2019 review: The most-read news stories in hospitality

18 December 2019
2019 review: The most-read news stories in hospitality

As 2019 draws to a close, we look at some of the year's biggest and most popular stories on www.thecaterer.com

Tributes to industry greats

It has been a devastating year for industry losses with the death of three hospitality giants. Within the space of six days in January, it was with great sadness that The Caterer announced the passing of undisputed king of sommeliers Gerard Basset at the age 61 and the multi-award-winning chef and founder of Scotland's only two-Michelin-starred restaurant, Andrew Fairlie, aged 55. Both had been suffering from cancer and had revealed their terminal illnesses a few months earlier.

AF in restaurant
AF in restaurant

At the end of 2018 Fairlie handed the reins of his restaurant at the Gleneagles hotel to his long-term colleagues: creative co-founder Gregor Mathieson, general manager Dale Dewsbury and head chef Stevie McLaughlin.

Basset was revered in the wine industry and beyond for his achievements as a Master of Wine, as co-founder of the Hotel du Vin chain and winner of the World's Best Sommelier competition in 2010.


Then, last month, chef Gary Rhodes died suddenly at the age of 59, after spending more than four decades at the vanguard of British cuisine. The impact of Rhodes on the British food scene has since been widely praised. A passion for home-grown ingredients and indigenous dishes, combined with a boyish charm and a natural talent for communication – leading to a successful television career – saw him spearhead the revival of the British repertoire in the late 1980s and 1990s.


The demise of Patisserie Valerie

2018 had seen Patisserie Valerie suspend trading in its shares as it investigated "significant, and potentially fraudulent, accounting irregularities"; with chief financial officer Chris Marsh having been arrested on suspicion of fraud by false representation.

Despite a cash injection from director Luke Johnson, parent company Patisserie Holdings fell into administration in January 2019 after rescue talks with banks failed, resulting in the closure of 71 stores and 920 redundancies.

The following month Patisserie Valerie was sold to Ireland-based Causeway Capital Partners, while AF Blakemore & Son acquired all 21 UK stores of sister brand Philpotts. The two deals had a combined value of £13m.

Patisserie Valerie Spitalfields 6
Patisserie Valerie Spitalfields 6

Owner of the Stafford London acquires Northcote

One of the most interesting acquisitions of the year came in February when Britannia Hospitality, owner of the Stafford London hotel, acquired Northcote, the luxury Lancashire hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant.

The £4m-plus sale of the four-red-AA-star, 26-bedroom hotel in Langho reunited managing director Craig Bancroft with his former apprentice Stuart Procter, general manger of the Stafford. Four months later Procter was appointed chief operating officer of the newly created Stafford Collection, comprising the Stafford, Northcote and Norma, a standalone restaurant in London's Fitzrova that opened in the summer.

Further acquisitions are now on the cards for BHL Global, newly renamed from Britannia Hospitality, in November.

New Northcote
New Northcote

Booking sites CMA probe

The long-awaited investigation into pressure selling and hidden charges by online travel agents (OTAs) undertaken by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) was published in February. As a result, all companies involved – including OTAs and major hotel groups – agreed to comply with a new voluntary code of behaviour.

However, come 1 September – the deadline for the changes to be made to prevent customers being misled – six of the largest hotel groups requested to be given more time for "technical reasons". Meanwhile, a total of 25 sites, including TripAdvisor, Airbnb and Google, agreed to sign up to the new principles.

The CMA expects to see all hotel groups to have implemented the necessary changes in the coming months and will consider taking action if they don't comply.

Gary Ushers breaks funding records

In March Gary Usher, founder of the Elite Bistros group, announced a new crowdfund to open Manchester restaurant Kala – so far, so normal. The chef wanted to raise an ambitious £100,000 in 100 hours, saying he had underestimated the costs of the fit-out.

What happened next was a record-breaking crowdfund that saw £100,000 raised in just 11 hours, with the help of more than 1,000 backers. The chef commented: "This is fucking incredible."

The Dorchester - Exterior Landscape HIGH RES
The Dorchester - Exterior Landscape HIGH RES

The Dorchester boycott

Business was badly impacted across the Dorchester Collection after the Sultan of Brunei introduced strict Islamic laws that made gay sex and adultery punishable by stoning to death. Campaigners called for a boycott of the nine-strong global group.

