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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Wed 22nd Nov 2023 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Sector criticises government over increase in minimum wage: The hospitality sector has criticised the government’s announcement that the National Living Wage will increase by more than a pound an hour from April next year. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said that the pay threshold will rise from £10.42 per hour to £11.44, the largest increase in more than a decade. It will also be extended to 21-year-olds for the first time, meaning overall a pay rise of £1,800 a year for a full-time worker. The national minimum wage for 18 to 20-year-olds will also increase by £1.11 to £8.60 per hour, in an announcement ahead of tomorrow’s autumn statement. Alex Reilley, chairman of Loungers, said: “Great news for millions but without targeted tax cuts this is surely the death knell for many small hospitality businesses. It also only serves to pour petrol onto the embers of the inflation fire as prices will have to be increased to mitigate higher labour costs.” Simon Wood, MasterChef winner in 2015 and founder of the WOOD restaurant in Manchester, said: “And where does this magically appear from? Without a review of the obscene tax that is business rates and reducing the VAT as we’ve spoken of for so long, this is the final nail for so many small businesses. The government need to listen to us and act appropriately.” Oliver Vaulkhard, founder of north east leisure firm Vaulkhard Group, said: “So, the government announce a near 10% wage rise, over 38% in four years, and do nothing at all to support the businesses that have to pay it. It’s not government money. My industry is already taxed at 38% of turnover… enough!” UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “This is a significant increase in the National Living Wage, rising 10% and 28p more than originally forecast. Such a rise will have significant knock-on impacts on costs as businesses struggle to maintain appropriate wage differentials across all of their staff, including at more experienced levels. If businesses are expected to deliver these wage levels, there must be action to drive down costs in other areas. The first priority on that list needs to be extending business rates relief and freezing the multiplier at the autumn statement. Without action on business rates tomorrow, many businesses will not even make it to April to deliver these wage increases and jobs will be lost. That scenario benefits no one. In the longer term, stronger consideration needs to be given to a lower rate of VAT for hospitality to create a more sustainable tax burden for a sector that employs 3.5 million people and delivers £93bn to the economy.” 

Industry News:

Premium subscribers to receive all videos from Propel Multi-Club Conference on 1 December: Premium subscribers are to receive access to all the videos from this month’s Propel Multi-Club Conference. Premium subscribers will be sent 12 videos on Monday, 1 December at 9am. The videos will include Michelle Hazlewood, partner at specialist licensing solicitors John Gaunt & Partners; Yolk founder Nick Philpot; Laura Mimoun, co-founder of Kaleido Rolls; Shereen Ritchie, chief operating officer of Buns from Home; David McDowall, chief executive of Stonegate Group; Clare Clough, UK managing director at Pret A Manger; Richard Ferrier, chief executive of the Heartwood Collection; John Eckbert, chief executive of Five Guys; and Jeremy King, the co-founder of Corbin & King, and doyenne of London’s dining scene. Emma Bernardez, head of hospitality at haysmacintyre, talks to David Roberts, corporate partner at CMS McKenna, Chris Miller, chief executive of White Rabbit, Thomas Boszko, partner at Alchemy Partners, and Craig Rachel, director at AlixPartners, about the current investment market, where the buyer activity is centred and current investment criteria in a volatile market. Propel group editor Mark Wingett talks to leading sector property directors on how the industry landscape is changing and what buyers are looking for, with Sophie Street, head of acquisitions at Zambrero, Marcello Distefano, managing director of San Carlo Group, Chris Moore, property and strategy director at Star Pubs & Bars, and Graeme Bunn, property director at Red Oak Taverns. Mark Stretton managing director of Fleet Street, talks to Gabriella Overeem, head of partner management at Uber Eats, Joe Heather, general manager of UK & Ireland at Deliverect, Johnnie Tate, founder of Yard Sale Pizza, and Mark Murphy, founder of Burgerism, about what comes next as the sector continues to seek the best way of integrating a delivery model after the boom during the pandemic. Premium subscribers receive all the videos from Propel conferences each year – around 100 in total. Propel managing director Paul Charity said: “This is a great way to keep you team abreast of what’s happening in the sector.” 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 also receive access to six databases: the Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate; the New Openings Database; the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book; the UK Food and Beverage Franchisor Database; the UK Food and Beverage Franchisee Database; and the Who's Who of UK Food and Beverage. They also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before; regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Mark Wingett. 
