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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Wed 20th Dec 2023 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

NWTC ‘well-positioned with a clear growth strategy’, FY revenue tops £70m, CFO to step down: Rod McKie, executive chairman of the Graphite Capital-backed pub restaurant group The New World Trading Company (NWTC), has told Propel the 34-strong business is well-positioned for further growth, with a strong openings pipeline in place. It comes as the business said it had generated record weeks of sales during an “exceptional period of peak Christmas trading”. It said that so far in December, 17 of its sites have exceeded previous peaks, with forward bookings indicating further records to be broken by the end of the month. Following disruptions from covid, snow and the 2022 World Cup, NWTC said it has benefited from its first uninterrupted December since 2019, generating double-digit like-for-like sales versus that year. The company said that despite inflationary pressures, Ebitda is forecast to more than double in the three months to December 2023 compared with the prior year. The business recently opened a flagship site in Edinburgh under its core The Botanist brand, following new sites earlier this year in Barnsley (The Botanist) and a second site in Chester trading as North Light. Propel understands that the Edinburgh site is already generating weekly sales in excess of £140,000. Growth for the business is set to continue next year and beyond, with two new sites due to open in early 2024, in Sunderland and Bournemouth, with “a strong pipeline beyond those”. The company recently filed its accounts for the year to 31 March 2023, which showed revenue increasing by 20% to £71,971,794, while Ebitda declined due to input price inflation, before recovering in the current year. It posted a pre-tax loss of £4,863,104 (2022: £1,990,478). During the year, four new sites were opened – Botanists located in Ipswich, Worcester and Barnsley as well as The Club House in Cardiff. As part of the company’s ongoing strategy to manage the estate, two non-core sites were disposed of – The Botanist in Didsbury and The Florist in Bristol. Propel understands that NWTC is also exploring the disposal of a handful of further non-core sites. McKie said: “After the sector experienced severe inflation in 2022 and 2023, particularly across food and energy supply, a real focus on driving margin expansion is starting to pay dividends, coupled with a healthy bounce back in sales. Following the arrival of Amber Wood as chief operating officer, the business is well-positioned with a clear growth strategy and an exciting pipeline of openings for the next three years.” Meanwhile, Jim Pickworth, the company’s chief financial officer, is leaving the business after five years to pursue new opportunities. Pickworth, who was previously chief financial officer at Azzurri Group and is a current non-executive director of MJMK, will remain in his role until the first quarter of next year. 

Industry News:

Restaurant Marketer & Innovator European Summit 2024 open for bookings: Restaurant Marketer & Innovator European Summit is returning for its sixth edition, and tickets are now on sale. The event is a partnership between Propel and Think Hospitality, aiming to build a community, promote the sharing of ideas, recognise talent and define the future of eating out. Bookings are now open for the two-day conference, as the centrepiece of the January event series, taking place on 23 and 24 January at One Moorgate Place in London. The conference will focus on marcomms strategies, proposition and concept development, the latest market insights, technology and digital developments, diversification of revenue streams and how brands are adapting to the new normal. It is designed for marketing, development and innovation teams, as well as senior executives and investors wanting to better understand the latest marketing, innovation and development opportunities to build market share and grow. Day one speakers include: Andreia Harwood, marketing director – EMEA at Wingstop; Sam Bourke, marketing director at Fuller’s; Sarah Collins, head of marketing at the Rick Stein Group; Jessica Wight, marketing director at Bistrot Pierre; François Blouin and Claire Diemer, chief executive and director of qualitative studies respectively at Foodservice Vision; Katy Moses, managing director at insight consultancy KAM; Lina Olea, marketing director at Wireless Social; Jack Jolly, senior marketing manager at Mission Mars and founder of H!JACK; Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford; Amanda Mason, head of marketing at Roadchef; James Coldrey-Mobbs, sales and marketing director at East Coast Concepts; Anthony Pender, co-founder of Our Yummy Collection; Natalie Waldron, of Natalie Waldron Design; Dan Burns, of Natural Selection Design; Matt Preisinger, marketing and brand director at Brewhouse & Kitchen; Thom and James Elliot, co-founders of Pizza Pilgrims; Siobhan Lloyd, marketing manager at 200 Degrees Coffee; Julius Wiesenhütter, founder at GetViola; Megan Burton-Brown, marketing director at Tortilla; Simon Potts, chief executive of the Alchemist; and Natasha Sideris, founder and chief executive of Tashas Group. For the full schedule, click here. A one-day ticket for operators is £295 plus VAT while a two-day ticket is £550 plus VAT. Supplier tickets are £395 plus VAT for one day and £700 plus VAT for two. Tickets can be purchased by contacting Jo Charity at Propel on jo.charity@propelinfo.com.

