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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Thu 20th Oct 2022 - Propel Thursday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Hospitality loses 2,200 sites in three months as business cost challenges mount, nightclub numbers down 5.6%: Britain’s licensed sector saw a net decline of one closure every hour in the third quarter of 2022, the latest Hospitality Market Monitor from CGA and AlixPartners reveals. It shows there were just under 104,000 licensed premises at the end of September 2022 – a net drop of 2,230 since June, which represents an average of just over 24 closures a day, or more than 150 per week. This latest decline leaves the licensed market with 11,426 (or 9.9%) fewer sites than March 2020. It follows a year of relative stability as hospitality built back from covid, with the number of sites at June 2022 virtually the same as 12 months earlier. The report from CGA and AlixPartners reveals a sharp contrast in the fortunes of managed hospitality groups and independent operators. While the number of managed sites is 3.0% below pre-covid levels it increased by 0.9% (up 179 sites) in the last three months, but the independent sector contracted by 2.6% (minus 1,751 sites). High street, suburban and rural locations all recorded same net decline of 2.1% in licensed premises between June and September. By region, quarter-on-quarter declines varied only slightly, from a low of 1.6% in the south and south east to a high of 2.9% in Scotland. Britain’s number of nightclubs has fallen by 5.6% in the last three months alone, and the sector now has around a quarter fewer sites (down 309) than it did before the pandemic. Karl Chessell, CGA’s business unit director for hospitality operators and food, EMEA, said: “These numbers show how hospitality’s steady recovery from covid is now under severe threat from rising costs for businesses and consumers alike. The resilience and confidence of managed groups and their investors is impressive, and people’s appetite for eating and drinking out is undimmed. However, thousands of smaller businesses are now on a knife-edge and in need of financial support.” Graeme Smith, managing director at AlixPartners, added: “This volatility will also inevitably trigger market activity as companies are forced to restructure and merge in order to find cost savings, and additionally, as those that can – with the strength of balance sheet and financial firepower – acquire other groups.” UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “It is truly saddening to see this scale of losses over the last quarter. UKHospitality forecast this summer that we could lose 10% of the industry if adequate support was not offered and it would appear that prediction is bearing true. There is no time to waste – there now needs to be considered and urgent action to ensure businesses can survive.”

Industry News:

Number of burger concepts to join updated Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies: A number of burger concepts are among the 32 new multi-site companies being added to the next edition of the Propel Premium Database of Multi-Site Companies, which will be released on Friday, 28 October, at midday. The updated Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, features Band of Burgers, the London concept founded by Zeeshan Amin, which operates sites in Brick Lane, Southgate, Walthamstow, and recently opened in Lillie Road in Fulham. Also added this month is South Yorkshire burger concept Urban Burger, led by managing director Mahmet Kent, which operates two restaurants in Doncaster and one each in Halifax and Rotherham, while a fifth site is set to open at The Glass Works in Barnsley. In addition, Burger Boi, which is led by founder Surj Bassi and head of development Wayne Timbrell, and currently operates six sites across the Midlands, will be featured. Premium subscribers will also receive a 2,200-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. The database now features 2,677 companies. Premium subscribers will also receive the next edition of the New Openings Database on Friday, 4 November, at midday. It focuses on newly announced openings and upcoming launches in the sector and is updated every month. The next edition also includes a 7,000-word report on the new additions to the database. Premium subscribers also receive access to the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group, and the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database. 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 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.

