Pizza Hut could be the next casual restaurant chain to be stricken by the novel coronavirus pandemic. The brand, which has 240 restaurants in the U.K., has appointed advisers Alvarez & Marsal to restructure its business, according to Propel’s newsletter. There is the “distinct possibility” of a company voluntary arrangement (CVA), in which a company agrees to settle its debts, usually avoiding paying them in full and closing many, if not all of its outlets.
The pizza chain employs 5,700 people in the U.K., and is best known for a buffet that graced many childhood dinners and birthday parties before COVID-19 put it out of action. The “bluffet,” which is a pun but also just regular table service, is its replacement, but as with Pizza Express and its free dough balls throwback; Cafe Rouge and Bella Italia; and Frankie and Benny’s, the consequences of COVID-19 must be weighed against the underlying frailties it exposes.
Pizza Hut says it entered lockdown from a “position of strength,” but a business most recently acquired via private equity and built on franchising — from America’s Yum! Brands — naturally has cracks. In June, 40 staff alleged that the franchise owner of four restaurants in Croydon and South Norbury failed to both pay and furlough his employees, highlighting how chains built on franchising, like Costa and McDonald’s, offer franchisees autonomy at the expense of holistic worker protections, for which the parent companies are ultimately responsible but may not immediately or directly oversee. That “place of strength” is built on that contract between owner, franchisee, and workers, whose underlying inequities will only be exacerbated by any closure deal.
The chain didn’t start this way; the first opened in Islington in 1973, bringing pan pizza culture into the country and expanding rapidly before being acquired by PepsiCo in 1997. That spin-off — alongside KFC and Taco Bell — became Yum! Brands in 2002. Pizza Hut is also one of the lucky restaurant chains featured in this deeply weird throwback banger.
More soon on the future of the chain.