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Wed 29th Jul 2020 - Propel Wednesday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

Hodgson – covid will separate the wheat from the chaff: Richard Hodgson, chief executive of YO!, the global multi-brand, multi-channel Japanese food group, has said even though the sector was challenging before covid-19, its impact will “separate the wheat from the chaff”. Speaking as part of Propel’s “navigating the coronavirus” series, Hodgson said: “Oversupply was a problem before covid-19 and remains for me the biggest single issue. It was incredibly tough before covid, but I do think that in a way that it will separate the wheat from the chaff. There is no doubt in my mind that some people won’t recover. And it won’t be just the weak businesses or those that are poorly run that won’t recover, I think there will be a lot of good businesses, which we don’t see in two years’ time. Whether they can drag themselves out of this remains to be seen, but it is one thing to survive covid and another to flourish and be successful in 2022 and beyond. Some businesses that have very strong brands and raison d’etres and have adapted will survive and others won’t. It is quite scary when you think of what businesses like Azzurri, which was doing well 12 months ago, and even Pret, are going through. Who would have thought Pret would be closing sites. For 25 years we have been looking at Pret with adulation, that’s an amazing business, then something comes along, which none of us expected and was out of our control, and has played havoc with the whole industry.” Despite highlighting the problem of oversupply, Hodgson said “none of us will succeed by ourselves”. He said: “We have sites where if my competitors don’t open, we will struggle because you need hubs and areas where there is choice which brings people to them. If other people fail and that leaves just a YO!, then we will fail. This is not about sitting back and watching others fail, we want the sector to succeed because competition is good.” Hodgson will share more of his thoughts in the video, which will be released on Wednesday (29 July). Meanwhile, readers can support independent sector journalism and get their news 12 hours early (at 7pm each night) with a Propel Premium subscription. It costs £395 plus VAT per annum for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers. Email anne.steele@propelinfo.com to sign up.

Industry News:

Sponsored message – Sprout CRM marks one year of UK expansion: Sprout CRM has just marked the first year of its UK expansion plans, spending the past 12 months working with more than 50 leading food and beverage multi-site operators to increase their revenue via retaining and leveraging customer data. “It has been an incredible year for us, working with some amazing brands and great people within the industry,” explains UK & EMEA director Dhilon Solanki, who has previously held roles at Deltic, Orchid Group, The Living Room and Creams Cafe. After making the jump from Australia, Sprout CRM, which was built by former hospitality operators, has been busy helping UK brands including Shake Shack, Big Easy, Inamo, Chopstix, The London Cocktail Club, and Beds and Bars better understand their customers through their aggregated CRM to drive long-term brand loyalty and advocacy. As well as supporting its customers during these trying times, Sprout has also released a series of relief packages to support businesses and the NHS, including a free contact-tracing app to help venues reopen safely. Solanki adds: “Customers are under incredible pressure but we’re taking a view we’re in this together going in and want to be here together at the other end”. For more info, visit www.sproutsend.com. If you have information you would like to feature in a sponsored message, email paul.charity@propelinfo.com

Anand to step down as Casual Dining Group chairman: Rooney Anand, the former chief executive of Greene King, is to step down as chairman of Casual Dining Group (CDG), the operator of Las Iguanas, Bella Italia and Cafe Rouge, Propel understands. Anand, who took up the role at the start of 2019, will follow CDG’s existing backer KKR out of the business, with private equity firm Epiris currently in exclusive talks to acquire the James Spragg-led group. It is thought Epiris, which formerly backed TGI Friday’s and Parkdean Resorts, will look to bring in its own chairman, if a deal is successfully completed. Anand was chief executive of Greene King for 14 years and was previously the company’s managing director. Earlier this year, he was appointed chairman of holiday park operator Away Resorts. Propel revealed earlier this month Epiris will commit £43m of funding for CDG if a deal is successful. It’s understood that figure would include significant levels of cash commitment for the next 12 months to manage the impact covid-19 continues to have on footfall and revenue, and then to support and grow the group by refurbishing sites. A successful deal would see circa 4,000 jobs preserved, with Epiris backing the current management team. Epiris, which was also a bidder to acquire Azzurri Group, is understood to be negotiating with landlords on revised lease terms ahead of completing a deal. The eventual number of sites it takes will depend on those negotiations, with a number of properties understood to be marginal. 

