Pret UK MD – ‘it is critical that businesses share what is and what isn’t working’:Clare Clough, UK managing director of Pret A Manger, has said it is critical for the sector that people share what is working and not working, and what they are learning, about reopening their sites. Pret this week reopened a further 71 shops, taking its total reopened to more than 100, having initially reopened ten sites in the capital. Speaking to Elliotts chief executive Ann Elliott as part of Propel’s “navigating the coronavirus” series, Clough said: “I feel similar to this, as how I felt with some of the allergy processes, the more consistent we can be for consumers the better it is for all of us as well. It will help consumers understand how to behave consistently in different outlets if we all use some of the same tools, communications and ways of supporting them.” Clough said one of the features of Pret has always been the “amazing communication we have between our teams in our shops and the teams in our support centre”. She said: “We have a really good muscle in Pret on listening to our teams and how they feel. So we were able to take the direct feedback from the people working in those (first) ten shops, as to what was working really well, what they found a bit more difficult and how their teams were feeling. I walked around to all of the ten sites and met all the teams in the first week of opening to hear directly from them where the pinch points were. We then worked as a team to adapt further. So, we had a little bit of feedback on how we could help teams to control the number of customers coming into the shop and how we should give a bit more signage to customers on how they should behave in the almost front of house environment. We have also had some learnings on what was needed back of house. That gave us the confidence to open the next 20 shops. We are going to keep taking it slowly – we have multiple phases in the reopening plan to make sure we take it step by step, and to make sure we keep learning.” Clough said one of the big challenges was seeing what operating in social distancing really looks like in the long term. She said: “At the moment it is comfortable with the level of trade to do social distancing in our kitchens and produce a limited range. But I worry a little bit about what will happen when more people start to come back to work and the customer base grows, demand grows, and how do we filter that in while not compromising the standards or the new ways of working we have put in place. It’s the moment of uncertainty in the coming months.”

McDonald’s to reopen 30 drive-thrus next week with plans to have all operational by early June:
McDonald’s is to reopen 30 of its UK and Ireland drive-thru sites next week as it steps up plans to bring its estate back into operation. The company will begin reopening sites on Wednesday (13 May) with 15 outlets in London and the Home Counties offering delivery only. There will be a £25 cap on orders as the business adjusts to smaller teams and social distancing in its kitchens. Now McDonald’s has announced plans to reopen a further 30 pilot restaurants, offering service through the drive-thru lane from Wednesday, 20 May. These will also have a £25 cap on spend. Moving in step with government guidelines, it plans to reopen all drive-thrus by early June. UK and Ireland chief executive Paul Pomroy said: “Over the past two months we have worked tirelessly to overhaul our operational procedures to enable our teams to return to work safely. When a drive-thru does reopen, it will be different. Our service will not be as quick as you might be used to, as we adjust to smaller teams and social distancing in our kitchens. We expect there will be some queues for some of our busier sites and our restaurants will look different, with Perspex screens at our drive-thru windows and employees wearing protective equipment. As we get accustomed to the new processes and procedures, we will look to reopen more restaurants, for longer hours and reintroduce more menu items. But only when I am confident we can do so while maintaining the new procedures we have introduced for the protection of our people. Learning from our initial phases, we will start to return to towns and cities across the UK and Ireland.”
Nando’s reopens a further 32 sites for delivery only: Nando’s has reopened a further 32 sites across the UK for delivery only, Propel has learned. Last month the company reopened seven of its kitchens to help feed NHS workers, and subsequently opened them for delivery to the wider public. It has reopened a further 32 sites over the past two weeks as part of its controlled reopening strategy. It is thought the company hasn’t publicised the latest reopenings after the huge response it received regarding the initial reopened sites. It is understood the brand wanted to give these restaurants a “bit of breathing space to get up and running if possible”. A spokesman told Propel: “Safety of our team, drivers and customers is obviously the main concern and we are trying to avoid huge demand.” The initial reopened sites were offering a limited menu including dishes such as its chicken burgers, butterfly chicken and the beanie burger.
