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Fri 31st Jul 2020 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Gusto appoints adviser, launches accelerated sales process: Italian casual dining group Gusto, which has been backed by Palatine Private Equity since 2014, is working with restructuring advisory firm RSM on an accelerated sales process, Propel has learned. It is understood offers for the 18-strong brand were due on Monday (27 July). It’s thought the business will have to undergo some form of restructuring whether it receives an appropriate investment offer or not. The Matt Snell-led company, which employs 750 staff, has so far reopened half of its estate, which is a mixture of suburban and city centre locations. The group’s estate is spread across the north west, Midlands, north east, Yorkshire and Scotland and includes sites in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle. The group has so far focused on reopening its non-city centre sites. For the year to 31 March 2019, turnover climbed from £32.2m to £32.35m, while Ebitda was maintained at £3.2m. Pre-tax losses at the group narrowed from £2.4m to £2.06m, while operating losses narrowed from £759,000 to £11,000. Earlier this year the company appointed Frank Bandura, former chief financial officer at Carluccio’s and Gaucho, as interim chief financial officer. Regarding Bandura’s appointment, Snell told Propel: “To have secured Frank’s services is a major coup for us. His experience in navigating hospitality businesses through difficult periods is unrivalled and I can’t think of many more difficult periods than the one we’re in.” Palatine backed a management buyout of then nine-strong Gusto in 2014. Three years later it secured a £9m funding package from Santander to aid expansion plans.

Industry News:

Sponsored message – Sentinel Check-in makes it easy for venues to support NHS test and trace: Many pubs, bars and cafes are struggling to follow government guidelines to collect customer data to help beat covid-19. Sentinel Check-in simply takes the customer’s mobile phone number along with the date and time of registration. The data collected is 100% accurate and punters get through the door in just ten seconds. Check-in chief executive Richard Stephenson said: “Customers don’t want to fuss with apps or website forms. Some places just hand out pens and paper – a total nightmare for data privacy. Our product is a secure, full-service, contact-tracing solution.” The venue gets a unique QR code and phone number, customers scan the code and are prompted to call the number or they can simply dial. They hear a message and receive a text saying they’ve registered. No names, no email addresses and no staff training. Posters and table cards with the venue name, QR code and phone number arrive in three days. NHS test and trace requests are handled by Sentinel and the whole kit and caboodle is GDPR compliant. Stephenson said: “Landlords don’t want to do data collection and we promise not to serve food and drink! Let’s all do what we do best.” For more information, click here. If you have information you would like to feature in a sponsored message, email paul.charity@propelinfo.com 

Hugh Osmond to feature in latest ‘navigating the coronavirus crisis’ video: In the latest in Propel’s video interviews with leading operators about “navigating the coronavirus crisis”, Mark Wingett talks to serial sector investor Hugh Osmond, backer of Various Eateries, which owns Coppa Club and Strada, about operating in a covid-affected world; his fears for London; the need to solve the rent issue; where casual dining goes from here; and how hard it is to predict what will happen to the sector in the coming months and years. The video will be released on Friday (31 July)

Mark Wingett to give his take on market fragility in latest Premium Opinion: In this week’s Propel Premium Opinion, Mark Wingett will give his take on the market’s fragility and what happens next, while sector adviser Simon Iddon will reveal how the industry is at reflection point when it comes to technology. Shelley Sandzer partner Duncan Lillie will focus on how the sector needs to embrace compromise on the road to recovery, while Premium Diary will rummage about in the sector’s rumour mill. Propel Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out, discounts to attend Propel conferences and events, and regular columns from Mark Wingett. Subscribers also receive access to our database of multi-site companies, which has grown to 1,600 businesses. It costs £395 plus VAT per annum for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers. Email anne.steele@propelinfo.com to sign up.

Sector like-for-likes continue to nudge up as more sites reopen: Managed pub, bar and restaurant groups are still trading well below pre-covid norms but are seeing a steady improvement in sales as more sites reopen. The latest Coffer Peach Business Tracker figures for the week beginning 20 July showed collective like-for-like sales in those sites trading were still 28.5% down on the same week last year. However, that was a better performance than the minus 31.6% the week before and the 39.8% level recorded in the first week after lock-down was lifted in England. Overall, total sales across the managed pub, bar and restaurant market were up 36.8% on the previous week’s trading, helped in part by Scotland reopening. In all, 68% of group-operated sites were open for eating and drinking inside, up from 60% the week before. Restaurant groups continue to take a more cautious approach to reopening than pubs – only 29% of sites are open for business, compared with 24% in the previous week. Those group-run restaurants that were open saw like-for-likes down 22.4%, compared with minus 26.7% in the first week. Pub groups, which have generally been more ambitious in their reopening strategies, had 83% of sites open during the week compared with 74% the week before. Pubs that were open recorded collective sales down 29.0% on the same week in 2019, compared with minus 32.4% the week before. Bars are having a tougher time than pubs and restaurants, with sales deteriorating. Bars that were open saw sales down 45.7%, compared with 41.3% down the week before. The percentage of group-run bars open increased from 44% to 51% from the week before. “Trading at just over 70% of pre-covid norms is an improvement on the week before for those businesses operating – but it’s more steady than sensational,” said Karl Chessell, director of CGA, the business insight consultancy that produces the Tracker, in partnership with The Coffer Group and RSM. “Operators are still taking it cautiously as demand edges up and that has been particularly true among restaurant chains. We are still in the early days of recovery and the data coming back from companies in the Tracker cohort tells its own story. What will be interesting to see in the next few weeks will be the impact of the cut in VAT, the Eat Out To Help Out campaign and also the holiday season now more people are expected to stay in Britain.” 