Jeremy Hunt – I can now focus on long-term UK growth: Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has said instead of taking a more cautious approach, it is time to focus on the “long-term growth of the UK economy” after inflation more than halved this year. Speaking at a conference organised by the CBI, the business lobby group, the chancellor said today’s (Wednesday, 22 November) autumn statement would include a “whole range of measures designed to unlock business investment”, indicating that he will make the 100% tax relief on capital spending permanent. He said he and prime minister Rishi Sunak “had to do some very difficult things to get [inflation] back under control” after it climbed to a 41-year high of 11.1% in October last year. However, now that the rate had declined to 4.6%, meaning that the chancellor and the prime minister had met their target of halving it this year, there was room to boost the economy with tax cuts or spending increases, reports The Times. The Bank of England has the task of keeping inflation at 2%, the official target. Hunt’s comments came after Sunak said the government could “turn our attention to cutting tax” as the threat of inflation receded. Hunt said it was time to “shake off some of the defeatism” about Britain after the economy, so far this year, had dodged a much-forecast recession. He said the country needed to get its “self-confidence” back. The government is considering softening income tax or national insurance, although Hunt pushed back against that speculation at the weekend. Stronger tax receipts thanks to wage growth rising rapidly mean that Hunt will have between £15bn and £25bn to use in his autumn statement.
Far too early for rate cuts, says Bank of England governor: The governor of the Bank of England has insisted “it is far too early to be thinking about rate cuts” in the latest sign of divergence between the central bank and investors over the expected path for borrowing costs. In a speech at an event hosted by the National Farmers Union, Andrew Bailey said “it is too soon to declare victory” in the cost-of-living crisis, adding the bank still had “a long way to go” to get inflation back to the 2% target. It comes after markets stepped up their bets on the bank launching its first rate reduction by the middle of next year, with two further cuts by November 2024 also priced in, reports The Times. Although the bank has insisted that borrowing costs must stay higher for longer to prevent a renewed surge in inflation, it has not clarified for how long. Bailey said the bank will lower rates only once the “incoming data” convincingly demonstrated that inflation had been squeezed out of the economy. “The latest projections indicate that monetary policy is likely to need to be restrictive for quite some time yet,” he said. The bank has raised the base interest rate from a record low of 0.1% in November 2021 to a 15-year high of 5.25%. Inflation has fallen faster than expected to a two-year low of 4.6%. 

Confidence in sector climbs again but almost three in five ‘very concerned’ about potential rates rise: The optimism of Britain’s hospitality leaders has risen for the fourth quarter in a row, but almost three in five (57%) are “very concerned” about the potential rise in business rates ahead of today’s (Wednesday, 22 November) autumn statement. The October edition of the Business Confidence Survey from CGA by NIQ and Fourth showed 49% of leaders now feel confident about the hospitality market over the next 12 months, up four percentage points from August’s figure. The proportion of leaders who feel optimistic about prospects for their business in the next year is unchanged at 62%. Only 5% of leaders said their business is currently at risk of failure, down from 11% last quarter. The number feeling pessimistic about the market dropped from 31% in August to 18%. Nearly three in ten (58%) leaders are optimistic about their businesses’ Christmas trading, with just 8% feeling pessimistic. More than a quarter (29%) said Christmas bookings are ahead of this time last year, twice the number (15%) who said reservations are down. However, 57% of leaders are very concerned about business rates, with 67% saying their business would be less stable if relief was removed. Significant numbers said a withdrawal would force them to cut investment (71%), reduce staffing levels (61%), raise menu prices (61%) or close sites (45%). Almost two in five (38%) leaders are also very concerned by increases in the National Living Wage. Employers have increased pay levels by an average of 10% in the last 12 months, though better rates have helped bring down staff vacancies, which now stand at 8%, down from 11% in the previous survey. Roughly a third of leaders said they are very concerned about energy prices (35%) and food and drink inflation (30%). Karl Chessell, CGA by NIQ’s director – hospitality operators and food, EMEA, said: “It’s encouraging to see good levels of optimism about Christmas sales, which can make or break the year for many restaurant, pub and bar groups. However, the sector is not out of the woods yet. Costs in food, drink, labour and energy remain exceptionally high, and as the autumn statement approaches, there is real concern about the damage that a rise in business rates would cause.”

