After several months of twists and turns, the pursuit of Revolution Bars Group came to an end yesterday….. for now. With no real winner from this situation, what lies in store for the three main protagonists in this saga and what does that mean for M&A activity in the sector? James Wallin investigates, as well as showing that this story did ultimately have one happy ending.

When Stonegate Pub Company launched its bid to acquire Revolution Bars Group in July, it all seemed so simple. When, a few weeks later, Deltic Group popped up with a counter-bid, it certainly muddied the waters but the destiny of this deal still seemed fairly obvious.

It’s fair to say things escalated from there.

Fast forward to this week and the protagonists have emerged from this debacle battered and bruised…. and back to square one.

It’s difficult to see who has emerged as the winner from all this. Stonegate, which came into the process fresh from a string of successful acquisitions – has been thwarted by Deltic’s wily move – for now at least. Revolution shareholders now have nothing on the table and have seen their investment lose value (although shares did not fall at the rate many had expected). Revolution’s board members must have been looking forward to a long holiday after being criticised by pretty much everyone involved in this process at one point or another, including a rather embarrassing public outburst at the end of last week. However, they know they now need to double down and ensure that the business continues to capitalise on the green shoots of momentum it indicated in its latest trading update.

Deltic probably comes out of this best although the sense around the company is one of frustration that the Revolution board refused to engage and continues to give the company the cold shoulder, despite its assertion that it remains open to negotiation.

Speaking to Revolution shareholders yesterday there seemed to be a genuine sense of bafflement about how it had come to this. There was anger at the board’s reluctance to engage with rival bidders – with one shareholder saying “they seem to have forgotten who actually owns this company”. However, there was also frustration that a solid offer from Stonegate had slipped through their fingers. There were mixed feelings on the merits of the Deltic bid with more than one shareholder suggesting that late-night venues are simply too high risk for the public market but others pointing to obvious synergies and the relative strength of the wet-led sector.

Only one shareholder seemed to be genuinely happy with the result, saying the choices had been between an “opportunistic” cash bid and an “overly ambitious” merger proposal and backing the company to exceed expectations.

So, where next for all the protagonists? While the tone of the debate – especially the one carried out off-the-record - became increasingly acrimonious as the weeks passed, this was business and there is no reason why some or all of the key players here could not return to the table.

For Deltic, the creation of an enlarged listed group remains Plan A, and it’s carefully worded announcement yesterday repeated its plea to Revolution shareholders to lobby their board. However, there seems little change in the board members’ position as yet and Deltic’s hands are tied without that support. Chief executive Peter Marks has repeatedly said that the group remains acquisitive but where else would he look? In terms of late-night operators, there are opportunities in London – an area Deltic has so far ignored – but nationwide the industry is dominated by independents. Alternatively, it could seek out a bolt-on opportunity to diversify its offer further, following its foray into the early evening with Bar & Beyond.

Stonegate certainly has options and it will be interesting to see if its gaze now turns back to Be At One. The well-respected cocktail bar operator officially ended its sales process with its recent £20m refinancing but this would not necessarily deter Ian Payne and his colleagues. Laine Pub Co would surely be a target as well.

A further bid for Revolution certainly cannot be discounted although Stonegate would want to be confident that Deltic would not be crashing yet another party.

Perhaps the most obvious outcome would be for Stonegate to bid for Deltic itself. It will have had plenty of time to size up its opponent and may well have been persuaded of the merits of a late-night behemoth. With Deltic under its wing, there would surely be little argument from Revolution’s shareholders to a fresh bid later down the line.

As for Revolution, it’s back to the grindstone. Its trading update at the beginning of the month allowed it to share better than expected figures for earlier in the summer but it admitted that it had not been immune to the downturn in September. With the crucial Christmas season approaching, the board will be mindful of the need to have a positive narrative throughout the next six months. Shareholders, meanwhile, will have to decide exactly what sort of return they are looking for on their investment and deliver a clear message to McQuater and co.

Despite the increasingly acrimonious nature of this late-night brawl, there was a moment of much-needed lightness as the dust settled, and it seems as good a place as any to end.

Stonegate chairman Ian Payne tweeted last night: “I may have lost Revs today but am delighted that I gained a second granddaughter this morning.”