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Wed 20th Jul 2022 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Hospitality groups' like-for-like sales up 5% in June but inflation bites, strongest month of growth in 2022: Like-for-like sales at Britain’s top managed restaurant, pub and bar groups were 5% ahead of pre-covid levels in June, the latest Coffer CGA Business Tracker has revealed. The result from the tracker – produced by CGA by NielsenIQ in partnership with The Coffer Group and RSM UK – represents the strongest month of like-for-like growth since the start of 2022. However, June’s figures are skewed by the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, which provided two bank holidays against none in June 2019. The growth is also below inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index, which recently topped 9%. Restaurants were the strongest performing of the tracker’s three hospitality segments in June, with like-for-like growth of 8%. Pubs’ sales were up by 3% on three years ago, and bars’ sales rose by 5%. Trading in London remains challenging, the tracker showed. After a flat performance in May, like-for-like sales within the M25 were down by 1% in June, compared with 7% growth beyond the M25. It follows rail strikes over several days in June, which significantly reduced footfall from workers and visitors in London. The tracker also suggests some consumers who have opted for deliveries since the start of the pandemic are now returning to eating out. Managed groups’ dine-in only sales were up by 2% on a like-for-like basis in June – the first time this year that they have been in line with total growth. Karl Chessell, director – hospitality operators and food, EMEA at CGA, said: “Like-for-like sales growth of 5% would represent a strong performance for managed groups in most months. However, high inflation means sales are down in real terms, and mounting costs continue to pile pressure on profit margins. The first half of 2022 has brought some welcome stability to the hospitality sector, and consumers have returned to most of their pre-pandemic habits—but while the long-term outlook remains good, there may be some tough months ahead for many businesses.” Mark Sheehan, managing director at Coffer Corporate Leisure, added: “We are seeing a very slow return to normality. Some operators and locations are trading well. Inflation and recruitment remains a priority.”

Industry News:

Sponsored message – Airship and Toggle help rising supplier costs for hospitality businesses: Airship, the hospitality CRM platform and its sister platform, Toggle, the hospitality gift card platform, have decided to freeze prices through to 2023 in order to support marketing operations in the sector. Chief commercial officer Sam Brown said: “Our business is 100% hospitality focused and the pressures on the sector aren’t likely to change anytime soon. So we want to show our support; by making both platforms available free of charge, until October, as well as freezing our prices. This means we can continue to offer a tremendous return on investment, while your teams benefit without any nasty surprises.” Find out about how you can start generating pre-paid revenue and driving repeat footfall before you spend a penny here. If you have a sponsored story you would like to see featured in this newsletter position, email paul.charity@propelinfo.com.

Several dessert and sweet treat concepts among those added to third UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database, released on Friday: Several dessert and sweet treat concepts are among the 20 new franchisors expanding in the UK and abroad featured in the third UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database, which will be sent to Premium subscribers on Friday (22 July), at midday. The third edition will feature 140 companies and almost 60,000 words of content, providing insight on the offer, locations, cost and other key details. Among them is American pretzel shop chain Auntie Anne’s, which first came to the UK in 2003 and now has circa 47 stores over here. Also featured is Rassam’s Creamery, which was founded in Yorkshire in 2012 and has since grown to eight sites, offering a 34-page dessert menu. Little Dessert Shop, launched in 2015 and now with circa 35 UK sites, is also featured. So too is Groovy Moo, which was founded in Yorkshire in 2015 and now has two sites. Premium subscribers also receive access to The New Openings Database, the Propel Multi-Site Database and the Turnover & Profits Blue Book. 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 single subscription rate is £445 plus VAT for operators and £545 plus VAT for suppliers. Email jo.charity@propelinfo.com to upgrade your subscription. 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.

