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Fri 27th Mar 2020 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day: 

UKHospitality calls on chancellor to urgently clarify details of coronavirus job and emergency funding schemes: UKHospitality has written to the chancellor calling for urgent clarification on the details of the government-backed funding available to business and the new Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). The trade body is warning thousands of pubs, restaurants, bars, hotels and leisure attractions are experiencing difficulties accessing loan schemes and without this liquidity are unlikely to be able to survive long enough to access the CJRS, resulting in hundreds of thousands of more jobs lost. UKHospitality estimates already across the sector, in the three weeks since the impact of the coronavirus was truly felt in the UK, the industry has shorn around 500,000 jobs, with an additional 500,000 seasonal workers no longer being offered jobs. A further one million jobs-plus are on the line and will be protected if access to loans unlocks and companies receive clarification on when the CJRS funding will flow. In its letter, UKHospitality has outlined a number of areas on the CJRS that require clarification and highlights firms’ experience of accessing funds from banks under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan scheme has been almost universally negative. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “In trying to get these loans into companies our banks appear to be applying their normal rules of business – rules that were created and put in place for very good reasons in normal times but now need to give way to emergency measures that deliver the oxygen of working cash to companies and their staff in this emergency environment. We have a squeezed middle of companies that currently cannot access either of the government-backed loan schemes, which will result in some having to wait for alternative government help, such as the wage guarantee scheme at the end of April.” The trade body also wants furloughed employees to be given the freedom to volunteer for good causes during this period, helping the community or contributing towards the army of NHS volunteers needed. In addition, the group believes there are grounds for employees to supplement key workers in other sectors on a short-term basis, and said individuals should not be penalised for this.

Industry News:

Propel launches BeatTheVirus campaign: Propel has launched its BeatTheVirus campaign to help operators through the coronavirus crisis. We have teamed up with Propel Multi Club conference series partners to offer the sector their expertise. Partners will offer more general advice and highlight some of the initiatives they are doing. Companies that have joined the campaign include Airship, Bibendum, Bums on Seats, CACI, Christie & Co, COREcruitment, CPL Learning, Cynergy Bank, Elliotts, Hastee, haysmacintyre, John Gaunt & Partners, KAM Media, Prestige Purchasing, S4labour, Startle, Ten Kites, The NPD Group, Toggle, Trail, Venners, Wireless Social, Yapster and sector trade body UKHospitality. Propel managing director Paul Charity said: “It is amazing to see how the industry has come together during this crisis and here at Propel we want to do our bit. This is why we are working with Multi Club partners to offer expert support and advice to our readers and to answer their questions at what is a tough time for everyone.” Readers can email questions for our experts to paul.charity@propelinfo.com. Please use BeatTheVirus in the subject line. Our question and answer section can be found at the bottom of the newsletter.

BBPA backs support package for self-employed: The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has backed the government’s move to launch a support package for the self-employed. The scheme involves a taxable grant for the self-employed or partnerships worth 80% of their profits up to a cap of £2,500 per month. Chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “About 85% of pubs are small or medium-sized businesses run by independent operators or licensees who are self-employed, so the chancellor’s support package is welcome. Until now the government had focused on helping pubs and other businesses with grants and loans, business rates relief and guarantees on staff salaries, which we warmly welcomed, recognising it would help prevent permanent pub closures and staff losses. However, it didn’t specifically address the threat faced by self-employed publicans, whose personal incomes had instantly dried up as a result of the forced shutdown. The new support announced is critical. However, ongoing support from government is still required throughout this crisis to sustain our great brewing and pub sector so when we’re through this, pubs can return to being the heart of communities up and down the country.”

Major operators warned payment stance could force small suppliers and landlords out of business: Major operators have been warned their stance to withhold payments could force small suppliers and landlords out of business. The owner of a major industry supplier told Propel that while he sympathised with the hospitality sector and understood the actions of operators as they try to save money in the current circumstances, it “might have consequences for others”. He said while small operators might need to make such decisions, he argued the bigger operators, such as JD Wetherspoon, which has asked to withhold supplier payments while its pubs are closed, could afford to continue paying – and should do so. He has asked larger operators what approach they are taking and hopes they will “do the right thing”. He said: “We are 99% allied to the hospitality sector, servicing restaurants and supplying new projects worldwide. Our business and revenue stream also fell off a cliff last week and we have had several letters or emails stating customers are putting a lock-down on payments. While I get this and, of course, we’re also having to manage our payments to our suppliers, I would like to have some clarity on what approach the bigger operators are taking with this. Are they going to pay or part pay their suppliers for work or goods that have already been carried out or supplied or simply also lock down their payments?” Campaign for Real Ale chief executive Tom Stainer said: “This crisis has been devastating for the entire pub and brewery industry but what has been particularly pleasing is the positive way most have pulled together to offer mutual support. We call on all in the industry, especially the larger companies that may be better placed to survive this crisis, to do all they can to help out the suppliers that could be facing permanent closure if payments due are withheld.”