Premium subscribers to receive next UK Food & Beverage Franchisee Database today: The next edition of the UK Food & Beverage Franchisee Database will be sent to Premium subscribers today (Wednesday, 20 December), featuring ten new entries and updates to existing entries. The database is updated every two months and the latest version features 120 businesses and almost 50,000 words of content. Among the new entries are large-scale Subway franchisee Daljo Group, which supports circa 340 stores and more than 100 franchisees, and Domino’s franchisee Domino’s West Country, which operates 11 stores and two mobile units across Devon. Roadside forecourt operator Ascona Group – which has partnerships with the likes of Costa, Greggs and Subway across its 62 sites – is also included. Premium subscribers also receive access to five other databases: the 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; and the Who’s Who of UK Food and Beverage. 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 kai.kirkman@propelinfo.com 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.

Sector bosses in Scotland warn businesses will struggle to survive and prices set to rise following ‘disappointing’ Budget: Sector bosses in Scotland have warned many businesses will struggle to survive and prices are set to rise after the government decided not to deliver emergency support for the industry in its Budget. While business rates were frozen, no other support has been offered except to businesses located on the islands, which will benefit from 100% rates relief. Finance secretary Shona Robison also announced a new tax band, meaning anyone who earns more than £75,000 will pay a rate of 45%. Scotland already had the highest tax band in the UK at 47% for people earning more than £125,000. This will also rise by 1% next year to 48%. Robison added: “We will freeze the poundage on the basic property rates, protecting businesses with a rateable value up to and including £51,000 from the impact of inflation”, adding that it will save ratepayers £37m and “ensure Scotland has the lowest rate for all but the largest properties for the sixth year in a row”. “In this Budget we’ll maintain the Small Business Bonus Scheme ensuring that 100,000 properties are taken out of rates altogether,” she added. But the Scottish Tourism Alliance, UKHospitality Scotland, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association and the Scottish Beer & Pub Association said: “The lack of business support measures will see many thousands of tourism and hospitality businesses facing acute financial challenges in the next year, tipping many into crisis. It also entrenches the fact that it is now immeasurably harder to run a hospitality, leisure or tourism business in Scotland, than anywhere else in Britain. Around 10,000 of our businesses will not benefit from the Small Business Bonus Scheme, leaving them unsupported, and this growing gulf with the rest of Britain will cost jobs, economic growth, investment and, ultimately, tax revenues that are needed to fund public services. The announcement of a new income tax band will also hit our sector’s ability to recruit senior and highly experienced candidates from elsewhere in the UK and potentially retain our emerging leadership talent.” Greene King chief executive Nick Mackenzie said: “We welcome the decision by the Scottish Government not to increase the poundage on basic property rates at a time when the cost of doing business has already risen significantly. However, the challenge facing pubs across Scotland is immediate, and these measures have not brought parity with the current support these same pubs would receive if they were in England.” Stephen Montgomery, director of the Scottish Hospitality Group, added: “The very real implication is that many Scottish hospitality businesses will struggle to survive, and customers will see prices increase. However, we welcome the Scottish government’s commitment to exploring a long-term, fairer deal for hospitality on business rates. This is a golden opportunity to deliver a fairer deal for Scottish hospitality once and for all. The finance secretary has committed to introducing a long-term, fairer deal for Scottish hospitality at next year's Budget. We will hold her feet to the fire to make sure she delivers on this promise.”