Hix – I’m not sure the appetite is there among young people now to work in hospitality: Chef and restaurateur Mark Hix has said that running restaurants “isn’t what it used to be” and he is not sure the appetite is there among young people now to work in hospitality. Last week, Hix announced he is to permanently close his first pub, The Fox Inn in the hamlet of Corscombe, Dorset, which he opened at the end of 2020. Speaking to The Telegraph, he said: “It wasn’t one thing that finished us off in the end, it was a build-up of lots of things. Rising running costs haven’t helped matters, though we were in the lucky position at the Fox (as we are at my other restaurant, the Oyster and Fish House in Lyme Regis) of being able to source our ingredients locally so we don’t have to rely much on transport or navigate importing issues. But the price of energy and the soaring cost of some ingredients are hard to shoulder. It’s staffing that has probably been the biggest problem though. I was already struggling with it, but it got to the point where I didn’t have enough chefs so I’ve been cooking in the kitchen for the last few weeks, doing double shifts and serving at the bar. Worryingly, I’m not sure the appetite is there among young people now to work in hospitality. Everyone had so much time off and got paid for it through furlough that I wonder if this kind of job just isn’t for a lot of people anymore. ‘I’m nearly 60’, I think, as I hear them complain about tiring shifts. ‘I’m sweating it out in the kitchen and pulling pints’. It’s the customer that suffers, ultimately, when the staffing isn’t there. I couldn't watch the Fox just plod on until it collapsed. The first year we were open, I lost £90,000 thanks to the pandemic. I can't risk losing more. Running restaurants isn’t what it used to be. I think if I were starting out now, I’d be nervous about opening somewhere in this climate. But this is my life – has been for more than 40 years, and when everything is working as it should, it’s the best job there is.”

Sacha Lord calls on government to ease Brexit visa regulations: Sacha Lord, the night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, has called on the government to ease visa rules to stem the jobs crisis hitting the hospitality sector. The call comes as a recent report by UKHospitality and CGA by NielsenIQ showed one in seven hospitality jobs are now unfilled, impeding business to the tune of 16% of revenues. On Monday (18 July), the Recruitment and Employment Confederation said the shortage of workers across all sectors could cost the UK economy £30bn every year unless the problem is tackled. Lord has called for a relaxation to current visa rules to allow international entry-level hospitality staff to enter the workforce. He is seeking support from the migration advisory committee (MAC) to help place entry-level hospitality roles on to the government's shortage occupation list, which offers lower barriers of entry and reduced visa fees for certain professions. He said: “The right to work and live in the UK is now considerably more restricted for EU citizens. This is a challenge that is significantly impacting employers and creating a relentless employment gap in a sector already ravaged by debt burdens and weakened consumer spending. We have not yet seen a realistic or pragmatic approach to stemming this recruitment crisis despite countless warnings from the hospitality sector that this crisis would not only come to fruition, but escalate post-covid. We were promised bilateral relations with countries such as Australia will ease the difficulties, but two years on from our official exit from the European Union, and we still do not have any immediate, credible policies in place to aid businesses in their time of need. We require an urgent review of the visa restrictions and a greater level of hospitality roles placed onto the shortage occupation list, in order to stave off further irreparable damage to a sector that brings £66bn per year into the UK economy.”

UK pay falls at fastest rate on record: Regular pay is falling at the fastest rate since 2001 when taking into account rising prices, official figures show. Between March and May, pay excluding bonuses was down 2.8% from a year earlier when adjusted for inflation – the fastest drop since records began. Meanwhile, job vacancies continued to increase, although the rate is slowing. Vacancies were up by 6,900 between April and June compared with the previous quarter, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The accommodation and foodservice sectors saw the biggest rise but this was offset by falls in other industries, including wholesale and retail trade and motor vehicle repairs. ONS head of labour market and household statistics, David Freeman, said the figures showed a “mixed picture” for the labour market. 