UK footfall sees first decline since hospitality sector reopens: UK footfall saw its first decline on Saturday (25 July) since the hospitality sector reopened, according to the latest data from Wi-Fi solutions provider Wireless Social. It questioned whether the fall could be attributed to the mandatory wearing of face coverings in retail, coffee shops and takeaway outlets that came into force the previous day. The data showed it was a mixed picture across the major UK cities. London (minus 2%), Manchester (minus 3%) and Bristol (minus 1%) all saw falls, whereas other English cities grew – Birmingham and Newcastle increased significantly, by 11% and 10% respectively. Confidence in Scotland and Wales continues to grow post reopening with Cardiff, Edinburgh and Glasgow all in growth across Saturday and Sunday. Meanwhile, the London shopping districts all showed a positive increase in footfall across Monday (20 July) through to Wednesday last week (22 July). Bayswater has its closest comparison to pre lock-down at minus 41% compared with the February average. The London “villages” remained fairly consistent while the West End is gently creeping up but Canary Wharf saw a small dip.
Wireless Social is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Sturgeon – Scottish bars and restaurants could close if they don’t follow rules: Bars and restaurants in Scotland could be closed if they do not follow coronavirus rules, first minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned. She said there was anecdotal evidence some hospitality venues are failing to follow measures such as taking customer contact details. “If we do start to see outbreaks linked to the hospitality sector, we would need to take action and that could include closing premises again,” Sturgeon said. She warned there was a “worrying resurgence” of coronavirus cases globally and stressed the hospitality sector in Scotland must ensure it is adhering to guidelines put in place. She said: “There's been a lot of hard work by businesses and staff across the country to make their premises safe for visitors. However, although the majority of businesses are following the rules, we do know anecdotally of some instances of guidance being breached. Of seating areas perhaps not being cleaned thoroughly between customers, of staff not wearing face coverings and of contact details for test and protect not being taken. I want to send a message to everyone in the sector these guidelines aren't just for the first few weeks, they must become the norm and you cannot allow standards to slip. And for customers, if any venue that you are frequenting or visiting doesn't seem to be taking covid-19 seriously, for example if you're not asked for your contact details and if there's not clear guidance in place about physical distancing, then my advice to you is to go somewhere else.”

NRA urges US governors and mayors to hold off on further shutdowns: The National Restaurant Association (NRA) has urged US governors and mayors not to reclose restaurant dining rooms that are operating within current guidelines. In a letter to the National Governors Association and the US Conference of Mayors, NRA senior vice-president for science and industry Lawrence Lynch said the industry has been diligent in its commitment to stepped up safety protocols. Lynch argued public mask requirements are effective and must be followed, saying restaurants that violate safety and health laws should not remain open. “Our industry truly believes we are all in this together and any bad actors are not representative of our industry,” he wrote. Lynch described restaurants as unwavering in their commitment to customer and employee safety. The NRA worked with leading health agencies to develop guidelines for safe reopening. During the height of the shutdown, the restaurant industry in March through June lost more than $145bn in revenue, the NRA said. Just as restaurants were gearing up to reopen in some states, more than 100,000 locations have been shuttered again by state and local mandates since the beginning of July, “putting more people out of work and costing restaurant owners thousands”, Lynch wrote. “Closing the dining rooms of restaurants that are operating within the prescribed guidelines harms our communities and hinders our recovery,” the letter said. 

Coronavirus costs global tourism industry almost £250bn in lost revenue: The coronavirus pandemic cost $320bn (£248bn) to the global tourism industry in lost revenue between January and May, according to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). In a report, the organisation said this loss was three times greater than that of the global financial crisis of 2009. Tourist numbers also fell by 300 million during the period – a 56% drop from the same time last year – as lock-down measures brought a stop to international travel. “This latest data makes clear the importance of restarting tourism as soon as it is safe to do so,” said UNWTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili. “The dramatic fall in international tourism places many millions of livelihoods at risk, including in developing countries.”

More than 53,000 outlets sign up for Eat Out To Help Out scheme: The government has said more than 53,000 outlets have signed up for its Eat Out To Help Out scheme. The update comes as Eat Out To Help Out stickers and posters start to appear in the windows of restaurants, cafes, bars and other establishments across the country, with the government advising customers who want to take advantage of the scheme to look out for the logo. The logo means diners that eat-in will benefit from a 50% discount, up to a maximum of £10 per person, on food and non-alcoholic drinks, any Monday to Wednesday in August – and no voucher is required. Diners can take advantage of the offer as many times as they like during the month. Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Our restaurants, cafes and bars play a vital role in our economy, employing more than a million people. They have been hit hard by coronavirus, so it’s vital we do everything we can to help them recover. Our Eat Out To Help Out scheme is designed to get more customers through the door – protecting jobs by giving businesses the confidence to retain and hire staff. More than 53,000 businesses across the country have already signed up.”

