Carluccio’s in talks with landlords to negotiate a three-month hiatus on rent payments, as the restaurant chain seeks to cope with the drastic hit to business because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Mark Jones, chief executive of the Italian-themed restaurant chain, told the Financial Times on Sunday that his company was making public its rent relief request as a “call to arms” to encourage the sector to work together to mitigate financial stress and prevent business closures.
He said footfall had plummeted 40 per cent in central London because of concerns over the spread of the virus in the past two weeks and that had now spread to the provinces, with footfall down nearly 30 per cent in Newcastle. The possibility of a total shutdown, as has happened in Italy and Spain, has forced the restaurant sector to react.
“My single biggest fear is being forced to close,” he said of the UK government’s plans for dealing with the epidemic in the coming days.
The UK’s £70bn night-time sector, including restaurants, bars and clubs, has been described as a canary in the coal mine for the economic impact of the coronavirus as bookings evaporate as fewer people dine out and tourist numbers rapidly diminish.
Carluccio’s has a restaurant in Dublin, Ireland where footfall has all but collapsed, so can , demonstrate the effect of government restrictions on public gatherings.
Mr Jones said he was willing to provide specific geographical evidence to landlords to show the effect.
“Our modelling is that things are going to get a lot worse for a long time before we can even talk about it getting better,” he said.
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Carluccio’s is not alone in seeking rent relief according to Mr Jones who cited reports that the owners of other Italian food chains Franco Manca and Zizzis could also look for rent relief.
“I don’t know of any company that is not talking to their landlords,” he said.
The casual dining sector has already been hit hard by a downturn in trading in recent years with Prezzo and Byron Burger among those to close outlets and Jamie’s Italian closing down its entire UK business. Carluccio’s closed 29 restaurants last year and now has 74 with 2,000 staff.
Mr Jones said that the government needed to look to other European companies to see how to support the casual dining sector by underwriting loans, supporting salaries or rent relief. “This is going to need a much broader intervention,” he said.