West End operators turning away one in five customers due to staff shortages: Hospitality bosses are being forced to turn away one in five customers because they still cannot recruit enough staff to cope with demand, a new survey has revealed. The Evening Standard reported in a poll by the business group Heart of London, employers in hospitality companies based in London said on average 19% of jobs are unfilled forcing them to stay closed for part of the week, or put a cap on the number of customers. The biggest reasons for the shortfall is a lack of applicants after Brexit and the pandemic and London’s “brutal” cost of living – particularly housing. The poll found on average restaurants, bars, pubs and hotels are missing out on 20% of sales. The most frequently suggested solution was for the introduction of a visa not covered by the post-Brexit points-based system; the expansion of the Youth Mobility Scheme to more countries; and amending the points-based immigration system to consider sectors with acute shortages. Employers are also calling for a national marketing campaign to promote the sector and for greater support for transport to and from work, including further extensions to the Night Tube. Charlie Gilkes, co-founder of Inception Group, which runs 13 London sites including Mr Fogg’s cocktail bars and Bunga Bunga in Battersea and Covent Garden, said he needed another 50 staff with two thirds of the sites “not trading all the hours we would like to”. He said: “We used to put job ads out on Gumtree and we would get hundreds of applicants, now we’re lucky if we get any at all.”

Square Mile hospitality businesses to continue benefiting from free pavement licences until September 2023: Hospitality businesses in London’s Square Mile are to continue to benefit from free pavement licences after the City of London Corporation agreed to extend the measure. The authority’s planning and transportation committee has voted to extend the policy until September 2023. The policy has proved popular with Square Mile businesses and there are currently 142 live licences. The City Corporation recently announced its new flagship policy – Destination City – that will transform the Square Mile’s leisure offer. With a £2.5m annual investment from the City Corporation, Destination City will drive the Square Mile’s recovery from the pandemic and deliver an events programme, including outdoor festivals featuring music, art, education, sport, and wellness. The first of three major events is planned for this autumn. Chairman of the City Corporation’s planning and transportation committee, Cllr Shravan Joshi, said: “Offering free licences for outdoor dining has been a transformational policy in the Square Mile. It’s great to see workers, visitors and residents dining ‘alfresco’ enjoying the vibrant atmosphere, akin to the continental experience, especially in this hot weather. Safety and accessibility remain a top priority. The City Corporation will continue to ensure the needs of people with disabilities, the available space on the pavement and other factors are all considered when deciding applications for pavement licences.”

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a global leading provider in food and beverage. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “This role will be to work closely with global stakeholders at director and chief executive level, employing critical thinking and problem-solving skills to ensure value delivery and manage team outputs, in line with business priorities. You will also identify, scope, prioritise sales and growth opportunities, build communication channels with commercial teams across the group, work with cross functional teams (eg sustainability, group business development) to support/own project delivery as appropriate.” The salary is up to £80,000 and the position is based in London. For more information, email gemma@corecruitment.com

Licensing update: Licensing solicitors John Gaunt & Partners has published its latest licensing update providing a useful monthly summary of licensing news including the confirmation of the extension to off-sales provision, which can be accessed here
 

Company News:

Collins – we used the covid period to transform the business operationally: Nick Collins, chief executive of cafe bar operator Loungers, has said the business used the covid period to transform itself operationally. This has included reducing its “site to operations team ratio” at every level and publicly setting out its values for employees. Collins said: “Towards the end of the year we significantly restructured the operations team within the Lounge business. The restructure saw us add one operations director, two regional operations managers and five operations managers/chefs. It also saw us reduce the 'site to ops team ratio' at every level. At the operations managers/chefs level we now have a ratio of 5:1, which is unprecedented in our sector, in other businesses that will be 15, 20 or 25 to one. This consistently low ratio has allowed for our intensity of operation and our focus on detail. What's really great about it as well is it means we've got fantastic progression throughout the business. The regional operations managers run businesses, which produce in excess of £20m to £30m pounds of sales a year. Six of these regional operations managers were originally Lounge general managers operating sites turning over £1m. That really helps demonstrate how we're creating careers in hospitality.” Collins said the 201-strong business also had to adapt its operating processes to match evolving demand, which had “changed a little bit as a result of covid”. He said: “We’ve seen much higher cocktail sales, we're selling more second drinks, and selling more puddings in the Lounge businesses. We've also introduced hosting, so we're welcoming people at the door. That's something that we weren't doing pre covid. And we've seen significant menu evolutions both in Lounge and Cosy Club.” During the year, the company launched “the Commitments” setting out publicly to its team and prospective employees the values that it wants to represent as an employer. Included within these were commitments to respect everyone's time off, to pay fairly, to rota fairly, to focus on everyone's development and progression, and to ensure everyone is made welcome. Collins said: “These weren't new values to Loungers, but we wanted to make sure everyone in the business knew what we stood for and to be held to account. There are no easy wins here – the sense we get from our team is that it is not about pay. It is about flexibility, working hours, team environment, progression and development, fairness and respect. By setting out our values, we want our team to hold us to account, which will allow us to become an even better employer.”

