The boss of Carluccio’s has called for more government help and asked the restaurant chain’s landlords for a rent holiday as the leisure industry fights a sharp downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Mark Jones, chief executive, said the business had suffered “extraordinary footfall declines” across the country as the Covid-19 outbreak forced consumers away from high streets and shopping centres. Its site in the Canary Wharf financial district in London had experienced a 40 per cent slump in the past five days, he said.
The chain was set up by in 1999 by Antonio Carluccio, the late Italian chef, and has been owned by the Dubai-based Landmark Group for a decade. Like other casual dining businesses, it has been hit in recent years by higher costs and over-expansion. It closed many restaurants in 2018 as part of a restructuring to cut overheads.
Mr Jones, 59, said that the drop in footfall “started in London, has worsened in London and the regions are now catching up”.
Data released yesterday by Wireless Social, a wifi provider that estimates footfall based on customer internet use, suggested a 37 per cent drop year-on-year in footfall on Saturday across 800 hospitality venues in the UK.
Rishi Sunak announced a package of measures in the budget last week to help consumer-facing companies withstand the crisis. Mr Jones said that while the government had acted with the best intentions, the situation had “materially worsened since” and the chancellor needed to take further steps to support businesses. “We think the government should do more,” he said.
The government’s move to suspend business rates for a year on retail, leisure and hospitality businesses with a rateable value of less than £51,000 would do nothing to help the branded casual dining chains on high streets, which were too large to benefit from the measure, the Carluccio’s boss argued.
“In other western European countries they’ve either stood behind rent, or stood behind loans, or stood behind wages,” Mr Jones said. “The government’s doing none of that. There needs to be a significant concerted effort to support the industries that are facing these dramatic downturns.”
Opentable, the online restaurant booking service, said that there had been a 20 per cent year-on-year decline in seated dinners in Britain last week.