Pub and restaurant sales fall 71% in last week of trading before shut-down: Like-for-like sales in Britain’s managed pub, bar and restaurant groups plummeted 71% in the week the government ordered all licensed premises to close, according to the latest Coffer Peach Business Tracker. Like-for-like trading in restaurant chains was down 75% during the period, with managed pubs down 67% and bars, which depend more on weekend business, tumbling 88%. Phil Tate, group chief executive of CGA, the business insight consultancy that produces the Tracker in partnership with The Coffer Group and RSM, said: “It was clear more businesses would have shut up shop anyway, even without the closure and then lock-down orders, as CGA’s snap consumer poll showed more of the public were going to give up on even attempting to go out.”

Deliveroo launches daily payment service to aid operators’ cash flow: Deliveroo has launched a free daily payment service to help its restaurant partners. The company said restaurants would be able to receive money made from deliveries within a day, “instantly improving cash flow”. Deliveroo will cover increased banking charges for the rapid payments and said the new payment process would give restaurants faster access to their delivery revenue, helping them cover costs. The service will be available for the next three months before being assessed regarding the time-frame’s extension. The company said almost 3,000 restaurants had signed up to Deliveroo in the past month alone. A spokesman said: “Deliveroo’s new payment process will help restaurants to better manage their finances as they adapt to a delivery-only service.” Deliveroo has launched a number of initiatives during the pandemic including dropping onboarding fees for new restaurants, developing a “contact-free delivery” feature in its app, and launching the #HereToDeliver campaign to support jobs in the sector. Founder and chief executive Will Shu said: “We want to do everything possible to support our restaurant partners. This new rapid payment system will immediately improve the cash flow of thousands of restaurants and help them better manage their finances during these challenging times.”

British Land releases smaller tenants from rent obligations until June: British Land has suspended its dividend and will defer £40m in rents this quarter and spread repayment in response to the coronavirus crisis. The company is deferring March quarter day rents and spreading repayment over the six quarters from September 2020. The financial impact of this is expected to be £40m. British Land added it would release smaller retail, food and beverage, and leisure tenants from rental obligations until June, which would cost £3m. To shore up its own financial position, the company is temporarily suspending future dividend payments including the third-quarter dividend due in May. It has also extended and amended one of its unsecured revolving credit facilities at £450m and has £1.2bn of available cash and undrawn facilities. The company, whose huge portfolio includes Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield and the Broadgate Estate development in London, said it was suffering “ongoing disruption” due to the pandemic. British Land said 41% of its business was retail but only 12% of its tenants, about 200 units nationwide, were currently open. The company said: “Our primary focus through this exceptionally challenging period is to ensure our people and their families are safe, our assets are securely maintained, and we are protecting the long-term value of our business. A core part of this involves working closely with our customers and suppliers to support them. For other retail, food and beverage, and leisure customers experiencing financial challenges because of covid-19, we’re prepared to defer the March quarter day rents and spread repayment over the six quarters from September 2020. On the sites we hold in joint venture or via fund structures, we are working with our partners to agree an appropriate approach.”

US off-premise weekly sales grow 60% for full service brands: Off-premise sales for full service brands in the US grew more than 60% during the past week compared with the same period last year, according to the latest Daily Sales & Traffic Tracker from Black Box Intelligence. As of Monday (23 March), off-premise sales in the US for limited service brands grew almost 30% year-on-year during the same period. Consistent with historical trends, Black Box said satisfaction scores for consumers ordering delivery remained “significantly lower” than dine-in and takeaway. The most popular coronavirus theme in restaurant reviews in the US was guests displaying support for restaurants during the pandemic, followed by people using it as a platform to voice their opinion on a restaurant’s staffing decisions. Meanwhile, grocery sales in the US grew 52.9% compared with the same week last year as consumers shifted 10% of their food spend from restaurants to groceries.