Deliveroo wins Supreme Court case against union over employment status of riders: Deliveroo riders cannot be classed as “workers” and do not have the ability to form a union, the UK’s top judges have decided in a major ruling for the gig economy. The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) fought a seven-year legal battle over the status of Deliveroo’s army of couriers. It argued they should be considered “workers” rather than “self-employed” and able to form a collective bargaining unit, relying on article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights to mount the legal challenge. But Lady Rose, announcing the court’s decision, said the contracts Deliveroo has with its riders include arrangements that mean it is not an “employment relationship” that would attract union rights. She said riders currently have the “unfettered right” for someone else to substitute in for their deliveries, and Deliveroo does not police those arrangements. “Deliveroo doesn’t object to riders working at the same time for Deliveroo’s competitors”, the judge added. IWGB brought the case on behalf of Deliveroo riders in Camden and Kentish Town, and victory would have set an important precedent for the company’s estimated 90,000-strong workforce as well as others in the wider gig economy. The union wanted to negotiate improvements for Deliveroo riders on pay, working hours, and holiday entitlement. In the lengthy legal battle that began in 2016, IWGB first took its case to the Central Arbitration Committee but declined to accept its application for collective bargaining status. That decision was then upheld by the High Court and the Court of Appeal. The union’s fight was bolstered by a 2021 Supreme Court ruling that Uber drivers should be classed as “workers”, giving them employment rights under UK law. However, the terms of the deals that Deliveroo strikes with its riders meant the same status does not apply. Last year, Deliveroo announced a deal with the GMB union, guaranteeing minimum earnings and annual negotiations over working conditions.
UK’s top curry chefs ‘guardians of fresh food cooking’ and ‘keeping high streets alive’: The UK’s top curry chefs are the “guardians of fresh food cooking” and “keeping the high streets alive”, the chairman of the Asian Catering Federation (ACF) has said. Yawar Khan was speaking at the 2023 Asian Curry Awards – which the ACF organises – at Grosvenor House in London’s Mayfair. He warned of a market increasingly dominated by fast, ready-made and mass-produced offerings. “We are competing against quick food, which is often produced in factories and warehouses – without the personal attention, authentic skill and attention of our top chefs, then shipped out to customers eager to take advantage of the convenience of the click-to-order online buying phenomenon,” Khan said. “Our winners are the guardians of fresh food cooking – the vanguard protecting and promoting quality in Asian cuisine and, in many ways, keeping the high streets alive.” Colonel Saab, in London’s High Holborn, was named Asian restaurant of the year, while the fine dining restaurant award went to Babur in Forest Hill, east London. Individual cuisine awards went to Worthing and Hove’s Issa Sushi (Japanese), Bournemouth’s Tien Thai, (Thai), London’s Kasa & Kin (Filipino), Southampton’s Ottoman Kitchen (Middle Eastern), Norwich’s MyMakan (Malaysian) and Brighton’s Balo Brasserie (Asian Oriental). Namaste in Highgate, north London, was awarded newcomer of the year, while Michelin-starred Benares’s head chef, Sameer Tanejar, was presented with a special outstanding contribution award. 
City of London ‘fast reinventing itself as go-to foodie destination’ post-covid: The City of London has been fast reinventing itself as a go-to foodie destination post-covid, reports The Mail. The Wolseley opening a new bar and restaurant on the Square Mile, having previously restricted itself to the West End, and joining new venues like Wagtail and One Lombard Street points to a sea change for the financial district that seemed unthinkable just a year ago, The Mail said. While the number of restaurants in the City decreased by 28% between September 2019 and September 2023, in the last year it has been the highest performing district in London for maintaining its hospitality industry, only losing 1.3% of sites. Kevin Lewis, assistant general manager at exclusive rooftop bar and restaurant Wagtail, said: “The majority of our guests from Monday to Thursday are corporate. They spend quite a lot, currently our spend per head is about £80. Tourists are coming here, but they tend to stay more to the St Paul’s side of the city. We’re a hidden gem, so it’s starting to pick up. Since covid, this area has been reinvented somewhat – there’s loads of good places to eat here now.” Sue Cloke, director at bar, restaurant and specialist cheesemonger, Cheese at Leadenhall, added: “There are obviously a lot of tourists around at the moment, but there’s also a lot of out-of-towners coming into London, and into the City of London, as there’s more to do here now. There’s more to see and more choices to dine at as the restaurants are more varied. There’s certainly more to do here once people have arrived, and that stops them going someplace else like the West End. There were a lot of vacant sites two or three years ago but now there aren’t. It’ll be much more vibrant and busier, and also encourage people to come into the city.”