Welsh government extends business rates relief but at lower 40% rate, bills set to rise 5%: The Welsh government has extended business rates relief at a lower rate of 40% but bills are set to rise by 5% next year. Pubs, shops and restaurants will see their business rates go up as part of plans to put more money into Wales' struggling health service. Officials said ministers are prioritising front-line services, including the NHS and councils. Funding for arts and culture bodies – such as the National Museum and the Arts Council – and Sport Wales are seeing their funding cut by about 10%. Finance Minister Rebecca Evans said: “We have had to take some really difficult decisions to radically redesign our spending plans to focus funding on the services that matter most to the people of Wales.” UKHospitality Cymru executive director David Chapman said: “I’m pleased the Welsh government has heard the concerns from UKHospitality Cymru and taken the decision to continue some form of business rates relief. UKHospitality campaigned hard for relief to be extended in Westminster, which resulted in additional funds for the Senedd, and it’s clear hospitality has been recognised as a sector in need of support. While we appreciate the economic pressures the Welsh government is under, there will be concern from businesses that relief has been reduced to 40%, from 75%, and that business rates will be increased across the board by 5%. It must be remembered that hospitality businesses already pay more than their fair share of business rates because the current system is out-of-date and punitive for bricks and mortar businesses. This reduced level of support now leaves businesses in Wales at a competitive disadvantage to businesses in England. Small businesses, in particular, will feel hard done by as their counterparts will see rates frozen across the border. A typical local pub or restaurant in Wales will, for example, be paying £6,400 more than one in England. It’s extremely disappointing that at the same time the government is taking £16m worth of funding from the tourism budget. This is a strategically important sector in Wales and central to our culture – it needs investment and this sharp reduction in overall budget is worrying. At a time of intense economic challenges, this slashing of the tourism budget will do little to inspire long-term confidence in the sector, particularly alongside the looming introduction of a visitor levy and other policies that are impacting hard on the sector.”

Company News:

Roxy Leisure targeting 40-strong estate in next five years: Roxy Leisure, the operator of the Roxy Lanes and Roxy Ball Room concepts, is aiming to grow to a 40-strong estate in the next five years. It comes as the business, founded by brothers Matt and Ben Jones, marks the tenth anniversary of its debut opening, in Leeds. Over the course of a decade, the group has launched 18 sites across the UK in ten cities including Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Nottingham, Leicester, Cheltenham, and Bristol. Now it plans to add six sites in the next year in major cities including York, Nottingham, London, and Glasgow. Matt Jones said: “Competitive socialising is now a huge sector in the leisure industry and the fastest growing but by being one of the first to operate in this space, we have learnt so much over the last ten years. We are never complacent when building our venues and always strive to ensure each new site is bigger and better than the last. The future vision for Roxy is to keep on opening sites in locations that are deprived of good quality competitive socialising. We have another nine sites (and growing) signed up and ready to build over the next few years. By our 15th anniversary, we’re aiming to have 40 venues across our brands around the UK!” Roxy Leisure's 19th location, Roxy Lanes York, will open in February 2024. The company is also behind the King Pins family bowling concept, which is set to open its second Manchester site, at the Arndale, and has also secured space in the Silverburn scheme in Glasgow. Roxy Leisure features in the Propel Turnover & Profits Blue Book. Its turnover of £23,498,865 for the year ending 31 December 2022 is the 341st highest in the database. The Blue Book ranks companies by turnover, profit and profit conversion, listing directors’ earnings for the past five years. 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 kai.kirkman@propelinfo.com to upgrade your subscription.

