Pret a Manger will close 30 cafes and make just over 1,000 staff redundant, unable to weather the novel coronavirus pandemic’s impact on footfall. With sales at roughly 25 percent of last year’s figures, Pret is spending £20 million a month to stay afloat, according to the Financial Times.
Chief executive Pane Christou, who last month told staff that there would be a review of the company’s performance on 8 July, intends to counter COVID-19’s seismic change in office working patterns by introducing a more robust delivery and supermarket range of sandwiches, as well as an evening menu — harking back to an ill-fated trial in 2015. What this strategy can’t do is release the company from rent payments on frequently large, central London buildings, with negotiations with landlords ongoing. Christou also made pointed comparisons to Paris — where sales have rebounded twice as strongly than in London, but also having done so since mid-June — and to other chains, describing a company voluntary arrangement, whereby businesses exit sites they no longer want and often get out of paying debts — as the “low road.”
The last week has sharply illustrated how COVID-19 has not caused, but exacerbated the decline of a mid-tier-restaurant market — one saturated by private equity expansions of promising businesses, bought and sold and inflated until they collapse. Casual Dining Group — behind Cafe Rouge, Bella Italia, and Belugo — is making almost 2,000 people redundant; Byron Burger is set to be sold as parts to the highest bidders. While Pret a Manger is not quite in that category, conglomerate JAB bought it for £1.5 billion in 2018, before buying competitor EAT a year later with plans for expansion that ended in attempts to flog most of the leases. The bottom line is that until office workers return to officers, Pret a Manger is going to be in serious trouble — the question its staff are nervous of is how much longer it can hold out.
11 Prets will close in London. They are listed below:
- 421 Strand
- 41 Piccadilly
- 109 Fleet Street
- Byward Street
- Centre Point, Tottenham Court Road
- The Cut, Southwark
- Strutton Ground, Westminster
- Warwick Way
- Wood Street, Barbican
- St George’s University kiosk
- Heathrow Terminal 3