Operators urged to take part in Christie & Co market sentiment survey: Christie & Co is inviting operators to take part in a short market sentiment survey for its annual Business Outlook 2024 Report. Responses will help form the report, which will reflect on the key business themes and trends shaping market activity in the previous year, and offers a look ahead at what 2024 may bring across the specialist sectors in which Christie & Co operates – including leisure, hotels, pubs and restaurants. The survey will remain open for a few weeks and is anonymous. For each completed survey, Christie & Co will make a donation to its selected charity of the year, The Unbeatable Eva Foundation. To complete the survey, click here.
Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a hospitality business that is seeking a business operations manager. A COREcruitment spokesperson said: “This newly crafted position calls for a unique blend of restaurant expertise and retail acumen. As the linchpin of this standalone role, you’ll oversee the entire operation with a strategic mindset, integrating with the community, driving business, and overseeing all commercial facets, including marketing. Leadership, team development, and an entrepreneurial spirit are vital. You will manage a team of two while reporting to the head of operations.” The salary is up to £65,000 and the position is based in Oxfordshire. For more information, email

Company News:

Auntie Anne’s UK master franchisee signs contract extension with ‘potential for 90 new stores’: Pretzel business Auntie Anne’s UK master franchisee has signed a contract extension with the brand’s parent company “with the potential for 90 new stores” over here. The American franchised chain of pretzel shops, which was founded in 1988, has grown to more than 1,800 locations in 25 countries and arrived in the UK in 2003. It opened its 38th location here in September, at 59 Kingsland High Street in Dalston, north London, and has said it is aiming to hit the 50-store landmark next year. Its parent company in the US is Georgia-based Focus Brands, which is the franchisor and operator of more than 6,600 sites in the US and more than 60 countries and territories under the Auntie Anne’s, Carvel, Cinnabon, Jamba, Moe’s Southwest Grill, McAlister’s Deli and Schlotzsky’s brands. “I’m pleased to announce Focus Brands and our long-standing master franchise, Freshly Baked, have just signed a new contract extension, with the potential of adding an additional 90 stores to the UK Auntie Anne’s portfolio,” said Sean Wooden, senior vice-president and managing director EUMEA & LATAM at Focus Brands. “The brand is in excellent hands with Robert [Burton], Max [Burton] and Antony [Baker] and all their franchisees.” Freshly Baked was founded in 2008 and is based in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, with Robert Burton, Max Burton, Andrew Burton and Antony Baker as directors. The business returned to profit in the year to 31 October 2022, turning a pre-tax loss of £46,915 in 2021 into a profit of £151,361, as turnover rose from £1,180,150 to £1,574,825. “The directors are pleased to report a profit for the year ending 31 October 2022 of £151,361,” Max Burton said. “This comes after two very difficult years. The company is still having to resolve lease problems, which remain due to the various lockdowns, and pandemic generally, from March 2020 to early 2022. These issues will impact the October 2023 year-end accounts. No new stores were opened in 2022 as management was focused on the existing franchise network and on consolidation. A new operations director and franchise recruitment manager have since been brought in to kickstart the growth of the network with new store openings. Since the year end, we have closed the company run store at Caroline Street, Cardiff, at a cost of more than £60,000. Our aim for 2023 is to close all existing problem franchisees, open four to six new stores and position ourselves to expand more rapidly thereafter.” Auntie Anne’s features in the Propel UK Food & Beverage Franchisor Database, the next edition of which will be sent to Premium subscribers at noon today (Wednesday, 22 November). It will feature ten new entries, plus updates to existing entries, taking the total to 225 companies either franchising or looking to franchise in the UK. 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 Mark Wingett.

