Stronger disposable income levels continue to drive leisure spending as consumer confidence lifts: Stronger levels of disposable income have continued to drive leisure spending while consumer confidence has lifted. UK consumer confidence rose 0.5% in the final quarter of 2019, according to the latest Deloitte Consumer Tracker. The quarterly survey of more than 3,000 UK adults found consumer spending in the leisure sector, while flat in the final quarter of 2019, was “on par with the exceptional growth seen this time last year”. Deloitte said as consumers continue to favour experiences over goods, the colder weather saw notable growth in in-home leisure such as food delivery services. Confidence in disposable income was up 5% overall at minus 16%. The survey revealed sentiment on job security was three points higher year-on-year, at minus 5%. Confidence around job opportunities and career progression was down 3% compared with the previous year, at minus 6%. Simon Oaten, partner for hospitality and leisure at Deloitte, said: “An increase in spending in the eating and drinking out and culture and entertainment categories indicate that, despite tightening their belts, consumers continue to favour experiences over goods when deciding what to do with their spare cash. Looking ahead, leisure businesses will need to keep a close eye on how consumer fundamentals perform over the coming months especially those in the small-ticket leisure categories, where spending can rapidly contract if consumers’ circumstances change.”
 
Trade bodies offer to help design UK’s new immigration system: UKHospitality and the British Beer & Pub Association have joined 40 trade and business organisations in writing to the government to offer to help design a new immigration system. The letter, sent to home secretary Priti Patel, sets out four key priorities that will “help to ensure the new system works on day one”. They are a minimum salary threshold that would work if set at a level that supported the economy and protected wages; flexibility for skilled workers to enter the UK through a points-based system; a temporary visa route that supported all sectors of the economy; and a radically reformed sponsorship process. The letter concluded: “The economy needs a simple, streamlined and affordable system that meets business’ needs of all sizes, sectors and all UK regions and nations. We look forward to working with the government to inform the detailed design of a new immigration system in a way that commands public confidence and supports the UK’s global ambitions.”
FSA consults on updated guidance following change to allergen-labelling law:The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has launched a six-week consultation on the new allergen-labelling legislation. From 1 October 2021, food packaged on-site before a customer selects or orders it will be required to feature an ingredients list with all allergens emphasised. The FSA is now consulting on updates to its technical guidance to reflect the legislative changes. Stakeholders in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are invited to respond to the consultation as the guidance is expected to cover all three nations. In Scotland, relevant guidance will be produced by Food Standards Scotland. FSA chief executive Emily Miles said: “Consistent and accurate labelling can be life-saving for those living with a food allergy or hypersensitivity. This short consultation on updates to our technical guidance on food allergen labelling is an important next step in the process to ensure food businesses and enforcement authorities are ready for October 2021.” The changes were introduced by the government in September 2019 after a UK-wide consultation following the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse. The teenager died as a result of an allergic reaction to sesame in a baguette she had eaten. Some trade bodies have raised concerns about the new legislation’s impact, with UKHospitality warning the measures would be “impractical and potentially hazardous”.
Report – KFC winning vegan online search battle: KFC is leading the way among quick service restaurants with regards to consumers searching for the word “vegan” on Google, according to a study by OnBuy.com. On average, Google-users type “KFC vegan” into the search engine 6,600 times a month. Of its rivals, “McDonald’s vegan” was searched for 5,400 times, followed by Pizza Hut, Subway and Domino’s (all 4,400), and Nando’s (3,600). Despite publicity surrounding Greggs’ vegan sausage roll, the high-street baker scored 2,400, the same as PizzaExpress and behind Papa John’s (2,900). When it comes to products, however, Greggs’ vegan sausage roll was searched for 14,800 times a month on average, way ahead of the next brand – KFC’s vegan burger (4,400). Additionally, OnBuy.com surveyed 728 British consumers to discover how they perceive food brands that offer vegan products. The study found almost three-quarters (74%) of Brits believe food brands that have vegan products are “caring”, while more than two-thirds (69%) described them as “modern”. More than three-fifths (63%) used the term “innovative”.
