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女大学生的沙龙: Pizza Express withholds rent as coronavirus bites?

The restaurant chain has told landlords it is 'not in a position to pay' for the last quarter

Pizza Express is withholding rent payments as it battles its way through the coronavirus pandemic.?

The chain wrote to landlords on Friday saying it is not in a position to pay?quarterly bills that fell due last week?as it reels from the financial chaos caused by lockdown and faces up to a highly uncertain recovery.

Bosses said the firm?is taking a deliberately cautious approach?as it is unclear how customers will?react?when 46 of its UK restaurants reopen from July 9.

Stringent safety measures will also make running outlets more challenging as Britain emerges into the socially distant "new normal" being demanded by scientists, it said,

Pizza Express was ordered to close on March 20 along with all other restaurants, although some branches?have since opened for takeaways?and it has continued to sell products through supermarkets.?

Commercial and property director Matt Ward told landlords: "I am acutely aware that this situation is extremely difficult for all property stakeholders, yourselves included, and that everyone is seeking clarity on both arrears and future payments.?

"We will provide this as soon as we can in July, and until then I can only thank you for your continued patience and support."

Pizza Express is far from the only tenant withholding rent because their incomes have been cut due to the pandemic.? Figures out last week suggest commercial landlords collected less than 20pc of what they were owed on the June 24 quarterly due date.?

The cash shortage?is heaping pressure on landlords who also need to pay bills but are banned from evicting tenants during the crisis.?Ministers?stepped in earlier this month with a new code of conduct to help the two sides settle their disputes.?

Frank and Benny’s owner The Restaurant Group won backing from its creditors on Monday for a company voluntary arrangement – a form of restructuring – under which 125 sites in its leisure estate will close, while?85 of the remaining 160 will get reduced rents?and revised lease terms.?

Pizza Express?was struggling even before the coronavirus crisis, with falling sales and rising losses in an over-saturated market.?

It was bought by China’s Hony Capital in 2014 in a ?900m leveraged buyout and is still laden with debt. Profits are being wiped out by an annual interest bill of almost ?100m and?bondholders were understood to be pushing for a debt restructuring late last year.

Customers will notice several changes when Pizza Express restaurants reopen next week. They will be asked to use digital menus on their phone and pay with credit or debit cards instead of cash, while menus will also be slightly reduced.?

A Pizza Express spokesman?said: "We continue to engage with landlords and will update on the progress of those discussions as soon as we are able to do so.

"In the meantime, we have been rigorously planning how to re-open our restaurants safely and look forward to welcoming back dine-in customers."

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