Neat Burger to consolidate UK estate – four sites to close: The Lewis Hamilton-backed plant-based concept Neat Burger has said it is to close half of its eight-strong UK estate after seeing a “shift towards hybrid-work, leading to a natural decrease in footfall at some of our larger restaurants”. In the year to 31 December 2022, the business posted revenue of £4,636,080 (2021: £2,488,156), but saw its pre-tax losses widen to £7,863,296 (2021: (£3,211,365). The company said: “Significantly, the nature of sales has altered compared with the pre-covid era. Monday and Friday footfall in the City of London and the West End is markedly below pre-pandemic levels, as working from home has become more prevalent. The demand for home delivery, which surged in 2021, has declined leading the group to close the delivery­-only kitchens operated in partnership with Deliveroo and Reef Kitchens. In light of changing work habits, the directors have identified that future expansion of the corporate estate should focus on smaller, compact units situated in high-footfall areas. As a result of this refinement in strategy, the group has opted to discontinue plans for locations at Kings Road, Queensway, and Waterloo. Subsequent to the balance sheet date, the group opted not to pursue the opening of a restaurant within the 02 Arena. Additionally, the Finsbury Park restaurant, which had a remaining lease term of 12 years and an annual rental of £45,000, has been assigned to a third party.” It is thought it will close its sites in Liverpool Street, Canary Wharf, Oxford Street and Westfield Stratford, leaving it with sites in Camden, Soho, Victoria and Wembley. A company spokesperson told Propel: “Neat Burger is committed to continuing to deliver the best plant-based dining experience to our customers in both the UK and abroad. As with any dynamic growing business, we’re constantly changing and adapting to the market and so as part of our ongoing strategy we are announcing the consolidation of four of our London operations. This decision is driven after an analysis of our consumer data and the shift towards hybrid-work leading to a natural decrease in footfall at some of our larger restaurants. The last four years have been a roller coaster for any hospitality business, we’re facing macro pressures that we’re seeing reflected across the industry, and the strongest brands are having to adjust their sails to account for increasing energy costs, food price inflation and compounding interest rates. In these times, it is essential to focus on what works best. We are concentrating our efforts on our best performing restaurants, refining our menu, and supporting our partnership with Deliveroo which has recently enabled us to double our delivery radius across the city. Whilst the UK still remains our largest market, earlier this year we opened our flagship New York location, and a few days ago we launched in Milan, Italy. This consolidation is a strategic step in our broader plan for future expansion where our model focuses on smaller stores across multiple cities. We believe that sometimes, taking a step back is necessary to make a bigger leap forward. We remain deeply committed to our mission of providing delicious, sustainable, plant-based dining, and are excited about our future growth prospects.”
Beckett – we’re at the stage now where we could do a couple of world class restaurants a year: Will Beckett, co-founder and chief executive of steakhouse concept Hawksmoor, has told Propel that the business is at a stage “capacity, bandwidth and cash wise, where we could do a couple of restaurants a year now” and is focused on opening “world class restaurants in world class cities”. Next year, the business will open a second site in the US, in Chicago, and Beckett said at present, this is the only new site lined up. He said: “That 16,000 square-foot site in Chicago is probably fairly heavy on our mind! We have looked at many things, we did put an offer on something, but we haven’t added to the pipeline yet. We’re excited about finding opportunities, but our shorthand for what we do is ‘world class restaurants in world class cities’. So, if we don't feel like we can build a world class restaurant and all that goes with that, if we don’t feel like there’s a beautiful building in a world class city with something special about it, then we’re not going to rush into doing something that falls short of that standard. We’d like to open more restaurants, but there aren’t a huge number of those buildings around, and we would rather do fewer things brilliantly than go faster, but fall short of world class. New York is trading really well. It’s like-for-likes are among the highest in the company, against strong sales last year. Now we’re into the third year there, we understand the business that we’ve opened. We understand the environment that we’re in, and we feel like it’s time to start building on that momentum in the US.” Last week, Propel reported Hawksmoor, which operates ten restaurants in the UK, plus one in New York and one in Dublin, said it was experiencing record sales and profitability. Beckett said: “The restaurants are really busy. In terms of the City, Monday and Fridays are obviously worse than they used to be. Dinners are probably stronger, lunches are probably weaker, but suddenly you can have a profitable, busy restaurant on a Saturday night or Sunday lunch in the City, and that never used to be the case. The market changes, and we adapt over time. We are busier than we have ever been between 5pm and 8pm, whereas in London for example, late evening seems to be quieter in the City than it used to be. Sunday evenings by contrast are better than they used to be. You have to adapt to how people are behaving, and those organic changes have accelerated with the disruption of the last few years.”