Tourism and recreation sector sees output fall at the fastest pace in 18 months as consumers rein in spending: The tourism and recreation sector, which includes pubs and restaurants, experienced the sharpest fall in output of any UK sector in September, according to the latest Lloyds Bank UK Sector Tracker. Output in the sector contracted at the fastest pace (36.3) since February 2021, when the UK was last in lockdown. The drop was caused by demand – represented by new orders – falling for a fourth consecutive month (38.5) as consumers reined-in discretionary spending amid rising inflation. However, five of the 14 UK sectors saw output grow in September – versus three in August – while the same number saw new orders grow versus three in August. A reading above 50 on the tracker indicates expansion on an index, while a reading below 50 indicates contraction. Elsewhere, the tracker showed overall input cost inflation for businesses intensified in September for the first time since May (77.4 versus 76.6 in August). The increase was driven by rising energy prices for manufacturers, reported by a record number of firms, surpassing a previous peak during the 2008 oil price shock. However, while cost inflation accelerated month-on-month, there were positive signs of a gradual improvement in price pressures quarter-on-quarter. Between the second and third quarters, the average pace of input cost inflation slowed in all 14 sectors monitored by the tracker. This was supported by easing wage and shipping cost pressures – with reports of higher shipping costs reaching a 21-month low in September. Meanwhile, the pace of inflation in prices charged to customers slowed in 12 sectors.

Kate Nicholls – sector faces ‘an enormous cliff-edge’ with September inflation figures traditionally used to set tax changes and rates for following year: UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls has warned the sector faces “an enormous cliff-edge” in April with the September inflation figures traditionally being used to set tax changes and rates for the following year. Inflation has risen to a 40-year high of 10.1%, according to the latest figures with food costs driving the increase. Nicholls said: “The sky-high levels of inflation we’re seeing are continuing to put the hospitality sector under huge pressure and businesses across the country will be fighting to survive the winter. With the September inflation figures traditionally being used to set tax changes and rates for the following year, there is a real risk hospitality businesses will face an enormous cliff-edge in April if these numbers are used to hike the business rates tax level. Such an increase at the same time as the risk of business rates reliefs ending could prove fatal for many. With hospitality inflation contributing heavily to the overall inflation rate, we now risk an inflationary spiral where our higher costs lead to higher taxes, which lead to even higher prices. As well as needing to reform the entire business rates system in the long-term, it’s now absolutely critical business rates relief is extended for vulnerable sectors such as hospitality and that downward revaluations are realised in full.” It comes as experts warned business rates bills could rise by as much as £3bn in April. “Uniform” business rates – part of a “multiplier” used to calculate companies’ rates bills – were frozen by then chancellor Rishi Sunak at the last two autumn budgets. But with pressure on new chancellor Jeremy Hunt to bolster public revenues, company bosses fear he will force up business rates in line with inflation. A £2.7bn business rates discount in England for retail, leisure and hospitality premises is also due to end in March.

Sector trade bodies call on chancellor to cancel drink duty hikes: The British Beer & Pub Association, the Scotch Whiskey Association and Wine and Spirits Trade Association have joined together to call on the chancellor Jeremy Hunt to cancel the double-digit tax hike on the “UK’s world-class drinks industry”. In a joint statement to the chancellor, the groups said: “The reversal of the duty freeze will mean a double-digit rise for beer, wine and spirits, industries that combined together contribute £13bn to the Exchequer through duty alone. For hard pressed consumers, this will mean a significant increase in the price of their favourite drinks at a time when our pubs, restaurants and shops are all struggling to manage increasing costs and keep their doors from shutting for good.” The joint statement said the sector had welcomed the former chancellor’s announcement less than a month ago to freeze alcohol duty. The groups said the freeze “underpinned the investment our member companies are making across the UK, supported hundreds of thousands of jobs, gave our industries stability and confidence at the time of rising energy costs, covid recovery, supply chain pressures and fragile consumer confidence”. They added: “This stability has now been shaken, and confidence lost, due to the U-turn announced on Monday.” The trade groups highlighted revenue growth for the sectors and called on the chancellor not to let the industry “pay the price for ‘going too far, too fast’ in other fiscal measures”.