McMullen boss – we more than doubled our profit with the same number of pubs: Heydon Mizon, joint managing director of McMullen, has revealed how the Hertfordshire brewer and retailer doubled its profit and turnover while operating the same number of pubs. Mizon said McMullen operates a portfolio of 84 managed pubs and smaller tenanted division, plus “rental properties that could be future managed pubs”. It owns the freehold of almost all of them, but while Mizon said buying freehold property is “a slower way to grow than a leased-debt model, McMullen has “still had some really good growth over last few years”. He told Propel: “In 2009 we had £45m turnover and £6m underlying profit, while in 2019 we had the same number of pubs but had sales of £100m and profits of £15.1m. Profit dropped 50% during covid but we were still profitable, while managed pubs are now ahead of 2019 and next year should be better. We could not have doubled our business in that timeframe without first investing in our people, and we realised internal promoting was the best way to grow fast with the least risk. We’re at 76% team turnover, every single person in the business in bonused, and we’ll pay out about £1m in bonuses this year.” Mizon said food has also been a big driver of growth and was “always an opportunity” for “a wet-led business from a brewery background”. He said: “Over ten years, with the same number of pubs, we have driven food growth by 155%, and most of the 76% in wet growth is from occasions. Our biggest growth has come from things like dirty burgers, but our biggest ingredient growth has been chicken, which has better margins than red meat. We have a brand called Chicken & Grill, 15 of them now, and that has driven our food growth.” Mizon said another recent area of growth has been “doggy dining” but that vegan food sales “haven’t really matched what we put into it”. He said collaborations with modern street food vendors “work really well and really drives wet sales in pubs with no menus, and that outsourcing phone calls has left teams free to “focus on the guests in front of them”. Experiences such as silent discos, black box theatres, drag bingo, outdoor cinema and DJs on the roof have also boosted sales, with one £5,000-a-week pub taking £47,000 in an events week. “We’ve also adapted quickly to product trends, so gone heavily on cocktails, shooters and shots in high street pubs and never run out of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in our dining pubs,” Mizon said. “Our teams help us keep relevant as they sometimes tell us what we need before we even know we need it.” Mizon also said that site investment is big part of McMullen’s growth, adding: “As well developing our internal concepts and brands, we got more confident in the pubs we’re running and as they made more money, we started to acquire and grow further afield. We will now build from new, acquire non-pub properties, and both failed pubs and successfully trading pubs.”

Canadian pancake brand Fluffy Fluffy to open in Liverpool for fifth site, plans at least five openings in 2024: Canadian pancake brand Fluffy Fluffy is to open its fifth UK site, in Liverpool, with at least five more planned in the next 12 months. The company will open the 1,500 square-foot outlet in Berry Street in early 2024. The brand made its UK debut in October 2022 with a site in Manchester’s Whitworth Street. It subsequently launched a second site in Leicester and in August this year, it opened its largest UK site to date, in Reading’s The Village in King’s Street. Last month, they were joined by an opening at The Light in Leeds. Hussein Umar, UK development lead at Fluffy Fluffy UK, said: “It has been an exciting year for Fluffy Fluffy as we end 2023 with a strong portfolio of stores that are performing above expectation. We’re delighted to have successfully executed our growth strategy finding excellent sites in Yorkshire, the north west, Berkshire and the Midlands. In 2024 we will be further investing in our estate and continuing our expansion journey with plans to open at least five new sites around the country. The success of our existing stores is encouraging and demonstrates the demand for our feel-good dessert cafe concept. Fluffy Fluffy provides high value against a distinctive product with a big ‘shareability factor’. In tough times Fluffy Fluffy is a chance to experience something decadent without breaking the bank and this is proving popular with audiences around the country.” Fluffy Fluffy launched its signature souffle pancakes in 2018, in Toronto. The brand now has 22 sites across North America, plus multiple sites in Europe. This summer, Umar told Propel the concept is aiming for 25 UK sites by 2025 as it works towards an eventual estate here of 100-plus. Further regional expansion will see sites open in eastern parts of the country in early 2024. The company will also look to make its London debut next year.

Fireaway launches £500,000 crowdfunding campaign to support growth: Fast pizza brand Fireaway, the Mario Aleppo-led business, has launched a £500,000 crowdfunding campaign to expand its central operations and brand reach and enhance its technology platform. Fireaway, which will end the year with 161 sites, is offering 2.43% equity in return for the investment, giving the business a pre-money valuation of £20,049,056. The business said it already has an external investor committed to £200,000 and wants to give the “opportunity back to our family of loyal customers to invest alongside”. It said: “We have a track record of year-on-year growth in franchise sales, headquarters profits and new store openings. We have generated annualised franchise store sales of £59m and a head office turnover of circa £14.5m. In 2022, we opened 39 stores and are on track to open 31 this year, having already opened 27 and with four under construction. We expect this growth to continue for next year. We want to spread the fire to more people in more places.” Propel understands that Fireaway, which was launched in south London in 2017, plans to open a further 30 sites next year. Aleppo told Propel that in terms of international expansion, sites in Portugal and Turkey are under construction and will be open in January. Fireaway, which made its international debut with a site in Amsterdam last spring, previously said it was also lining up openings in Dubai and Turkey. This summer, the brand increased its presence in Northern Ireland with an opening in Belfast’s Lisburn Road, as part of the country’s biggest independent halal food court. The brand secured investment from six new backers in October last year and plans to have 500 sites within the next five years.