Company News:

Greene King chief executive to take 50% wage cut, commits to continue paying staff while it awaits government funds: Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of brewer and retailer Greene King, has said he will take a 50% pay cut for the duration of the coronavirus crisis while the company has committed to continue paying its 38,000 staff as it awaits government reimbursement. Greene King said it would use the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and furlough a large proportion of its team, paying 80% of salary for all employees furloughed and topping up to 80% for those who earn more than the government’s annual cap of £30,000. Staff paid by the hour will receive 80% of average earnings, including tronc payments. Team members had already been guaranteed full pay, based on average hours, until 5 April and this will continue to be paid, with 80% of average earnings effective from 6 April. As well as Mackenzie taking a 50% pay cut, executive board members have decided to reduce their wages by 30%. Mackenzie said: “Like everyone in hospitality, we’re having to take tough decisions to protect the long-term future of our business. Our number-one priority is to look after our team and customers and we’ve tried hard to give our people as much certainty and security as possible through this crisis. Last Friday was a sad day for everyone in the business when we had to call last orders for the time being. I would like to thank our team members across the country who have been doing an amazing job in recent weeks looking after their teams and communities. Pubs are at the heart of communities, never more so than now. Every day I hear amazing stories of our pub teams doing their bit to help locally and we look forward to getting back to normal as soon as possible.”

Franco Manca, The Real Greek and Café Rouge shutter sites: Fulham Shore brands Franco Manca and The Real Greek and Casual Dining Group-owned Café Rouge have become the latest to shutter their estates after previously operating a select number of venues under a delivery and collection model. Franco Manca wrote on its website: “Our customers, suppliers and, of course, our teams are what make us. Their health and welfare is the most important thing. So many of our team are European and, as such, are under a lot of pressure and anxiety worrying about loved ones at home. These are testing times for all of us. Right now the most responsible thing we can all do is stay at home. We are fully focused on getting through this awful period and want to thank so many people for their words of support, kindness and generosity to our teams. Incredibly, people have been leaving £50 tips on £15 bills – this means a lot to so many people. Genuine kindness. Everything is going to be ok. Franco Manca means ‘Franco is missing’. For now, he is – but he will be back.” Café Rouge stated: “All our restaurants are now completely, but temporarily, shut. During these difficult times and for the health and well-being of everyone, the most responsible thing for us all is to stay home so we’re closing our kitchens, switching off phones and delivery tablets, and will distribute our remaining perishable food to those in need in local areas, including homeless shelters and care homes.” Casual Dining Group-owned Las Iguanas and Bella Italia were still offering delivery and takeaway options in select sites when Propel went to press.

Shepherd Neame pledges to protect jobs: Brewer and retailer Shepherd Neame has announced a temporary change to its staffing structure and salary levels to protect jobs for the long term. The company will access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) in which the government will pay 80% of the wages of those affected up to £30,000 per annum. On top of that, Shepherd Neame will fund the wages of all those affected who earn more than £30,000 so they continue to receive 80% of normal pay. All pub staff who are paid hourly will have their pay settled in full for March and on the normal date. Shepherd Neame has requested about 85% of its people step aside from their current roles on a temporary basis. That will affect about 1,300 people across the company’s managed pub estate and head office. For staff that remain in active work, Shepherd Neame will ask the higher-paid members of its team to support the collective effort by implementing a temporary salary cut of between 10% and 15%. The move follows last week’s announcement the company’s directors had volunteered to take a 20% cut in salary. These measures will be implemented in a phased approach in line with business demand, beginning on Sunday (29 March). The company said it was taking these steps in the absence of detailed information from the government and at this stage the initiatives would only apply until the end of April, with the situation regularly reviewed. Chief executive Jonathan Neame said: “I am incredibly proud of our people, who have shown great spirit and dedication. Our focus is to protect our people, teams and company for the long term. To do this, we have to ask members of our team to stand aside on a temporary basis while our operational focus is restricted to producing beer for the supermarkets. As soon as the situation improves we will focus our efforts on resuming normal activity.”