Hospitality Rising fundraising campaign passes £800,000 mark as Parkdean Resorts and Prezzo invest combined £80,000: Industry recruitment campaign Hospitality Rising has now raised more than £800,000 following investment from Parkdean Resorts, the UK’s largest holiday park operator, and Prezzo. They have invested a combined £80,000 to help tackle the 400,000 vacancies that exist in the industry while changing the perception of working in hospitality for the better. Mark McCulloch, founder of Hospitality Rising and campaign director, said: “I am overwhelmed by the support given by our latest investors, and by the generosity of all of those who have committed to backing our recruitment campaign. The Hospitality Rising movement is about to reach a major milestone and through our collective effort, we will be able to share some important messages on why the industry is such a vibrant and rewarding place to work. Our work is not done and with sector-wide support and investment, we’re certain we can spread the word about this powerful campaign and find more of the exceptional people that make the hospitality industry so special.” The Hospitality Rising campaign is set to unveil its plans later this month. Steve Richards, chief executive of Parkdean Resorts, said: “With more than 250 different careers available at Parkdean Resorts, we’re always interested in new initiatives that will help us attract and develop the diverse talent we need for tomorrow.” Dean Challenger, chief executive of Prezzo, added: “People are at the heart of all good hospitality businesses and are the very centre of Prezzo. We are therefore proud to be pledging our support to the campaign.” 

Greene King becomes Only A Pavement Away’s first strategic partner as charity lays out five-year strategy: Only A Pavement Away, the hospitality sector charity aiding prison leavers, veterans and those facing homelessness find employment in the hospitality sector, has announced brewer and retailer Greene King as its first charity primary partner. Having worked closely with Only A Pavement Away since the charity’s launch in 2018, not only on fundraising but also as the largest employer of Only A Pavement Away members, Greene King has now committed to working even closer with the hospitality charity, providing an annual corporate donation, strategic input and support for the custodial projects undertaken by Only A Pavement Away, including government lobbying. Increasing the number of corporate partners, like Greene King, is a core ambition of the charity, which has laid out its five-year strategy to expand and scale up its programme to operate in every major city/town in the UK and place 1,000 people back into employment by June 2024. As part of the strategy, it also plans to set up a centralised training academy in preparation for employment, expand its campaigns and events to enhance brand awareness. As part of the partnership, Greene King will be supporting the charity’s “Learning Kitchen” project. This will see the company sponsor the refurbishment of a prison kitchen at HMP Thameside, transforming it into a facility where serving prisoners can be taught the skills and behaviours required to work in a professional kitchen. With momentum already behind the project, Only A Pavement Away plans to extend the Learning Kitchen from two prisons in 2022 to 15 by mid-2024.

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a growing international group that is looking for a manager for a four-star hotel in central London. A COREcruitment spokesman said: “You will be responsible for managing the team and overall hotel targets to deliver an excellent guest experience. Specifically, you will be responsible for managing the profitability of the hotel, ensuring revenue and guest satisfaction targets are met and exceeded, provide effective leadership to hotel team members, comply with, and exceed all brand service standards, ensure costs are controlled and that revenue opportunities are effectively sourced and delivered. You will deliver achievable hotel budgets, and set other short and long-term strategic goals for the property.” The salary is up to £90,000. For more information, email 

Company News:

