Finance Kitchen reports strong demand from restaurants: Bespoke finance house Finance Kitchen has reported strong demand from multi-site operators in the restaurant space. Director Ian Woodley said: “In March we celebrated our first anniversary, we entered the market without any real notion of how busy we would be and have been taken aback by the activity levels in the London food scene. The year has also helped us define our market more clearly, we are very much in the zero to ten-site range and while we look at bars, pubs, clubs and other food businesses the majority of the traffic has been in restaurants. We are now well connected in the world of street food and pop-ups so there is a constant stream of new and interesting concepts, those with potential to scale up and a clear exit being easier to raise for. Asset finance has been an absolute winner, with a number of six figure fit-outs funded including new starts. Other alternative loans and cash advances have also seen success. Crowdfunding remains an important route of equity funding for new and early-stage businesses. We have commercial terms in place with all the major players but they, too, now prefer other cornerstone investment to come with the deal, which means we have a unique advantage in being able to provide both angel and crowdfunding investment.”




Memorial service to be held for Tim Bacon next week: A memorial service is being held in Manchester for Tim Bacon, the boss of the Living Ventures bars and restaurants group. Bacon lost his battle with cancer last month, at the age of 52. Now the company – which operates brands such as The Alchemist, The Oast House and Australasia – has decided to hold the memorial as “a celebration of his extraordinary life”. It will take place at The Albert Hall in Peter Street, Manchester, on Monday (16 May) at 1pm – with an open invitation to anyone who wants to attend. A fund-raising pager has also been set up to raise cash for The Christie – where Bacon was treated, as was his 11-year-old nephew Jett, who died just days after. A spokesperson for Living Ventures said: “In Tim Bacon’s honour we have set up a charity page to raise funds for The Christie, where Tim spent so much of his time over the past couple of years and for The Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, where his beloved nephew Jett tragically lost his own battle against the same foe in the very same week, aged 11. If you would like to make a pledge in their memory, in lieu of flowers, please do and leave a message for all of Tim and Jett’s family and friends at Don’t be sad, Tim loved and lived life. He created livelihoods and brought us all together with a great deal of happiness as one big family. Each one of us now walks taller for knowing him. Feel free to come along and remember him with us.”




Fourth and HospitalityGEM partner to launch intelligence insight ‘holy grail’: Fourth, software partner to the hospitality and leisure industries, and guest experience management company HospitalityGEM have launched a business intelligence partnership to give bar, pub, restaurant and hotel operators a 360-degree picture of their businesses. The collaboration, an industry first the companies said, will combine key business metrics across the strategic pillars that drive hospitality businesses – financial performance, people and HR data, guest feedback, and mystery diner scores. The key data sets will be combined and integrated on the Fourth Analytics platform, with operators able to analyse and triangulate the information across a single dashboard. Fourth analytics and insight solutions director Mike Shipley said: “This is the insight ‘holy grail’ for hospitality. It will deliver key information across the key areas that operators need to monitor and analyse continuously – how the company or venue is performing financially, how employees are doing, how the business is performing against its brand standards, and what the guests are saying about their experiences. For the first time it will allow hospitality operators to triangulate and overlay key insights, delivering a 360-degree picture of their business, in an easy-to-understand, digestible format.” The new integration enables data from mystery visits and guest feedback to flow into the Fourth Analytics platform, providing operators with dashboards to view statistics. A pilot has been run with Wagamama and Carluccio’s. HospitalityGEM managing director Steven Pike said: “While Fourth develops software to help businesses in the hospitality industry to manage costs, we help them grow sales by creating the perfect guest experience, and we felt this created a great partnership.”




