Reilley – time to celebrate success stories across the sector, not all doom and gloom: Alex Reilley, executive chairman of Loungers, has said “we need to start to provide some balance to the way the sector portrays itself” and that the industry needs to start to shine “a light on the success stories of our sector instead of allowing a message of woe to be promoted”. He said: “During the pandemic, the UK hospitality industry received unprecedented levels of government support thanks in no small part to the tireless efforts of the various trade bodies that represent the sector. This support was, of course, very much required and more than justified, given the sector was forced to close entirely at times due to the various lockdowns. Since emerging from the covid period, the industry has been significantly impacted by soaring energy costs, high inflation, the rising cost of labour, the cost-of-living crisis, and rail strikes (most acutely felt by London-centric businesses) and lobbying for more government support continues. While highlighting the issues the sector continues to face and seeking more government support is understandable, it concerns me that hospitality is now viewed as a sector that is still very much on life-support. Clearly it is very challenging at the moment, particularly for smaller independent businesses in our sector who have been hit by outrageous and unsustainable energy costs. But surely we need to start to provide some balance to the way the sector portrays itself, because it is simply not accurate to characterise it as being all doom and gloom. As our results show, Loungers is doing extremely well, and I make no apology for the success we continue to enjoy. Operating a hospitality business has always been challenging and our continued success is down to a number of factors, not least the hard work and talent of our executive team and our site teams’ dedication to providing consistently great hospitality. However, at the heart of our success has been our ability to make the most of the cards we have been dealt and to get our heads down and crack on. This is undeniably a major reason why we emerged strongly from the covid lockdowns and is also why we are successfully navigating the cocktail of challenges the sector faces post-pandemic. And Loungers is by no means alone. There are countless other hospitality businesses that are growing, investing, creating jobs, building their brands, and being ambitious. A lot of these businesses, almost all of which are privately owned, are not making the same mistakes as others, because they have learnt from them, and instead of pausing their innovation and evolution post-pandemic they have accelerated it. They are helping to rejuvenate our high streets and aid the economic recovery and it is time that we start to shine a light on the success stories of our sector instead of allowing a message of woe to be promoted. The investment community too needs to start hearing a different, more up-to-date message. Just because a number of over-leveraged casual dining brands have failed over the last few years, doesn’t mean that casual dining is totally broken. Indeed, most of the growth and innovation in the sector is currently in casual dining. Likewise, just because certain high-profile operators are reducing their leisure/retail park estates, doesn’t mean that these types of locations are absolutely off-limits. Indeed, some of our best performing Lounge sites are in exactly the locations that sector commentators seem to have condemned. The UK consumer is on the one hand looking for familiarity, but also for adventure. They are attracted to brands that they feel constantly deliver a great experience, but also, and most importantly, that they feel are relevant. Brands that have failed in recent years have done so for a number of reasons; their offer hasn’t evolved, their sites look tired and under-invested, and the business model that sits behind the brand is broken. These brands have lost their relevance and the UK consumer has simply moved on to better, more relevant brands operated by smart management teams who know not to repeat the mistakes of others.”
Next edition of Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book shows 745 largest sector companies turning over total of £48.1bn, up from £46.2bn last month:
The next edition of the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which will be sent to Premium subscribers on Friday (14 July), shows 745 of the largest sector companies are turning over a total of £48.1bn – up from £46.42bn the previous month. A total of 504 companies are making a profit while 241 are making a loss. The profit being made by sector companies is now outstripping losses by £511m. The Blue Book shows the total profit of the 745 companies in the list is £3,272,517,901 and losses are £2,761,785,504. The Blue Book is updated each month and ranks companies by turnover, profit and profit conversion, listing directors’ earnings for the past five years. Premium subscribers are also to receive access to all the videos from last month’s Propel Multi-Club Conference featuring the sector’s finest female leaders and entrepreneurs. Premium subscribers will be sent 11 videos on Friday (14 July) at 9am, where female sector leaders share the lessons they have learned and moving forward. Premium subscribers also receive access to four other databases: the Propel Multi-Site Database,
produced in association with Virgate; the New Openings Database;
the Who’s Who of UK Food and Beverage;
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 £995 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The single subscription rate is £495 plus VAT for operators and £595 plus VAT for suppliers. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to upgrade your subscription
. Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before; regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Propel group editor Mark Wingett.