Three-fifths of reopened pubs ‘failing to make profit despite support packages’: Despite 89% of British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) members being open, three-fifths (60%) are making no profit despite having staff on furlough and other financial support packages in place, the trade body has said. The results are part of the BII’s third survey of members since pubs closed in March. The BII said support would be vital for pubs to survive and play their part in the economic recovery. The BII added it would continue to take the collective voice of its members to government to provide an “authentic licensee perspective”. BII chief executive Steven Alton said: “The results of our survey clearly demonstrate the requirement for additional support for our Great British pubs to ensure they can remain at the heart of their communities, providing not only local employment and tax revenue but also friendship, support and immeasurable social value to their customers.”

Report urges ministers to ensure ‘previously thriving’ hospitality sector remains viable: Ministers have been urged to develop a strategy to ensure the “previously thriving” hospitality and foodservice sectors remain viable. The call was one of a series of recommendations made in the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee’s report into coronavirus and food supply. Detailing the knock-on effect of hospitality sector closures on the entire food supply chain, the report called on the government to closely monitor food and drink suppliers during the next 18 months. It also highlighted the “critical importance” of hospitality to every section of the farming and food manufacturing industries. EFRA chairman Neil Parish said despite warnings from other countries, the government was “constantly playing catch-up” in trying to support the food industry. He said: “The government’s actions to lock down the country and close businesses were necessary but had a huge impact on the food supply chain. Once the pandemic set in, the government responded well. However, there were misunderstandings in government about where – and how – people were going to get their food just before and during lock-down.” UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “It is crucial we have a comprehensive plan to support food and drink suppliers and the wider hospitality sector. The future of the sector remains uncertain and businesses will still fail, with jobs lost, even at this point. Failures, or even delays, in the supply chain could have a devastating effect on hospitality businesses. A cohesive plan of action to secure the future of the supply chain, and therefore the whole sector, is a must.”
UKHospitality is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

BBPA calls for VAT cut extension to beer as European Commission gives green light: The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has urged the government to extend its VAT cut on food in pubs to include beer. The trade body made the plea as the European Commission confirmed member states can apply targeted reductions on VAT for drinks served in the hospitality sector, including beer. The BBPA said a VAT cut would boost wet-led community pubs that were less likely to serve food and therefore receive less benefit from the Eat Out To Help Out scheme. BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “Cuts to VAT on food and accommodation and the Eat Out To Help Out scheme have been welcomed by our sector and we continue to support and promote them. For brewers and community-led pubs that don’t do food, more support can and should be given. We urge the government to extend its VAT cut on food and accommodation in pubs to include beer as well. Such a move would greatly support our world-class brewers and community pubs that need and deserve more support.” 

Liverpool alfresco dining initiative provides more than 2,700 restaurant covers: Restaurants, cafes and bars in Liverpool city centre can cater for a further 2,723 covers thanks to an alfresco dining initiative aimed at helping the hospitality sector bounce back. The city council launched a £450,000 fund last month to help small and medium-sized businesses turn outdoor spaces into covered seating areas to make up for internal space lost due to social distancing. The Liverpool Without Walls programme received more than 150 applications within weeks and has so far allocated £177,503 in grants, created 1,982 covers by providing grants for venues to invest in outdoor furniture, and 741 covers by allocating pavement licences to venues that didn’t require a grant but wanted to make the most of street trading. Licence fees have been waived until the end of the year. Because of demand, the grant process is currently on hold and will be reopened if any funding is left over. The programme is a joint project between the city council, Liverpool BID Company and Liverpool Chamber of Commerce. It has seen Bold Street and parts of Castle Street temporarily closed to traffic, enabling venues to spill out on to the streets. Wendy Simon, Liverpool deputy mayor and cabinet member for culture, tourism and events, said: “We have been approached by a number of cities that have been following what we’ve achieved and looking at how they can replicate it. The simple ethos behind the initiative is to try to protect our much-loved hospitality industry, in particular the independent businesses, and give visitors confidence to enjoy our restaurants, bars and cafes in a safe way.”

