger King UK, the Bridgepoint-backed chain, has agreed a deal to acquire 12 new restaurants from its franchise partners. The Alasdair Murdoch-led business has announced it will take over all the fast-food chain’s restaurants operated by franchise companies Kaykem Fast Foods and Saxby. The expansion will include locations across London, Ipswich, Kent and elsewhere in the south east. The company said the deal will continue its ambitious growth plans and take its directly-owned portfolio to 172 restaurants. The group now directly owns almost a third of the brand’s circa 530 UK restaurants, with the vast still majority-owned by franchisees. The company said it is moving “into a year of growth” after weathering the impact of the pandemic. It said it is “committed to expanding organically through the opening of new sites and through acquisition by consolidating smaller franchises in the UK into its centrally managed portfolio”. It has also pumped investment into its customer experience over the past year, introducing more digital ordering kiosks and digital menu screens. Murdoch said: “I would like to thank Kaykem Fast Foods and Saxby for their support along with the contribution they have made to Burger King in the UK over the past 25 years. The restaurants have been run in an exemplary way and we welcome our new colleagues in the restaurant teams as they become part of Burger King UK.” Sky News reported earlier this year that Bridgepoint was exploring its options for the business, which it has backed since 2017, and has held early-stage talks with possible advisers. It is also understood to be in talks regarding a possible initial public offering. The company has reportedly hired Bank of America and Investec to spearhead the initial public offering during the first half of 2022. Burger King UK’s performance has been boosted by an expanded portfolio of drive-thru restaurants, while it also has partnerships with Deliveroo, Just Eat and UberEats, which helped to maintain sales momentum during the UK’s various lockdowns. Burger King is said to have scores of further drive-thru outlets in the pipeline. Propel revealed earlier this year the brand is to trial a smaller “urban box-style” format in early 2022. Propel understands the business will look to open 800 square foot to 1,200 square foot sites under the new format, which will have a rent of sub-£50,000 and provide a strong delivery sales mix. It is thought it will focus on secondary high street locations as it looks to fill in geographical gaps in its current nationwide estate.