Joe’s Crab Shack brand cuts back no-tipping trial after customers’ negative response: The Joe’s Crab Shack brand in the US has cut back its no-tipping test to just four restaurants from 18 after encountering customer and worker disapproval during the past ten months, Nation’s Restaurant News has reported. “The system has to change at some point but our customers and staff spoke very loudly,” said Bob Merritt, chief executive of Joe’s Houston-based parent company Ignite Restaurant Group. “And a lot of them voted with their feet.” Merritt said Joe’s Crab Shack customer research indicated nearly 60% disliked the no-tipping programme, which launched last summer in Indianapolis and was expanded later in the autumn to 18 restaurants in the Midwest. “We got negative customer counts between 8% to 10% on average among the 18 restaurants, and we tried it for quite a while, tried communicating it different ways,” Merritt said. “So in those 14 restaurants, we are going back to the more traditional structure.” Merritt said customers disliked the no-tipping policy for two reasons – first, they didn’t want to lose control of incentivising service and secondly, they didn’t trust management to pay the increased price to employees. The company had increased menu prices in the test restaurants and is rolling those back as tipping is returned. “Unfortunately, as all those of us who have been around this business for a long time know, when you roll back prices you rarely get credit for it very quickly so it is going to take us time to rebuild that,” he said. Ignite will continue the no-tipping test in four of the restaurants.




Brexit a disaster for UK hospitality sector, says recruiter: A vote to leave the European Union in the referendum would be a disaster for the UK hospitality sector as a whole, especially London, according to luxury hospitality recruiter The Change Group. The company said skilled migrants accounted for more than half of job applications in the sector in the past two years, including experienced chefs and restaurant management staff, indicating they were “essential to fill front and back-of-house positions”. The Office of National Statistics estimated more than two million EU nationals were working in the UK between October and December last year. The Change Group director Craig Allen said: “Brexit would be a disaster for the UK hospitality sector as a whole, and for London specifically. At a time when the UK is benefiting from a boom in the hospitality industry, which is creating so many new job opportunities, why threaten this with new legislation which would make it harder for restaurants to recruit? The result could be a perfect storm – a world-class hospitality industry that is regarded by many as offering some of the finest cuisine in the world, a glut of tourists in London eager to take advantage of a strong dollar and euro, and restaurants struggling to provide service because they are so short-staffed.”




Tim Martin – UK trade will not be affected by leaving EU, motive behind £200,000 Brexit donation simply to help finance campaign: JD Wetherspoon founder and chairman Tim Martin has told Propel the UK’s trade will not be affected if it leaves the EU. Martin, who this week donated £200,000 to the Brexit campaign, said: “For example, 95% of Wetherspoon’s wine comes from Africa, South America, Australia and New Zealand. We don’t have trade treaties with these countries yet we can get the same quality at the same price. These are products that countries in the EU specialise in.” He said of his donation: “My motive was simply to help them finance the campaign. If I don’t contribute, who will? I did a similar thing when I campaigned against joining the euro. Of course if it encourages other people and companies to donate then that’s good. I hope it is seen as more down-to-earth backing than the vampire squid that is Goldman Sachs (which has backed the remain campaign).” Martin spoke at a Question Time-style debate in Ipswich on Monday night with Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith in support of leaving, while Tory John Gummer and local businessman Jonathan Knight argued the case for remaining. Martin said a poll by the local television company before the event showed 40% of people were in favour of remaining in the EU, while 37% wanted to leave. However, when the poll was carried out again afterwards, it showed 52% wanted to leave with 30% in favour of staying. He added: “I think if we are diligent and work hard and aim to get the intellectual case across and don’t rely too much on soundbites, then I’m confident we can win.”




MOD Pizza named fastest growing chain in US: MOD Pizza, the US pioneer of fast-casual pizza that is planning UK expansion, has been ranked the fastest growing chain restaurant by Technomic, the research and consulting firm, in its annual Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report. MOD earned the top ranking with sales growth of 220% in 2015, significantly outpacing the 37% growth of the fast casual pizza category. In addition, MOD made its debut on Technomic’s 2015 overall restaurant ranking, placing 385th based on annual sales. Scott Svenson, co-founder and chief executive of MOD Pizza, said: “2015 was a significant year for MOD with 220% growth in sales and a tripling of our store count to 92 locations. Customers continue to embrace our individual artisan-style pizzas and purpose-led culture. While we are thrilled to be recognised for our industry-leading growth, what really inspires us is introducing our people-centric culture to new places, while creating great job opportunities and being a force for good in communities across the country.”