KFC admits to poor conditions among suppliers as it publishes first animal welfare report: KFC has admitted more than one-third of birds on its supplier farms in the UK and Ireland suffer from a painful inflammation known as footpad dermatitis. The admission is part of the company’s first animal welfare report. KFC has been praised by animal welfare campaigners for its willingness to make the data public, while the company will use the data to track progress in tackling welfare measures such as mortality rates, antibiotic use and stocking density. Footpad dermatitis is usually caused by poor ventilation and litter management but KFC told the Guardian the number of birds affected had fallen from more than half to 35% in four years, while its top suppliers were achieving levels of 15% or below. One-tenth of KFC chickens also suffer hock burn caused by ammonia from the faeces of other birds. KFC said it wanted to transition more of its 34 suppliers in the UK and Ireland to slower growing breeds, which are less prone to disease and injury. KFC also wants to reduce stocking density on supplier farms but said improvements would require the support of government agencies with the power to approve new chicken farms – a controversial topic in itself. Paula MacKenzie, general manager of KFC UK and Ireland, said: “This report sends a clear message to everyone – our suppliers, teams and stakeholders – on exactly what we’re looking for in terms of welfare improvement. The figures represent a solid benchmark against which we can track our progress.”

No guarantee remaining pubs will reopen on 10 August, says Varadkar: Irish leader Leo Varadkar has said he can’t guarantee wet-led pubs in the country will be allowed to reopen on 10 August. His comments come after Padraig Cribben, chief executive of the Vintners Federation of Ireland, said guidelines needed to be released soon to ensure publicans were ready to reopen. Ireland’s cabinet is expected to make a decision on when pubs reopen when it meets on Tuesday (4 August). Wet-led pubs were initially meant to reopen on 20 July but the cabinet delayed the move. Varadkar said: “I would like to see pubs and bars open on 10 August if it’s possible for them to do so within the public health guidelines and I hope we’ll be able to make that decision next Tuesday – but I can’t guarantee that at this stage.” Speaking on RTÉ’s Today With Sarah McInerney, Cribben said pubs should be allowed to reopen fully on 10 August. He said many publicans in rural Ireland relied on money they made in summer to pay their bills in the winter. 

Sector investor BGF backs 24 new companies and invests £180m in first half of 2020: The BGF, which backs a number of sector companies including Giggling Squid and The Coaching Inn Group, has backed 24 new companies in the first half of 2020 with a total investment of almost £180m. The investor has backed one new company a week, including AIM-listed The City Pub Group. The total investment in the first half was £177m, including £128m into new portfolio companies and £49m into existing ones. Recipe box subscription service Gousto secured its seventh round of BGF funding. Eight successful exits were also achieved, returning £135m from the £66m invested. BGF has fully written down investment in three companies during this period. Andy Gregory, head of investments in the UK and Ireland at BGF, said: “The BGF has experienced an impressive investment run rate, which has continued at pace throughout lock-down. We are expecting a strong third quarter, with a number of new deals – including investments in life sciences and clean tech – progressing well.”

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with a restaurant and bar group that’s seeking a new HR director. Based in the Home Counties or London, the HR director will have a national remit, responsible for the full HR function as well as collaboratively working with the executive team on group strategy. As well as supporting a large and dynamic staff, the HR director will also manage a passionate people team. The incoming HR director must have significant food and beverage as well as at least three years’ senior HR experience. A salary of between £85,000 and £90,000 will be considered. For more information, email Gemma@corecruitment.com
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Company News:

Yum! Brands reports KFC UK system sales down 58% in second quarter: Yum! Brands has reported KFC’s system sales in the UK fell 58% for the second quarter ending 30 June 2020 compared with the previous year, because of the impact of closures caused by the pandemic. It was the joint second-highest fall in all of KFC’s markets – India was the highest at 74%. For the year to date, KFC UK system sales were down 23%. The UK accounts for 6% of KFC’s system sales worldwide. Globally, KFC like-for-like sales fell 21% in the quarter. US like-for-like sales increased 7% in the quarter and are up 2% so far this year. Globally, system sales fell 20% in the quarter and were down 12% in the year to date. Operating margin fell 7.3% in the quarter and 4.5% for the year to date, driven by lower like-for-like sales, higher bad debt expense and lower company restaurant margins because of coronavirus, partially offset by net-new unit growth. KFC opened 234 restaurants in 36 countries during the quarter. Operating profit was down 41% in the quarter to $153m (£117m). Meanwhile, Pizza Hut system sales in Europe, including the UK, were down 32% in the quarter and 19% for the year to date – the continent accounts for 9% of Pizza Hut’s system sales globally. Individual figures for the UK weren’t included in the announcement. Pizza Hut sales were down 11% globally in the quarter and for the year to date. US system sales, which account for 42% of global sales, were up 1% in the quarter and are down 3% in the year to date. Pizza Hut opened 70 restaurants in 14 countries during the quarter.  Operating margin fell 1.9% driven by lower like-for-like sales, partially offset by US franchise bad debt recoveries. Operating profit was down 9% in the quarter to $87m. Taco Bell like-for-like sales fell 8% in the quarter and 4% for the year to date. System sales were down 6% in the quarter and 1% in the year to date. Operating profit fell 3% in the quarter to $154m. Taco Bell opened 22 restaurants in four countries during the quarter. Yum! Brands’ total revenue in the quarter fell 9% to $1,198m and was down 4% for the year to date, at $2,461m.