Job of the day: COREcruitment is working with an independent restaurant group as it looks to hire a group head chef. The group, based in south west London, operates high-volume restaurants with a focus on fresh Italian/Asian fusion cuisine. The position would suite a passionate and experienced group head chef who has previous experience leading back-of-house operations for a premium-branded restaurant group, as well as an understanding of working for an independent operator. The ideal candidate will have a background in contemporary Italian cuisine and strong knowledge of Asian flavours and cooking techniques. The business is looking to pay circa £50,000 – but there is some flexibility. Anyone interested can send their CV to nicolaburgess@corecruitment.com
COREcruitment is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member
 

Company News:

McDonald’s prepares to spend marketing ‘war chest’ to boost recovery: McDonald’s is preparing to spend a “sizeable marketing war chest” in the second half of 2020, as it aims to boost growth and speed up its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. The company posted a 23.9% year-on-year fall in like-for-like sales for the second quarter ended 30 June, dragged down by international markets including the UK where its restaurants were closed for almost three months. In the US like-for-like sales fell 8.7% as most locations were able to stay open with drive-thru and delivery options. McDonald’s said the vast majority of its restaurants – about 96% – have now reopened and it believes its strong presence in drive-thru, delivery and digital position it well to rebound from coronavirus. To boost that rebound, McDonald’s plans to increase marketing spend. It cut investment in most markets in the first half of the year. Marketing spend and value activity, for example, was down 70% in the US as the company “chose to conserve resources until the situation stabilised”, according to chief executive Chris Kempczinski. It now plans to “reinvest” in marketing in the third and fourth quarters, including an incremental $200m in US and international markets to “accelerate recovery”. That, said Kempczinski, is equal to one additional month of media in every owned market. “We have amassed a sizeable marketing war chest to invest in the back half of 2020,” said Kempczinski in an investor call “[There will be a] sizeable increase in marketing spend in the balance of the year.” The majority will be spent on core menu items and service opportunities such as digital ordering and delivery, rather than innovations. McDonald’s is planning to launch some menu items, particularly in the US, in the second half but said the focus is on the main business. Its marketing spend will also look to position McDonald’s for any economic recession, which Kempczinski said is a bigger concern among consumers now than health. While McDonald’s has previously proved “pretty resilient” through recessionary times, a focus on affordability and value in its marketing mix will be important, he said. Looking ahead, McDonald’s strategy will focus on the three “Ds” – delivery, drive-thru and digital – where it expects the biggest opportunities for growth. 

Roger Whiteside – covid has accelerated trends we were already seeing, Greggs to roll out click and collect across estate: Roger Whiteside, chief executive of food-to-go retailer Greggs, has said the pandemic has accelerated trends it was “already seeing”. As a result, the company will roll out click and collect across its estate and extend delivery by the end of autumn. During a press call following the company’s interim results, Whiteside said the group would continue to make use of the furlough scheme until it ended in October to give the “best possible chance” for customer demand to increase and prevent job cuts. About 25% of employees remain on furlough. Whiteside said: “As demand hopefully continues to rise, we’ll be able to bring more people back.” Greggs’ delivery partnership with Just Eat will be extended to 250 shops and cover about 150 towns and cities. Whiteside is also keen to extend its supermarket concessions – it operates four sites with Asda – and add more drive-thrus. Whiteside said: “Coronavirus has accelerated trends we were already seeing. People were being more flexible where they worked, for instance, but now more are working from home. I don’t think everyone will continue to do so in the long term – creativity will suffer otherwise. Brainstorming ideas doesn’t work as well in a digital environment as it does in a physical one – you need that to spark off one another. The pandemic has changed our priorities. We still want to look at dine-in and continue to bring new products to the menu but in the current climate those things are going to have to wait. Right now we are concentrating on getting all the customer favourites back so we think it will be next year before there are new additions to the menu. We continue to focus on delivery and click and collect, therefore our efforts to serve people later into the day will be around those channels rather than opening shops for dine-in longer.” Whiteside also shed more light on the current trading situation. Having earlier revealed sales had hit 72% of 2019 levels, Whiteside said those sites accessed by car were at circa 85% of last year’s level and more than 70% in towns and suburbs. The areas where its estate had less exposure – city centres and transport locations – were trading at about 55% and 30% respectively compared with 2019. However, they make up only 14% of the portfolio. Greggs is also working with its banks to secure a new revolving credit facility for the medium and long term and to help the business in the event of a second national lock-down. Finance director Richard Hutton said while the company was still working on the figures, it would probably not be as much as the £150m borrowed under the government’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility. Whiteside also said he welcomed the government’s new measures to tackle obesity and pointed out while the company “might be famous for those things that need to be eaten in moderation”, its balanced choice range was the “largest in the food-to-go sector”. He added: “We remain confident about our long-term prospects and growth of the business.”