Yolk eyes three new openings within next six months: Fast-growing “fine fast food” business Yolk is about to close a £1m equity funding round which will enable it to open three new larger-format sites in London within the next three months. Speaking at this month’s Propel Multi Club, founder Nick Philpot said the business, which began as a pop-up in 2014 and now has five sites across the capital, had worked hard to build strong foundations for scaling the business. It plans to open new sites in The Strand, Victoria and London Wall. He said the group’s existing five sites are profitable and the business was approaching £5m in run-rate revenue. He said that 2022/2023 were “big years of growth for a small business like ours”. Philpot said: “We are about to close an equity funding round, enabling us to open three more sites within six months. These will be all larger-format sites in The Strand and Victoria, which are great mixed-use locations, and London Wall – a super-busy, five-days-a-week, office-led location. Our target is to reach 25-plus sites by the end of 2026. We really believe in our potential to thrive in a number of location types – central London, neighbourhood London, travel hubs and regional city centres. We’ve worked hard to build strong foundations for scale, including a robust site model. New openings turn a profit swiftly and generate attractive returns. Sites range from 400-1,200 square feet and deliver £13,000 to £25,000 per week. Our gross profit margin is at circa 70% and labour at below 25%. We just squeezed as much as we possibly can from those small spaces, which basically we do through an all-day offering. Really strong coffee sales help to fill the gaps between peak meal times. Secondly, our key margins are in a good place. That hasn’t always been the case, and it’s been a hard year for that. But we’ve really improved our GP and our labour model has always been in a quite good place. And that leads to an overall site model that is consistently profitable, month to month. All the sites are, and something that’s really nice and powerful for us is that the sites also start contributing a profit typically from month two after opening. We’ve worked really hard on capex and design so that we keep that capex at a manageable level. The in-store environment is really important to us. It has to feel premium, but we’ve really worked on achieving that in a way that doesn’t break the bank. It still delivers that great experience, but it means that our kind of payback periods are relatively short, and our return on capital is really healthy.” Philpot will provide further insight in his video from the Propel Multi-Club Conference. Premium subscribers will receive access to all 12 videos from the event on Monday, 1 December at 9am.
Chipotle – expansion in London remains a top priority for our international strategy: US brand Chipotle has said that expansion in London remains a “top priority for our international strategy” as it gears up to open in Putney. The business, which currently operates 17 sites in the UK – 15 in London plus one each in Watford and Guildford – is set to open in the former Santander bank building in Putney High Street, on Monday (27 November). It follows a recent opening on the former Hisar restaurant site in Lordship Lane, East Dulwich. The business said it is the only company of its size that owns and operates all of its restaurants in the US, Canada and Western Europe. Jacob Sumner, director of European operations at Chipotle, said: “Given the rising popularity of Chipotle across London, our expansion in the area remains a top priority for our international strategy. This new location will increase the Putney community’s access to real, fresh food.” Last month, Propel reported that Chipotle saw turnover for its UK business climb to £17.9m for the year to 31 December 2022 (£11.1m), as it said it continued to focus on “enhancing the digital capabilities” in its restaurants here to “accelerate revenue growth and profitability in the future”. The company, which operated 13 sites during the period, saw its pre-tax losses widen from £5.9m in 2021 to £7.6m last year. The company said: “We will continue to focus on enhancing the digital capabilities in the UK restaurants to accelerate revenue growth and profitability in the future. There are seven more new stores scheduled to be opened in 2023.”
Eat Pitta to open sixth site, first outside Bristol: Eat Pitta, the falafel and hummus concept, is to open its sixth site, and its first outside Bristol, in Bath. The concept, which was founded in 2011 by Dan Levy, will open the new site in Bath’s Westgate Street in the heart of the city centre, on the former Shaws retail unit. The business currently operates five sites in Bristol, at Broadmead, St Nicholas Market, Gloucester Road, Queens Road, and Princess Victoria Street in Clifton Village. The latter opened on the former Boston Tea Party site in 2020. 