McDonald’s Convenience of the Future restaurants ‘will not only enhance customer experience but unlock future growth’, delivery accounting for quarter of UK sales: McDonald’s Convenience of the Future restaurants will not only enhance the customer experience but also unlock future growth, according to Chris English, the company’s UK & Ireland national operations director. Some 150 of the circa 1,450 McDonald’s restaurants in the UK are now operating under the concept, which launched earlier this year. “We’re still looking to invest, but at this time it’s a very targeted investment, which is customer-led and employee-led,” English told the Restaurant & Takeaway Innovation Expo 2022. “Our Convenience of the Future restaurants will not only enhance the customer experience, but will unlock future growth for our franchisees. Five years ago we offered customers two service channels, restaurant or drive-thru. We now offer 11 different ways of ordering food and our restaurants just aren’t set up to deal with that, particularly delivery. To be honest, delivery exploded way quicker than we expected, and we didn’t expect to have to deal with some of those challenges as quickly as we did. We’ve only had five years to get used to it, and its 25% of our business, whereas we’ve had 30 years to get used to drive-thru. Convenience of the Future tries to deal with that problem of how we set our restaurants up physically to deal with 11 different service channels.” As well as separating out delivery couriers, the concept has looked at how to utilise the rest of the space, like giving staff room to do their job and relax. “Working in a space not set up to deal with the operations creates tension, so it was the first time we refurbished restaurants around our employees’ needs,” said English. “Employee satisfaction in those restaurants is now 16 points higher, which is massive, as in essence, the employer experience is the customer experience.” While English said predicting future tech advances is like “spreading your bets and seeing what comes through”, he insisted it’s also important to cater for customers who want a more traditional approach to ordering. “Kiosks were a big challenge for us it took a while for customers to get into them, but it’s now second nature,” he said. “A few still want to pay by cash or talk to a person, and it’s incredibly important you’re there for those customers too.” English added it’s been a challenge getting customers to sign up to the McDonald's app as “we’re already incredibly convenient”, and admits it “doesn’t do a few things customers expect it to do, like ordering ahead”. He added: “We absolutely haven’t nailed the omnichannel experience, we’ve still got work to do.”

Puttshack and Flight Club co-founder set to launch first Formula One licensed experiential venue, further expansion planned: Puttshack and Flight Club co-founder Adam Breedon is set to next month launch the first Formula 1 licensed experiential venue, with further expansion planned. Breedon – who also co-founded Bounce, All Star Lanes and Hijingo and founded cocktail bar and restaurant The Lonsdale – is now the chief executive of Kindred Concepts, which has partnered with Formula 1 for F1 Arcade. The venue will open on Thursday, 24 November at One New Change in London’s St Pauls, with further national and global expansion to follow. This includes a mixture of owned and operated venues, joint ventures and franchise partnerships, with target locations including the UK, US, key European cities, the Middle East and Asia. The immersive state-of-the-art racing simulation adventure comes with 60 motion Formula 1 simulators, enabling guests to experience the thrill of racing, complemented by a “glamorous” food and beverage offering including champagne cocktails. Guests can choose from a variety of racing modes to compete against each other individually, in team-based groups or as part of all-venue racing formats. Different modes will be available for all ages and abilities, while guests can also opt for a personal driver profile and an experience currency. The venue will also host enhanced experiences on Grand Prix weekends. Breeden said: “This has been our most ambitious project to date, taking everything we know about competitive socialising venues and adding the strength of the Formula 1 brand. This is all the glamour of a Grand Prix weekend in your city, all year round. The cutting-edge technology, high-quality food and beverages, coupled with a glamorous venue, sets F1 Arcade apart from the rest.” Brandon Snow, managing director of commercial at Formula 1, added: “F1 Arcade is an ambitious project that will allow people to get even closer to the Formula 1 experience by giving guests the chance to get behind the wheel of bespoke racing simulators in stylish surroundings with a high-quality hospitality offering.”

Gibbons – robot waiters have helped send profits soaring, improved team engagement and reduced staff turnover at Bella Italia: Greg Gibbons, operations support director at Big Table Group, has said robot waiters have helped send profits soaring, improved team engagement and reduced staff turnover at its Bella Italia brand. The robots, from Chinese firm Pudu Robotics, have been trialled in Bella Italia restaurants across the UK since May, in an effort to help solve the sector’s staffing crisis. “In 2019 only 3% of our teams were below the age of 22, and that stands at 35% today,” Gibbons told the Restaurant & Takeaway Innovation Expo 2022. “So not only have staffing levels changed, but the experience levels in our teams has hugely changed, and all this against a backdrop of huge pressure with rising costs. We have to look at being more efficient and using that scarce resource of labour in the right places – talk to those guests who want to be spoken to, and ensure those that are happy to order on a system can do so. Added into that is a huge venture into bots, and we’ve taken that risk. Bella Italia was the first brand in the UK to take bots, and they do an amazing amount of work. They’ve been in there since May and do thousands and thousands of jobs a day, taking food out to tables and dirty plates back out, which allows the teams to stay focused on the floor. It has sent the profits in that business through the roof, massively escalated engagement with the team and reduced team turnover. For hospitality now, the challenge is how to we embrace as much technology as possible.” Gibbons is also excited at the prospect of automated menus, which can be changed at the flick of a switch and tailored to individual sites. “What a fantastic opportunity for us to be able to switch a menu at a flip of a button and premiumise it, take out slow selling dishes and go for the good return, and switch it back without affecting any other sites as easily as moving in and out of airplane mode on your phone,” he added. “You can have a prime time menu with maybe four items, higher premium items at 7pm on a Friday, and then go to your normal menu on weekdays.”