Kerb ‘taking plunge’ to reopen Seven Dials Market: Street food business Kerb is to “take the plunge” and reopen Seven Dials Market next week – the first major food hall in London to welcome back customers since lock-down. The reopening on Friday, 7 August follows research by the group that revealed two-fifths (40%) of Londoners are eager to visit central London to eat out, while more than two-thirds (70%) are fully behind supporting independent food and drink businesses. Seven independent traders will return to Seven Dials Market – Matthew Carver’s Pick & Cheese; Club Mexicana, the Mexican-inspired vegan street food restaurant founded by Meriel Armitage; Japanese soul food restaurant Nanban; bao concept Yum Bun; Strozapretti, the pasta restaurant from the team that founded Franco Manca; Truffle; and Venezuelan fried chicken expert El Pollote. Seven Dials Market has adapted to allow for bookings, cashless orders via click and collect, all-new table service, sanitising stations and spacious table seating. The venue will open on Fridays from 5pm to 10pm, Saturdays from midday to 10pm, Sundays from midday to 6pm and Mondays from midday to 10pm during August. Kerb founder Petra Barran said: “We have got this gorgeous, soaring, double-height space that’s been sitting redundant. It needs life and soul and food in it so we’re going to get out there and have a go! We’re taking the plunge because we’re bored of sitting around theorising and wondering. Of course we’re taking all the necessary new steps – that’s a given – but we want to get back to doing what we love and creating a space for Londoners to eat, drink and just be.” 

Starbucks sees steady improvement in like-for-like sales after reopening seated areas, reveals more about new express-style format plans: Starbucks has reported it has reopened seating areas in 30% of its US company-operated stores, which directly resulted in steady like-for-like sales improvement from minus 65% in April to minus 16% by the end of June. The company also revealed more about how it will accelerate its plan to pivot to new, express-style store formats. Meanwhile, Starbucks rewards members grew 17% in its third quarter and mobile ordering increased 22%. During the company’s third-quarter earnings call, chief executive Kevin Johnson said: “We are having great success bringing new customers on to the app and into the rewards programme. We will build on this momentum in the autumn when we introduce a new pay-as-you-go option for Starbucks Rewards members in the US and Canada. This significant new addition will open up an invitation to join Starbucks Rewards to a much wider audience.” Johnson said the company was continuing to see improvements in the number of customers visiting during the morning peak period. Besides a 25% growth in average transaction value – mostly down to more group orders – many consumers are buying Starbucks coffee to make at home. Sales of packaged coffee grew 21% during the third quarter, outpacing beverage sales. Kerbside pick-up has already been tested at 250 stores and Starbucks plans to grow that number to 1,000 as “soon as possible”. As announced in June, Starbucks is accelerating its plan to pivot to new, express-style store formats, with a goal of closing 400 stores in the next 18 months to be replaced with delivery and pick-up stores. Johnson said: “Each of these Starbucks Pick-up stores will ideally be located within a three to five-minute walk from a traditional Starbucks store, giving customers the flexibility to enjoy their drink in our store or on the go. We plan to accelerate the development of more than 50 of these stores during the next 12 months to 18 months, with a view to have several hundred in the US in the next three years to five years.”

Costa reopens another 181 stores: Costa Coffee, which is owned by Coca-Cola, has reopened a further 181 stores. The company said more than 2,200 of its sites were now open. Last week Costa said it would pass on the government’s full 15% VAT cut to customers for all food and drink at its owned stores. The move covers 1,500 Costa Coffee stores and more than 9,000 Costa Express machines. Earlier this week Propel revealed Costa has appointed Phil Thomas as global chief marketing officer. Thomas stepped down as chief commercial officer at Greene King earlier this summer after the brewer and retailer moved to three divisional teams.

Revolution Bars Group continues phased reopening: Revolution Bars Group, the operator of 74 bars trading under the Revolution and Revolución de Cuba brands, is continuing the phased reopening of its estate. The company began by opening its Revolution sites in Brighton, Bristol, Huddersfield and Liverpool Albert Dock as well as Revolucion de Cuba venues in Derby and Manchester earlier this month. Since then it has opened Revolution sites in Cambridge, Clapham Junction, Durham, Nottingham Cornerhouse, Southampton and York as well as Revolucion de Cuba venues in Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle and Norwich. On Monday (3 August), Revolution sites in Bath, Glasgow Mitchell Street, Leeds Electric Press, Newcastle, Nottingham Hockley and Stafford along with Revolucion de Cuba venues in Harrogate and Nottingham will welcome customers back. Chief executive Rob Pitcher said: “We have been working hard behind the scenes to find ways to be able to get the party started again in the safest way possible. By taking a phased approach to opening our venues, the improvements we’ve made to the bookings platform and with our team members trained to the highest standard of safe operating procedures, we can ensure our guests and teams are as safe as possible.” Protective measures include protective screens at bars and tables; floor markings and signs to help guests maintain physical distancing; PPE available for teams; more frequent cleaning measures and hand sanitiser for guests and staff. Both brands are operating as seated only for the time being and all open sites will take part in the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme.