Limited-service restaurants show outperformance in annual Technomic US survey: Limited-service chains have outperformed other key segments in Technomic’s annual Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report. Cumulative year-on-year sales for chains in its Top 500 ranking grew 5% in 2015, while limited-service concepts significantly outpaced their full-service counterparts at a rate of 5.5% to 3.6%. Contributing to this sales gap was a sizeable differential in unit growth. In 2015, limited-service chains in the Top 500 grew at a rate of 2.3%, nearly tripling full-service’s cumulative mark of 0.8%. Drilling deeper into limited-service’s strong year revealed numerous interesting plot lines. With Panera’s move into the number ten position, the top ten ranked chains were composed entirely of limited-service concepts for the first time. This grouping of the top ten-ranked chains amassed more than $112bn in sales volume in 2015 and grew at a cumulative clip of 3.8%, laying a sturdy foundation for the limited-service segment as a whole. However, the most significant driver of growth continued to be the fast-casual segment, churning out sales and unit growth rates of 11.5% and 9.6% respectively.




New Pubs Code adjudicator defends appointment, reveals conflict of interest policy to be put in place: The government’s new Pubs Code adjudicator Paul Newby has defended his appointment and revealed he would put in a conflict of interest policy to act as a check and balance to his role. Newby, who has been working in the pub and pub property business for about 30 years, said he feels he has “[genuinely] seen it from all angles”. He took up the role of Pubs Code adjudicator on 2 May for an initial term of four years and will be responsible for enforcing the Pubs Code – new legislation that will govern the relationship between large pub-owning businesses and tied tenants in England and Wales that has been delayed following drafting errors. Newby told the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee: “I believe I can do the job fairly, lawfully and properly. I’ve taken off my previous hat, I’ve thrown my previous hat away. I’ve got a new hat and new responsibilities.” However, the committee told Newby it may seem like he “can’t win” in his job as adjudicator, as the perception of conflict of interest could be called into question whether he sided with tenants or landlords in a given case. In response, he said the “perception of conflict” was something he needed and wanted to address, by engaging with stakeholders and putting in a new conflict of interest policy. However, Newby did not give any further information about what the conflict of interest policy would look like or who would carry out adjudicating decisions if he was deemed to have a conflict of interest with a company or individual in a decision. The Labour Party, British Confederation of Pubs, and Liberal Democrat MP Greg Mulholland have spoken out against Newby’s appointment because of his background in working for major pubs companies, including Punch and Enterprise Inns.




Joule’s reports Ebitda hits £2m: Shropshire brewer and retailer Joule’s has reported Ebitda increased 14.1% to £2.0m for the year ending 31 March 2016. Chairman Mark Heappey said: “The tap estate performed particularly strongly generating £1,939,000, an increase of 15.4% on last year. The tap estate underperformed by £14,000 against budget, however, two pubs within the estate generated an £85,000 adverse result against budget due to moving from tenancy agreements to managed houses. The other 37 pubs in the estate exceeded budget by £71,000. The brewing and sales division generated £138,000 – £105,000 adverse to budget. Cost per barrel increased by 12% due to increased staff costs and duty costs. Central costs were £17,000 lower than budgeted. The return on investment on the tap and sales estate, including renovations completed on opened pubs, averaged 16.27% – in line with expectations. Joule’s draught beer sales increased by 16.4% from 5,617 to 6,539 barrels. The increase in volume was mainly driven by the increase of brewery taps and sales to free trade customers – like-for-like sales to existing taps remained static. Free trade sales increased by 23.3%, mainly as a result of increased sales to wholesalers and national brewers. Net assets increased from £6,296,000 to £7,215,000. Net debt decreased from £3,937,000 to £3,508,000. Despite a significant level of investment in pubs, the year-end balance sheet shows cash balances of £350,000. Long-term debt stands at £4,412,000. All covenants were achieved. During the year four pubs were renovated – the New Inn, Newport; The Crown, Codsall; The Prince of Wales, Congleton; and The Talbot, Ruyton. In total, the business invested £606,000 in refurbishment and renovation of the pub estate. The pub estate has grown to 39 houses. In addition the company owns three unbranded houses and has also provided finance to free trade partners within the brewing and sales division. A £40,000 investment was made into the brewery to enhance the efficiency of its cold beer plant and the provision of a full laboratory following the appointment of Neil Bain, director of brewing, during the year.”