Goodbody – TRG to have a more focused business arising from coronavirus crisis: Goodbody leisure analyst Paul Ruddy has argued The Restaurant Group (TRG) will have a more focused business arising from the coronavirus crisis. He said: “TRG faced a number of well documented challenges before the advent of the crisis. These included the oversupply of branded restaurant chains in the UK, cost inflation, high rents and struggling legacy brands. The closure of the sector for a quarter is another considerable hurdle. The question for investors is whether the group can exist in its current guise? TRG will be a different group at the other side of this pandemic. Firstly, Chiquito and Food & Fuel have been put into administration and we expect a high portion of the legacy units to remain closed. It will be a smaller group, more focused on growth brands, with the potential for higher margins in a normalised environment. On a wider sector basis there will be a significant supply reduction given many of the chains in the UK were struggling with leverage and profitability prior to lock-down and future potential social distancing restrictions. Absent of a vaccine, lower footfall should be expected, owing to a combination of weaker macro and health concerns, into 2021. We now expect revenue to decline by 50% in FY20 in line with company guidance and Ebitda to be below the guided range. There remains risk to this year’s forecast as we are still unaware of the level of social distancing restrictions that will be put in place post reopening. We expect Wagamama sales and margins to return to 2019 levels in 2022 but revenues elsewhere will be lower owing to site closures. We value TRG on a sum-of-the-parts and price-to-earnings ratio basis that yields a 95p target price and we retain our ‘Buy’ recommendation.”
Wasabi to reopen Ealing site as part of phased return to trading: Wasabi, the sushi and bento chain led by Henry Birts and backed by Capdesia, will open its Ealing store for takeaway and delivery only on Wednesday (13 May) as part of a phased programme of reopening over the coming weeks as the UK’s lock-down gradually eases. The company said the site will initially open between 11am and 8pm but with new social distancing guidelines in place to ensure the safety of customers and staff. It will also offer 50% discount to NHS workers – this is in addition to the 17,000 free meals given to front line staff by Wasabi since the beginning of lock-down in March. Delivery will be available through Just Eat, Deliveroo and UberEats. Birts said: “We’re following the government guidelines very carefully and will only reopen parts of our business when and where we believe it is safe for us to do so. If Ealing goes well, we will put in place a managed reopening programme over the coming weeks, but with customer and staff safety our primary concern. We will initially offer a reduced and simplified menu but will of course offer all our most popular dishes such as katsu curry, K-wings and best-selling sushi sets. I’m very proud of how our teams have coped through these challenging times, particularly with our support for NHS and front line workers, and pleased to be able to start slowly welcoming our people back to work where we can.”
Deep Blue to reopen six sites this week, brings forward plans to bring seaside outlets back into operation: Deep Blue Restaurants, owner of the Deep Blue and Harry Ramsden brands, is to reopen a further six sites this week following the relaunch of its site in Bedhampton, Hampshire, for a “controlled experiment”. The company has introduced a phased approach to reopening, which focuses on prioritising stores that are able to offer delivery – and is also bringing forward plans to reopen seaside outlets. Deep Blue will reopen its eponymous sites in Oxted, Newmarket, Reading, Southsea (Eastney Road), Thornbury and Woburn Sands on Wednesday (13 May) for collection and delivery of online orders. Chief executive and founder James Low said: “The Bedhampton reopening was a great success, with the customers and team members adapting to the new social distancing measures extremely well. We have outlined a plan to have all locations open for collection and delivery by mid-June, but this remains fluid as the situation continues to evolve. We welcome the prime minister’s announcement, informing people they can spend more time outside. As a result, we will be bringing forward the reopening of all our seaside locations, including South Parade Pier (Southsea), Bournemouth, Brighton, Eastbourne and Blackpool. After being stuck inside for so long, fish and chips on the beach with the family is bound to be a particularly attractive prospect!”
JKS reopens a number of sites across its brands for delivery: JKS Restaurants, led by Karam, Jyotin and Sunaina Sethi, is reopening a number of sites across several of its brands for delivery, while also debuting some in delivery kitchens across London. Gymkhana, Brigadiers (City) and the Michelin-starred Trishna are all reopening to offer delivery, whilst Hoppers is reopening its King’s Cross and Soho sites for delivery only, plus a delivery-only unit in east London. The company’s Iranian-influenced Berenjak concept will branch out into delivery kitchens, taking space in Deliveroo Editions sites in Battersea, Swiss Cottage and Whitechapel. At the same time, its delivery brand Motu Indian Kitchen will expand from its current five sites to more locations and wider delivery radiuses, including initially Crouch End.
