UK restaurants serve up £50m in takeover deals

There is a clear appetite for consolidation in the UK restaurant market as Clapham House and Ha Ha get gobbled up.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 17 Sep 2010
It may have made its fortune in cost effective poultry, but it seems omnipresent chicken restaurant group Nando’s sees beef in its future: the business has made a £30m bid for Clapham House, the company behind the Gourmet Burger Kitchen chain. The money at stake may not be particularly high, considering the number of GBK branches - there are 53 all over the country – but then again the market is determinedly shaky at the moment, and is set to become even more so come October, with the spending review. But that doesn’t seem to have put off other foodies, either: pub group Mitchell & Butlers has also said it will be making a high-profile purchase of Ha Ha Bar and Grills. Looks like the grub’s up for them, then.

Nando’s Group Holdings actually already owns 27% of Aim-listed Clapham House, but today it said it has agreed a deal to buy the rest of the shares at 74p each – just 8% higher than Thursday’s FTSE 100 closing price. For shareholders, that’s likely to feel like a bit of a medium-rare deal – but then again, Capricorn Ventures International, which owns Nando’s, says the trading environment for restaurant businesses in the UK is difficult and it will need ‘investment and time’ to ‘reinvigorate’ Clapham House’s restaurants. And Clapham House’s board seems satisfied: it said it would recommend the offer to shareholders.

The restaurants market as a whole is finding it hard to stabilise at the moment, and with VAT rises due to come into effect in January next year, it’s going to be a tough few months for those in the business. But with careful integration, the takeover might just be a success: people in the UK currently only spend 37% of their total food expenditure outside of the home – less than the Americans – so there is room for growth.

That certainly seems to be the attitude of Mitchell & Butlers, which has marked a further move from pubs to food with its £19.5m offer on Ha Ha Bar and Grill. But it could mean the end for the brand, which will see 12 of its 22 restaurants converted into All Bar One and six into Browns restaurants. Two will even be turned into Harvesters. Call us harsh, but we can’t help but wonder what has prompted that decision: the type of person who eats at Ha Ha is very different to the type of person who eats at Harvester. They don’t traditionally go in for the ‘Early Bird special’.

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