Loungers FY lfls up 7.4%, identifies potential for at least 600 Lounges across the UK: Café bar operator Loungers has reported a 7.4%% increase in like-for-like sales for the year to 16 April 2023, as it achieved record revenue of £283.5m (up 19% vs FY22 (£237.3m) and 85% vs FY19) and opened a record 29 new sites in the period. The business posted adjusted Ebitda of £47.3m for the year (2022: £53.639m), which it said represents growth of 66% since its IPO in April 2019. Operating profit for the year stood at £14.8m declined vs FY22 (£28.437m), which it said reflected “the positive impact in FY22 of covid related government support measures”. Pre-tax profit narrowed from £21.605m in 2022 to £7.334m. The business, which operates the Lounge, Cosy Club and Brightside concepts, said it continued to feel “very positive” about the outlook for its brands. It said: “Over the 12 weeks since the year end, our lfl sales have been up 5.7% despite the impact of Easter timing, and we are pleased with our performance and trajectory. Our new site openings continue to perform exceptionally well, achieving record levels of sales, and our pipeline of new sites is as strong as ever. We ended FY23 by accelerating many of the initiatives that have underpinned Loungers’ resilience in FY23; opening six sites in six weeks across March and April, launching new innovative menus in Lounge and Cosy Club and restructuring benefits for our salaried staff. We are confident that the good momentum we are seeing across the business, as well as the investment that we continue to make in our operational structure, puts us in the best possible position to deliver further growth and profitability in FY24.” It said inflationary pressures were mitigated and are now diminishing, and that it had a medium term goal to restore adjusted Ebitda margins to pre-covid levels. The business said that consistently strong new openings in a variety of location models continue to increase average levels of sales, while menu evolution was driving sales growth and highlighting brand relevance and appeal. It said it has a strong pipeline of new sites, with internal capability developed to accelerate to around 34 openings next year, and that it had identified potential for at least 600 Lounges across the UK. Nick Collins, chief executive of Loungers, said: “I am delighted to be announcing another excellent set of results for Loungers. During the year, we opened 29 new sites, creating around 1,000 new jobs, launched an exciting new roadside dining brand and achieved industry leading like-for-like sales growth. We also converted well at the bottom-line achieving adjusted Ebitda of £47.3m. This is the seventh year in succession we have delivered industry leading like-for-like sales growth, and over that period, the estate has grown from 44 sites to 232 today. We are proud to be making a positive contribution to high streets and communities across the UK and there are hundreds more locations around the country for us to target. Based on our experience the UK consumer remains positive, inflationary pressures are diminishing and recruitment challenges have eased. As an example, a few weeks ago, we opened Ormo Lounge in the seaside town of Llandudno, which achieved a record level of sales for any new Lounge opening in our 22-year history, reflecting the relevance of our offer and how well we trade by the coast. More broadly, we are excited about our ongoing roll-out programme and the opportunity to bring our culture and hospitality to around 34 new locations in the coming year, with many more to come beyond that.” For Cosy Club, it said the potential scale is realistically between 50 and 65 sites. It said: “In FY24 we expect to open one Cosy Club, and going forward the ratio of Cosy Club new openings to Lounge new openings is likely to continue to be low as we look for opportunities in a diminishing pool of potential locations.” On its fledgling roadside dining concept Brightside, which launched earlier this year, the company said it has been “relatively pleased” with the very early sales performance at Exeter and Saltash and is “excited” about the forthcoming opening in Honiton. It said: “Customer reaction has been largely excellent, and we have learnt some important lessons already in the early weeks of trade. The next three months will be a great test, and opportunity, for the business as the three west-country locations trade over the busy summer period. We look forward to providing an update in November with further thoughts on the brand and its performance.”