Hache continues to offer delivery after backing from staff: Hache, the burger concept owned by Hush Brasserie, is to continue offering delivery from its seven sites after receiving backing from staff. The company, which is running a 50% discount to all NHS workers, said: “Last week we announced we would close our restaurants for anything other than delivery or takeaway, in line with government recommendations. With further news of restrictions, we thought long and hard about staying open at all but, in the end, we turned to those who really matter – our staff. These are the guys on the front line, the ones who should decide whether they wish to continue working or not. When we put it to them, the answer was a resounding ‘yes’! Our decision to remain open isn’t a financial one.” Pawel, manager of Hache’s Shoreditch site, summed up the feeling among staff. He said: “We aren’t fulfilling a role as important as emergency services but we provide a service that’s needed and sought after. We don’t just serve food but help people who are unable to cook or busy with their everyday struggles. Moreover, we make it seem like life finds a way, which definitely serves as a motivator for those in doubt.” Hache co-owner Jamie Barber told Propel: “We are proud of our guys but their safety is our biggest priority, which is why we’ve created our own delivery and collection policy setting out guidelines for the safe passage of our food from staff to delivery drivers to customers. We’ve made this policy publicly available on our website, which we hope will give customers peace of mind. We will, of course, review this decision in the forthcoming weeks but for now we’d like to thank our team members for their resilience and unwavering good spirits.”

Hall & Woodhouse extends support for business partners: Dorset-based brewer and retailer Hall & Woodhouse has extended support for its Business Partner estate by cancelling all rent and service charges and suspending loan repayments for eight weeks. This company was originally going to suspend the payments for four weeks. Head of business partnerships Chris Chapman said: “We are grateful to the government for making employee retention support available and providing business interruption loans or grants to our business partners but feel it’s only right we enhance that help. We will adjust our support according to any advancement. We will come through this together and, when we do, we want our business partners to have the finances in place to allow them to recover as quickly as possible.” The family-owned brewer operates 180 pubs stretching from Bristol to Brighton. Mark Woodhouse stepped down as chairman earlier this year to be replaced by Anthony Woodhouse. Mark Woodhouse is now the company’s family director.

Ten Entertainment Group raises £5m of ‘contingency’ funds in share placing: Ten Entertainment Group has raised £5m through a share placing for “contingency” funds in light of the coronavirus outbreak. A total of 3,250,000 new ordinary shares of 1p each were placed at a price of 155p per share. Among the investors were majority shareholder Harwood Capital, which subscribed for 554,123 shares, equating to £0.86m, and company directors. Non-executive chairman Nick Basing subscribed for 52,500 shares, chief financial officer Antony Smith for 30,000 shares and chief executive Duncan Garrood for 24,000 shares. The company stated: “As outlined in the launch announcement for the placing, the net proceeds of the placing will be utilised to provide additional liquidity headroom during this unknown period of uncertainty relating to covid-19. The company anticipates this is only a precautionary measure and the additional funds raised won’t be required to be deployed.”

Wasabi gifting meals to 500 NHS staff daily: Wasabi, the sushi and bento chain led by Henry Birts and backed by Capdesia, is giving free Home Bento meals to 500 NHS staff in London every day until further notice. The meals can be refrigerated and heated quickly in a microwave. They will be delivered from Wasabi’s west London kitchen at a time and place that suits the NHS worker within a few days, depending on demand. All requests should be sent to paul.hine@wasabi.uk.com from an NHS email account. Earlier this week Propel revealed Wasabi was looking to work with more operators to provide food for those that need it most as it looks to leverage its central production unit and distribution capabilities. The move comes after the business temporarily closed the seven sites it had continued to operate for delivery and takeaway only.