Nando’s appoints Ed Bennison as new group CFO: Nando’s has appointed Ed Bennison as its new chief financial officer, Propel has learned. Bennison, who began his career at Deloitte, where he qualified as a chartered accountant, replaces Luke Tait, who stepped down from Nando’s earlier this year to join budget gym operator The Gym Group as its new chief financial officer. Tait had been group chief financial officer at Nando’s for the past five years. A Nando’s spokesperson told Propel: “Ed Bennison brings with him more than 15 years of board level experience across consumer facing businesses including Gym King, Principal Hayley Hotels, and Republic.”

Peckwater Brands to open standalone restaurant: Peckwater Brands, the virtual food brands operator in which Stonegate Group has a stake, is to open its first standalone restaurant, Propel has learned. The business, which earlier this week closed its latest crowdfunding campaign with more than £15m raised, has secured the former Bird site at 42-44 Kingsland Road, Shoreditch. The 3,200 square-foot space will serve as a restaurant, development kitchen and engagement centre for the company. Peckwater, which hit its crowdfunding target of £14.65m within hours of launching the campaign at the start of last month, raised £15,020,022 from 239 investors. The business launched the campaign through Seedrs, offering 22.66% of equity, with a pre-money valuation of £50m attached. It had secured just over £3m of funding toward the new campaign pre-launch, but immediately secured two investments of more than £4m each as soon as the crowdfund went live. The crowdfunding money will be used to help the business, which currently has 175 outlets “from Aberdeen to Plymouth”, reach its target of becoming the largest kitchen network of any kind in the UK within two years; building an operating platform to make sure “our restaurant partners succeed in the delivery market”; and further establish its international presence. Earlier this year, Propel revealed that Stonegate had invested £4m to acquire its minority stake in Peckwater. It came on the back of a trial which had seen Peckwater’s brands – mostly Seoul Chikin and Flip the Bird – made available for delivery out of 30 of Stonegate’s managed sites. Bird Restaurants currently operates five sites, three in London, and one each in Hempstead Valley and Port Solent. Raven Rose acted for Peckwater on the Shoreditch deal.

The Columbo Group acquires Kentish Town pub freehold for £3m: The Columbo Group, led by Steve Ball and Riz Shaikh, has acquired the freehold of The Oxford Tavern in Kentish Town, north London, for £3m, Propel has learned. The Columbo Group intends to completely refurbish the building and will reopen it early in 2023. Ball said: “We’re thrilled to purchase The Oxford. It’s such a beautiful building. It hasn’t had much love in recent years, but we’ll remedy that and create a wonderful pub for north London.” The purchase brings The Columbo Group estate to ten venues, seven of which are freeholds. Nick Garston, of The Found Agency, acted on behalf of The Columbo Group.