Dorchester Collection pursuing opportunities to grow portfolio, turnover soars but profits fall as costs rocket: The Dorchester Collection, which operates three London hotels – including The Dorchester – and several abroad, has said it is pursuing opportunities to grow its portfolio. As well as The Dorchester, it owns two hotels each in Paris and Los Angeles and one each in Milan and Rome, and leases Coworth Park in Ascot and 45 Park Lane in London. It also had two commercial properties in the US and had a hotel management services division. “The group continues to be well placed in our existing mature markets in Europe and USA, as well as in other critical markets such as the Middle East,” chairman Dr Amin Liew Abdullah said in the company’s accounts for the year ending 31 December 2022. “This, together with our robust sales, marketing and revenue management strategies, and our proven ability to build compelling product offerings, will continue to help us increase market share. The ongoing war in Ukraine has impacted our business in the form of rising utility costs. Inflationary pressure has resulted in higher general operating expenditure in conjunction with a highly competitive labour market, adding to the cost pressure. To increase the exposure and value of the brand in new and key world feeder markets, the group will continue to pursue opportunities to grow the hotel portfolio either through organic growth, acquisitions or through third-party management contracts, such as the ones achieved in London, Tokyo and Dubai.” It comes as the business reported a significant revenue increase from £263,307,000 in 2021 to £450,107,000 during the period. But its pre-tax profit dropped from £26,793,000 to £17,087,000 as costs shot up by more than £80m. Of the 2022 revenue, £433,903,000 came from hotel management and operations (2021: £246,065,00) and £16,204,000 from property investment (2021: £17,242,000). The property investment income was from the US only. Further analysis of the hotel management and operations income shows £85,159,000 came from the UK (2021: £64,500,000), £193,682,000 from Europe (2021: £83,594,000) and £155,062,000 from the US (2021: £97,971,000). No dividends were paid (2021: nil). Dr Abdullah added: “The luxury hotel sector made a strong recovery in 2022, with hotels experiencing a surge in demand from the leisure segment. The lingering impacts of covid-19 continues to be felt in the corporate, meetings and incentives side of the business, where demand is lower than pre-pandemic but steadily improving.” The group’s hotel occupancy rate was 51% (2021: 33%), while average room rate increased from £829 to £1,042 and revpar grew from £273 to £531.
Cocktail bar concept Kuckoo to open fifth site with Warrington launch this week: North west rock ‘n’ roll cocktail bar concept Kuckoo will open its fifth site, in Warrington this week. The concept, which was founded in 2010 by Richard Powell, will open on Friday (24 November) in the town’s Palmyra Square and will be based in The Treasury Building in the former site of Institution Bar. It will become the town’s first “dedicated rock ‘n’ roll cocktail bar”. Powell said: “We are known for creating an unforgettable night in our bars – and Warrington will be no exception. Warrington was always on the list as a location in the north west for us. It is a growing town with a city feel to it, boasting a multitude of investments and new developments in the area. It serves as a central point for the north with excellent local connections to neighbouring towns.” Kuckoo also operates sites in Chester, Knutsford, Preston and Sheffield. 
London food hall from The Italian Job MD adds two new vendors to line-up: The Upper Place, the food hall in London’s Holloway from Simone Moroni, managing director of Italian craft beer pub concept The Italian Job, has added two new vendors to its line-up. The Boil Club, which offers signature platters of boiled seafood, has launched at the food hall, offering its pick ’n’ mix style bag where customers can choose their selection of seafood alongside a selection of sides and dips. Meanwhile, Pad Thai Café will bring its flavours of Thailand to the food hall from Monday (27 November). Its menu includes a section of curries such as its signature Pad Thai and Khao Pad (Thai fried rice). The Upper Place opened this summer above the Nag’s Head Market and has capacity for 130 guests.
Shepherd Neame launches new campaign as it heralds trio of green goals: Kent brewer and retailer Shepherd Neame has launched its new “People, Pubs and Planet” campaign heralding a trio of ambitious environmental goals. The company has pledged to hit net zero carbon for direct emissions by 2030, net zero for Scope 3 emissions no later than 2040 and send zero waste to landfill by 2025. Shepherd Neame has already begun investing in a number of initiatives as it begins working towards these goals, including installing smart electric automatic meter readers (AMRs) across the brewery and managed pub estate, while gas AMRs are being rolled out; and being among the founding members of the Zero Carbon Forum. Shepherd Neame is also investing in technology to provide energy and emissions reductions around the business and has installed electric car rapid charging facilities at the brewery and six of its pubs, with more being rolled out. The brewery already uses 99% recyclable packaging materials, 55% of the water used in the brewing process is recycled, and 97% of spent grain and hops is recycled by local farms. A number of other steps have also been taken across Shepherd Neame’s pub and hotel estate to minimise waste, including ensuring all toiletries come in biodegradable packaging and recycling more than 60% of the total cooking oil used across its managed estate and converting it to green energy. These initiatives have helped contribute to the business sending just 2% of waste to landfill. Chief executive Jonathan Neame said: “A commitment to doing the right thing for our community, our people and our environment is at the heart of our strategy.”