Home Office refuses Claude Bosi’s application for permanent residence: Claude Bosi, who heads two Michelin-starred London restaurant Claude Bosi at Bibendum, has become the latest restaurateur to have his application for permanent UK residence refused. The French-born chef revealed he had been denied EU settled status. In an Instagram post, he wrote: “I have been in England for 23 years and today they have sent me this.” The accompanying picture was of a letter he received from the Home Office. He continued: “I love Britain, which I considered until today like home, but they just told me after 23 years of tax paid/VAT paid I’m not welcome any more.” Bosi is the latest well-known restaurant figure to have issues with the Home Office over residency status. In September Fred Sirieix was mistakenly asked for proof of residence despite living here for 27 years.
EAT substantially cut losses ahead of Pret sale: Fresh food-to-go retailer EAT substantially reduced its losses in the year it was acquired by rival Pret A Manger. EAT’s parent company, Villiers Topco, reported a pre-tax loss of £3.8m for the year ending 27 June 2019, compared with a loss of £17.3m the year before. Turnover was down to £90.2m, compared with £94.9m the previous year. Ebitda rose to £4.5m from £3.2m the year before, while like-for-like sales rose 3.2%. In his report accompanying the accounts, managing director Mike Rainer said: “EAT has gone from strength to strength over the past 12 months, continuing its momentum from 2018. Highlights include 17 consecutive months of like-for-like sales growth, achieving 3.3% for the year. Franchise income grew almost 50% through strengthening sites in Liverpool Street station and Madrid airport and expanding in the UK at Bristol airport and internationally in Gare Du Nord, Malaga, Barcelona and Alicante. Our core shops generated circa £1m more in gross profit. We further consolidated our shop portfolio and rolled out our Smart EAT concept, with its new look and improved operational layout. We have improved the quality and presentation of our food as well as increasing efficiency across our production. Our shops achieved an average score of 92% in their mystery shopper questionnaires – 3% higher than last year. Net Promoter Score was 66 over the past 12 months – nine points better than last year. All this amazing work and our operational success resulted in us being bought by Pret A Manger. Everyone should be immensely proud of their efforts and the hard work that has created the stronger and more profitable company we have today.” Pret completed the acquisition of EAT in July and plans to convert as many of the sites as possible to Veggie Pret. At the Propel Operation Directors’ Conference in September, Pret chief executive Pano Christou said the company planned to have 25 to 30 Veggie Prets open by the end of 2020 as it looked to become the “number-one destination for meat-free food on the go”.
Just Eat shareholder brands CMA merger delay ‘shocking and unwarranted’: Cat Rock Capital Management, one of Just Eat’s biggest shareholders, has described last-minute intervention by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) into Takeaway.com’s proposed £5.9bn acquisition of the food delivery company as “shocking and clearly unwarranted”. Cat Rock, which holds about 3% of Just Eat and 6% of its Dutch merger partner, expressed shock at the decision to launch an investigation into the deal, even though Takeaway.com no longer has a presence in the UK. The deal was signed off by European authorities two weeks ago. On Thursday (23 January), a day before the all-share deal was due to be completed, Takeaway.comrevealed it had been informed by the CMA it had “reconsidered its position” about the tie-up and now believed a merger investigation was “warranted”. Cat Rock partner Alex Captain told the Telegraph: “Takeaway.com has no UK operations, exited its minor business there more than three years ago and has stated it had no intention to enter the UK market before the Just Eat merger.” The CMA confirmed its investigation would consider whether the deal would result in a “substantial lessening of competition” in the market. The CMA has invited comments on the transaction from interested parties by 6 February. A CMA spokesman said: “Ultimately, our job is to protect UK consumers.”