Whitbread to remove Eat Out To Help Out discount limit: Premier Inn owner Whitbread, which also operates brands such as Beefeater and Brewers Fayre, will extend its participation in the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme by removing the £10 discount limit to give guests 50% off food and soft drinks from Monday to Wednesday during August. The company’s entire portfolio of more than 750 restaurants will have reopened by Wednesday, 5 August. All brands including Beefeater, Brewers Fayre, Table Table, Whitbread Inns, Cookhouse + Pub and Bar + Block – as well as Premier Inn’s integrated restaurants – will participate in the offer. The scheme can be used for any meal occasion and in conjunction with existing restaurant loyalty schemes, meaning guests can still earn points when dining. All venues will operate new safety measures under the company’s Generous Serving Of Safety programme. Whitbread Restaurants managing director Phil Birbeck said: “While reassuring our guests it’s safe to dine in our restaurants, we wanted to make dining out as attractive and compelling as possible.” Whitbread furloughed 27,000 staff and signed up to borrow £600m through the Bank of England’s Corporate Funding Facility. Last month it raised £1bn by selling new shares.

Costa appoints global chief marketing officer: Costa Coffee, which is owned by Coca-Cola, has appointed Phil Thomas as global chief marketing officer, Propel has learned. Thomas stepped down as chief commercial officer at Greene King earlier this summer after the brewer and pub operator moved to three divisional teams. During his three years at Greene King, Thomas’ responsibilities included marketing, trading and food development. Under his new role at Costa, Thomas will lead the global marketing, digital, insight, CSR and innovation teams, as well as the coffee brand’s retail and FMCG platform teams. Last week Costa, which is owned by Coca-Cola, 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. Regarding reopening its estate, Costa Coffee tweeted: “We are reopening another 195 stores – taking us up to 2,000-plus. We’re also accepting cash and coffee club cards. We now have 966 stores open for eat-in, with all safety measures in place.”

Balans to begin reopening after newco acquires bulk of London-based business: London-based casual dining group Balans Soho Society, which placed all seven of its sites on the market earlier this summer, is to begin reopening after five of its sites were acquired by a new company, Running Hare Restaurants. Propel understands the new company includes Balans founder David Taylor, ex-Selfridges and Egg marketing executive Nick Cross, and Alastair Gibbons, a senior partner at Bridgepoint, as directors. The new backing for the group has seen it retain the sites in Kensington, Westfield London and Westfield Stratford, plus its two venues in Soho’s Old Compton Street. Its sites in Ealing and Victoria have been closed, and remain on the market, with the former understood to be under offer to an unnamed party. Propel revealed earlier this year the company, which opened its first venue in Old Compton Street in 1987, was marketing its seven sites through CDG Leisure. Earlier this year Balans sold its site in Clapham Common to the team behind the Little Yellow Door concept. The house parties-style bar and restaurant concept, backed by Edition Capital, reopened the site as The Little Orange Door.

Frankie & Benny’s reopens 15 more sites, taking part in Eat Out To Help Out: Frankie & Benny’s, which is owned by The Restaurant Group, has reopened a further 15 restaurants for dine-in, click and collect, and delivery. Among the restaurants to reopen are Intu Eldon Square in Newcastle, Rotherham and Swindon, taking the total to 35. Frankie & Benny’s will also take part in Eat Out To Help Out during August, offering 50% off food and non-alcoholic drinks from Monday to Wednesday. The scheme won’t be valid with any other offers. Following the government’s VAT cut, there will also be a reduction in prices on the menu. Safety measures include enhanced cleaning practices, mandatory health screening for team members and increased hand washing. Menus are single-use and guests are encouraged to use contactless order and payment. They are asked to book in advance with contact details collected through digital platforms, which will be stored for 21 days. Mark Chambers, chief executive of the leisure division, said: “We are delighted to reopen more Frankie & Benny’s restaurants and look forward to welcoming back our guests. We are pleased with the feedback we’ve received from returning guests so far and we’ll monitor feedback closely to ensure we continue to deliver a great and safe experience.” Frankie & Benny’s began reopening its estate in early July. Further tranches of sites will reopen for dine-in on 13 and 20 August.
 