M&B puts roll out of Neighbourhood Pubs concept on hold: Mitchells & Butlers (M&B), the Harvester, All Bar One and Toby Carvery operator, has put the roll out of its Neighbourhood Pubs concept on hold, to focus on its core brands, Propel has learned. The group opened its first site under the new concept, which M&B hoped would give it a second bow to its premium offering, in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, in June 2019. The offer is a premium suburban concept that aims to “appeal across all dayparts, with flexible space that’s appropriate for a range of occasions”. The business had lined up a second conversion to the new format with its Harvester in Ruislip, west London, set to become The George At Ruislip. However, it continues as a Harvester. M&B chief executive Phil Urban told Propel: “We don't have any current plans for further roll out, although Harpenden is doing well, simply because we feel in the current climate we need to focus on the core brands.”

KFC franchisee plans 20 new restaurants over next three years to grow estate towards 60-plus target, turnover up 45%: Lars (GFUK) Holdings, which operates KFC franchisees across Wales, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, plans to open 20 new restaurants over the next three years to build towards its “vision of having 60-plus outlets”. The company currently operates 37 restaurants, and during the year ending 24 December 2021, added new sites in Rhyl and Bangor. It made a pre-tax profit of £5,121,140 (2020: £801,414) on turnover of £70,699,96 2020: (£48,612,159). The company put its 45% increase in turnover down to “core growth driven by marketing”, but said it also reflected store closures due to lockdowns in 2020. It said a total operating profit increase of 209% was also “mainly driven by the core trade”, and added: “Profit after tax has increased compared with last year, showing the overall business is in very good shape to open more restaurants in coming years”. It received £159,875 in government grants, compared with £2,438,229 in 2020.

McDonald’s UK to launch rewards scheme nationwide: McDonald’s UK is launching its rewards scheme nationwide to let customers collect points to spend on food or donate to charities. MyMcDonald’s Rewards follows a pilot in the north west earlier this year. Customers will earn 100 points for every £1 they spend via the app, with every penny equating to one point. Collecting 1,500 points will allow diners to choose between menu items including small fries, hash browns or a side salad, while 2,500 points allow a free double cheeseburger or vegetable deluxe among other options. Customers can also choose to donate the cash equivalent of their points to BBC Children in Need, FareShare and Ronald McDonald House charities. Those who opt in to MyMcDonald’s Rewards and order and pay through the McDonald’s app will automatically earn points. Alternatively, customers can get a one-time code, which is available in the “code” section of the app at the start of their order at the drive-thru, kiosk or counter. Earlier this week, Burger King announced it is launching a new nationwide loyalty programme from Tuesday, 26 July, with diners earning ten points, which can be used to get more food, for every £1 spent. Diners need to place an order on the Burger King UK app or in store to start collecting points. Once accumulated, customers can generate a six-digit code on the app, which can be shown at participating Burger King restaurants to claim menu items. Burger King UK chief executive Alasdair Murdoch said: “The launch of BKUK’s UK-wide loyalty reward scheme reflects our continued recognition of changing customer preferences and is an important milestone in helping us drive engagement through personalised campaigns.”