Wright & Bell reports full-year turnover tops £5m: Restaurant and bar company Wright & Bell, which is backed by Imbiba, has reported turnover increased to £5.1m for the year ending 28 April 2018, compared with £2.8m the previous year. Pre-tax losses stood at £1.4m, compared with £1.2m the year before. Site Ebitda for the period was a loss of £0.2m but improved 37% on a like-for-like basis. Like-for-like sales were “in line with the prior period”. During the period, Wright & Bell used debt finance to acquire Whyte & Brown, which operates a single site in the West End of London, while it launched Lino in the City. At the period end, group net assets stood at £4.6m with a “strong cash position to facilitate the growth strategy by adding to the portfolio”. Since the year end, the company has sub-let part of its Kitty Hawk venue to fellow Imbiba operator Camm & Hooper to “reflect the changing nature” of its operating concept. Wright & Bell, which is led by Sarah Clark, also operates The Back Room Wine Bar.
Fallow to take on next 10 Heddon St residency: Chefs Jack Croft and Will Murray, who met while working at Heston Blumenthal’s two Michelin-starred restaurant Dinner, will take their Fallow concept to 10 Heddon Street as the Mayfair venue’s next residency, Propel has learned. Fallow, which is backed and chaired by investor and entrepreneur James Robson, who founded Mews of Mayfair, will follow Chris Leach and David Carter, the team behind Manteca, and Pacific by Shaun Presland in taking up a residency at 10 Heddon Street. On Tuesday (28 January), Croft and Murray will collaborate with Adam Handling on a ten-course dinner at the latter’s Chelsea restaurant. Fallow is based on “creative cooking and sustainable thinking” and is being brought to 10 Heddon Street by Residency, the partnership launched this month by consultants Distrkt and Montana Fogg. Residency, which pairs vacant restaurants with emerging chefs, restaurateurs and concepts, acted for The Crown Estate when placing the previous two chef-led residencies at 10 Heddon Street.
Boparan confirms Slim Chickens expansion plans: Boparan Restaurant Group (BRG) has confirmed it is set to enter talks with potential partners in a bid to accelerate the growth of its Slim Chickens brand across the UK and Ireland. BRG said its Slim Chickens stores in London, Cardiff, Bristol and Birmingham were trading “above expectations”, while a seventh site will launch in Bluewater, Kent, next month. BRG brought Slim Chickens to the UK two years ago in London’s James Street under a franchise agreement. Since then, two further London sites have opened – in Brunswick Centre and Soho – plus outlets in Cardiff, Bristol and Birmingham. The menu includes chicken tenders, wings, sandwiches, salads and US-style sides such as mac ‘n’ cheese, fried pickles and shakes. BRG franchise director Judd Williams said: “The momentum behind Slim’s is rapidly gathering pace as we’ve proven the concept itself and the opportunity for fast-casual, better chicken in the UK market.” Chairman Laurie Mcilwee added: “Since signing the master franchise for the UK and Ireland we have launched six stores and all are trading beyond our expectations. Based on this success and how the UK has embraced Slim’s as a brand, we are ambitious about its growth potential.” Last week BRG announced Tom Crowley would step down as chief executive. The company, which also operates the Giraffe, Ed’s Easy Diner and Fishworks brands, has appointed Satnam Leihal as Crowley’s successor.
 
French giant LMVH adds hospitality element to Louis Vuitton and Dior stores as it enters ‘luxury experiences’ market: French conglomerate LMVH is adding hospitality elements to stores for two of its fashion brands, Louis Vuitton and Dior, as it enters the “luxury experiences” market. Louis Vuitton will open its first restaurant, Le Café V, on the top floor of the brand’s store that will launch in Osaka, Japan, next month. The venue will offer a menu created by acclaimed Japanese chef Yosuke Suga. Last year LVMH announced it would open a Louis Vuitton cafe at its store in Mayfair. Chief executive Bernard Arnault said: “The future of luxury will not only be in luxury goods, as it has been for many years, but also in luxury experiences – and we want to be in both segments.” LVMH is also renovating Dior’s flagship store in Paris, which will reopen featuring a restaurant. Last week luxury jewellery brand Tiffany & Co, which is subject to a $16.2bn acquisition offer from LVMH that’s subject to shareholder approval, announced it had partnered with Harrods to bring its Blue Box Cafe concept to London. The concept debuted in New York two years ago. The Harrods venue is due to open next month creating the illusion of “dining inside one of Tiffany’s famed blue boxes”.