Greene King appoints marketing director for Destination division: Brewer and pub operator Greene King has appointed Claire Vintner, formerly of Molson Coors, as marketing director of its Destination division. Vintner joins Greene King after more than eight years at Molson Coors, where she was most recently customer marketing and field sales management director. Before that she spent almost five years at Spirit Pub Company, including a stint as head of drinks concepts. Earlier this month Greene King appointed Maria Sebastian to the new role of chief marketing officer. Sebastian reports to chief executive Nick Mackenzie and joins the executive board. In her most recent role Sebastian was senior vice-president for marketing, product and brand at Starbucks EMEA.

D&D London to introduce three course set menus for Eat Out To Help Out scheme: Restaurant operator D&D London is introducing a special three-course set menu at each venue, to collaborate with the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme. Every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in August, each of the 18 D&D London restaurants currently open in England will have the menu on offer. The menus are priced from £25 to £40 before the £10 discount has been removed. Each menu is unique to the restaurant, created by the in house team. At Pont de la Tour, it features steak tartare, followed by grilled plaice, heritage potatoes, coastal herbs and hollandaise sauce, concluding with a Marquise au chocolat, strawberries, pistachio and milk ice cream. At Fiume, it starts with vitello tonnato, leading on to an oven roasted gilthead bream with saffron guazzetto, ending with a creamy panna cotta with wild berries. Meanwhile, at 20 Stories in Manchester, the menu features grilled mackerel, pickled beetroot, goat’s cheese, orange and watercress salad; roast pork chop, spiced peach chutney, fondant potato and king cabbage; ending with a classic Lemon meringue. 

Franco Manca to have 95% of estate open for dine-in by next week: Fulham Shore-owned brand Franco Manca plans to have 95% of its circa 50 sites open for dine-in by August. The David Page-chaired brand has been gradually reopening its nationwide estate during the past few weeks after having a number of sites open for delivery and takeaway during lock-down. The company will also take part in the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme. The company stated: “Thanks to support from the government to help reopen our pizzeria and bring our incredible team back to work we are offering 50% off food and soft drinks from Monday to Wednesday throughout August when you dine in. During this promotion you can enjoy a pizza margherita for £3.40.” To help with social distancing the group’s restaurants are operating a virtual queuing system. If someone is outside or close to a Franco Manca site, people can join the queue by providing their name and phone number. It will provide them with an estimated waiting time and send an SMS when their table is almost ready.

Gail’s Bakery becomes key partner in Amazon’s home delivery service: Gail’s Bakery, which is backed by sector investor Luke Johnson, has revealed it is one of the key partners in Amazon’s new home grocery delivery service. Gail’s said it had seen its AmazonFresh sales increase in 2020, while it also sells products in Waitrose and Ocado outside its own bakeries. In March, Gail’s launched home delivery and click-and-collect services as new ways for people to safely buy fresh bread, pastries and baking ingredients during lock-down. As the requirement for online groceries increased during the pandemic, Gail’s responded to demand by innovating its offering and making curated hampers available online. Gail’s was founded in Hampstead in 2005 and is run by Tom Molnar and managing director Marta Pogroszewska. It operates circa 60 sites.

TGI Friday’s to take part in Eat Out To Help Out: TGI Friday’s, led by Robert Cook, has announced it will take part in the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme. The discount will be available at all 87 TGI Friday’s restaurants, excluding its site in Jersey. The company is encouraging bookings to a maximum of six people per table, with safety measures implemented including social distancing queuing and management systems, hand-sanitising stations, and dedicated door hosts to guide and help guests. Diners can use the scheme as many times as they like, don’t need a voucher to use the scheme and can use the discount on top of other TGI Friday’s offers. Guests can earn loyalty Stripes on the final amount paid. Last week, TGI Friday’s launched a premium meat delivery service in the UK as part of its Friday’s At Home range. The company also revealed more details of the simplified and enhanced menu now being offered at six UK restaurants. The Famous At Friday’s menu pays homage to “what made Friday’s famous”. Meanwhile, Chipotle UK will also take part in the government scheme. A spokesman tweeted: “We’re participating in Eat Out To Help Out from 3 to 31 August, every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, if you dine-in at our Baker Street, Upper Street or Charing Cross Road restaurants. You will enjoy 50% off (up to £10/person) on food and non-alcoholic drinks. We look forward to seeing you soon.” Another brand taking part in the government scheme is Shoreditch-based barbecue street food concept Smokestak. The company will offer four dishes for £10 from Monday to Wednesday during August.
 