Tim Martin attacks MP over Twitter accusations: JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin has written to Rachel Reeves, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, regarding allegations posted on Twitter. Reeves tweeted Wetherspoon had “refused to pay its 40,000 employees until it receives its government loan” after “first refusing to lock down altogether”. She also wrote to Martin on Tuesday (24 March) asking for detailed information about the measures Wetherspoon was taking to support its employees during the coronavirus crisis. In a reply seen by Propel, Martin accuses Reeves of making a “serious allegation”. He writes: “As you must be aware, that’s untrue – we closed our pubs as soon as it was ordered by the government. It was also disappointing to see your inaccurate and misleading Twitter comments that Wetherspoon ‘refused to pay its 40,000 employees until it receives its government loan’. In fact, less than 48 hours after pubs shut I said staff would be paid this Friday (27 March) and would then move to the government furlough scheme – even though the scheme was not yet in existence and the only information we had was the chancellor’s press release. You will note many companies, usually through no fault of their own, didn’t have the resources to commit to the furlough scheme, hence at least half a million have been laid-off in recent days. Whereas Wetherspoon has committed to the furlough scheme, I wasn’t in a position last Sunday to promise to pay 40,000 staff before the government paid us because the company didn’t have the financial resources to make this promise – some debt-free or large multinationals did, of course. I’ve spoken to eight of our banks in recent days and they have been understanding and helpful but anyone with front-line business experience will tell you taking the banks for granted and pledging money you don’t have is a one-way ticket to the bankruptcy court. You also misunderstand the furlough scheme and refer to a “government loan”. There’s no loan involved in the furlough scheme, as your officials will confirm. Events have moved on this week and the government, helped by the heroic efforts of Kate Nicholls, of UKHospitality, Jonathan Downey and others, is moving mountains to get the furlough scheme up and running in an incredibly tight time-frame. To assist, Wetherspoon has drawn up its own suggested rules as to how the scheme might operate.” The letter continues: “Our aim is to preserve 43,000 jobs, continue to pay £750m of taxes per annum (£15m per week) and try to ensure the company can endure a potentially long closedown. Everyone, including the government, is in a situation of unprecedented difficulty. Wetherspoon, no doubt like your committee, is making a conscientious effort to do the right thing at this time.”

McDonald’s and Subway launch free delivery offers in US: McDonald’s and Subway have launched free delivery services in the US, joining other brands that have added promotions through third-party delivery operators. McDonald’s is offering free delivery until Monday, 6 April as increasing numbers of residents are forced to self-isolate. McDonald’s said even though it had closed some of its restaurants in the US, the majority still offered takeaway, drive-thru and delivery services. The free delivery offer applies to orders of $15 (£12.50) or more. Subway has announced free delivery for a limited time through UberEats, DoorDash, Postmates, Grubhub and Seamless. KFC, meanwhile, is offering free delivery through Grubhub or for orders placed on its website until 26 April. Other US chains to offer free delivery in the past week include Chipotle, Taco Bell and Del Taco. Participating Saladworks stores are also offering free delivery on orders placed through its website, Nation’s Restaurant News reports.

London-based crazy golf concept Plonk postpones opening of fourth site, launches lock-down challenge: London-based crazy golf concept Plonk has postponed the launch of its latest nine-hole course. The venue was poised to open overlooking Horniman Museum and Gardens in Forest Hill in the summer but will now launch later in the year. In the meantime, the company has launched an online course-building challenge to give people something creative to do during the lock-down. Each week Plonk will release videos, design packs, and live lessons for people to create mini-golf courses using upcycled materials in their home. The initiative is raising money for Lennox Children’s Cancer Fund. Each £5 Plonk membership will include a downloadable design pack for nine holes, access to video lessons on how to make a mini-golf course, an invitation to live lesson streams, and a discount voucher for tickets to Plonk venues when they reopen. Half of all profits will go towards Lennox Children’s Cancer Fund. Plonk was founded by Elliot Scott and fellow film industry set designers. Its other venues are in Camden Market, Shoreditch and London Zoo. Last month the company relaunched its Shoreditch site featuring a new nine-hole course, bottomless brunch and an expanded drinks menu. The venue also features pinball, classic arcade games, foosball, board games and 4D pong.

Detox Kitchen launches food box delivery service: All-natural deli and meal delivery service Detox Kitchen has launched a food box initiative in partnership with produce supplier 2 Serve. Each Veg & Essentials Box contains goods usually sold to restaurants such as fruit, vegetables, eggs and dry ingredients, with enough to feed two to four people for a week. The boxes are half-price for the over-70s and NHS staff. Detox Kitchen founder and chief executive Lily Simpson said: “In uncertain times businesses need to adapt. We decided to close our two central London delis and knew we would have to think of new ideas to keep the business and our suppliers going. This is about keeping the supply chain in business more than making profit. We have made them as affordable as possible.” Simpson founded Detox Kitchen in 2012. As well as its delis, meal plan delivery service and concessions at Selfridges and Planet Organic, the company operates a corporate catering business and commercial kitchen. Meanwhile, Michelin-starred restaurant Benares has launched Benares @ Home, delivering food from its Mayfair kitchens via the Supper app. Dishes such as tandoor-grilled prawns with mustard and mango marinade are joined by wine and champagne from midday to 9pm, Monday to Saturday.