Ottolenghi eyes Richmond opening: London restaurant and deli operator Ottolenghi is planning a further opening in the capital, in Richmond. Propel has learned that Ottolenghi, which recently opened its sixth deli site, in Hampstead, has applied to open on the former And So To Bed site in Hill Street. Earlier this month, Ottolenghi opened its sixth deli and eighth location overall, in the former Carluccio’s unit at 32-34 Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead. The dual-entrance site has one door leading to a casual deli for coffee, pastries and take away items, and another opening into a large dining room welcoming guests from breakfast through to dinner. The Ottolenghi group hired its first chief executive, Emilio Foa, last year, to aid its expansion. Earlier this year, founder Yotam Ottolenghi told The FT: “We’re going to grow our business a little bit more, so we want to expand internationally as well for the first time. We are planning to open in Paris, of all places.”

MeatLiquor to close Bloomsbury site: Scott Collins-led concept MeatLiquor is to close its site in London’s Bloomsbury. The restaurant in the Brunswick Centre, which opened in November 2020, will shut on Friday (22 December). MeatLiquor stated: “Thanks for having us, The Brunswick Centre, it's been fun. The fabulous team is all being relocated to other sites, so it's still a Merry Christmas.” The closure leaves MeatLiquor with seven sites in the capital and one each in Brighton and Leeds.

Redemption Roasters hits £1.2m crowdfunding target: The world’s first prison-based coffee company, Redemption Roasters, has hit its £1.2m crowdfunding target, with the funds set to be used to enable the business to “expand our retail and e-commerce sales channels and scale our impact” as it looks to grow to 27 sites by 2026. Max Dubiel, who previously founded Black Sheep Coffee, launched Redemption Roasters with old university friend Ted Rosner in August 2015, and has since expanded the business to ten sites across London and 200-plus wholesale clients. The business reported net sales of £8.1m over the last 12 months, with Ebitda of £372,000, and year-on-year growth of 43%. The company has so far raised £1,200,740 from 175 investors with 12 days of the campaign remaining. The business, which is crowdfunding through Crowdcube, is offering 5.17% of equity and has a pre-money valuation of £22m. Investors include Barrow Cadbury, Rothschild’s venture philanthropy arm, and the Treebeard Trust. Redemption Roasters is also developing a new app to boost business-to-consumer revenue by an estimated 15% and is focused on further expanding its wholesale customer base. The company also operates a roastery inside HMP The Mount where resident “trainees” benefit from working alongside Redemption Roasters’ team. The company also provides coffee training inside and outside of prison with direct pathways to long-term employment. Through 14 partnerships with UK prisons to date, more than 1,500 individuals have taken part in these programmes, with participant reoffending rates sitting well below half the national average.

Verdant Leisure expects further reduction in Ebitda and profit in FY24 despite bookings increase: Holiday park operator Verdant Leisure, which operates 14 sites across the UK, has said FY24 will see a further reduction in Ebitda and profit due to inflation and cost increases despite an increase in bookings. The company stated: “Holiday hire bookings remain robust and volume of bookings is up compared with FY23 albeit that bookings in Scotland and northern England appear to be outperforming bookings in south west England and average bookings tariffs are lower than FY23. The group entered fixed price contracts for electricity and natural gas supplies in summer 2022 for a combination of three and four years. However, these new contracts are at roughly three times the price of the previous contracts. Utility costs are expected to increase by £1.6m in FY24. The group continues to invest in its parks but has taken a prudent view of investment for FY24. The group is continuing to address general park and hire fleet maintenance and will complete the development of the complex facility at Coldingham Bay. At Golden Coast there is significant investment in a new swimming pool and repairs to two other swimming pools, significant investment to upgrade a category of the hire fleet and completing an essential roof upgrade.” It comes as the business, which was acquired by Pears Partnership Capital in September 2021 after previously being backed by Palatine Private Equity, reported turnover increased to £49,396,000 for the year ending 28 February 2023 compared with £45,576,000 the year before. Ebitda was down to £9,700,000 from £13,464,000 the previous year. Operating profit fell to £2,311,000 from £6,307,000 the year before. During the period, the business acquired Ballintuim Leisure Park in Perthshire for £1.5m, which has “capacity to grow”. It has also started development on the River Tay Leisure Park in Perthshire, which is set to open in FY26. In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors stated: “FY23 saw a return to normal levels of trading but then a decline below normal levels of trading for holiday homes towards the end of the year linked to a decline in consumer confidence surrounding the cost-of-living crisis. While holiday booking numbers were relatively stable we did see a higher reduction in occupancy as the ratio of short breaks to week breaks moved in favour of short breaks and we also could not command the same revenue per week as we could during the pandemic travel restrictions.” No dividend was paid (2022: nil).