Comprising three hotels in the UK – the Dorchester and 45 Park Lane in London and Coworth Park in Ascot, Berkshire – the group is owned by the Brunei Investment Agency, the sovereign wealth fund of the Sultan of Brunei.

A month after the introduction of the laws, the sultan appeared to back down on the stoning policy.

Gordon Campbell Gray returns to Scotland to launch the Wee Hotel Company

After spending 12 years opening properties across the globe, Gordon Campbell Gray returned to his native Scotland to launch a new hotel company focused on a warm welcome and indigenous ingredients. The Wee Hotel Company's first acquisition was the 12-bedroom Pierhouse Hotel and Seafood Restaurant in Port Appin, Argyll, followed bythe Three Chimneys on the Isle of Skye.

The former Hotelier of the Year and winner of the Outstanding Contribution Award at the Hotel Cateys in 2011 said the philosophy of his new business was based around a greater sense of integrity, rather than excess, and looking after guests seeking an authentic hospitality experience.


Jamie's restaurant empire collapses

Jamie Oliver's UK restaurant group fell into administration in May, signalling the closure of 22 Jamie's Italian sites, one Barbecoa restaurant and Fifteen London, as well as the loss of more than 1,000 jobs.

At the time Oliver said: "I am deeply saddened by this outcome and would like to thank all of the staff and our suppliers who have put their hearts and souls into this business for over a decade. I appreciate how difficult this is for everyone affected."

Oliver personally lost around £25m in the collapse, which left creditors owed a total of £83m.

Jamie Oliver.tif
Jamie Oliver.tif

In the months since the collapse the celebrity chef and author has put his campaigning work front and centre, in particular his bid to halve childhood obesity in a decade, saying he believes it "will be my legacy".

In December it was announced that Fifteen Cornwall at the Watergate Bay hotel, which operated under a licence agreement, had closed.

Outcry at loss of college restaurants

In June Lancashire's Runshaw College announced it would close Foxholes restaurant, the inaugural winner of the AA College Restaurant of the Year award in 2016. The news led to an outcry from the industry, with chefs Tom Aikens and Runshaw alumni Mark Birchall among those expressing serious concerns as to the future of hospitality education.

These were shown not to be unfounded when Oxford Brookes university confirmed it would close its restaurant, Brookes, on 1 May 2020.

The decision was made despite a petition calling for it to be saved, which attracted more than 1,300 signatures. The petition had described the restaurant as an "integral part of the curriculum", which provides "valuable practical experience to both first and final year International Hospitality Management students".

The 2019 Cateys

In July the great and the good of the industry gathered at London's Grosvenor House, a JW Marriott hotel, for the Cateys, on a night that saw chef Shaun Hill and hotelier Ken McCulloch carry off the two top accolades.

McCulloch, 70, was honoured with the Special Award for his visionary work in creating Glasgow's One Devonshire Gardens, as well as launching two ground-breaking brands, Malmaison and Dakota.


Hill, 72, picked up the Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his culinary prowess, as well as his work to train and inspire subsequent generations.

The evening saw both chef Paul Ainsworth and general manager of the Royal Lancaster London, Sally Beck, recognised with two Cateys apiece.

Ainsworth, behind No 6 and Rojano's in the Square in Padstow, as well as the Mariners in Rock, walked away with both the Chef and Restaurateur of the Year – Independent awards; while Beck was presented with the Manager of the Year Award and Accessibility Award, before going on to be named Hotelier of the Year in November.

Northern Powerhouse ongoing saga

The future of Northern Powerhouse Developments (NPD) – launched by entrepreneur Gavin Woodhouse (pictured above) to build a portfolio of hotels funded by investors forward-buying rooms – has been an ongoing saga since the business was taken over by interim managers in July.

The news followed an investigation by The Guardian and ITV into the finances of Woodhouse's companies. At the time NPD issued a statement saying it "strenuously denies any wrongdoing".

By October all 10 NPD properties operating under Whisper Hotels were in administration, with new owners being sought.

CH&Co acquires Gather & Gather

In August CH&Co announced it had acquired Gather & Gather and Creativevents from Mitie, a move it said would increase its turnover by £137m.