Vianet proposes to reduce rates for Smart Zone pub, bar and restaurant customers: Vianet Group, the international provider of actionable data and business insight through devices connected to its Internet of Things platform, has proposed to reduce rates for its Smart Zone pub, bar and restaurant customers. The company said it had been encouraged by responses and expects to be able to “protect a meaningful portion of the group’s recurring revenue during this period of pub closures”. Vianet said trading for the second half of the year had been “largely as anticipated” and, as a result, subject to any further covid-19 provisions, the group’s full-year profits for the year ended 31 March 2020 would be “in line with market expectations” at more than £4.0m and ahead of the £3.85m reported last year. The company has decided not to pay a final dividend, which would have amounted to £1.16m. The company stated: “In addition to the actions taken to protect a meaningful portion of our recurring revenues, the business has eliminated non-essential costs and spend and is working hard to minimise supply chain exposure. The group will take advantage of the full range of business support measures announced by the government in recent days, including guaranteed loans. In particular, the group is well advanced with the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, where the government refunds 80% of salary for employees who aren’t working. The group has good liquidity with trade debts of about £2.2m, an overdraft facility of £1.5m, which is 80% utilised ahead of customer receipts that are expected at the end of the month, and £1.8m in its deposit account. Taking account of the group’s current cash and available resources and modelling various prudent business scenarios, we’re confident the actions taken mean the group has a cash runway well beyond the period the government has indicated as the likely duration of this crisis. As such, the board believes the group is well placed to absorb a prolonged period of uncertainty.”

Surrey and Hampshire brewers band together to offer free delivery service: Six brewers spread across Surrey and Hampshire have teamed up to offer customers a free delivery service during the lock-down. The Garden Cider Company, Firebird Brewing Company, Pilgrim Brewery, Langham Brewery, Brightwater Brewery and Crafty Brewing Company are offering a service where customers can mix and match from any of the brewers’ products to make up a minimum order of 12 bottles. The initiative is the brainchild of Garden Cider Company founders Will and Ben Filby. Their cidery uses donated garden apples from more than 4,000 households, which receive a percentage of their yield. Ben Filby said: “We have always been about our community. It’s the ethos behind our business of making cider from local, donated apples. If there was ever a time we needed to be more supportive of the people in our area, it’s now. We’ve teamed up with some of our favourite brewers in the area to bring our customers a wide range of drinks we hope will help them get through this difficult time with a bit more ease. Now is the time for us to stand together and look out for one another.”

BigDish reveals ‘big uptick’ in restaurant sign-ups as outbreak began, plans fund-raising ‘to reignite growth’: BigDish, the food technology company that operates a yield management platform for restaurants, has confirmed all restaurants on its books have temporarily closed. However, the company saw a “big uptick” in venues signing up for the service when the UK’s coronavirus outbreak began. The company said it had implemented immediate cost reductions and believed it had enough cash to continue operating until the end of the year. However, BigDish acknowledged it would need to raise additional funding in the future to “reignite growth”. It said its Manchester-based team had been furloughed to preserve cash and qualify the company for government assistance. Meanwhile, technology development is continuing with the BigDish team in the Philippines working from home, while all had accepted voluntary salary cuts. BigDish director Aidan Bishop said: “Restaurant numbers were growing monthly at a fast pace before the pandemic. By taking necessary steps we ensure we prioritise the well-being of our employees and preserve cash for as long as possible. While this is obviously a difficult time for the world, I remain confident BigDish will emerge on the other side of this crisis positioned strongly for a rebound. Our thoughts are with our restaurant partners, who are feeling the brunt of this crisis.”