Hotel Chocolat shares surge on debut: Hotel Chocolat shares surged on their first day of trading yesterday (Tuesday, 10 May) after the luxury chocolate maker listed on the stock market. The company placed shares on AIM on 5 May at 148p each. They rose as much as 28% to 190p in early trading on Tuesday, valuing the company at more than £200m. The company, founded in 2003 as Choc Express, raised £55.5m from the share sale. It will spend £12m to add to its 81 shops, improve its website and increase production at its Cambridge factory. The rest of the cash was split between founders Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris, who keep a two-thirds stake in the company.




Greene King revamps Loch Fyne menu to offer more non-seafood options: Greene King has revamped the menu at its Loch Fyne Seafood and Grill restaurants to offer more non-seafood options, the biggest menu change in the brand’s 25-year history. New offerings on the summer menu include 28-day-aged rib-eye steak, pressed lamb shoulder and lamb rump with smoked aubergine puree, and confit duck leg. The new “in a roll” section features crab and lobster burger with cocktail sauce, crispy prawn roll with mayonnaise, and fish finger BLT with tartar sauce. In March, City sources told The Sunday Times Greene King was exploring plans to sell off the Loch Fyne brand and was in early talks about a sale. Greene King bought Loch Fyne for £68m in 2007 to diversify from its core brewing and pubs business. The brand has been deemed surplus to requirements following Greene King’s £774m takeover of pubs rival Spirit last year. Loch Fyne was built into a nationwide chain by Mark Derry and Ian Glyn, who also helped celebrity chef Raymond Blanc establish Brasserie Bar Co, which recently acquired two Loch Fyne sites in Cheshire, one each for its Brasserie Blanc and White Brasserie brands. There are 37 Loch Fyne restaurants in the UK, one site more than when the brand was acquired.




Five Guys opens Newcastle city centre site, second north east venue: Five Guys has opened a restaurant in Newcastle city centre, its second site in the north east. The venue in Northumberland Street joins the burger chain’s other restaurant in the region – at Intu Metrocentre in Gateshead – which opened in April. Five Guys regional manager Rabs Meliani told the Newcastle Chronicle: “People were queuing outside before we opened. We’re very excited and hope this is going to be our flagship for the north east.” The new restaurant is Five Guys’ 44th UK site, with the next venue to open in Luton on Monday, 30 May. The company is also planning openings at King’s Cross, Thanet and Watford. In January, Five Guys reported turnover rose to £23,812,047 in the year ended 28 December 2014, up from £3,606,254 in the 16 months before. Losses increased to £6,792,013 (16 months previously losses were £3,892,110) as the company stepped up expansion. Founded in Arlington, Virginia, in 1986 by the Murrell family, and named after the five brothers who worked together to make the chain an international success, the brand is famed for the number of free toppings it offers, boasting there are 250,000 different possible orders to choose from.




Caravan unveils plans to open London’s biggest independent coffee roaster: Caravan, the restaurant, bar and coffee roasting concept, has unveiled plans to open London’s biggest independent coffee roaster. The company, founded in 2010 by New Zealanders Miles Kirby, Laura Harper-Hinton and Chris Ammermann, said 50 people would work at the site near Holloway Prison. Opening in September, it will feature a 70kg roaster, bar, cafe, rooftop garden and workshops for coffee enthusiasts. Caravan said it wanted to capitalise on a growing industry, with the value of the UK coffee market rising 2% to more than £1.3bn in 2015. It added the expansion was a “natural move” after outgrowing its Granary Square roastery. Harper-Hinton told the Evening Standard: “With London’s growing thirst for quality, carefully produced coffee from independent suppliers, it is an exciting time to open.” Caravan has sites in King’s Cross and Exmouth Market.