Mitie's latest results, for the year to 31 March 2019, revealed its catering division delivered turnover of £136m and a profit before tax of £5.2m. It said at the time that growth in Gather & Gather had been offset by weaker performance at Creativevents.

Allister Richards, the man credited with the success of the business since its rebrand to Gather & Gather in 2013, has continued in his role as managing director.

Settled status shambles

The process for EU citizens to apply for settled status was declared a "shambles" in August after chefs Richard Bertinet and Damian Wawrzyniak were denied permanent residency in the UK, despite having lived and worked in the country for 31 and 15 years respectively.

French Bertinet and Polish Wawrzyniak were both eventually granted settled status, but were contacted by many others struggling to navigate the system despite having spent many years living and working in the UK.

Damian Wawrzyniak 2
Damian Wawrzyniak 2

Those to speak out included leading maître d' and television presenter Fred Sirieix, who said that he had been made to feel like a "second-class citizen" after having to jump through hoops in applying for permanent residency, despite having spent 27 years in the country.

Employees speak of ‘distress' surrounding Jumeirah Carlton Tower redundancies

The closure of London's Jumeirah Carlton Tower in September for a nine-month renovation was an upsetting time for more than 300 staff, who were made redundant.

Several spoke to The Caterer about the "distress" they had experienced about being offered no more than the statutory redundancy payments, capped at 20 years' service, even though some employees had worked for the company for more than 30 years.

There was also criticism about the lack of thanks to the staff for their service, particularly from Jumeirah's chief executive José Silva and president of brand operations Pedro Deakin.

The five-red-AA-star hotel is due to reopen in spring 2020 after a transformation of the 17-storey building that will involve the introduction of more suites and the reduction of rooms from 216 to 188, with interiors by 1508 London.

AA shock

Shock greeted the downgrading of the Roux family's Waterside Inn and Le Gavroche in the AA Restaurant Guide 2020, published in September, with the rating for both sites dropping from four to three rosettes.

Run by cousins Alain Roux and Michel Roux Jr respectively, the restaurants were the only two to lose rosettes as the 2020 guide was unveiled.

Michel Alain Roux at Waterside Inn l1000531 Jun 18 D Bana.jpeg
Michel Alain Roux at Waterside Inn l1000531 Jun 18 D Bana.jpeg

The Waterside Inn, in Bray, Berkshire, has held four rosettes since 1996, as well three Michelin stars since 1985. Le Gavroche in London's Mayfair, which has had four AA rosettes since 2014, has been led by Michel Jr since 1991.

It was the first restaurant in the UK to receive three Michelin stars, which it retained until 1993 when it lost a star.

An eye on allergens

Allergens made the headlines in September following an inquest into the death of Owen Carey, who had a severe allergy to dairy. Owen died after eating a chicken burger marinated in buttermilk at a Byron at the O2 in Greenwich in 2017. An inquest heard that the ingredient was not listed on the "reassuring" menu.

Simon Wilkinson, Byron's chief executive, said in a statement after the inquest: "We have heard what the coroner said about the need to communicate about allergies and it is clear that the current rules and requirements are not enough and the industry needs to do more.

"We will make it our priority to work with our colleagues across the restaurant industry to ensure that standards and levels of awareness are improved."

Earlier that month ‘Natasha's Law' was enacted in parliament, which from October 2021 will require full ingredient and allergen labelling on all food prepared and packed on the same premises from which it is sold. The change followed the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who suffered an allergic reaction to a Pret A Manger baguette containing sesame.

At an inquest into her death a coroner had described the sandwich chain's allergen labelling as "inadequate".

Michelin magic

Michelin arrived in October to launch the 2020 guide. The big headline from the day was the awarding of three Michelin stars to the Lecture Room & Library at Sketch in London. It became the fifth restaurant in the UK, alongside Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London, as well as the Fat Duck and Waterside Inn both in Bray, Berkshire, to hold the coveted accolade.

Sketch Mayfair
Sketch Mayfair

Three restaurants were promoted from one to two stars: La Dame de Pic at the Four Seasons Ten Trinity Square in London; the Dining Room at Whatley Manor, Malmesbury, Wiltshire; and the Greenhouse in Dublin. Aimsir in Celbridge, County Kildare, entered the guide for the first time with two Michelin stars.