Loungers – coastal restaurants performing 25% better than average, 2023 set to be recording-breaking year: Café bar operator Loungers has said its coastal-based sites are performing 25% better than average,and is confident that 2023 will be a record-breaking year both in terms of revenue and visits for coastal tourism. The company is anticipating a record year at its seaside venues, with 25 of Loungers’ 232 sites based in coastal areas, including 23 Lounges and two Cosy Clubs. The company says its coastal restaurants are performing 25% better than average and that business is “booming even in the winter”. It said resorts such as Clacton-on-Sea, Weston-super-Mare and Mumbles are “thriving again”. It said that seven of the company’s ten best performing sites were based at the seaside, with Llandudno and Mumbles being “the standouts”. In FY2023, Loungers opened the Martello Lounge in Clacton-on-Sea, which is the group’s biggest ever investment in a single property and occupies the prominent Atlanta Building on the beachfront. For its FY2024 pipeline of new openings, Loungers has already opened sites in Llandudno, Plymouth and Southport, and will soon be opening in Deal and Paignton (ex-Harvester site). The company forecasts that coastal tourism will pass the £20bn mark for the first time this year, with over 250 million daytrips planned. Nick Collins, chief executive of Loungers, said: “Pre-pandemic, coastal tourism in the UK was worth just over £17bn (according to the National Coastal Tourism Academy). Based on the revenue growth we’ve been seeing in our coastal venues since then, we’re confident that 2023 will be a record-breaking year both in terms of revenue and visits. The enforced staycations during the covid pandemic reminded people of the fantastic range of holidays available in the UK, and the cost-of-living crisis means that some people will be looking to lower the cost of their annual summer break. Add to that the growing awareness of the environmental impact of air travel, and the fact that the Met Office is predicting that the UK summer of 2023 will be even hotter than that of 2022, and the stage is set for a hugely successful holiday season for coastal tourism. We’re proud to be able to offer something for everyone at all times of the day in a family-friendly environment, from breakfast through lunch to evening meals, pints and cocktails.”
JD Wetherspoon ten-week lfls up 11% on pre-pandemic levels and 7.4% ytd: JD Wetherspoon has reported ten-week like-for-likes up 11% on pre-pandemic levels, with a 7.4% increase in year-to-date sales for the period. It said like-for-like sales for the first ten weeks of the final quarter of its financial year increased by 11%, compared to the same period in the last full financial year before the pandemic, ended 28 July 2019, while year-to-date sales increased by 7.4% compared to the same year. Compared to FY22, like-for-like sales increased by 11.5% in the fourth quarter to date and by 12.9% year-to-date. In the financial year to date, the company has opened three pubs and sold, closed or surrendered to the landlord 28 pubs. Of these, 15 were leasehold, where the lease had expired or where the company had exercised a break clause in the lease. There was a net cash inflow of £6.5m from the 28 disposals. The company said: “The disposals outlined above have been characterised in a small number of newspaper articles as a money-raising exercise, provoked by the difficult trading circumstances for the hospitality industry in recent years. This is a misinterpretation. In fact, the disposals have raised relatively modest amounts (although every little helps) and almost all are related to circumstances where there is another Wetherspoon pub nearby.” 22 pubs remain on the market or are under offer, and the company currently has a trading estate of 827 pubs. As at 9 July 2023, net debt was £688m, approximately £114m lower than it reported in FY20, immediately before the pandemic. Since then, the company has invested £116m in new pubs, £82m in freehold reversions and has raised equity of approximately £240m. As previously reported, the company sold a number of interest rate swaps in the first quarter of this financial year, raising £169m before tax. In addition, as in the last financial year, the company's free cash flow this financial year is anticipated to be substantially in excess of its profit before tax. The company currently has financial headroom of £289m. For the period of the pandemic, the company received waivers in respect of its banking covenants from its banking syndicate and in respect of a US Private Placement. The company anticipates that the waivers will no longer be required as at the end of the current quarter. JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin said: “The company expects profits in the current financial year to be in line with market expectations. As a result of a continued improvement in sales and a slightly reduced expectation for cost increases, for example energy costs, the company anticipates an improved outcome for the next financial year and anticipates an outcome for