Former MasterChef – The Professionals contestant launches charcoal cooked-only restaurant concept in Bristol: Former MasterChef – The Professionals contestant Henry Eldon has launched a new restaurant concept in Bristol with dishes cooked only using charcoal. Eldon, who appeared on the BBC show in 2010 and has also worked in Michelin-starred restaurant The Kitchin in Edinburgh, has opened Cauldron Restaurant with co-owner Lauren Nash in the St Werburghs area of the city. The restaurant in Mina Road uses cauldrons and Victorian iron stoves to cook all its meals. Eldon, who also took a 12-week training course with Gordon Ramsay at London’s Claridges, said they wanted to “rekindle man’s unquestionable relationship with fire”. The menu features dishes inspired by cuisines across the globe, including a southern Indian brunch that boasts seaweed idli with smoked sambar, coconut chutney, raita and lime pickle. Eldon told the Bristol Post: “Chefs nowadays have become too reliant on mod cons. They expect to be able to turn on an oven and set it to a temperature they want. Doing it this way adds so much more flavour. For example, with meat, the chargrilled taste is lost in a gas oven.”




Wyn Ellis – we anticipate ‘continued outperformance’ from Marston’s: Numis Securities leisure analyst Wynn Ellis has said it anticipates “continued outperformance” from Marston’s when it releases its interim results next Wednesday (18 May). Issuing a ‘Buy’ note on the shares with a target price of 185p, Ellis said: “We forecast underlying profit before tax up 7% to £31.7m. In quarter one (16 weeks to 23 January) managed like-for-like sales rose by 3.0%. This was a strong performance and ahead of the Coffer Peach Business Tracker (+1.0%). Recent data from the Tracker suggests the market has been flat, but we anticipate continued outperformance from Marston’s. As the second half of 2015’s 15% increase in profit before tax indicated, Marston’s is generating strong organic growth and we expect further good progress in 2016E. Collective industry like-for-like sales for March were up just 0.6% year-on-year after zero growth in February, according to the Coffer Peach Business Tracker. The March numbers were notably disappointing as the month included a weekend of Easter trading, which fell in April in 2015. There has been some more encouraging news for the brewers, however, with the British Beer & Pub Association’s ‘Beer Barometer’ showing that in the first quarter of 2016 beer sales were just 1% down year-on-year. This was the smallest quarter one drop since 2008. Furthermore, the on-trade fared better than the off-trade, with a drop of just 0.2% (versus -1.8% in the off-trade). It seems clear UK consumer confidence has weakened in recent months, but there are some grounds for optimism. Euro 2016 and The Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations are likely to be key draws for pubs, and it is possible consumer confidence may recover once the uncertainty surrounding the EU referendum is resolved. Our 2016E profit before tax forecast (£99.0m; consensus £98.6m) is based on assumptions of: 2.0% like-for-like sales growth and flat margins in ‘Destination’ and ‘Premium’; 2.5% like-for-like sales growth in taverns; 2.5% like-for-like profit growth in leased; and 2% like-for-like growth in own-brewed ale volumes.”




Signature Pub Group acquires Thistle Pub Company: Signature Pub Group has made its first significant move into the west of Scotland with the acquisition of Thistle Pub Company – five former Maclay Group sites operated by Tennent’s. The deal sees Signature – founded by Wood Group founder Sir Ian Wood’s sons Nic and Garreth – take ownership of The Wick in Prestwick, Clerk’s Bar in Edinburgh and Glasgow bars The Hope, The Raven and Munros. It brings the total number of sites in the company’s portfolio to 12. The five units, which were acquired for an undisclosed sum, had previously been owned jointly by Maclay and Tennent Caledonian and were most recently operated as Thistle Pub Company, a subsidiary of Tennent’s, after Maclay went into administration in January 2015. Nic Wood told Drinks Retailing and Marketing: “The Thistle Pubs are well maintained and cared-for units with a strong customer base and marry well into the wider Signature estate. There are synergies that can benefit their integration and this is an exciting acquisition. We are delighted with this investment which expands our portfolio and gives us new reach within Scotland.”