Douglas Jack – Fuller’s has sufficient liquidity to cherry pick sites from struggling operators: Peel Hunt leisure analyst Douglas Jack has said Fuller’s has sufficient liquidity to be able to cherry pick sites from operators struggling to survive. Issuing a ‘Buy’ note on the shares with a target price of 700p following the company’s delayed full-year results, Jack said: “Managed like-for-like sales were up 2.3% after 49 weeks, with drink up 1.7% (spirits up 8.3%), food up 1.9% and accommodation up 5.9%. Like-for-like sales had been up 2.7% in the first half and up 2.5% after 42 weeks. We believe the company’s recent trading is slightly ahead of the Coffer Peach Tracker, which improved to 68% of pre-covid-19 norms in the second trading week after lock-down. Expansion has been orientated to the managed estate. Cotswold Inns & Hotels was acquired for £40m. It brought seven freehold country inns and two bars into the estate, and added 201 bedrooms. The Windjammer, Royal Dock and The Bear Of Burton, near Christchurch, opened during the year, while The White Horse, Wembley, should open before next year’s European Football Championship. Tenanted like-for-like profits were down 3% (2019: up 1%) against tough comparables (as the prior year benefited from hot weather and the Fifa World Cup). Fuller’s cancelled tenants’ rent at the start of the pandemic and has subsequently worked with tenants to help them use government support. Recent developments include better induction support and in-pub training as well as a full review of the range of agreements. Financial net debt (excluding leases) was £179m as at 31 March 2020 versus £251m of debt facilities (£225m of bank debt and £26m of debentures). Since year-end, we estimate financial net debt has increased to more than £200m, with cash burn running at £4m to £5m per month and £10m to £15m (of £20m total) working capital outflow occurring in the current financial year. Working capital should now be rewinding with the estate reopened. We are holding our forecasts. For 2021E, we assume managed like-for-like sales and tenanted turnover both fall 40% based on three to four months of lock-down, six months averaging minus 30% like-for-like sales and flat like-for-like sales against a minus 15% comparable in the fourth quarter. The estate is equally split between London and outside the M25. We expect trading in the West End and City to be tough, whereas suburban and rural sites should outperform, in our view. Fuller’s has sufficient liquidity to be able to cherry pick sites from operators who may struggle to survive. We believe the true net asset value of the shares is above £10 and view this as an attractive buying level for long-term investors.”

JD Wetherspoon to take part in Eat Out To Help Out, submits £2.5m expansion plans for Billericay pub: JD Wetherspoon is to take part in the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme, which will operate on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in August. As a result of the scheme, a traditional breakfast in 747 Wetherspoon pubs will cost £1.75, a coffee or tea (with free refill) in 821 pubs will cost 65p, a classic burger with soft drink in 671 pubs will cost £2.50 and a children’s meal – including spaghetti bolognese and five-bean chilli, with each meal including a drink and a banana or fruit snack – will cost £2.08 in 792 pubs. Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin said: “Thanks to the government scheme, an individual is £2.93 better off eating and drinking at Wetherspoon than purchasing a similar range of products at Tesco. Over a 13-day period, customers would save £38.09. Prices at some of our town and city centre pubs are higher and the comparison with Tesco doesn’t work in these cases. However, the vast majority of our pubs will offer a range of meals with a drink at unbeatable prices.” Meanwhile, Wetherspoon has unveiled its £2.5m expansion plans for The Blue Boar in Billericay High Street. If agreed, the expansion would see a larger dining and drinking area inside the pub, an extended kitchen and larger beer garden. Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon told the Basildon, Canvey & Southend Echo: “We strive to give our customers the best possible pub and that’s why we have submitted a planning application to redevelop the pub. We await the outcome of the planning decision. At present we are unable to give a timescale for the project to take place, subject to planning permission being granted.” Andrew Schrader, Tory councillor for Billericay East, said: “That level of investment is an endorsement of the future viability of the town and high street.”

Nando’s to have 102 UK sites reopen for dine-in by end of the week: Nando’s will have 102 of its UK sites reopen for dine-in by the end of this week. The group reopened 42 sites on Wednesday (29 July) for dine-in on top of the ten it reopened on 8 July. The company said it would also take part in the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme next month. In a message to customers, the company stated: “We have made sure all our tables are spaced out in line with social distancing and we’ve got a virtual queue in place so you just need to scan a QR code to enter it when you arrive and we’ll text you when your table is ready. We’re also offering a slightly reduced menu for now and we’ve also gone cashless. We’ll bring everything to your table too, including drinks, sauces and cutlery.” Nando’s told customers the 50% offer under the government scheme would only be available at its dine-in restaurants. Consumers will be able to pick up a quarter of peri-peri chicken for £1.85 as part of the offer.