Slim's Healthy Kitchen owner acquires Belfast coffee chain District: Follow Leisure, the owner of Slim's Healthy Kitchen, has acquired Belfast coffee chain, District. The four-strong coffee chain, which was set up in 2016, will continue to operate under its own brand, with the 30 staff moving under the Follow Leisure umbrella. But the group said it will close a location in Stranmillis when the lease expires later this year. In a statement, Follow Leisure, which is led by Gary McIldowney, described the site as “underperforming”. The group’s hospitality portfolio includes cafes Canteen, Output, Morning Martha plus the multi-venue restaurant brand, Slim’s Healthy Kitchen. McIldowney said the acquisition will complement the group’s growth strategy. He said: “Our plans are to immediately provide an increased and varied food offering with a strong focus on an all-day breakfast and brunch menu. We're excited to welcome all District staff to the Follow Leisure group. District has demonstrated robust trading in recent months and had a quick rebound following the removal of the covid-19 pandemic restrictions. We view District as having significant future potential in many high footfall locations. The brand matches perfectly with the ethos of our other cafe brands of great coffee, a stand-out food offering and service with a local community-based feel. Outside of the peak lunch trading period, we offer mid-morning, afternoon snacks and coffee and this is an area where we see the potential for increased value proposition across our brand portfolio.”

Neat Burger secures site at The O2: Lewis Hamilton-backed plant-based concept Neat Burger, which recently made its debut in the US, has secured a further site in London, at The O2. Propel understands the business, which currently operates eight restaurants in the capital, has secured the former Benito’s Hat site at The O2, for an opening later this year. Neat Burger is currently gearing up to open its latest restaurant in Chelsea. The company will open its first flagship location in the US, in Manhattan, later this autumn, as part of plans to expand to 1,000 corporately owned, franchise and dark kitchens by 2030. The company said its expansion will begin in the US covering a nationwide roll-out, as well as the introduction of its proprietary alternative-protein products into the consumer packaged goods retail market. The first Neat Burger pop-up in midtown New York, in UrbanSpace Vanderbilt, opened in April. Marc Rogers, of MKR Property, acts for Neat Burger.

Popeyes eyes Leicester opening: Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, the US fried chicken quick-service brand, is lining up an opening in Leicester. The company, which launched in the UK last year, is understood to be set to take the former Dorothy Perkins site in the city’s Gallowtree Gate. Popeyes recently announced a swathe of new sites as it looks to build a national presence here. The business, which recently opened its second permanent UK site, in Chelmsford, has secured sites in Metrocentre (Gateshead), Reading (Broad Street), Nottingham (Burger King, opposite the Victoria Centre), Brighton (Tui unit in North Street), Ealing Broadway (Next store), and Oxford (Queen Street). All these sites are set to open this year. The company is also understood to be in talks on sites in Glasgow and Cambridge. The brand, which launched its first UK restaurant at Westfield Stratford, has also secured a site in Romford and hopes to have its first drive-thru, understood to be based in Essex, open by the end of the year or the start of 2023. It has also been linked with drive-thru sites in Dorset and Northampton.

Bewiched Coffee secures Wellingborough site for second drive-thru, five more in pipeline: Northampton cafe operator Bewiched Coffee has secured a site in Wellingborough for its 14th cafe and second drive-thru. It is planning to open at Station Island, Stanton Cross, by mid-2023. Matt Fountain, managing director at Bewiched Coffee, said: “Wellingborough is where our business started and it is brilliant to be opening our second drive-thru unit there, having opened the UK and Europe’s first purpose-built drive-thru coffee offer last year. This sits alongside our wider drive-thru strategy, with five more in the pipeline.” Bewiched opened its first drive-thru, in Moulton Park, Northampton, in June 2021, after which Fountain said he was planning a 20-strong drive-thru estate by 2025. He aims to have five of these operational by the end of 2023. In March, the company signed its first franchise partnership, with plans to extend its overall estate to 40 sites by the end of 2026.

Flight Club lines up two new sites in Australia: Flight Club, the darts concept owned by Red Engine, is to begin its roll out in Australia, with two new openings before the end of the year. In 2020, Red Engine signed an agreement with Capitol Corp, which owns six venues across Perth, to debut the concept in the country. The first Flight Club in Australia opened in Perth at the end of last year. Capitol, which is led by David Heaton, will soon open a second Flight Club on the former The Newport Hotel site in Freemantle. It then plans to open a site in the Alexandra Building on the corner of Russell and Little Lonsdale streets, in Melbourne, before the year end. In April, Red Engine chief executive Steve Moore told Propel he believes the company can take both its concepts – Flight Club and Electric Shuffle – to at least 100 sites in the UK. Flight Club opened its ninth UK site, in Cheltenham, earlier this year, with plans to open in Cardiff this autumn and Glasgow in the autumn of 2023. Shuffleboard concept Electric Shuffle, meanwhile, has two UK sites, both in London, with plans to open its first venue outside the capital, in Leeds, this autumn. The business also currently has three sites in the US, in Chicago, Boston and Houston, with its licensed partner State of Play Hospitality, with another three openings lined up in Atlanta, Denver and Las Vegas. 

