Leon: Fast food chain turns its restaurants into shops

By Simon Jack
Business editor

Leon fast food restaurantImage source, Getty Images

Roughly half the meals we eat are eaten while we are at work or at school. The shutdown of restaurants has seen supermarkets forced to move from operating at 50% of capacity to 130%, according to John Vincent, the founder and chief executive of fast food chain Leon.

Supermarkets are having to pick up the demand, which would have been borne by sandwich outlets, restaurants, cafes and school meals - as well as deal with an added surge from people stockpiling.

That is why Leon is to turn its 65 UK restaurants into shops, selling meals via both click-and-collect and delivery from Wednesday.

Meals that are currently served in boxes in-store will be placed in ready meal-type plastic pouches which are refrigerated and can be heated, stored or frozen at home.

Founder John Vincent told the BBC that he hoped the move would not only save Leon itself, but give an important lifeline to food producers and suppliers who were also staring at ruin.

Image source, LEON
Image caption,
The fast food chain Leon has more than 70 restaurants

He said: "There are two engines to food supply in the UK. The first is the supermarkets and the second is the restaurant trade. The two are fairly independent of each other."

Mr Vincent said that many of his suppliers were preparing to scale down their operations and send workers home, which would have reduced the total amount of food being produced for Leon in the UK.

He admitted there was commercial self-interest at the heart of the plan, but continued the aircraft analogy by likening it to "fitting your own mask first before helping others in an emergency". A grimly appropriate analogy.

"A lot of people in the industry are just giving up and shutting up shop. But we think this way we can keep 60% of our stores open and keep food production going."

Since the government advised people not to go to bars and restaurants on Monday, many hospitality firms immediately let most of their staff go.

Before the government announcement on Friday to pay 80% of workers' wages, Jonathan Downey, the owner of Streetfeast which runs food halls, said that most people he knew in the industry had already made about 85% of their staff redundant.

He said: "A million jobs have already gone, a million are probably safe. We need now to work to save the middle million".

He added that the Chancellor Rishi Sunak's measures came too late for many, would save some jobs, "but certainly not all".