Escape Hunt launches play-at-home games to soften blow from coronavirus lock-down: Escape room operator Escape Hunt said it has launched a number of “play at home” games to enhance its brand exposure amid lock-down measures caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Updating on the period following the end of its financial year on 31 December 2019, the company said it had also introduced “significant cost reductions” to place its business into hibernation during the pandemic, while the opening of two new sites had been deferred until the lock-down was relaxed. Despite the disruption, the company said its pipeline for new sites “remains attractive” and while being unable to provide financial guidance it was “confident we will emerge from the pandemic intact and ready to build on the base we have successfully established so far”. Escape Hunt also said it is “actively exploring options to access further capital” to finance its strategy for 2020 and provide additional working capital for the short and medium term. It comes as the company reported full-year revenue rose 128% to £4.9m while adjusted Ebitda losses narrowed to £1.7m from £3.1m in 2018. Escape Hunt also reported trading until the end of February was “strong” with revenues and owner-operated site performance “comfortably ahead” of expectations.
McMullen commercial director retires: Steven Gill has retired from his role of commercial director of Hertfordshire brewer and retailer McMullen after 30 years, Propel has learned. Gill’s responsibilities will be split across two positions in future. Kat Morgan, formerly of Bourne Leisure, will take the position of commercial finance manager, and Emma Taylor, previously of Tesco, will become group buyer, from June. McMullen joint managing director Heydon Mizon said: “Steven’s candour, analytical rigour and good humour will be much missed. He has been instrumental in supporting McMullen’s growth and leaves with the gratitude of family shareholders and the board alike. We wish Steven a long, happy and healthy retirement, and we will reconvene his retirement celebrations when circumstances allow.”
Ambrette owner plans ‘dark kitchen’ project as part of plans to re-engineer business: Dev Biswal, chef-owner of the Ambrette Anglo-Indian restaurants in Margate and Canterbury, has announced plans to re-engineer his business. Biswal said he was bringing forward a number of initiatives he had been “contemplating for some time” to survive the lock-down and anticipated changes to customer dining habits when the economy reopens, He had already introduced a contactless takeaway and delivery service, with a new menu designed to survive transportation and is now focusing on developing a new “dark kitchen”, located on an industrial estate in Kent, to provide deliveries of “fresh, healthy, gourmet meals from several of the world’s great cuisines”. Biswal is also planning a recipe and ingredient subscription service, delivering produce from local Kent suppliers, plus exotic herbs and spices. His regular cookery courses will switch to live password-encrypted virtual classes. He added: “Looking at the research into modern dining trends, and the evidence from America, all the growth is in the home delivery market – those businesses who fail to read the signs will struggle to survive.”
Leon expands grocery range: Natural fast food brand Leon is extending its grocery range available through Sainsbury’s. Leon’s waffle fries alongside three vegan sauces – LOVe burger sauce, iconic Korean chilli mayo, and harissa and sundried aioli – will be available from Friday (15 May). Chief commercial officer Charlotte Di Cello said: “We know how much our customers love our baked waffle fries and vegan sauces, so we’re excited to be expanding our grocery range to help more people enjoy naturally fast food at home.”
Maison Bab’s restaurant co-operative delivers more than 9,000 meals to NHS:The London Restaurant Co-operative, the not-for-profit social kitchen was launched by Maison Bab and Le Bab co-founders Stephen Tozer and Ed Brunet, has delivered more than 9,000 meals to the NHS. The scheme was intended as a “high quality, low cost, ready meal delivery service”, designed to offer some extra financial relief to chefs and waiters who’d lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis, and also as means of providing free meals for NHS workers and the homeless. To date, the scheme has delivered more than 200 meals a day to NHS staff across London and also to The Connection at St Martin’s Field Homeless Shelter. Tozer said: “We hope to continue to be able to support those in the hospitality industry who are in need of help, and to keep feeding people who need feeding. Sadly, the damage of this crisis has now spread way beyond the NHS, and we’re just here to do our bit in supporting anyone we can.”
Deliveroo launches new initiative to raise funds for NHS workers and expands voucher scheme: Deliveroo has introduced a new initiative in-app as part of its campaign to raise funds for the NHS and support health care workers and vulnerable groups. To make it easier for customers to donate and get more free meals to the NHS, Deliveroo is enabling customers to round up their bill to the nearest pound at check-out on the app. Rolling out this week, customers will be able to either round up their bill or will be given a choice of amounts they can add to their bill. All funds will go towards the cost of delivering meals to the NHS or new vouchers for NHS workers. To date, Deliveroo customers alone have raised more than £500,000, which has seen 250,000 free meals delivered to NHS hospitals and vulnerable communities across the UK. To mark the birth of the founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale and the tireless, life-threatening work of health care staff, Deliveroo has also made another 30,000 £20 vouchers available to NHS workers on top of the £50,000 already issued.