YO! rolls out new format to 18 sites: YO!, the global multi-brand, multi-channel Japanese food group, will have rolled out its new and improved “kaiten” conveyor belt format to 18 sites across the UK as of Saturday (1 August), with 13 more to follow in the coming weeks. Reopened sites now include Bristol Cabot Circus, Cheltenham, Manchester Selfridges and Harvey Nichols in London. Guests can take a picture of a QR code and order and pay for their food through the digital menu on their phone via a platform powered by Vita Mojo. Dishes are prepared in each store’s kitchen and arrive on the kaiten belt in front of customers. The interactive traffic light system turns amber to tell customers when their food is on its way and green when it arrives. Due to demand from customers for their local YO! to reopen, the company has also opened nine restaurants with table service only, while work to upgrade the existing kaiten belt continues. Six more sites offering table service only are set to reopen in the coming weeks. The company will also participate in Eat Out To Help Out. YO! chief executive Richard Hodgson said: “Since we began reopening our restaurants on 4 July we’ve been delighted by feedback from our customers on the new format. We’ve been working hard to make sure we offer our guests the fun eating out experience YO! is known for while transforming our restaurants into safe, socially distanced environments.”

Paul UK dine-in sites to take part in Eat Out To Help Out, 90% of estate to be fully reopen by next week: French bakery and cafe brand Paul UK has announced it will participate in the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme. Guests will receive 50% off food and non-alcoholic drinks on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in August when dining in Paul’s bakeries. In total, 23 stores that offer either dine-in or outdoor seating out of the brand’s 37-strong estate will participate in the scheme, with discount available for any meal occasion, from breakfast through to early evening meals. The discount can also be used when purchasing items from the brand’s new Feel Good Food summer range, which has been developed in collaboration with registered associate nutritionist and best-selling author Dr Hazel Wallace, also known as The Food Medic. The range, which features more “sustainable, plant-based and flexitarian options”, is available in all Paul’s open stores and via delivery until Sunday, 30 September. Since April, Paul UK has been reopening its venues in a phased approach, initially for delivery and takeaway. By Monday (3 August), 33 stores will be fully open, representing 90% of the estate.

Pure opens debut airport site: Healthy food-to-go concept Pure has opened its first airport site, at Gatwick. Located in the airport’s North Terminal, the opening marks the 22nd site for the Spencer Craig-led business. The venue offers 130 covers and new digital screens and coffee machines. The launch means Pure is operating from half its estate since it started its gradual reopening programme earlier this month.

New concept Sugoi JPN sets out expansion plans: Sugoi JPN, a new Japanese and Latin American fusion concept, aims to launch ten sites in the next 12 months under a new expansion plan. The concept is the brainchild of husband and wife Felipe Preece and Veronica Silva, who are working with The Bench and The Hospitality Portal on expansion. The first Sugoi JPN site will open within a unit at Merton Abbey Mills in Colliers Wood on Thursday, 6 August. Another London venue will open in Palmers Green on Thursday, 27 August. The Merton Abbey Mills site will initially open from Thursday to Sunday and offer a community terrace for diners to sit and eat plus a takeaway service. Delivery will be offered within a 2.5-mile radius of the site. The concept takes inspiration from street food stalls in Tokyo and Latin America. Its main dish, NoriTacos, is a hybrid between Japanese nori and Mexican tacos. 

Feng Sushi to launch debut concessions, in Selfridges: London-based Japanese restaurant Feng Sushi is to launch a sushi deli counter in Selfridges Foodhall in London on Monday (3 August) for its first concessions site. The counter will offer favourites on the menu at Feng Sushi’s restaurants in West Hampstead, Fulham and Notting Hill Gate alongside new options exclusive to Selfridges. New dishes will include monthly rotating specials such as black sesame, lobster and tender stem broccoli, and wagyu nigiri topped with gold leaf. The site will also offer grab-and-go sushi boxes and freshly cut rolls from the counter, including plant-based favourites such as crispy yasai maki. A Feng Sushi spokeswoman said: “We are thrilled to launch with such an iconic department store. We’re passionate about sustainable sourcing and creating premium-quality sushi. We look forward to introducing our new menu to Selfridges customers.” Feng Sushi also operates a delivery-only site in Camberwell. Catering company The Genuine Dining Co acquired the then eight-strong Feng Sushi in April 2017. It is run by its own management team.