Papa John’s opens Streatham site, hires another 10,000 staff in US: Papa John’s, which recently passed the 450-site milestone in the UK, has opened its latest franchised store, in Streatham, south London. The outlet displays Papa John’s refreshed look. Phil Gaffer, QFP, franchise sales and business development manager Papa John’s UK, said: “Streatham is one of several new store openings in the UK. Like the other outlets it has an updated look, which we have been rolling out gradually. It’s more modern, fun and welcoming with one or two regional touches so customers feel right at home. For potential new franchisees I’m running virtual discovery meetings on a one-to-one basis, which is the first step in ‘getting to know you’ and a chance to ask questions. I’m also running virtual guest visits every month for potential franchisees to talk to key members of the leadership team until we’re able to resume in-person visits.” Meanwhile, Papa John’s International has committed to hiring another 10,000 employees in the US to keep up with increased delivery demand during the pandemic. The company hired 20,000 employees in March. As well as hiring delivery drivers, pizza-makers, customer-service representatives, shift managers and quality control specialists, Papa John’s will also expand its Dough & Degrees college tuition assistance programme to two further universities. Papa John’s was founded in the US in 1984 and has 5,000 stores in more than 40 international markets and territories.

What The Pitta! to launch first delivery kitchen: Vegan doner kebab concept What The Pitta! is to open its first delivery kitchen. The company will open the site in Battersea on Saturday (1 August), which will also cover Brixton, Clapham and Wandsworth exclusively on Deliveroo. Delivery will be available Monday to Thursday between 5pm and 10pm and Friday to Sunday from noon to 10pm. What The Pitta! launched in London in 2016, and has four locations – at Boxpark’s sites in Croydon and Shoreditch, and in Camden and Brighton. In January the company will launch an outlet in Manchester. Co-founder Cem Yildiz said: “Delivery kitchens are a great way for small businesses to test areas before opening up a permanent residence, which is what we hope will follow.” Kebabs at What The Pitta! feature non-genetically modified soya chunks marinated in a blend of Middle Eastern spices and grilled. The contents are then stuffed into hand-made pitta bread and loaded with homemade hummus, tzatziki and salad. Yildiz and Rojdan Gul were inspired to launch What The Pitta! when Gul’s uncle in Freiburg, Germany, taught them the secret of his vegan doner kebabs.

Jason Atherton to launch high-end dining offer as part of Eat Out To Help Out: Chef Jason Atherton is to launch a £12 for two courses offer at his Michelin-starred Social Eating House in Fitzrovia, central London, as part of the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme. The initiative will also include three courses for £18 and £24 for an additional cocktail on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in August. Atherton’s flagship restaurant, Pollen Street Social, will also take part in Eat Out To Help Out, offering three courses for £29.50 or £48.50 with the addition of half a bottle of wine. Atherton said: “I hope it will encourage people to enjoy high-end dining in a relaxed and affordable way. It means my chefs and I are back in the kitchen doing exactly what we love. We hope it helps kick-start the economy while respecting health and safety to provide a memorable experience.” Atherton opened Pollen Street Social in Mayfair in 2011 and has grown The Social Company to include Michelin-starred Social Eating House and City Social as well as Hai Cenato, 5 Social, The Betterment and Berners Tavern. Atherton has also opened restaurants in Shanghai, Dubai, Doha, St Moritz and Michelin-starred The Clocktower in New York.
 
Chipotle to enforce face masks for customers in the US: Chipotle, which has opened 85% of its restaurants in the US for dine-in, has made it mandatory in the country for its customers to wear face masks within its stores. Chipotle said it would notify customers of the policy via signs on its doors. Customers using the brand’s 100 drive-thrus – or “Chipotlanes” – won’t have to wear masks. McDonald’s, Starbucks, Panera Bread and Noodles & Company have also formally announced mask mandates for customers in the US. Laurie Schalow, chief corporate affairs and food safety officer, told Nation’s Restaurant News: “Chipotle has supplied non-medical masks for all employees to wear as part of their uniform and proactively made the decision to require guests to wear masks in all restaurants. While almost 82% of our restaurants are in states or localities that require facial coverings for crew and customers, it’s important we protect the safety of all employees and customers.”