the first half of FY24 approximately in line with the second half of FY23.” Martin added that it is not true that since Wetherspoon prices are lower than average, quality or service standards will also be lower than average, as some commentators have suggested. “In the crucial area of beer quality, Wetherspoon has more pubs (200) listed in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide 2023 than any other company,” he said. “This is also reflected in inspections carried out by Cask Marque. We receive approximately 1,800 visits a year from Cask Marque experts, with over 99% of our pubs gaining the Cask Marque accreditation, the highest, we believe, of any pub company. Wetherspoon also has the best results of any substantial hospitality company in respect of local authorities’ scores on the doors schemes which are designed to reflect adherence to cleanliness and health legislation. In this respect, Wetherspoon has 762 pubs listed on the government’s Food Standards Agency website and our average score is 4.99 out of a maximum 5. 99.1% of our pubs have achieved the maximum score. Another urban myth, is that Wetherspoon has below-average employment standards. In fact, Wetherspoon has recently been recognised as a Top Employer United Kingdom 2023 by the independent Top Employers Institute, for the 18th time. In this area, for example, Wetherspoon, awards free shares to all participating employees, subject to a qualifying period. Since the free-share scheme was introduced in 2006, 23.4 million shares have been awarded, which equates to 18.2% of all the shares in existence today. 14,000 employees were awarded free shares in March 2023. Another related urban myth is that Wetherspoon does not attract customers in higher income groups. In fact, a recent survey by market researchers CGA indicates that the average income of Wetherspoon customers is 7% above that of the average high street pub consumer.”
Big Table Group reports profitable FY22, encouraging start to FY23: The Big Table Group, the operator of Las Iguanas, Banana Tree, Bella Italia and Café Rouge, has reported an “encouraging” performance in the first half of its current financial year to April 2023, with sales up 9% year-on-year (excluding prior year VAT benefit). The Alan Morgan-led business said that thanks to its continued focus on labour and cost controls, which have enabled stronger economics and profit conversion, trading Ebitda is “well-ahead of the prior year and ahead of expectations, even after accounting for significant additional energy costs”. For the 12 months to 30 October 2022, the group’s adjusted Ebitda was £12.9m, up by £5.9m on the previous financial year, and full sales for the year were £206.2m, up from £142.1m in FY21, despite a difficult year for the sector. In the financial year, the business, which is owned by Epiris, grew from 149 to 163 sites. The company said it is “one of the best capitalised restaurant groups in the UK”, with a strong cash balance and no external debt. Morgan, chief executive of Big Table Group, said: “Our full-year results to October 2022 paint a picture of a resilient, efficient business which has been able to withstand significant economic headwinds. While we expect the wider hospitality sector to continue to be challenged in the short to medium term, we have a strong balance sheet and are not exposed to the increasing cost of debt that other operators in the sector may be facing. With our great range of brands targeting wide demographics, and our national geographic spread, we remain confident that the group will navigate those challenges and take advantage of the longer-term opportunities we have to capitalise on demand for our growth brands, taking them to more guests in more locations.” As part of a renewed focus on guest experience, almost £11.5m was invested on capital investment projects during the year, including new sites, brand conversions and refurbishments. Key investments included four new Las Iguanas sites (Southampton, Ealing, Canterbury and Center Parcs Elveden), two new Bella Italia restaurants (Shaftesbury Avenue, London and Norwich Riverside) and the launch of the group’s second Amalfi restaurant, in central London. The company said there were also 13 major refurbishment projects during the year, in addition to minor refreshes and external terrace works. The group said it continued the rollout of its mobile order platform, which enables guests to both order and make payment at their table, and also tested robots at four sites, which not only provided a point of difference but also enabled it to “test productivity benefits as team members are able to spend more time with guests”. Other initiatives included the rollout of cellar and fridge management systems, which reduce energy consumption. Last September, the company acquired Pan-Asian, street food concept, Banana Tree. Having identified a number of sites in its existing portfolio which could have a bigger upside operating as Banana Tree, to date, Big Table Group has converted three sites to the brand – Covent Garden, the O2 Arena and Haywards Heath – with a fourth site