Viva Brazil set to open in Birmingham: Brazilian-themed brand Viva Brazil will open in Birmingham later this month following a £1.2m investment. The all-you-can-eat rodizio grill and bar will be located in Bennetts Hill and have capacity for 200 diners. It is expected to create 40 jobs. Viva Brazil, which was established in Liverpool in 2010, announced its plans to expand into Birmingham in July last year. Andy Aldrich, founder and managing director of the restaurant chain, said: “Viva Birmingham has incredible untapped potential to become our leading restaurant across the country. We are in the perfect location for business and leisure users alike, whether it’s a lunchtime meal or post-work drinks. With the opening just two weeks away, we cannot wait to hit the ground running. We hope the people of Birmingham are quick to embrace Viva Brazil and become part of our expanding family.” Viva Brazil also has venues in Cardiff, Glasgow and Newcastle.




JD Wetherspoon chairman warns Belfast church site is deteriorating, while city centre pub given green light: JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin said the condition of the former church set to become one of his latest bars in Belfast was “deteriorating”, with the company keen to get consent to press on with the project. Meanwhile, the company received planning permission for another pub in Belfast – at the former JJB Sports store in Royal Avenue at the heart of the city centre – its tenth site in the province. JD Wetherspoon is investing £3m to £4m on the two sites, paying about £1.2m for the historic former Methodist church. Martin said the condition of the red sandstone church was deteriorating and he was keen to get planning permission and listed building consent to begin work. Martin told the Belfast Telegraph he was keen to get both pubs opened as soon as possible to benefit from the influx of students expected later this year as Ulster University relocates much of its Jordanstown campus to Belfast city centre. He said: “It’s been dragging on a little bit so it would be great to get them open, creating about 100 new jobs between the two.” JD Wetherspoon also plans to build a major beer garden at its flagship Belfast city centre pub – The Bridge House in Bedford Street.




Robinsons scoops website of the year at Sitecore Experience Awards: North west brewer and retailer Robinsons won two prizes at the Sitecore Experience Awards for its project, created in partnership with digital agency Mando Group. As well as the most coveted prize of Website of the Year, Robinsons also won Best Use of Commerce. The awards were presented by Sitecore UK managing director Simon Etherington at the Sitecore Digital Summit in London. The company said in its first three months, the website increased sales by almost 130% compared with the same period last year, with Black Friday sales up 690% compared with the same 24 hours the previous year. Now six months on, traffic is up 120% on the same period last year and sales are consistently 125% up, Robinsons said, with visitors staying on the website an additional 13 seconds. Robinsons Brewery communications manager Daniella Martin said: “Mando has been a joy to work with and really understood our values and our story from the start. We now have a website that’s fit for the future and one we feel is a leading example in our industry.” Based in Stockport since 1838, Robinsons operates 300 sites spanning the north west, Cumbria and north Wales.




BrewDog announces beer festival dates, punk and Great Escape appearances: Scottish brewer and retailer BrewDog has announced its beer festival dates for the months ahead, as well as appearances at a punk exhibition and a music festival in Brighton. The company said it would attend the Copenhagen Beer Celebration, starting with a tap takeover at a Mikkeller & Friends bar today (Wednesday, 11 May) before the main event launches at the weekend. Next week, BrewDog will serve its beer at the Great Escape independent music festival in Brighton, with its truck dispensing beer in Jubilee Street from 19 to 21 May. Those sporting wristbands will also be able to claim discounts at BrewDog Brighton for the duration of the festival. The company will also hook up with an exhibition celebrating the 40th anniversary of the punk movement this month. BrewDog stated: “We are honoured to be part of the British Library’s 40th Anniversary of Punk exhibition, with Punk IPA being served at a series of events over the span of the showcase. What could be more punk than drinking a Punk at a retrospective of punk?” The company said it would also attend beer festivals this year in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Liverpool and Bristol, among others. BrewDog stated on its website: “The chance to meet beer fans on a one-to-one basis is the driving force behind attending these festivals.”




