Why it’s so good to see Pret, BK and KFC re-opening UK stores

Nicola Knight
Senior Analyst - Food-To -Go

Date : 17 April 2020

On 23 March, we reported that all the UK’s largest food-to-go operators had closed their doors after the government announced restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and measures to support businesses during this time.

Nearly four weeks later, the news that three of the UK’s most popular chains were re-opening selected stores will have delighted many of their fans (and disappointed those not in the catchments!), but that’s not the only reason we should all be applauding this move.

By opening stores on a limited scale, Pret, Burger King and KFC will have an invaluable opportunity to learn how to operate in a post-COVID environment, where safety is front-of-mind for staff and customers.

Who has reopened and what have they reopened?

  • KFC reopened 11 UK restaurants for delivery only. More may follow in the coming weeks as long as it can do so ‘responsibly’. Customers in areas of London, the north west and Scotland can place delivery orders via Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber Eats
  • On 16 April Pret reopened 10 stores near London hospitals for takeaway and delivery
  • Also on 16 April, Burger King reopened four drive thru sites: two in Bristol, one in Coventry and one in Swindon. CEO Alasdair Murdoch said drive thrus were chosen as they have more kitchen space than other units and are likely to be more widely used when the lockdown lifts. More sites are planned to reopen in the coming weeks

What changes have they made?

  • Limited menus: Pret will serve its most popular sandwiches, salads and baguettes, as well as hot and cold drinks, baked goods, fruit and snacks, such as crisps and bars. In addition, it will also be selling a selection of essential items, such as milk, butter, and tea. Burger King will sell three core burgers. KFC’s limited menu will prevent staff having to cross stations
  • Social distancing, front- and back-of-house: in KFC, measures such as 2m zones marked by tape in kitchens and delivery collection areas and one member of staff to a station have been introduced. At Pret, one person in the kitchen will be nominated as a ‘kitchen runner’ who will get the products needed for each team member doing food preparation to minimise the amount of movement in the kitchen. Restrictions will be put in place that will allow only one person in certain areas of the kitchen at any one time. Protective Perspex screens will be fitted to the till counter. Only six customers at a time can enter and seating will be limited and spaced apart. Designated pick-up points have been set up for delivery drivers, and separate doors will be used for deliveries and customers wherever possible. In Burger King, staff will be required to wear masks and gloves whilst working and will be given social distancing training
  • No pressure on staff to work: stores are staffed by a skeleton team who have volunteered to work. At Pret, volunteers underwent an interview to ensure they are fit to return to work, and those living with anyone vulnerable will not be permitted to return. KFC is only allowing staff members who can get to stores without using public transport to work
  • Restricted opening hours: Pret shops will be open daily from 8am to 2pm
  • Enhanced cleaning processes
  • No cash, card payment only

Why is this good news?

This move is about much more than delighting customers missing their favourite food-to-go treat. It’s about getting prepared for a future in which, for the short- to mid-term at least, food-to-go operators must put safety first and adapt their businesses quickly and confidently to survive.

As mentioned in our previous article, foodservice businesses that use this challenging time to test and learn will be have an advantage as restrictions lift. Burger King’s Murdoch sums this up in an interview with Propel magazine:

We are not going to be making any money from it, but we feel by opening these sites we can learn important lessons about the steps we have taken, whether they have been 100% correct, and what other lessons are there to take on board. What further steps do we need to put in place, what else do we need to think about. If we are going to use gloves and masks how is that going to work in practice? Sneeze screens, which I am sure we are all going to be putting in, how does that work? There are hundreds of tiny little processes that we will have to get exactly right, because what is important to all of us is the safety of our people.”

How could this benefit the operators?

Here's what the three operators will gain from reopening:

  • Testing new processes in a limited way to be better prepared to rollout at scale when restrictions are lifted
  • Keeping staff engaged by getting feedback on new safety systems and processes. Staff confidence in chains’ ability to keep them safe is essential for operator to open. In the US, food-to-go employees, including those at several McDonald’s, have been on strike over complaints about lack of safety protection 
  • Restarting supply chains for limited numbers of stores has a positive knock-on effect downstream, allowing suppliers and wholesalers to develop new safe ways of working without the pressure of a full estate to supply (coincidently, all three operators use the same logistics provider, Best Food Logistics, who will also be one step ahead to gear up when restrictions relax)
  • Staying relevant by sending a positive message to customers. This is difficult to do when a business is hibernating
  • Building goodwill: for example, from the reopened stores Pret will donate about 7,000 meals a week to homeless charities and is giving NHS staff a 50% discount, and KFC has donated thousands of meals from all open restaurants to frontline staff in partnership with Deliveroo

We expect to see these operators open more stores as they build confidence in their new procedures, with other major chains likewise following suit in the coming weeks.

For more on Coronavirus (COVID-19)

  • See our latest news and reports here
  • Discover how IGD is working with the food and consumer goods industry during coronavirus - visit our dedicated webpage