in Reigate opening soon. It said these trial sites will help the business to understand future rollout options for Banana Tree. The year also saw the company trial a new pasta delivery concept, “Super Nonna”. As previously revealed by Propel, after a trial at five existing sites, the brand will be fully rolled out to more than 80 sites this summer. The business said: “Selling high quality pasta dishes, delivered fast, the brand has brought incremental sales by appealing to new audiences, with new Big Table Group customers accounting for three-quarters of sales during the initial trial.” Looking ahead, Big Table Group said it will continue to invest in capex projects this year, including refurbishing its core estate and opening new sites, while completing the rollout of Super Nonna and exploring additional sites for Banana Tree. Morgan said: “We’re pleased with how we have started the 2023 financial year, in spite of the material disruption caused by railway strikes and continued rising inflation. Inflation will still have an impact, though we’re confident we will offset this, thanks to a lot of hard work we’ve already put in, working with suppliers, hedging our energy and unlocking cost synergies. We’re pleased with the positive impact we have seen since we restructured our business to ensure greater focus on brand performance. Sales performance at our core brands continues to improve, with our bottomless brunch bringing more young adults into Las Iguanas on weekends, and Bella Italia’s core menu offering improved quality, consistency and value, and we continue to build on our strong people platform, demonstrated by Bella Italia’s inclusion in the Sunday Times Best Places to Work 2023. We are excited by the acquisition of Banana Tree. The sites we acquired continue to trade well, and having the opportunity to test the concept across our wider estate through brand conversions should provide great opportunities for the growth of the brand. Following the successful test last year, Super Nonna is now in more than 60 sites. Super Nonna extends our focus on home delivery while maximising existing kitchen space, driving incremental sales and providing some valuable learnings that we can implement in our core brands.”
Ten Entertainment Group reports 1.6% lfl sales growth including record-breaking Easter and biggest sales week in group’s history: Ten Entertainment Group, the operator of 49 bowling and family entertainment centres, has reported 1.6% like-for-like sales growth including a record-breaking Easter and the biggest sales week in group’s history. In its trading update for the 26 weeks to 2 July 2023, the group reported 1.6% like-for-like sales growth and 3.2% total sales growth, with sales up 57% on pre-covid. It will have at least four new sites open in 2023, with the new site in Crewe opened in February and trading well, and Milton Keynes ready to open at the end of July. Dundee building works are almost complete ahead of an August opening, and work has begun on an “innovative new entertainment centre” in the heart of Sheffield. Pre-tax profit for the first half of 2023 is anticipated to be slightly ahead of last year, and full year profit growth is on track to deliver in line with market expectation. Energy is now fixed to September 2026 at a level significantly below forecast, and the business still has net cash balance following significant strategic investment. The company said: “Like-for-like sales growth in the first half of 2023 was +1.6% compared to the same period in 2022. This growth builds on the record-breaking performance in the first half of 2022 when a new baseline in performance was established. The group is now delivering sales 57% ahead of pre-covid levels (+46% on a like-for-like basis) demonstrating the enduring appeal of bowling in the growing competitive socialising sector. To make our proposition even more compelling, we proactively took the decision to maintain bowling prices at 2019 levels, and we have limited food and drink price increases to the minimum necessary to only cover inflationary costs. This has ensured that our customers continue to enjoy the best value leisure offering in the market. Cost pressures have been tightly managed in the first half of the year. Labour inflation has been principally offset through operational and supplier efficiencies in our centres. Property costs are on long-term leases that are insulated from short-term fluctuations in RPI. For the balance of 2023 we expect to deliver low single-digit sales growth. Full year profits are expected to be within the range of market consensus.” Graham Blackwell, the group’s chief executive officer, added: “I am delighted that the first half of 2023 has delivered growth despite a difficult economic backdrop. We have been relentless in our focus on value-for-money and high-quality entertainment and our customers have rewarded us with their loyalty. We continue to evolve and improve our proposition with new sites, new games and activities. We are well set to continue to drive profitable growth in the second half of the year and to meet market expectations.”