Food delivery platform Foodhub plans to double size of business: Food delivery platform Foodhub has announced it aims to deliver 20 million meals across the country in 2020 as part of plans to double the size of its business. Founded in 2017, Foodhub has a network of more than 14,000 takeaway and restaurant partners across the UK. With more than one million app downloads since its launch, the business has already witnessed 100% growth each year of its restaurant partner network. The firm recently expanded its management team, with the appointment of Paul Hodkinson as chief technology officer to develop further updates to the website and app. Unlike similar food delivery services, Foodhub does not charge the restaurants a commission for each order; instead opting for a fixed rental model. The company said takeaway orders had increased 33% since lock-down began; allowing restaurants to “provide customers an estimated £80,000 savings on their takeaway orders per week”. Philip Mostyn, Foodhub chief operating officer, said: “Since its inception, Foodhub has been looking to disrupt the food delivery industry with technology firmly at the heart of this disruption. During these challenging times, we would encourage other food delivery services to introduce a non-commission-based model in order to support independent takeaway restaurants to enable them to thrive in the current climate.”

Shoryu Ramen reopens Shoreditch site: Shoryu Ramen Restaurant Group, which specialises in Kyushu cuisine from the southernmost of Japan’s main islands, has reopened its Shoreditch site. The company reopened its venue in Manchester last week and will reopen its Oxford site on Thursday, 6 August. Shoryu Ramen reopened its sites in Carnaby Street and Regent Street at the start of July, while the company said its other Shoryu sites would open in “late summer”. NHS workers receive 20% off their bill with valid ID at all Shoryu Ramen sites. New safety measures include temperature checks for customers and staff, hand-sanitising stations, and condiments and cutlery given out with meals rather than laid at the table. Tak Tokumine founded Shoryu Ramen in 2012. During lock-down the company launched a DIY ramen kit, which sold out within 20 minutes of going live on its website.

Stonegate trials air purification system: Stonegate Pub Company is trialling “breakthrough” technology in the fight to maintain a safe and sanitised environment amid the coronavirus pandemic. The company has introduced the Clenzair system, which “significantly” reduces viruses, bacteria, gases, odours, and works by providing continuous air purification for both the air and surfaces. The units have been installed in Be At One in Birmingham and Stonegate is monitoring the trial. Commercial director Suzanne Baker said: “We, like many other operators, are looking for efficient, effective methods that will enable us to tackle the challenges of maintaining the best possible clean and safe environment while balancing cost. The design works well in our bar and the results are looking promising so far as we work to make indoor as safe as being outdoors.”

Merlin Entertainments to reopen attractions on Saturday: Merlin Entertainments will reopen a series of attractions on Saturday (1 August). The company said Madame Tussauds London, SeaLife London Aquarium, The London Dungeon and the London Eye would reopen featuring enhanced hygiene and safety measures. Guests have to pre-book tickets and a time slot online and use cashless payment inside. Staff have received rigorous training in the new safety measures, Merlin Entertainments said. All guests and team members will have their temperature checked before they are allowed to enter the attractions, which will feature hand-sanitiser stations at key locations. Anyone aged 11 or over will be “required” to wear a face covering for the London Eye, London Dungeon and Shrek’s Adventure! London. Those who arrive without one will have to buy one at the venue. Anyone aged over 11 will be “encouraged” to wear a face covering at Madame Tussauds London and Sea Life London Aquarium. Staff will also wear personal protective equipment. Guests wanting to see a live show or take part in the meet-and-greet sessions may find numbers limited or closed, the company said.
  
Indoor climbing company Boulders begins expansion with Cheltenham site, eyes doubling up in Cardiff: Indoor climbing company Boulders has started expansion by opening a second site, in Cheltenham. The company has transformed a unit at Centrum Park into an indoor bouldering centre following a £238,500 funding package from NatWest. Following a six-month fit-out, the space features custom-built bouldering surfaces across the ground and mezzanine floor. Ollie Noakes co-founded Boulders in 2008 and opened the brand’s first site at St Catherine’s Park in Cardiff, creating 40 jobs. The 15,000 square foot centre features roped climbing walls, a bouldering area, training space, cafe and shop. Noakes is also working on opening a second site in Cardiff after finding a suitable location in the west of the city. The Cardiff centre was forced to lock down on 20 March but Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme funding from NatWest and a grant from the Welsh Government Economic Resilience Fund safeguarded the business’ future. Noakes told Insider Media: “We have been waiting for the government’s go-ahead to open Boulders Cheltenham and the day has finally come we can welcome climbers safely into our bouldering space. Our focus has always been on making climbing as inclusive and accessible as possible and, as we expand our footprint, we hope to introduce even more people to the sport.” Matt Maunder, NatWest relationship manager, added: “Ollie and the team are hugely passionate and that’s evident in the success of the Cardiff East centre and something they will replicate in Cheltenham. We are proud to have supported Boulders through the pandemic and its next stage of growth.”
 
