Thought leadership

Burger King chief executive Alasdair Murdoch has said that the fast food chain will not be paying rent due on its UK restaurants this week. Hundreds of High Street businesses are set to withhold their quarterly rent payments, which are due on Wednesday, so they can afford to pay their staff.

The government has said shops will not forfeit leases if they do not pay, but will have to pay arrears in the future. Mr Murdoch told the Today programme: “We are not intending to pay our rent.”

He added: “Most landlords have been reasonable about this. I do think there are a number of creative solutions as well.

“We could add three months on to the end of the lease for those people who are unable to pay in the short-term at the end of these three months.”

Restaurants are still allowed to offer a takeaway or delivery service, but Mr Murdoch added: “We took the decision last night [Monday], after what the prime minister said, to close all of our UK restaurants.

“If there are any trailing on, they will all be closed this morning, but we closed 500 last night.”

Richard Hodgson, chief executive of Yo! Sushi, told the Financial Times that non-payment of rent was “not really a choice. It’s just a basic piece of economics”.

Landlords told the BBC that they would not be evicting businesses and that their tenants were looking for different solutions.

Some want rent holidays, others want to pay monthly and some do not want to pay at all at the moment.

Landlords, via industry group Revo, have written to the government saying that rents need to be covered. Banks have been told to be supportive as long as landlords act responsibly.

The government has launched a £350bn package of support for businesses to deal with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

It included a new interest-free Business Interruption Loan Scheme for small and medium-sized firms and a Bank of England finance option for bigger businesses.

But Jonathan Downey, founder of Street Feast food markets, told the BBC’s Today programme that it may not help the hospitality industry.

“The sad reality is that any business operating hospitality now is insolvent, so any right-minded lender using normal rules is not going to lend,” he said. “We estimate that 95% of hospitality businesses will not qualify for one of these loans.”

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