Six by Nico team to invest £3m on three new Glasgow sites: Six Company, the company behind the Six by Nico restaurant business, is to invest £3m opening three new venues in Glasgow. As previously revealed by Propel, the new openings will include a new flagship Six by Nico Glasgow restaurant location in Merchant City and a fish and chip restaurant and takeaway called Sole Club in Finnieston. The latter will pay homage to the original idea that launched the Six by Nico journey – “The Chippie”. The business will also make further investment at its Six by Nico site in the city’s Byres Road with the introduction of Somewhere by Nico – a new cocktail bar. Having already opened 15 sites throughout the UK and Ireland, the company said the new investment marks a new phase for the group. It said that Somewhere by Nico will look to “redefine what a bar experience looks like by blending storytelling, multi-sensory mixology and experience together”. Influenced by Six by Nico, Somewhere will look to create a six-stage, two-hour cocktail experience every six weeks from £60 per person. Somewhere by Nico will offer what is believed to be Scotland's first cocktail tasting experience with paired dishes and will open in February 2024 at 358 Byres Road. Propel understands that Six Company has also explored opening a Somewhere by Nico in Aberdeen. Founder and chef Nico Simeone said: “Our team is driven daily by the challenge to constantly create and reinvent. We are dedicated to being different, never resting on our laurels, and continuously striving to create the best customer experiences. Marking our six-year journey with such a significant evolution of experiences in our home town and reaffirming our commitments to the city seems like the best way to celebrate the next stage in our company vision.” At the end of last month, the company opened two restaurants on the same day, in Birmingham and Manchester. The Manchester launch was its second in the city. The restaurant opened in the city’s Deansgate area, underneath the Yotel hotel in John Dalton Street. It also opened a site in Birmingham, in the Chatwin Building in Colmore Row. 

Merlin Entertainments reports quadruple growth in experiential gifting with average spend of £300: Merlin Entertainments has reported growth in experiential gifts across the company’s UK attractions has quadrupled in just two years since its introduction following the global pandemic. Merlin said its collaboration with partners such as Virgin Experiences and Buy A Gift has enabled it to curate an “extensive range of gift experiences suitable for a range of budgets”. In the UK, this includes educational animal experiences such as giraffe feeding at Chessington World of Adventures Resort; a meet and greet session with the UK’s only Northern sea otters at the National Sea Life Centre in Birmingham; or a VIP champagne capsule on the London Eye. As part of plans to increase the scale of its gifting offer, Merlin has unlocked its hotels as products for third-party partners to sell within their portfolio, due to the increased demand through trade partners. The company said it has observed a significant shift in consumer behaviour, with individuals demonstrating a willingness to invest more in unique experiences. The average spend on Merlin’s experiential gifts has reached approximately £300 post-covid. In line with this trend, Merlin anticipates a fivefold growth in the gifting and experience channel by the end of 2025. Fiona Eastwood, chief operating officer for Midway and Resort Theme Parks, Merlin Entertainments, said: “Experiential gifts provide so much more than a material possession in a box; they offer memories and moments that people cherish. The phenomenal growth we are seeing in this area is testament to Merlin Entertainments’ ability to offer unique experiences that bring friends and families together.”