BH Group invests £7m to create Lake District’s first luxury spa: BH Group is to invest £7m to expand Lake District hotel The Swan. The work will add 30 bedrooms and suites, and create the first luxury spa in the region. Investment in the 17th century coaching inn in Newby Bridge has been backed by CBRE Global Investors, with the work expected to be complete by summer 2021 and creating 20 jobs alongside an apprenticeship programme. Plans for the spa include a hydrotherapy pool, thermal rooms, relaxation areas and treatment rooms. The spa will also house a cafe and a children-free zone. BH Group recently added The Swan to its hotel portfolio. Managing director James Houlston said: “The Swan is an established favourite in the Lakes and this investment gives us the opportunity to build on its success so it can reach its full potential as a world-class spa resort. The proposed extension will take the hotel to the next level.” Sarah Gibbs, managing director of The Swan, added: “The Lake District is one of the most popular destinations in the UK and there’s a growing market for a luxury spa resort here.” Yorkshire-based BH Group’s hotel portfolio includes St Michaels Resort in Cornwall and Hotel Indigo in Manchester.
 
AG Barr reports on-trade sales slowly recovering, warns full-year revenue could be down 15%: Funkin owner AG Barr has said sales in the on-trade have started to slowly recover but warned full-year revenue will be down as much as 15% because of trading volatility during the coronavirus crisis. The company said revenue for the year ended January 2021 was expected to fall 12% to 15% compared with the previous year. The forecast is based on the assumption the government won’t impose a second UK-wide lock-down. AG Barr’s revenue for the 26 weeks ended 25 July was £113m, 8% down on the previous year. For the three-month period from April to June, at the height of lock-down, revenue declined 12%, although warm weather offset some of the sales impact of closed hospitality venues. The company also confirmed it would stop using the government’s furlough scheme by 31 July and doesn’t intend to accept the additional return-to-work bonus initiative. Chief executive Roger White said: “These have been difficult times for everyone. However, despite the challenging environment we have maintained our quality and service standards thanks to the dedication and adaptability of our people. We are a profitable and cash generative business in a robust drinks sector and I’m confident our business will continue to prove its resilience for the balance of the year and beyond.”
 
Flour & Grape enters delivery market with DIY pasta kit: London pasta restaurant Flour & Grape has entered the delivery market by launching DIY pasta kits and wine pairings. Flour & Grape At Home gives consumers the chance to recreate their favourite dishes at home. The pasta dishes can be cooked at home in less than ten minutes and are available to collect from the Bermondsey restaurant or delivered within a five-mile radius. Each kit includes pasta made fresh that day, sauce, Parmesan and step-by-step recipe cards. Packaging has been developed to keep ingredients fresh. Flour & Grape founder Nick Crispini said: “Pasta At Home has been something we were looking to develop long before lock-down so it was imperative we got it right rather than rushing to get something over the line. This is a long-term expansion to our business model rather than a stopgap response to the pandemic. With many consumers continuing to stay in during this time or having struggled to get a table during busy times, we’re looking to bring the experience of eating out to their door. Lots of spaces are choosing to keep their doors closed until they can find a safe way to operate that doesn’t compromise on experience, which is why we wanted to expand our offering to include delivery.” Launched at the end of 2017 by the team behind Italian restaurant Antico, Flour & Grape is currently shut but expected to reopen in August.

Ronnie Scott’s to reopen for gigs on Saturday offering outdoors champagne and burger space: Legendary jazz club Ronnie Scott’s will become one of the first major music venues to reopen in London as it announced plans to start hosting gigs again from Saturday (1 August). The club, which has been a Soho mainstay for more than 60 years, will reopen at 50% of normal capacity and with strict social distancing measures. It will also host an outdoor space offering champagne and burgers. The decision to reopen was taken following a poll of the club’s members. Ronnie Scott’s managing director Simon Cooke told MSN: “We have been looking on enviously while restaurants have reopened, especially as the club is laid out like a restaurant. We have been planning the relaunch for some time so, as soon as we got the green light for live performance, we moved into action. Our unique structure of seating lends itself to distancing – some may say the added space is an improvement! Safety of our customers, staff and artists is of paramount importance so there will be protocols for customers, staff and musicians.” The Ronnie Scott’s All Stars, the last act to play the venue before lock-down, will play the first gig back. 

 
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