Tattu lfl sales up 30% in 2022, brand to focus on international expansion, launching two new concepts in UK: Independent restaurant group Tattu, which made its London debut earlier this spring, has told Propel its like-for-like sales this year currently stand at 30% up on 2019 levels, with turnover in 2022 expected to reach close to £30m. Turnover last year stood at £14.5m, with pre-tax profits at £2.7m despite the four existing restaurants trading for less than eight months due to lockdowns. The now five-strong business, which is planning to open a modern Greek restaurant in Manchester called 'Fenix' next year, also grew its head office team from seven to 22 people over the course of the pandemic while others were cutting back. Adam Jones, who founded the business with his brother Drew, told Business Live: "We've reinvested close to £20m back into the business and continued gambling on ourselves, that has built a business that now employs more than 500 people.” The brothers said they are not looking to open any further Tattu sites in the UK but will focus on international expansion opportunities instead. They are preparing to travel to Dubai and Saudi Arabia next month for talks about bringing the brand to the Middle East. The US has also been talked about as a long-term goal. Adam Jones said: "Tattu is not a chain. Commercially it could make sense to grow further in the UK but that's not the vision. The idea was always that we would create a boutique concept and every restaurant would have its own identity. We feel the Manchester restaurant is now an institution with like-for-like sales up almost 50% this year, with Leeds, Birmingham and Edinburgh also well established. Early trading signs in London are incredibly positive and we are proud of how the team has landed the brand in the capital.” The pair are considering a joint venture to launch internationally but would also consider standalone opportunities if appropriate. Alongside the opening of Fenix, the business is also set to open a second new venture in the former Carluccio's site in Manchester's Spinningfields, next year.

Rebecca Tooth steps down as Bill’s COO: Rebecca Tooth has stepped down as chief operating officer of Bill’s, the Richard Caring-backed restaurant business, Propel understands. Tooth joined Bill’s last October following 12 years at Cote, where she had stints as its central operations director, operations director and regional director. Her departure comes after Propel revealed earlier this week that Bill’s had promoted Tom James, formerly of Jamie’s Italian, Strada and Coppa Club, to managing director. James joined Bill’s last November as its new director of operations, from Harbour Hotels Group. 

Anglian Country Inns current lfl revenue ahead of both last year and 2019: Gastro-pub operator Anglian Country Inns, led by James Nye, has said it has hit its revenue target for the first six months of the year and “like-for-like is ahead of both last year and 2019”. Nye told Propel: “We are very pleased trading has been holding up well over the summer despite concerns over the cost-of-living crisis and high levels of consumer uncertainty. We have hit our revenue target for the first six months of the year and like-for-like is ahead of both last year and 2019. We have managed to learn and adapt the business since covid and have also benefited from a well-designed food offer and a prolonged hot summer with our well-invested outside areas. Challenges remain around managing inflation while protecting our value proposition, which continues to put pressure on the bottom line. Despite the current market condition, we remain confident in our offer and are continuing to invest in the business. We are currently undergoing a series of site renovations and have just opened a new coffee shop and workspace in central Hitchin that has been very well received. Last week we launched an oyster bar showcasing the best of east coast oysters and English sparkling wine at our Hermitage Road site. As we prepare to grow the business, we are strengthening the team infrastructure and have recently appointed Will Chew (ex-Cirrus Inns) as our first head of people and culture.” It comes as the company reported sales of £14,330,118 in the year to 3 April 2022 (2021: £5,374,917), part of which was aided by the government’s decision to reduce VAT. The business generated site Ebitda of £3.9m (2021: £1m). Pre-tax profit for the year was £1,413,165 against a pre-tax loss of £720,100 in 2021. It said: “The significant improvement to the P&L combined with the acquisition of The Farmhouse at Redcoats in January 2022 has contributed to a balance sheet improvement to £4.94m (2021: £1.3m). In May 2021, the business sold the freehold of Water Lane in Bishops Stortford for the net book value, which had no material impact on the balance sheet. As more opportunities come to the market, we are looking to further acquire sites that fit the company’s requirements.”

Trust Inns adds St Ives pub to portfolio: North west pub company Trust Inns, which is owned by the family interests of the late Trevor Hemmings, has acquired its ninth site this year, Propel has learned. Trust Inns has added the Watermill in St Ives, Cornwall, to its 347-strong portfolio. The pub is based in an 18th century watermill. Mark Brown, managing director at Trust Inns, said: “We are delighted with the addition of The Watermill to our estate. Of equal importance, we are extremely pleased with the quality of business partner we have secured to work with us and ensure the great work of our predecessors is continued and hopefully built upon. The Watermill is a terrific property and business that will work towards supporting Trust Inns’ objective of creating an estate of successful leased and tenanted pub businesses.”