Puttshack to start reopening sites: Indoor mini-golf experience Puttshack is to start reopening its sites. The company will welcome customers back to its White City site from Saturday, 8 August followed by its Lakeside venue later in the month. Team members will wear branded masks and receive temperature checks before every shift, while regular hand washing throughout the day will be a standard requirement. Hand sanitiser will be readily available in all venues, with golf clubs and balls cleaned after every use. Bookings of up to six people will be allowed, with guests required to register their team online to enable contactless check-in. Puttshack has also signed up to the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme, while guests will be able to scan a QR code with their phone to order food delivered to their table. Puttshack chief development officer Hugh Knowles said: “Puttshack has always focused on delivering a great, vibrant experience, something we feel our guests need now more than ever. However, we wanted to ensure we had the right protocols and procedures in place so our teams and guests can return safely while being able to have fun and reconnect with friends and family. Unlike traditional mini-golf operators, our technology allows us to easily implement social distancing on the courses.”

Rick Stein Group and Boston Tea Party among operators participating in Eat Out To Help Out: The Rick Stein group is participating in the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme during August. The 50% discount on food and soft drinks up to £10 per person will be available across the restaurant group’s estate on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in August. Venues include The Seafood Restaurant, St Petroc’s Bistro, Stein’s On The Quay, and eponymous restaurants in Barnes, Winchester and Sandbanks. All-day dining casual café brand Boston Tea Party will also involve its 23 sites in the initiative, while three Michelin-starred chef Quique Dacosta’s Fitzrovia restaurant, Arros QD, will offer the discount on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Luxury hospitality group The Stafford Collection will reopen its Norma restaurant in Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia, on Monday (3 August) in time to take part in the scheme, while Exclusive Hotels will involve The Brasserie at Pennyhill Park, The Avenue at Lainston House, Botanica at South Lodge and The Castle Inn. After reopening earlier this month, Five Points Brewing Company’s community pub The Pembury Tavern in Hackney, east London, will see its Ace Pizza concessions offering the in Eat Out To Help Out discount. 

California Pizza Kitchen files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy: US restaurant brand California Pizza Kitchen, which operates more than 250 sites, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after citing financial troubles caused by the pandemic. The restructuring agreement includes a commitment for $46.8m (£35.8m) in new financing that will enable the ongoing operation of California Pizza Kitchen restaurants. It will see the business close unprofitable locations, reduce its long-term debt and “quickly emerge from bankruptcy as a much stronger company”. Chief executive Jim Hyatt said: “The impact of covid-19 on our operations certainly created additional challenges but this agreement from our lenders demonstrates their commitment to California Pizza Kitchen’s viability as an ongoing business.” In accompanying court documents, Hyatt explained the company had only $13.5m of cash and about four months’ of unpaid rent obligations at the majority of its locations, including numerous default notices from landlords and court actions brought by California PizzKitchen’s landlords to obtain unpaid rent. He added: “The company has spent the past several months reviewing and negotiating strategic alternatives to obtain additional financing and address its capital structure and lease footprint in a holistic manner.” In March, California Pizza Kitchen explored a potential sale, strategic merger, consolidation or business combination. California Pizza Kitchen, which said it aimed to complete the Chapter 11 process in less than three months, has been closing underperforming sites across the US during the past few weeks.

Pizza Pilgrims to launch picnic offer and new delivery kits: Pizza Pilgrims, the London-based sourdough pizzeria concept founded by Thom and James Elliot, is launching a picnic experience and two more Pizza In The Post kits. The ready-made Picnic Pilgrims package will be available from Friday (31 July) via click and collect from the brand’s reopened restaurants or delivery through Deliveroo. The package includes two pizzas of choice, a pot of olives, a Nutella pizza ring, a chequered tablecloth, recyclable cutlery, glasses and a Spotify playlist. Customers will also be able to add drinks. Pizza Pilgrims is also launching a limited edition nduja version of its Pizza In The Post kit. The spicy pork sausage will be sent alongside two Neapolitan dough balls, homemade tomato sauce, fresh fior di latte for two pizzas, parmesan and basil. A Family Pizza In The Post kit will be available from Friday, 7 August. The kit will contain ingredients for four pizzas and is aimed at getting families to make pizza together. 

Four In A Bed winner to expand Bubble Inn concept with fourth site: Derbyshire-based Connie Eleftheriou, who transformed The Bubble in Stenson from a boarded-up business into a thriving pub with accommodation that won a series of television reality show Four In A Bed, has added a fourth venue to his Bubble Inn concept. The Bubble Inn in the village of Kniveton, near Ashbourne, was formerly known as The Ketch and will open on Saturday (1 August). The other Bubble Inns are in Birmingham and Swadlincote, with all sites under the banner of umbrella company Eleftheriou Taverns. Eleftheriou told Derbyshire Live: “There’s a lot to do, but we’ll get there, I thrive on doing things at the last minute. They call me ‘Last-minute dot Con’. We call this The Bubble Inn because that’s my brand, my first pub in this group. I’d tried businesses before it but as soon as I got The Bubble Inn, it smashed it so it’s a good luck thing for me. The lock-down gave me strength. I lasted one day off and couldn’t handle it. I thought I was going to crack up. So I went back to work. We did take-outs and things like that and it kept me going. The pubs are all open fully now, with all social distancing and government guidelines in place. We’re flying, they’re all doing really well.