JD Wetherspoon limits parents to two alcoholic drinks if accompanied by children: JD Wetherspoon is limiting parents to two alcoholic drinks each if they have their children with them. The move came to light when The Robert Pocock in Gravesend, Kent, displayed a poster publicising the ruling. Wetherspoon said its guideline for staff applied nationwide and was designed to deter “unruly behaviour” by unsupervised children. Since 1902 it has been a crime to be drunk in charge of a child under the age of seven in a public place. The offence can be punished by a fine or up to a month in jail. The poster, which has since been taken down, read: “As part of our licensing it is our responsibility to ensure we protect children from harm. Therefore adults in charge of children will be allowed to have one alcoholic drink and a further alcoholic drink with a sit-down meal.” A Wetherspoon spokesman said: “The manager took the decision to put the poster in the pub to emphasise to customers she wouldn’t allow parents to drink while their children were running round uncontrolled in the pub. The notice had a positive effect, with mostly good feedback. There is a guideline, although not a policy, that we will serve the adult a maximum of two alcoholic drinks with their meal.”
Goodbody – Marston’s trading update was ‘soft’: Goodbody leisure analyst Paul Ruddy has described Marston’s first-quarter trading update as “soft”. Marston’s reported like-for-like sales up 1%, while the higher than expected 6.2% increase in the National Living Wage (NLW) would increase costs in the second half of the year by a further £2m to £3m. Retaining his ‘Sell’ recommendation on the shares, Ruddy said: “2019 was a difficult market for leisure companies and Marston’s is no exception. The recently announced further increase in the NLW will only add to cost pressures at a time when consumer confidence has been stagnant. Despite making good progress with its debt reduction programme, leverage remains high in the business and the cost headwinds now indicate profits will decline in the year ahead. However, management did note that with low unemployment and healthy wage growth the outlook for the consumer looks to be improving, bringing the potential for market growth in 2020. An improved consumer backdrop would be helpful to overcome the myriad of cost headwinds the sector faces. Overall, this is a soft update from Marston’s. Like-for-likes tracked broadly in line with the overall market (Coffer Peach) in the period but we would have expected a better performance in the context of a softer comparable than peers. This is likely owing to Marston’s estate having lower exposure to London than its peers. The key positive is the debt reduction plans via disposals are progressing well but this does come with a corresponding earnings impact. At first glance we will downgrade FY20 forecasts by 4% to 5%. We retain our cautious view on Marston’s, the group trades on a 9.5 times current year price-to-earnings ratio and 9.6 times EV/Ebitda and leverage remains high despite the disposals programme. With profit before tax now in decline year-on-year, we retain our ‘Sell’ recommendation.”
Buzzworks Holdings relaunches Kilmarnock bar as all-day cafe concept: Scottish bar and restaurant operator Buzzworks Holdings, which acquired Lucky 7 Bar & Kitchen in Kilmarnock town centre in November for its 12th site, has relaunched the venue as all-day cafe bar The Duke. The venue in John Finnie Street has reopened offering hand-roasted coffee, a takeaway and late-night bar. Additions to the decor include sofas, a marble bar and one-off pieces of furniture. Buzzworks Holdings managing director Kenny Blair said: “The Duke has been a unique project to work on.” Buzzworks is currently moving its head office, which will feature a training academy, from Prestwick to Kilmarnock.