Roxy Leisure confirms second Manchester opening for King Pins concept: Roxy Leisure has confirmed it is to open a second site in Manchester for its King Pins family bowling concept. The operator of Roxy Lanes and Roxy Ball Room opened its debut site under the King Pins concept in Manchester’s Trafford Palazzo this summer, offering 15 lanes of ten-pin bowling and four lanes of duck-pin bowling alongside shuffleboard, ice free curling, a batting cage, karaoke and arcade games. As revealed by Propel last week, Roxy Leisure has now confirmed it is opening a further site in the city, in the Arndale scheme. Roxy Leisure has signed a deal to occupy a currently vacant 30,000 square-foot unit previously home to a Sports Direct store and is set open the new venue next year. James Travis, brand manager for King Pins, said: “We couldn’t be happier to be opening our second site, at Manchester’s Arndale. Taking our state-of-the-art bowling concept to its first city centre location is hugely exciting, and where better to do it?” Roxy Leisure recently also secured a site in the Silverburn scheme in Glasgow for the fledgling concept. Earlier this year, Roxy Leisure managing director Matt Jones told Propel the company had another four King Pins sites in major cities and shopping centres in legals and would target six sites within the next two years.
Team behind Bums on Seats launches new brand as it looks to expand: The team behind Bums on Seats, the strategic sales and business development expert, has launched a new brand as it looks to expand. Chief executive Amber Staynings and managing director Edward Christmas have founded Hospitality & Leisure Sales Solutions (HLSS), which will be taking on the existing Bums on Seats brand. It will also be positioning itself for expansion and taking on new opportunities within the sector. Staynings said: “I am looking ahead to new developments, which are being kept under wraps for now, but which have the capacity to significantly change the way hospitality and leisure operators grow sales in the future. There is still room for the traditional tools, but what hospitality and leisure also need are more ambitious interventions using unique problem-solving solutions. You can expect further announcements in due course, but in the meantime our new company, HLSS, will continue to provide the expertise to deliver sales growth and achieve outstanding levels of return on investment, trading as Bums on Seats. All the things we already do under the Bums on Seats brand will continue as before, but there is still room for other cost-effective solutions giving operators in hospitality and leisure a way to secure loyal customers and regular pre-booked sales, and HLSS will provide these.”
Greene King launches ‘Cask Ale Club’ initiative: Brewer and retailer Greene King has launched a ‘Cask Ale Club’ initiative available exclusively to its tenanted, leased and franchise division, Pub Partners. Members will receive enhanced support and exclusive offers, including bespoke promotions and competitions, ceramic house ale pump clips, sample beer flight kits, VIP access to brewery tours and events and a framed certificate to display in their pub. Members will also receive their own dedicated, quarterly newsletter – featuring the latest promotions and offers on cask beer. Dan Robinson, managing director for Greene King Pub Partners, said: “The club is a testament to our commitment to support our partners and reward their brilliance. It is a great example of the benefits of being a partner and having not only a leading pub company, but a leading brewery, by your side, helping you grow your business.” Matt Starbuck, managing director for the Greene King Brewery, added: “This bespoke initiative not only supports the category to drive its future, but also celebrates cask beer, a unique experience that you can only find in a pub. We’ve compiled a package that we believe will really help to elevate our partners’ cask offering and we can’t wait to see the club grow.”

Restaurant partners help Just Eat give almost £5m of free food to customers: Just Eat, together with its partners, has enabled UK customers to claim almost £5m worth of free food items, as part of its “Freebie Friday” campaign. Recognising the importance of value for money amidst the current climate, Just Eat said “Freebie Friday” gives food lovers the opportunity to enjoy a free menu item, every Friday, when ordering from participating restaurants, supermarkets or convenience stores. The promotion, which launched this autumn has already attracted more than 12,000 Just Eat partners to participate, including dine-in restaurants, takeaways and food-to-go spots. There’s no limit to the amount of free items customers can claim each Friday, as long as the qualifying minimum spend is met for each order. The promotion is gaining momentum, having welcomed KFC earlier this month following the extension of its partnership with Just Eat, which will be extending Freebie Friday across the entire Black Friday weekend. Victoria Gold, UK and Ireland marketing director at Just Eat, said: “As shoppers are understandably becoming more value-conscious, we want to ensure we’re making it easy for customers to enjoy their favourite food delivered from the places they love.”

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