Fears inflation will stay higher for longer: UK wages have risen at a record annual pace fuelling fears that inflation will stay high for longer. Regular pay grew by 7.3% in the March to May period from a year earlier, official figures showed, equalling the highest growth rate last month. However, pay rises still lag behind inflation, reports the BBC. The pace of wage rises has come under increasing focus by the Bank of England as it tries to control inflation. The Bank has raised interest rates 13 times in a row in an attempt to reduce the rate of inflation, but it currently stands at 8.7%, well above the Bank’s target of 2%. Its concern is strong wage growth will increase costs faced by companies and force them to push up prices for their goods even higher. While pay is growing at record rates, it is still not increasing fast enough to keep up with rising prices in the shops. Regular pay fell by 0.8% after the effect of inflation was taken into account. Last month, the Bank of England raised interest rates by more than expected, lifting its key rate to 5% from 4.5%. Ashley Webb, UK economist at Capital Economics, said that while he expected the Bank to push rates to 5.25% in August, he added “we can’t rule out” an increase to 5.5%, saying “much will depend” on next week’s inflation figure. Deutsche Bank said that an increase in rates to 5.5% next month “now looks more likely than not”. The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also showed the unemployment rate in the March to May period rose to 4%, up from 3.8% in the previous three months. The employment rate also increased to 76%, mainly due to more part-time employees, while job vacancies fell for the 12th consecutive time, dropping by 85,000 to 1,034,000. There are indications that “tightness” in the labour market is starting to ease, but business groups have continued to stress the difficulty of finding the right workers.
Bottles of wine set to get more expensive: Wine drinkers are braced for price rises as the biggest increase in alcohol duty for almost 50 years kicks in. Duty on bottles is increasing by 20% from August 1, with supply chain issues relating to the war in Ukraine and recycling costs also pushing up price tags. The new tax system will see wine taxed by strength for the first time, with 80% of wines currently containing enough alcohol to be taxed at new, higher levels, reports the Daily Telegraph. The cost of an average bottle is forecast to rise 14%, according to Simon Stannard of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), adding the duty increase on wine will be the greatest since 1975. The average price of a bottle of wine was just £5.73 in 2018, according to the WSTA’s research. From next month a standard bottle of wine could cost as much as £8, up from around £7 today. The cost of a bottle has already snuck up in recent years due to the enormous increase in the recycling fees that glass manufacturers must pay. “Increasing fuel costs will affect the cost of recycling,” Stannard said. “More fuel is being used to collect glass, and the cost of fuel needed to run furnaces has increased.”
Carlsberg cuts alcohol in beer ahead of duty increase: Carlsberg is making its beer weaker to save money as the Government prepares to raise taxes on alcohol by more than 10%. The brewer is reducing the strength of its Danish Pilsner from 3.8pc alcohol by volume (abv) to 3.4pc abv, reports the Daily Telegraph. It makes Carlsberg the latest beer brand to weaken its brews to save money in an example of so-called “drinkflation” – when companies cut the alcohol content of their products but prices rise or stay the same. Beer is taxed on its strength, so cutting the alcohol content can be an easy way for brands to save money. It comes as drinks producers brace for an expected 10.1% rise in the levies on alcohol from August. Slashing the strength of its beer below 3.5% will allow Carlsberg to take advantage of a new, lower tax rate for weaker drinks when alcohol duty rates change in August. Currently, all beers above 2.8% in strength pay a ‘general’ rate. However under the new system, beers 3.4% or less in strength will have to pay £9.27 per litre of alcohol in the product, compared to £21.01 for beers between 3.5% and 8.5%. A spokesman for the brewer told the newspaper: “In line with the government’s alcohol duty reforms, and as policy makers intended, reducing the abv of Carlsberg Danish Pilsner enables us to invest in innovation and in our portfolio of much-loved lagers and ales – while supporting public health by removing circa 56 million units of alcohol from the UK market annually.” Fosters, Old Speckled Hen and Spitfire have all been made weaker over the last year as brewers scramble to cope with surging costs. Fosters, owned by Heineken, dropped from 4% to 3.7% abv, saving Heineken roughly 3p of tax on every can. Spitfire, meanwhile, was reduced from 4.5% to 4.2% by its owner Shepherd Neame, saving it 3p per 500ml bottle. Old Speckled Hen, owned by Suffolk-based Greene King, fell from 5% to 4.8%, saving 2p per bottle.