SSP to trial robot service technology: UK-based transport hub foodservice specialist SSP Group is trialling robot service technology. The pilot – the first of its kind in SSP UK – will see six service robots deployed later this month at the Sip & Stone Restaurant and Bar at Belfast airport. SSP will test the effectiveness of using the service robots to help servers with their day-to-day tasks, allowing them more time to focus on delivering outstanding customer service. Two types of robots will be introduced at Sip & Stone. A service robot called “BellaBot” will bring food and drinks from the kitchen while “HolaBot” will collect plates and cutlery once customers have left their tables. “HolaBot” can be called remotely by colleagues to clear any section of the restaurant as necessary. “BellaBot” is also equipped with a voice and screen system and can greet customers for a true human-robot interaction. Richard Lewis, chief executive of SSP UK & Ireland, said: “Investing in new technology with a view to improving the customer experience is one of the core tenets of our business at SSP. The nature of our business means we serve a lot of customers, and we need to serve them quickly. These robots will enable our colleagues to spend more time front of house with our customers, ultimately improving their experience at our restaurants. Sip and Stone is a high-volume, family-friendly unit, welcoming large numbers of guests in short amounts of time. The restaurant setup means the robots will easily be able to assist colleagues and contribute to improving the overall dining experience, making it the ideal trial candidate. The information we gain from this trial will help to highlight the potential for development and improvement of standards both here at Belfast and ultimately at other restaurants around the UK and beyond.” A similar trial is ongoing in Germany and an additional trial is scheduled in the UK for later this year, with views to continue trialling the robots in different types of units.

MW Eats places a pair of Masala Zone sites on the market: MW Eats, which operates upmarket restaurants Veeraswamy, Chutney Mary and Amaya, has placed two of its Masala Zone sites on the market. The group is understood to have appointed CDG Leisure to market the Masala Zone restaurants in Parkway, Camden Town; and in Bishops Bridge Road, Bayswater. MW Eats also operates Masala Zone restaurants in Covent Garden, Soho, Earl’s Court and in Selfridges in Oxford Street. 

Bob & Berts opens in Carlisle: Coffee brand Bob & Berts has opened its fifth site in England, in Carlisle. The business, which earlier this summer opened its sixth Scottish site, in Perth, has opened a site at the town’s The Lanes Shopping Centre. In August, Propel reported Bob & Berts was planning to open a site in an empty retail unit at 154 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. The BGF-backed business was founded in Portstewart, Northern Ireland, in 2013 by Colin McClean. Following a £2m investment from BGF in 2017, the business has grown to 25 sites across the UK, and in the last 12 months, opened its first four sites in the north west of England. Earlier this spring, the business said it had set its sights on further growth in the north west of England for the next phase of its ambitious expansion. It is looking at other north west locations including Southport, Lytham St Annes and Blackpool.

Pret makes Kuwait debut: Pret A Manger, the JAB Holdings-owned brand has officially opened its first site in Kuwait. The site at Al Hamra Business Tower was opened in partnership with Kuwait-based franchise group One PM Franchising. Pret said the opening marks a “major milestone” in the global brand’s expansion in the Middle East. A second site in the country is set to open before the end of the year. Pano Christou, chief executive of Pret, said: “We have ambitious plans to bring our freshly made food and organic coffee to more people across the world and we’re pleased to be growing Pret’s presence in the Middle East. We’re looking forward to working more closely with the One PM team.” One PM Franchising chairman, Hamad Al-Sayer, added: “We are pleased to be partnering with Pret to bring this iconic and beloved chain to Kuwait, and potentially other countries within the region.” Opening in Kuwait continues Pret’s plan to double the size of its business in the next five years and follows international openings in Canada and Ireland earlier this year, with further openings in India, Spain and Portugal in the pipeline.