Gainford Group turnover passes £36m as hotels trade above pre-pandemic levels: North east operator Gainford Group, which also runs 12 care homes, has reported revenue increased to more than £36m in the year ending 31 December 2021, with its hotel business trading “strongly” and “at levels above those pre-pandemic”. Gainford is behind the Great Victoria Hotel in Bradford as well Newcastle venues the Vermont Hotel, the County Hotel, Bar Livello, the Vermont Apartments, the Aveika restaurant and the Newbridge Street Hotel. The company saw turnover increase to £36,243,437 for the period, compared with £28,236,1014 the year before. Of this total, hotel revenue rose to £12,405,128, compared with £4,434,261 the year before. Group pre-tax profit jumped to £7,867,083 compared with £3,644,044 the previous year. Despite incurring “significant extra costs” from staffing, agency and covid infection control, the company said it traded strongly. The group received £1,354,792 in government grants, compared with £2,637,068 in 2020, and used the downtime during the pandemic to improve the outdoor facilities at The Vermont, The County, Aveika and Livello. A new rooftop bar, Above, opened at Vermont in the summer of 2021, with initial trading results showing it was a “worthwhile addition” with “bookings strong into the summer of 2022 and beyond”. The County Hotel has “successfully traded beyond expectations”, and it’s Hudson bar and restaurant now has an improved alfresco area pavement licence. Similar improvements have been made at Aveika, which has also “performed strongly in 2021 and continues to perform well into 2022”. Pre-covid plans to transform the Newbridge Street site into a luxury high rise hotel and apartments complex with restaurants and bars have been postponed while talks take place with Newcastle Council. It is hoped the plans will be finalised by the end of 2022, and in the interim period, the site has had “sustained full occupancy” through a temporary contract with the Home Office.

Incipio Group to make debut in the City: Incipio Group, the London operator of venues including The Prince and Lost In Brixton, is to make its debut in the City, with the launch of The Libertine at the Royal Exchange. Launching this October, the 7,000 square-foot venue will be based underground inside the historic vaults of The Royal Exchange, and will comprise a large destination bar, casual drinking and dining spaces, two private dining rooms and a main restaurant. As the first venue to serve alcohol in London with a Royal Licence, The Libertine will be “a place of celebration and generous hospitality, paying homage to its rich, fruitful history”. For Incipio chief executive Ed Devenport, The Libertine, which will becoming the group’s seventh site, signifies a ‘full circle’ moment, having started his career a stone's throw away from the Royal Exchange. Earlier this year, the company outlined its expansion plans after it received fresh investment. The group said it plans to open a healthy pipeline of new venues in 2022 and 2023 as it takes its differentiated and scalable destination offerings to other parts of London. The expansion plans follow the successful completion of a private placement of secondary shares led by Bosham Capital Advisors. 

Searcys significantly reduces losses, pays back deferred VAT and PAYE early due to strong financial recovery: British restaurateur and events caterer Searcys has significantly reduced its pre-tax losses, from £7,415,000 in 2020 to £439,000 for the year ending 20 December 2021. It achieved this on turnover of £25,969,000, up from £16,774,000 in 2020. The company also received £2,984,000 in government grants, compared with £8,848,000 in 2020. Having taken advantage of VAT and PAYE deferrals during the pandemic, this was all repaid with interest by the end of 2022, and before the repayment plan agreed with HM Revenue & Customs, due to the business’ “strong financial recovery”. The company, which celebrates its 17th anniversary this year, said: “Despite the significant challenges the group faces, trading performance over the balance of the year was good and showed encouraging recovery from 2020. We successfully adapted our offerings and demonstrated both the underlying resilience of the business and an ability to drive revenues.” During the period, the business was awarded new contracts with, among others, The Institute of Engineering & Technology and The Institute of Directors, as well as extending existing contracts and leases at flagship restaurants. Post year-end, on 31 December 2021, Searcy also acquired Mockingbird Catering for an initial £1.48m and a deferred consideration of £1.2m.