Restaurant and hotel hub in Wigan featuring Nando’s and Bella Italia gets go-ahead: Plans for a restaurant and hotel hub in Wigan that feature Nando’s and Casual Dining Group brand Bella Italia have been given the go-ahead. The three-storey development at Robin Park retail park, which features the two restaurant spaces on the ground floor and a 68-bedroom hotel, has been approved by Wigan Council. The development also includes a facelift for the Empire Cinema, reports Wigan Today. The restaurants would have operating hours between 8am and midnight. Robin Park is already home to KFC, Burger King, Subway and Pizza Hut, while there is also a McDonald’s just across the Saddle Junction. The planning documents do not reveal the hotel operator but state it would be a “national multiple, budget hotel operator”.




Walkabout brand reports increase in customer emails: Intertain’s Walkabout bar brand has seen a huge increase in customer emails to its website following a new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system implemented by digital customer experience specialist Airship. With Airship working in partnership with Sky Cloud, Walkabout’s Wi-Fi provider, email traffic to the Walkabout website has increased almost one-hundredfold, up 9,100%. The Airship system has also seen an increase in the opening rate of Walkabout’s marketing emails to its 360,000-strong customer database. Initially implemented in November 2015, the new CRM strategy helped Walkabout increase revenue for pre-booked Christmas parties by 203%, and continues to drive sales for the business. Dan Brookman, commercial director of Airship, said: “Walkabout’s customer visits are event-driven, so mapping the events taking place to the time customers are connecting to Wi-Fi gives a clearer understanding of the behaviour of their most loyal customer types. Once we’d ‘cleaned’ their existing customer database by removing duplicates, standardising the entries and completing missing data, we then integrated the database far more closely with Walkabout’s website and party/table booking platform. We were then able to link with Sky to collect data on a daily basis from customers using the Wi-Fi connection, both for the first time and every time they reconnect.” By integrating with Sky, Airship was able to make use of Knowledge Repeat, which records every customer Wi-Fi session as it happens and reconnects the customer automatically on their next visit; removing the need to sign up again or remember log-in details. John Bettinson, market and customer insights manager at Sky, said: “Knowledge Repeat gives The Cloud’s commercial users a far greater and deeper understanding of the frequency of visits of their own customers, enabling them to see who’s visiting and returning to venue. Working with Airship’s analytics and segmentation platform, brands can compare Wi-Fi analytics across multiple venues, as well as proactively market to Wi-Fi users to drive more revenue or extend loyalty and customer feedback initiatives. Together, The Cloud and Airship are at the forefront of delivering the understanding businesses need into how Wi-Fi data can deliver incremental revenue.”




Levy Restaurants UK sees food wait times drop substantially with new Thermodyne equipment: Levy Restaurants UK, the sports, leisure and hospitality operator, has revealed it has seen food wait times drop substantially at its Sky Backstage Bar at the O2 Arena in London after introducing new Thermodyne equipment. The company has partnered with hospitality technology firm Advance Group, the sole UK distributor for the Thermodyne brand, which has resulted in an increase in the volume of dishes. Therefore, guests are now receiving their food three to four minutes after placing their order instead of having to wait 30 to 40 minutes. Thermodyne is a precision heat transfer system featuring a range of more than 20 model variants, ranging from a three-shelf countertop unit to a system capable of holding 42 full-size pans. On average, the Sky Backstage Bar creates more than 200 burgers and hotdogs in two hours for guests. By using Thermodyne, Levy Restaurants was able to increase volumes to 450 over the same period, by pre-preparing the dishes prior to peak service and therefore increasing kitchen efficiency and table turns. Nigel Smith, executive chef, Levy Restaurants UK, O2 Arena, said: “The biggest pressure when banqueting other than the numbers is logistics – getting the cuisine correct and being able to hold it for a period of time. Thermodyne does this effortlessly time and time again – I explain it to other chefs as a dry waterbath.” Advance Group commercial director Darryl Pannell added: “With such high footfall in the O2 Arena, we worked with Nigel to find a solution that could not only deliver on his existing volumes, but grow them further – resulting in increased volumes of 30% in just five days.”