Hotel-owning councils set to lose £6m in Travelodge CVA: The 22 UK councils that own Travelodge hotels are set to lose about £6m in total as a result of rent cuts introduced under the operator’s company voluntary arrangement (CVA). Travelodge, which is owned by Golden Tree Asset Management, Avenue Capital and Goldman Sachs, pushed through a CVA last month following weeks of tense negotiations with landlords after it failed to pay its March quarterly rent. Under the CVA, Travelodge agreed with landlords that rent would be cut by 38% for 18 months. The local authority-owned hotels, which have an annual rent roll of £10.6m, equating to £15.9m during the period, will therefore lose about £6m in rent. A Travelodge spokesman told Property Week: “Our temporary rent reductions, which were supported by 86% of landlords, including many local authorities, and our £100m additional funding package, will protect the business in the short term and allow us to return to full rent from the end of the rent concession period next year, preserving long-term value.”

Heavitree senior non-executive director to step down: Exeter-based tenanted pub operator Heavitree Brewery has announced William Tucker will step down as senior non-executive director on Saturday (1 August). Tucker joined the company in 1954 and was appointed to the board in 1955. He was appointed managing director in 1970 and oversaw the ceasing of brewing operations in the same year. He went on to take over from his father as chairman in 1974 and was instrumental in shaping the company as a tenanted estate. Heavitree said it didn’t propose to appoint anyone to replace Tucker at the present time.

Manchester-based vegan restaurant Vertigo to open third site: Manchester-based vegan restaurant Vertigo is to open its third site in the city, on Monday (3 August). Founder Michael Jebelli will launch the venue at MediaCityUK, adding to the concept’s sites in First Street and Royal Exchange. As at its sister sites, the restaurant will offer vegan items such as bao buns and burgers alongside breakfast and brunch options. The restaurant will have capacity for 45 diners inside and 20 outside. The restaurant will also make use of Box On The Docks – the socially distanced dining space MediaCityUK launched this month. Jebelli told Secret Manchester: “Vegan fare has become enormously popular in the past few years and we’re thrilled more people are discovering how amazing it can be. Our two restaurants have gone from strength to strength and we’re proud to open a third in Media City. It’s a natural fit for us to expand out of the city centre and we can’t wait to launch. We hope it demonstrates there’s a quiet confidence among operators as well as public demand to get the restaurant industry up on its feet and open again.”

Coca-Cola launches first post-pandemic campaign, includes hospitality venue support programme: Coca-Cola has launched its first post-pandemic campaign, which includes a hospitality venue support programme. Open Like Never Before will see Coca-Cola donate budget and advertising space for venues to create bespoke social media adverts to advertise they have reopened. The multimillion-pound campaign will run in Great Britain and wider European markets from Saturday (1 August). The campaign launches following a seven-month pause on air, the longest since Coca-Cola was founded, and will run into 2021. The campaign has partnered with London-based spoken word performer George “The Poet” Mpanga and features a poem that asks people to appreciate what was previously taken for granted while finding opportunities in the “new normal”. Kris Robbens, marketing director at Coca-Cola Great Britain and Ireland, said: “This year Coca-Cola was off air for the longest time in history as we redirected our support to relief efforts. The Open Like Never Before campaign is founded on the belief we don’t have to go back to normal following this huge change in everyone’s lives. Instead, it’s our ambition to move forward and make the world not just different but a better, more open place. Most importantly, we’re using our platform to support and celebrate our customers and partners, many of whom are reopening their doors to communities after a challenging time for the industry.”

Vegan Chinese restaurant Mao Chow puts second-site plans on hold as it takes Mortimer House residency: Vegan Chinese restaurant Mao Chow has put plans for a second site on hold amid the coronavirus crisis but will take a residency at private members’ club Mortimer House in Fitzrovia, central London, next month. Before lock-down, Mortimer House hosted a number of highly rated pop-ups and supper clubs. The venue will resume its residencies with Mao Chow, which started as a pop-up in Dalston before opening a permanent site in Mare Street, Hackney, in April 2019. The brand, founded by Julian Denis, will take over the Living Room and Den on the fifth floor of Mortimer House as well as the terrace and balcony. Mao Chow focuses on the Szechuan region, with exclusive new dishes for the residency that will include Husband & Wife Celeriac (braised celeriac with pickled chillies, toasted rice powder, cumin mushrooms and green chilli dip encased in a Xi’an flatbread); and Lijiang rice sausage with crispy greens and chilli oil. Denis said: “We are going to serve an extension of what we do in our Hackney spot – fiery flavours and loud music. We’re excited to open in a new part of town, meet new people and serve delicious food.”

 
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