Star Pubs & Bars appoints new central operations director: Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars has appointed Caren Geering as central operations director. In her new position, Geering will be responsible for overseeing the company’s recruitment, training and marketing. She will also continue her roles as a Heineken UK inclusion and diversity ambassador and mental health champion and mentor. Before taking on the new role, Greening was a regional operations director for Star Pubs & Bars, and has also worked for other pub companies in the leased and tenanted and managed operations sectors. Lawson Mountstevens, managing director of Star Pubs & Bars, said: “We’re delighted to have Caren on the leadership team and in such a pivotal position within the business. She has been a fantastic regional operations director and contributed heavily to our organisational effectiveness journey over the last year. Her appointment will see her build on the great work and momentum already in place.” Geering’s predecessor, Neil Convery, has taken up the position of north trading director within Heineken’s on-trade business. 

Restaurant Associates opens new restaurant at Edinburgh Zoo: Restaurant Associates, part of Compass Group UK & Ireland, has opened a new restaurant at Edinburgh Zoo. Named after the first animal to be held at the zoo, The Gannet offers a range of traditional Scottish fish and chip dishes, from Cullen skink to vegan haggis, using locally sourced ingredients. Located on the site of the former Jungle Cafe, it extends Restaurant Associates’ partnership with wildlife conservation charity The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS). Ben Supple, director of engagement and business development at RZSS, said: “It is wonderful to be expanding our food offering here at Edinburgh Zoo, in partnership with Restaurant Associates. Sustainability is at the heart of what we do, so ensuring we used local suppliers who share our values was incredibly important.” Ben Cochrane, general manager at Restaurant Associates, added: “Seeing visitors enjoy our new dishes during its first week has been wonderful. Not only is our partnership and support of RZSS incredibly important to us, but launching a new restaurant with a focus on sustainability directly feeds into our climate net zero target.” Restaurant Associates, which has run the catering at Edinburgh Zoo since 2011, had its contract extended by three years in October 2021. It also operates the Grasslands Restaurant and Penguins Cafe, as well as providing catering and hospitality for weddings, conferences and other events at the zoo.

Roxy Leisure confirms August opening for Sheffield Roxy Lanes site, Edinburgh to follow in November: Roxy Leisure, the operator of the Roxy Lanes and Roxy Ballroom concepts, has confirmed its Sheffield Roxy Lanes will open next month, followed by Edinburgh in November. The Sheffield site is beneath Telephone House at 40 Charter Square, while the Edinburgh one will be located in Rose Street. Both openings will bring the group’s portfolio to 13 sites. The 25,000 square-foot Edinburgh site will feature ten-pin bowling, ice-free curling, American pool, air hockey, karaoke, arcade games, basketball, beer pong and shuffleboard. Roxy Leisure’s commercial manager, Joel Mitchell, said: “Edinburgh is a beautiful and historic city with a creative spirit. We're excited about bringing our competitive gaming concept to this vibrant city.” Last month, the group opened its 11th site, a Roxy Lanes in Bristol, and lined up a site for a second Roxy Lanes in Birmingham. 

Frankie & Benny’s continues estate refresh as three more sites get revamp: Frankie & Benny’s, owned by The Restaurant Group, is continuing the refurbishment of its estate with three more sites getting a revamp. The restaurants at The Fort in Birmingham and Ashton Moss in Greater Manchester have now reopened with the outlet at Wembley, north west London, welcoming customers back from Friday (22 July). The three sites all have a new, spacious layout, complete with more booths, new bar and improved access for delivery drivers. Jon Knight, managing director for The Restaurant Group, leisure and concessions, said: “Our greatest strength is being a place where family and friends can come together and relax in conversation over their favourite meal. Our newly refurbished sites are designed to bring guests, family and friends closer together, in a fresh and welcoming environment, with more space to relax and socialise.”

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