EasyHotel acquires eight Benelux hotels in €145m deal: EasyHotel has acquired eight franchised Benelux hotels from real estate private equity fund manager Crossroads Real Estate, for approximately €145m (£126.4m). The company said the acquisition marks the latest step in an ambitious European growth strategy which the group, founded by Stelios Haji-Iannou and whose majority shareholders are now ICAMAP and Ivanhoé Cambridge, had announced in December 2021, with notably a €50m capital increase. The eight hotels comprise a total 793 rooms, with three hotels in Amsterdam, two in The Hague, one in Rotterdam, one in Maastricht, and one in Brussels. With two further hotels to be added to the group’s owned/leased portfolio in Dublin in December 2022 and Paris in early 2023, the company said the acquisition underpins significant growth in EasyHotel’s owned/leased estate. This will reach 26 hotels, split evenly between the UK and Europe, with the total number of owned hotel rooms across the portfolio increasing by 59% to 3,078 rooms. EasyHotel currently has a total of 42 owned/leased and franchised hotels, which it aims to expand to 51 hotels in 13 countries over the next 18 months, and to reach a total of 100 owned and franchised hotels internationally by 2026. The company said while the acquisition will strengthen its owned portfolio, it remains committed to its franchised network, which is instrumental to its growth strategy, with a target of 12,000 franchised rooms by 2027. The next franchise hotel opening in the group’s pipeline will be Madrid, in the central Atocha area, with a 230-bedroom hotel due to open in late 2022. Karim Malak, chief executive of EasyHotel, said: “We are seeing strong trading and market share gain across both our UK portfolio and the Benelux hotels, with figures exceeding 2019 levels and outperforming the market. Trading across our Benelux hotels has for example exceeded 2019 by 24% while our existing portfolio is on average up 37% compared with 2019, like-for-like.”

Neighbourhood restaurant and wine bar Pasero to open in Tottenham: Pasero, a new neighbourhood restaurant, cafe and wine bar, from Genevieve Sparrow, formerly head of marketing at Cote, will open in West Green Road, south Tottenham, later this month. The restaurant is opening following a series of successful sold-out supper clubs under the same brand. Pasero, which takes its name from Sparrow’s surname – meaning ‘sparrow’ in Esperanto, will operate as a cafe and deli shop by day. Sparrow brings 20 years of front-of-house and restaurant marketing experience to the restaurant, including several years with Côte, plus time at ETM Group and a year spent working at the Quality Chop House. The food menu at Pasero is curated by head chef Pip MacDonald, who has spent time in the kitchens at London institutions J Sheekey and Scott's, under Angela Hartnett at Cafe Murano and Merchants Tavern, as well as head chef at Peckham's popular Levan restaurant.

Miznon to double up in London with Notting Hill kiosk: Miznon, the Mediterranean-inspired street food concept created by chef Eyal Shani, is to open a second London site next month. Miznon, which first launched in Tel Aviv in 2011, has now spread to six cities around the world, opening its inaugural London site in July this year in Soho. It is following that up by opening a kiosk on Friday, 11 November on the corner of Elgin Street in Notting Hill. Pitas exclusive to the English capital will lead the menu – filled with fish and chips, cottage pie, or an all-day English breakfast – alongside some of its established favourites, such as the whole-roasted baby cauliflower filling. Shani told the Evening Standard: “When we launched Miznon in Soho, it was inspired by English cuisine, fused with the Mediterranean pita experience. After opening four months ago, I found myself further inspired by London, its people and its neighbourhoods. Each a fountain of inspiration, so different from one another. And now Notting Hill, with its mysterious streets and eccentric people – there are no two ingredients more seductive or attractive than that to create new pitas for the world.” Shani opened his first restaurant, Oceanus, in Jerusalem in 1989. Later, he opened a fine dining restaurant, Hasalon, in Tel Aviv, before going on to helm 40 restaurants around the world alongside partner Shahar Segal. 

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