The 2020 guide was notable for awarding Manchester its first Michelin star for more than 40 years with the announcement that Mana had received the award.

Signature Living to sell or refinance sites to repay investors

It has been a tough year for northern-based hotel group Signature Living, which announced in November that it intended to sell or refinance "many" of its properties following reports of investors' concerns over repayments.

The group said that the uncertainty around Brexit had resulted in a slowdown in sales and funding, while planning issues had held up a number of hotel projects.

Properties which went on the market included the 59-bedroom Shankly and 63-bedroom 30 James Street hotels in Liverpool, for more than £35m and £16m, respectively, as well as the former Crumlin Road Courthouse and War Memorial building in Belfast, which were due to be developed into hotels.

Alyn Williams vs the Westbury

Alyn Williams threatened to take legal action after his employment at the Westbury Mayfair hotel in London was terminated in November.

The chef-patron of the Michelin-starred Alyn Williams at the Westbury said he was dismissed at the beginning of October after entertaining friends on a Sunday lunchtime when the restaurant was closed.

He argued that all food and drink had been supplied by the chef and no damage or loss was suffered, adding that he had used the restaurant in a similar way previously with the knowledge of hotel management.

Williams added that he had asked the hotel to remove all references to his name in the restaurant and on the website.

Alyn Williams
Alyn Williams

Macdonald offloads historic hotels

November saw Macdonald hotels sell Rusacks hotel in St Andrews and the leasehold interest of the Randolph hotel in Oxford to Chicago-based AJ Capital Partners for an undisclosed sum.

Earlier in the year the group had announced plans to sell 27 properties in a deal that would have wiped out £190m of debt, but it later abandoned the proposal in favour of the offloading of just two hotels.

Announcing the completion of the new deal, deputy chairman Gordon Fraser said: "This is a superb deal for the business, which allows us to reduce our borrowings significantly while we progress a number of very positive options for the refinancing of the group."

Major openings of the year


  • Grantley Hall, Ripon, Yorkshire
  • Stock Exchange hotel, Manchester, featuring
  • Tom Kerridge's Bull & Bear restaurant
  • The Newt, Hadspen, Somerset
  • The Hoxton Southwark, London
  • The Pig at Bridge Place, Canterbury, Kent
  • The Biltmore, featuring Jason Atherton's
  • the Betterment restaurant
  • The Standard, King's Cross, London
  • The Stratford, London
  • Great Scotland Yard, London


  • Norma (Ben Tish), Fitzrovia, London
  • Soutine (Corbin & King), St John's Wood, London
  • Pensons (Lee Westcott), Tenbury Wells, Herefordshire
  • Siren (Nathan Outlaw), the Goring hotel, Belgravia, London
  • Heritage (Matt Gillan), Slaugham, Sussex
  • Darby's (Robin Gill), Embassy Gardens, London

Appointments and departures

  • Rooney Anand stepped down as chief executive of Greene King in April and was replaced by Nick Mackenzie

  • Steve Richards left Casual Dining Group as chief executive in May, with James Spragg moving into the role

  • Head chef Luke Selby left Ollie Dabbous' Hide Above, Mayfair, in May

  • Managing director of Dukes London Debrah Dhugga left the hotel in the summer after a decade at the helm to become chief operating officer of the Apartment Group, based in the north-east of England

  • Tom Booton was named as the youngest ever head chef at the Grill at the Dorchester

  • Robin Mills was appointed managing director of Compass UK & Ireland

  • Karen Forrester stepped down as chief executive of casual dining brand TGI Fridays this month, to be replaced by Robin Cook

  • Lee Westcott announced his departure from Pensons, shortly after gaining a Michelin star in the restaurant's first year. Chris Simpson will replace him as head chef

  • Mike Sunley stepped down as chief executive of Lexington this month

  • Kate Hart (née Levin) was appointed general manager of the NoMad hotel, due to open in Covent Garden, London, next year, having previously held the same role at the Capital hotel

  • Steve Smith announced as head chef of the one-Michelin-starred Latymer restaurant at Pennyhill Park, Bagshot, Surrey, following the departure of Matt Worswick to the Shanghai Edition.

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