Farmers market-inspired concept Little Seeds Bar & Kitchen to launch in Stone: New farmers market-inspired concept Little Seeds Bar & Kitchen will launch in Stone, Staffordshire. The venue will open in June in Radford Street, on the site of the former Cullens Restaurant, which announced it would cease trading at the end of May because of “certain personal circumstances”. Little Seeds Bar & Kitchen will offer craft beer, gin and cocktails, served alongside dishes featuring British produce – “wrapped up in an agricultural theme”. The restaurant’s motto is “where good times grow” and it will open from Wednesdays to Sundays, Staffordshire Newsletter reports.




Plans for new pub and bar quarter in Stockton to include Teesside’s first ‘beer wall’: Bar owners in Stockton are planning to create a new quarter in the town which would include Teesside’s first “beer wall”. The plans for vacant units in Prince Regent Street include two cocktail bars, a micro-pub and the help-yourself beer wall – with ten taps selling drinks from Prosecco to craft beers and lagers. A former sandwich shop will become new micro-pub The Looking Glass after property agent and developer Parker Barras was granted planning permission, with two further bars nearby awaiting the go-ahead from Stockton Council. Jimmy Beck, who also owns Storytellers in nearby Dovecote Street, is working on a new venue next door to his Ku Bar nightclub in the heart of the new quarter – which would serve craft beers, cocktails and food. Parker Barass managing director John Taylor, who also owns Vault Bar in the town, told Gazette Live: “We also want to renovate a former tattoo shop into Dr Inks – a micro-cocktail bar. Next door to that would be a ten-tap beer wall. It would be unique to Teesside. There would be eight venues, each of them individual with their own offering but all complementing each other. We want to get our three bars open by September.” Stockton’s “after 5pm” economy is a key part of its Business Improvement District plans, which are being balloted on until Thursday, 19 May.




Thatchers reports turnover passes £65m mark: Somerset cider-maker Thatchers Cider has reported turnover has passed the £65m mark, supported by an investment of more than £7m in improvements to its production facility. The company, run by the fourth generation of the Thatchers family, has reported growth ahead of the cider market for the sixth year running thanks to increased distribution and popularity of its premium Somerset ciders, including its flagship brand Thatchers Gold. According to accounts for Thatchers Holdings Ltd, covering the year ending 31 August 2015, turnover rose to £65.8m, up from £60.4m in 2014. Pre-tax profit also increased to £6.2m from £5.7m the year before. The company invested £7.1m into its cider-making facilities, plant and machinery, and infrastructure, including the redevelopment of The Railway Inn. Managing director Martin Thatcher said: “Investing back into the business is crucial for the continued success of the company. It encourages innovation and fresh thinking, something we are exceptionally proud of.”




Picturehouse Cinemas in £2m redevelopment of Durham city centre theatre, 24th venue: Picturehouse Cinemas, the UK’s largest independent cinema operator, has formed a partnership with Durham County Council for a £2m redevelopment of the city’s Gala Theatre, becoming the company’s 24th venue. The redevelopment doubles the amount of cinema screens at the venue, alongside a new box office, concession area and restaurant – the Kitchen – which will spill out on to Millennium Square. Gala’s theatre programme will remain unaffected during the refurbishment which is due to be completed in the autumn. Picturehouse Cinemas managing director Lyn Goleby said: “We have long felt Millennium Square was exactly the location we wanted in Durham, despite other opportunities coming our way.” Durham County Council’s cabinet member for culture and regeneration Neil Foster said: “We are looking forward to working with Picturehouse to build on Durham’s assets to develop a vibrant cultural offer in Durham City, centred on Gala and Millennium Place.”