West End nightclub fined £120,000 for caustic soda shot error: A nightclub in London’s West End has been fined for accidentally serving caustic soda with tequila shots rather than salt. Four women suffered burning in their mouths and had to go to hospital after taking the cleaning substance at Tiger Tiger in December 2021. The council said club owner A3D2 admitted to four health and safety breaches. The company was fined £120,000 for “failing to ensure (customers) were not exposed to the risk of chemical substances”. According to the council, a court heard the four women went to the Tiger Tiger bar in Haymarket for shots during a night out. The barman realised he had run out of salt – a key part of having tequila shots, along with a lime slice – so made a concoction in an unlit storage area behind the bar, the council said. It added the barman scooped what he thought was salt from a container into a plastic cup. In a statement, Westminster Council added: “The court was told the women then licked the substance from the back of their hands and drank the shot. It was at that point the barman knew something was wrong, with the court hearing the women became ill in front of him, leading him to tasting the white powder.” The council said after testing the white substance in the container, it was found to have a pH level of 13 – a strong alkaline. Cllr Aicha Less, deputy leader and cabinet member for communities, public protection and licensing, said: “This incident shows that overlooking basic safety measures can have the most serious consequences.”

Just Eat partners with Morrisons Daily: Just Eat has partnered with supermarket chain Morrisons for on-demand delivery across its Morrisons Daily convenience stores. The partnership will initially roll-out to almost 60 stores this month, with plans to expand to more than 650 stores early next year. Just Eat said it reaches 97% of all UK postcodes and its grocery and convenience estate in the UK has seen rapid growth this year to meet consumers' growing demand for convenience shopping. Amy Heather, strategic accounts director, Just Eat UK, said: “We know that our customers are increasingly seeking convenience, particularly in those busy moments like Christmas, and our partnership with Morrisons Daily shows our ongoing commitment to delivering a wide range and more options for our customers to get whatever they need, wherever and whenever they need them.” Joseph Sutton, online and wholesale director, Morrisons Convenience, added: “We have Morrisons Dailys across the country and partnering with Just Eat will offer another fast and convenient way for customers to get Morrisons groceries delivered straight to their door. We’re committed to offering great value and high quality products to our customers however they choose to shop.” 

Michelin-starred restaurant Carters to pop-up at Birmingham private members’ club ahead of summer 2024 opening: Michelin-starred restaurant Carters is relocating to Birmingham’s city centre. Owners Brad and Holly Carter are taking the restaurant to private members’ club, Eighteen, at 103 Colmore Row from Friday, 2 February until Friday, 31 May. Carters moved to Westlands UK in Evesham, Worcestershire, this summer from its Moseley location of 13 years. Carters will open a restaurant in Birmingham city centre in the summer of 2024. At Eighteen, the carters will create a chef’s table experience in the boardroom. Carters at Eighteen will be open for Friday dinner service, Saturday lunch and dinner service, Sunday dinner service, and Monday dinner service. Brad and Holly Carter said: “We’re really looking forward to our debut in the city centre. To serve our food against breath-taking views of the city and to partner with Eighteen, whose sustainability practises mirror our own is a real buzz. We’re also keen to build our presence in the city centre ahead of our restaurant opening in the summer of 2024; super exciting times ahead!”

Domino’s Pizza Group non-executive director to step down: Domino's Pizza Group has announced Stella David is to step down as a non-executive director at the end of December. It follows her recent appointment as interim chief executive of Entetain, which she said meant she “no longer have sufficient time to fulfil her commitments to Domino’s Pizza Group”. Chair Matt Shattock said: “On behalf of the board, I'd like to thank Stella for her contribution to Domino's. She has been an outstanding board director. While we are sorry to see her leave the board, we understand her reasons and wish her every success with her future endeavours.”

Focus Hotels Management takes over running of Exeter hotel: Focus Hotels Management has taken over the running of the Hotel Indigo Exeter. The 104-bedroom hotel in Catherine Street, which is owned by Principal Hotel, part of De Vere Group, features rooftop bar Beckett’s, urban spa The Retreat, contemporary British restaurant Colson’s and underground sports bar The Dugout. Devin Grosse, chief executive of Focus Hotels, said: “We are extremely proud to welcome Hotel Indigo Exeter into our growing portfolio. With its extensive food, beverage and leisure offering, the hotel is uniquely designed to immerse guests in the vibrant local neighbourhood, and we look forward to building upon this incredible potential with our new partnership.” Joe Priday, Principal Hotel owner, added: “We are delighted to embark on this exciting journey with Focus Hotels, setting the stage for an enhanced experience at Hotel Indigo Exeter. This collaboration marks a significant chapter in our commitment to ensuring our guests continue to enjoy unparalleled hospitality, local connection and unforgettable moments in the heart of Exeter.”

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