Ei Publican Partnerships launches Premier Club reward scheme for outstanding operators: Ei Group’s leased and tenanted division Ei Publican Partnerships has launched Premier Club, an incentive programme that rewards outstanding publicans with additional support to help them grow their sales further. The first cohort of nine Premier Club members were chosen by divisional directors and regional managers across the business, with their decisions based on beer category performance, volume sales growth, profit growth and engagement with Ei Group. The initiative, which has been supported by national brewers Molson Coors and Heineken, rewards chosen publicans with access to a range of business building tools including wine appreciation courses, cellar training and staff uniforms. In addition, publicans will also have free use of some of the sector’s leading technology providers such as operations management app Trail and Wi-Fi solutions provider Wireless Social. They will also have access to several preferential supplier rates. Ei Group procurement director Miles Selby said: “This new initiative not only provides operators with rewards for their endeavours but crucially offers them access to sophisticated retail support, which will allow them to further realise the true potential of their sites and grow profitability.”
Boom Bap Burger opens debut bricks and mortar site: Boom Bap Burger, the concept founded by Steve Bagatti and Anthony Gaughan, has opened its debut bricks and mortar site, in Bethnal Green, east London. The site in Paradise Row has about 70 covers, measures 1,300 square feet, and comes with a lease on assignment that runs until 2024. Boom Bap Burger, whose tagline is “flippin’ meats, droppin’ beats”, offers burgers made from grass-fed Scottish beef that has been aged on the bone for 28 days. It also serves speciality cocktails to a backdrop of hip-hop, soul, funk and live music. The brand also operates a site at Tooting Market. Boom Bap Burger director of operations Brendan Sharkey said: “We had our eye on this spot for a while. We love the area – it’s vibrant with a great neighbourhood feel.” Restaurant Property brokered the deal.
Scottish brewer WooHa hits £600,000 crowdfunding target: Scottish brewer WooHa has hit its £600,000 target on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to support its next stage of expansion. The company is offering 10.71% equity in return for the investment, giving the company a pre-money valuation of £5m. So far, 188 investors have pledged £611,500 with five days of the campaign remaining. WooHa Brewing Company was founded in 2015 and moved to a larger, 6.2-acre site in the Highlands in 2017 to “accommodate rapid expansion”. The company raised more than £180,000 on Crowdcube in 2018 to upgrade its packaging equipment and boost sales efforts in the US. The pitch states: “With an established portfolio of export partners, funding is required to continue to build our sales team, support and grow our international customer base and fund promotional activity. The funds will also go towards the production of our new 500ml can for the China market. WooHa is ready to grow in a big way.”
Indian dining car concept opens third London site: Indian dining car concept Patri has opened its third London site. Patri, which operates restaurants in Hammersmith and Northfields, has launched a venue in Bond Street, Ealing, offering its mix of home-style Indian meat and vegetable dishes served in a mock train carriage. The menu takes inspiration from New Delhi, with the room’s layout designed to recreate the “hustle and bustle of an Indian train journey”. Tables resemble those from a dining carriage, while the venue also features platform-style benches. Dishes on the menu include pantry chicken curry and mutton stew.
Luxury holiday park operator Haulfryn Group appoints chief executive: Luxury holiday park operator Haulfryn Group has appointed Echo Lu as chief executive. Lu replaces Bobby McGhee and will take the reins of the company, which operates resorts in North Wales, Cheshire, Devon, Cornwall and Wiltshire, on 1 February. Her experience includes chief operating officer at Tesco China, property director for Tesco UK & Ireland and managing director of Homebase and Holland & Barrett International. Haulfryn Group executive chairman Mike Tye told Insider Media: “I would like to thank Bobby for his long service and great dedication to the business. I would also like to extend a warm welcome to Echo and look forward to working together to build on the group’s successes.”
Nando’s opens third Reading restaurant: Nando’s has added to its presence in Reading by opening a third site in the Berkshire town. The company has launched the outlet at Reading Gateway retail park in Imperial Way. Nando’s joins operators including Whitbread-owned Premier Inn and Burger King on the former Worton Grange brewery site, reports Get Reading. Nando’s two other restaurants in the town are in Friar Street and The Oracle shopping centre.