City Diary — 3 September

By The PMA Team

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Good beer guide Campaign for real ale Public house

Jones: new bingo concept
Jones: new bingo concept
All the latest gossip and rumour from the City.

Green says no

Lloyds Banking Group was hawking Admiral Taverns around some of its wealthiest customers earlier this year in the hope that it might attract a new equity investor as it prepares to write off around £450m. City Diary hears that the investment opportunity even crossed the desk of retail magnate Sir Phillip Green who owns some of the UK's largest retailers, including the Arcadia Group. He is Britain's ninth richest person with assets worth around £4.43bn, but, alas, he couldn't be tempted.

Good Beer Guide pulls out all the stops for 2010 edition

The 2010 edition of the Good Beer Guide, edited by Morning Advertiser columnist Roger Protz, is published next week. Protz and his team have known for years that this is the UK's largest-selling pub guide, but this year they're setting modesty aside and blasting the message on the front cover. "People are still buying pub guides in large numbers," he says. "It helps that we have an internal CAMRA market, but the sales this year were well up on the year before." This year's guide is a record size at 888 pages, bulked out by the opening of another 44 new microbreweries in the past year. "It's a real labour of love producing the guide — myself and a team of people work on the guide seven days a week, 12 hours a day for around four months. CAMRA members have been beavering away through autumn and winter to choose the pubs. The choice is often the result of a democratic vote at branch meetings, with postal votes for those that can't attend. Pubs are surveyed all year round, unlike other pub guides, which are inspected once or even just left to readers' recommendations." It's available from all good stockists at £15.99.

Bingo takes a shot in the dark

Former Premium Bars and Restaurants boss Mark Jones now runs Mecca's bingo division where many of the pub world's problems — like recovering from a smoking ban — are shared. Another bingo-world problem is an ageing customer base — the average age is 64. In Beeston, Nottinghamshire, though, there's an interesting attempt to revitalise the world of bingo. They've introduced "After Dark Bin-glo", described as "an unrivalled bingo experience for the outrageous and wicked side of you". The website adds: "After Dark Bin-glo provides a unique glow-in-the-dark bingo experience with state-of-the-art sound and lighting in a modern kitsch-cool atmosphere." Apparently, it's attracting a younger clientele. Bingo.

Nice little earner at Domino's

Interesting information from the world of Domino's Pizza. Franchisees have to stump up £250,000 for their first site but earn well. Analyst Douglas Jack, of Numis Securities, estimates that the average Domino's franchisee is earning £500,000 of ebitda per annum (4.3 sites x £120,000 for each site). Jack adds: "By 2017, the average franchisee could earn over £1.5m ebitda per annum (eight sites x £200,000 each)." Not bad

Creditors' hopes up in smoke

The agony continues for creditors of former Slug & Lettuce operator SFI Group, which went bust many moons ago. Shareholders are entitled to a slice of the £6m coughed-up by auditors Horwath Clark Whitehill, as yet undistributed as claims are still being finalised. Now liquidator PricewaterhouseCoopers has penned them a note to report that a fire at a storage depot has destroyed their records. Joint liquidator Mike Jervis has asked creditors to re-submit their claims. "In the absence of supporting evidence, we may have to assume that they do not want to pursue their claim and will proceed to calculate and pay a dividend to other creditors," he says. Charming.

Hooky accounts ahead of schedule

Some companies file their accounts late, but other are early birds. Full marks to little Hook Norton, which filed its accounts for the year to 30 September 2008 months ahead of schedule. Turnover edged up £173,000 to £6.48m, but pre-tax profit slid by about £286,000 to £300,267 as administrative expenses jumped by around £208,000 in the year.

Hope for Punch's bottom-end pubs

Proof that Punch Taverns can sell even the most nightmarish of its bottom-end pubs. Last year, the Horse & Groom in leafy Horsham had its licence revoked after police raided the pub and produced evidence of a culture of drug taking and antisocial behaviour. It went on the market and will re-open shortly as a sushi bar named Wabi.

Flexibility of the gastropub tag

A local paper in Leeds says that Greene King has converted the Roundhay in Roundhay Road into, it says, a "gastropub" at a cost of £800,000. "The company decided to convert the pub, one of the largest in Leeds, into one of its Hungry Horse eateries," it reports. It's clear that gastropub is becoming an increasingly flexible term.

Out of the pub ashes in Oxford

Greene King's tenanted division has had more than its fair share of fires in the past couple of years. Good news, though, in Oxford where multiple lessee Blue Bear has reopened the Berkshire House pub — badly hit by a fire in March — as the Crooked Pot after a £300,000 revamp. This one does look like an out-and-out gastropub. Crooked Pot spokesman Chris Proudfoot is keen to stress his independent credentials: "The pub is on a Greene King lease, but it's not a tied pub, it's a freehouse."

Taybarns cuts the wok work

Signs of cost-cutting at Whitbread's eat-all-you-want Taybarns chain? The brand has its own Facebook site with more than 6,000 followers, but one poster, Kathryn, has noticed parts of the offer have been tweaked, not least the removal of the labour-intensive wok section of the 34m food counter: "Been to the South Shields one today, was lovely, but kids still missed the choccy buttons and jelly beans. I realise they have to do a bit of cost cutting somewhere, but I'm sure the kids price of £3.99 more than covers the cost because they don't eat that much of the other stuff. I also miss the wok section and would much rather have the sweet and sour and noodles — so on the whole I'm not as impressed as I used to be."

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