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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 6th Oct 2023 - Update: JD Wetherspoon reports current lfl sales up 9.9% after returning to profit
JD Wetherspoon reports current lfl sales up 9.9% after returning to profit: JD Wetherspoon has reported current like-for-like sales are up 9.9% after returning to profit in the year ending 30 July 2023. Chairman Tim Martin, in the company’s preliminary results for the period, said: “Wetherspoon continues to perform well. In the first nine weeks of the current financial year, to 1 October 2023, like-for-like sales increased by 9.9%, compared with the nine weeks to 2 October 2022. The company currently anticipates a reasonable outcome for the financial year, subject to our future sales performance.” It comes after Wetherspoon returned to profit in the year, turning a £30.4m pre-tax loss into a £42.6m pre-tax profit (before separately disclosed). Revenue rose from £1,740.5m to £1,925.0m, with a full year dividend of 0.0p (2022: 0.0p). Diluted earnings per share rose from -19.6p in 2022 to 26.4p (before separately disclosed), with free cash inflow per share up from 17.3p to 211.4p. Martin added: “As we said last year, perhaps the biggest threat to the hospitality industry is the possibility of further lockdowns and restrictions. Those interested in the UK government’s response to the pandemic may like to read the reports by Professor Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute, in The Guardian, and by Professor Robert Dingwall, of Trent University, in the Telegraph. The conclusion of Professor Balloux, broadly echoed by Professor Dingwall, based on an analysis by the World Health Organisation of the pandemic, is that Sweden (which did not lock down), had a covid-19 fatality rate of about half the UK’s and that the worst performer, by some margin, is Peru, despite enforcing the harshest, longest lockdown. Professor Balloux concludes that the strength of mitigation measures does not seem to be a particularly strong indicator of excess deaths. Indeed, as some commentators have noted, lockdowns were not contemplated in the UK's laboriously compiled pre-pandemic plans. It appears that these plans were jettisoned early on in the pandemic, in favour of copying China's lockdown approach – an example, perhaps, of Warren Buffett's so-called institutional imperative – ‘everyone else has locked down, so we will, too’.”

Premium subscribers to receive new edition of The New Openings Database today: Premium subscribers will receive the new edition of The New Openings Database today (Friday, 6 October), at midday. The database will show the details of 894 site openings, including which company has opened a site or its plans to open one in the future. It will have details on what type of site it is and its location, and there will also be a website link to the businesses. The database is published on a monthly basis and Premium subscribers will also receive a 44,000-word report on the new additions to the database. Premium subscribers also receive access to five other databases: the Propel Multi-Site Database, produced in association with Virgate; the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book; the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database; the Who’s Who of UK Food and Beverage; and the UK Food and Beverage Franchisee 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 to upgrade your subscription. Premium subscribers are also being given exclusive access to the recording and slides to Propel Multi-Club Conferences. They 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.
Merlin Entertainments and Immersive Gamebox strike global partnership deal: Merlin Entertainments has struck a global partnership deal with immersive group gaming platform Immersive Gamebox, which currently operates 27 play locations in the UK, USA, Europe and UAE. Immersive Gamebox combines motion tracking, projection mapping, touch screens and surround sound to deliver a 360-degree experience for groups of up to six players, of all ages and abilities. The partnership will launch with two initial Gamebox locations in Merlin’s existing sites in Sydney, Australia and Oberhausen, Germany by the end of 2023. The collaboration sees “huge potential for a significant roll out plan across the Merlin Estate over the coming years” including the UK, US and Asia-Pacific regions. Each Gamebox will host eight free-standing Gameboxes per location, each of which can accommodate two to six players per play session and run games lasting between 30 and 120 minutes. Immersive Gamebox currently has a suite of iconic family-driven IP partnerships with leading entertainment studios, including Paramount, Aardman and Netflix. The partnership with Immersive Gamebox further expands Merlin’s offering in Europe, the US, U, Australia and New Zealand and supports the company’s wider strategy to create and build strong clusters of “Midway” attractions (indoor city attractions in key tourism gateway hubs), replicating its existing entertainment clusters in cities including London, Berlin, Sydney, New York and Hong Kong. Merlin’s Midway attractions include Peppa Pig World of Play, Legoland and Lego Discovery Centres, Madame Tussauds, the Dungeons and Sea Life aquariums, as well as the Sydney Tower Eye and London Eye. Scott O’Neil, chief executive of Merlin Entertainments, said: “Immersive Gamebox provides a prudent business model and an immersive ‘come together, play together’ experience that is second to none. This new, exciting chapter with Immersive Gamebox is being executed with the hope that with success will come a deeper rollout throughout our global estate.” Will Dean, chief executive and co-founder at Immersive Gamebox, added: “Our company's purpose is to bring people together through technology-enabled shared play, and we are bringing these games to more people than ever before and revolutionising how fans interact with entertainment through this partnership with Merlin Entertainments. Given Merlin’s position as a global leader in location-based attractions combined with their track record of scaling across markets, the agreement also supports further expansion of Gameboxes globally.”