Tastecard launches ‘staying in’ digital hub: Diners card platform Tastecard is working with restaurants, takeaways and movie-streaming service Rakuten to give its members discounted dining and entertainment experiences during the coronavirus lock-down. The Staying In With Tastecard hub gives members two for one and 50% off meals for delivery and collection as well as discounted movie streaming. Its 10,000 members will also be automatically upgraded to Tastecard+, which includes access to restaurant delivery deals, home entertainment and shopping offers. The new platform promotes all Tastecard partners offering an at-home service, including independent restaurants. Large companies involved include Bella Italia, Pizza Hut and Domino’s. The hub also extends to discounts for services such as flower delivery. Tastecard chief executive Matt Turner said: “Our restaurant partners are the cornerstone of our business and we’ll do all we can to help them. We also want to ensure our members get continued value from their membership with us. Our exclusive partnership with Rakuten offers discounted movie streaming for our members at a time when they are likely to need it most.”

OYO makes more than 2,000 rooms available for key workers: OYO Hotels & Homes is keeping the doors open at many of its UK hotels to accommodate key workers who need a place to stay close to their workplace. The company said it had introduced significantly reduced fixed-rate pricing. Rishabh Gupta, head of OYO UK, said: “A number of hotels under the OYO brand have already partnered with NHS trusts and councils to offer rooms to those in need – something we’re exploring with other hotel owners. More immediately, these fixed rates are available to key workers in any sector who might need to cut out lengthy commutes or avoid returning home each night to a household they might share with more vulnerable individuals. This is not an exercise in profitability. Rates have been set on the assumption of longer-stay guests and to cover the minimum costs of keeping these hotels operational under the current circumstances. OYO works with independently owned hotels and we’re grateful to our owners for their co-operation.” The majority of the more than 200 OYO properties in the UK are independently operated. The brand operates in 80 countries.

Full-year turnover up at Bistrot Pierre: Bistrot Pierre, the Livingbridge-backed group, saw its turnover increase from £32.5m to £34.5m in the year to 30 June 2019. However, its pre-tax losses went from £146,038 to £678,465 during the same period. In the year, the company opened two restaurants, bringing its total at the end of the period to 24 and more than 900 employees. In documents filed at Companies House this week but signed off by the board on 28 October 2019, before the coronavirus hit the UK economy, the business said: “Trading gross profit was flat at £12.34m, which reflected diligent work to mitigate the significant and well documented sector headwinds, including food inflation and National Minimum Wage increases. This was a positive achievement, especially in light of the business avoiding widespread discounting and price rises. Trading Ebitda was £1.71m, decreasing from £2.15m in the prior year. This figure includes exceptional costs of £533,000. These costs were incurred as a result of changes in the head office team, the move of our founders from executive to non-executive roles, abortive costs associated with a change in acquisitions strategy, and other one-time refinancing costs. The business continues to make progress with its expansion plans, albeit at a more cautious pace, and we started on-site in Eastbourne during this financial year, a significant addition to our portfolio.”

BeatTheVirus Q&A:

From Tina Bradley

Q: I was in the process of putting in an offer for a leasehold gastro-pub when this devastating turn of events occurred. The pub I had in mind has now shut and isn’t offering anything in the way of delivery or takeaway. A difficult one I know, but what is your impression of how/when the industry will bounce back?

A: I know from my conversations with operators that most are planning their forecasts based on zero revenue for six months, which is the approach we’ve taken too. My gut feeling is telling me the government won’t want to lift the curfew only to introduce another one, so it will be cautious. That would mean shutdown for a minimum of six weeks, with higher likelihood of it being closer to 12 weeks. There would then be a socially responsible return to normality. The only contradictory information I’ve read that may shorten the time-frame is an Oxford University study (up to half the country has already been infected) and the test kits that are coming out. My real hope is a few million people will test to see if they’ve had the virus previously or are infected and we’ll find half have already had it and recovered. If that’s the case, this could be a much shorter crisis.
Wireless Social chief executive Julian Ross
Wireless Social is a BeatTheVirus campaign member

A: I guess the bounce-back will happen when businesses are finally permitted to open again. I would echo Julian’s estimation of a minimum of 12 weeks (I was hoping eight weeks at most). As a company we’re still agreeing sales on licensed businesses, mostly pubs that are vacant and freehold. There are two types of buyer, one that’s acquiring for alternative non-licensed use and the other looking to complete now, start work and be ready for later in the year. With leasehold businesses it’s a valuing via the profits method versus freeholds where there’s an underlying property value that may be above the business Ebitda. On the purchase, the “good will” of the business has gone in view it has now closed. This will have an impact on value.
Christie & Co managing director of pubs and restaurants Neil Morgan
Christie & Co is a BeatTheVirus campaign member

 
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