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Will prepaid restaurant meals become the post-lockdown norm?

Written by: Emma Lunn
Pubs and restaurants may ask customers to prepay for their meals if they are going to survive under social distancing measures.

New rules could be introduced to ensure businesses across the food and drink sector remain profitable when the hospitality industry reopens to the public.

In some cases drinkers and diners may have to pre-book slots in bars and restaurants and guarantee a minimum spend per person.

Phil Mills, head of food and drink at financial experts Old Mill, says: “We know that when pubs and restaurants are allowed to reopen, it will be very different. There will be significant restrictions in terms of how many customers they will be able to have as a result of social distancing, and this puts huge pressure on their profit margins.

“In order to ensure they can keep trading under social distancing measures, these businesses are going to need some sort of guarantees. They will need to know that if they are going to open, get the staff in and turn the oven on, that they won’t have any ‘no-shows’, or people who only order a glass of water and a salad.

“One way of doing that is to sell tickets. Get people to pay ahead for their meal, or at least, a meal, so that they can guarantee the limited space they do have will be profitable.”

Mills says he has a client in Australia using a ticketing system – and says there is no reason this won’t work in the UK. He also suggests businesses could go even further and look at a rebooking system or even a loyalty pass.

“I think in these unprecedented times it makes sense to magpie from other industries. So why not, as hairdressers do, ask people to book their next visit as they leave? Or even give people the option of paying for a year’s worth of meals out in advance, for which they would get at a discount? It could even make a really nice gift for someone.”

Many hospitality businesses have already adapted their business models as a result of lockdown, with suppliers going straight to the consumer, and restaurants, pubs and cafes offering takeaways and deliveries of meals and food boxes.

The suggestions came after news that discussions are ongoing into the future of Frankie and Benny’s restaurants across the UK. Up to 3,000 jobs are at risk at The Restaurant Group (TRG), which owns Frankie and Benny’s, with the BBC reporting that as many as 120 outlets will not reopen after lockdown.

The government is considering letting pub beer gardens in England reopen from 22 June.

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