Leisureplex Hotels agrees new finance facilities, profits drop but remain above pre-covid levels: Leisureplex Hotels, part of employee-owned hotel operator Alfa Leisureplex Group, has agreed new finance facilities with NatWest Bank, consisting of a five-year loan facility and annual overdraft facility. It said: “The group entered the pandemic with a strong balance sheet, which has been substantially repaired as a result of the strong trading performance over the last two years. The group’s fixed asset base continues to provide sufficient security to continue to secure finance facilities.” It comes as the group saw its profit drop but remain above pre-covid levels in the year ending 31 December 2022. Turnover was up from £24,883,108 in 2021 to £30,090,425, having returned to pre-covid levels of trading in the last financial year. Its record pre-tax profit of £7,731,688 in 2021 dropped to a profit of £3,753,065 (2019: £3,223,472) as costs increased by more than £6m. The company received £146,175 in government grants compared with £2,423,030 in 2021. No dividends were paid (2021: £6m). “For the first time since start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the business was operational for the full financial year, albeit some minor operating restrictions remained in place until April,” director Emma Russell said in her statement accompanying the accounts. “With restrictions lifted, bed nights were up 32.5% on the previous year and were also 4.0% higher than 2019. The VAT reduction made available to assist hospitality businesses in their recovery from the pandemic ended on 31 March 2022 and resulted in lower revenue per bed night compared with 2021, although 19.5% higher than in 2019. With good cost control, in addition to some government grant support at the start of the year, the business recorded an extremely strong trading performance; the second highest result in the company’s history and only second to the previous year that benefited from a full year of VAT support, higher local grants and support from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the exceptional profit on the sale of one of the company’s hotels. While profit before tax was down 51% on the previous year as a result of the lower government support available, it was up 19% on 2019.”

UK’s first all-inclusive leisure resort reports ‘unprecedented demand’ and ‘significant level of future reservations’ as turnover exceeds pre-pandemic levels: Norfolk leisure resort Potters, believed to be the UK’s first all-inclusive holiday resort, has reported “unprecedented demand” and “significant level of future reservations” in the year to 31 December 2022 as turnover exceeded pre-pandemic levels. The business, which operates a holiday resort in Hopton on Sea, saw turnover grow from £16,691,085 in 2021 to £28,045,962 during the period. This compares with £26,608,014 in the last full year before covid, ending 31 December 2019. Its pre-tax profit increased from £3,024,100 to £5,276,621 despite a costs increase of more than £2m and government support dropping from £1,101,709 in 2021 to £6,000. Director John Potter, in his statement accompanying the accounts, said: “Business has been extremely strong in the so-called staycation market, with bookings, both new and deferred, leading to unprecedented demand and with a significant level of future reservations. The latest year has seen a 68% increase in revenue, which exceeds pre-covid levels. Administrative and overhead costs have risen as expected, but as a result of efficiencies, have not increased to pre-covid levels.” Potter said shareholder funds have increased from £18.7m to £22.6m after a dividend distribution of £1.1m to the parent company. He added: “The net asset strength and additional support made available by the company bankers provides a significant platform for future expansion and growth in a market of high demand.” The resort, originally opened in 1920, is claimed to be the UK’s first all-inclusive holiday resort.

Lake District fitness and leisure business reports high demand and strong sales in 2023 as profits track ‘well ahead of expectation’: Lake District fitness and leisure business Langdale Leisure has reported high demand and strong sales in 2023 as its profits track “well ahead of expectation”. The company operates two hotels, a spa, restaurant, inn and deli at the Langdale Estate, near Ambleside, as well as a timeshare business. In his report accompanying the accounts for the year ending 30 April 2023, director Joseph Longmuir said: “In the first quarter of the new financial year, there has been a high demand for accommodation, and sales have been very strong in all areas of the business. As a result, profits are tracking well ahead of expectations. If demand remains strong, and with an improving recruitment situation and declining energy costs, it is possible profits could return closer to pre-pandemic levels.” It comes as the business reported a turnover increase from £9,343,204 in 2022 to £10,208,660, with both its hotels delivering record revenue. But its pre-tax profit fell from £420,713 to £45,156 in the period, despite government support increasing from £104,669 in 2022 to £155,833. The business said good inroads were made into debt repayment, with loan reductions in the year of £449,014, and that a strong cash balance of £2,912,953 reflected the continued strength of forward bookings. “Despite a reduction in profits, it was a good year for the business,” Longmuir added. “The positive profit position at the end of the year was at the upper end of expectations, given the turmoil in the economy and the anticipated withdrawal of the covid-related rates reduction benefit of £220,000. The balance sheet is in a very healthy position, although our aim is to get net liabilities into a positive position.” He said inflation in food and energy costs in particular impacted the business, and while these are “continuing to fall in 2023, the levels remain significantly higher than they were immediately pre covid”. As well as both hotels returning their highest ever revenue figures, the inn produced a sales result 17.7% higher than its best-ever, “and these trends have continued into the new financial year”. The restaurant revenue was up 7% on the prior year but has been severely impacted by a continued shortage of skilled chefs, while the spa saw revenue growth of 17%.

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