Work from home has made Central London restaurants a three-day operation, says Itsu boss

Julian Metcalfe, founder of itsu

Itsu chief executive Julian Metcalfe said habitual home working has resulted in weekday footfall in central London remaining below pre-pandemic levels – Geoff Pugh

The rise of home working has forced Itsu to effectively run many of its Central London restaurants as three-day operations, its chief executive has said.

In latest accounts for the sushi chain, Julian Metcalfe said the performance of sites in the “traditional Itsu heartlands” of Central London and the West End had “changed fundamentally” because of post-pandemic hybrid working patterns.

The pandemic forced many office staff to work from home full-time, but since lockdown restrictions eased away many of these practices have remained, with a Tuesday to Thursday working week in the office becoming the new norm.

Mr Metcalfe said: “While the City performance has proved very resilient, some shops in worker locations are now three-day businesses, with Monday and Friday footfall materially below pre-pandemic levels, as work from home arrangements have become habitual.”

As a result, Itsu has begun opening up new sites in more suburban locations, such as Brixton, Bromley, Putney and Guildford. It opened a total of 15 new sites in 2022.

Mr Metcalfe added: “Shops outside of London saw sales outstrip pre-Covid levels, benefiting from commuters working at home alongside a transformed delivery business.”

Pret A Manger – which was also founded by Mr Metcalfe – has also been focusing its efforts on more suburban locations and opening larger stores in areas where people tend to work from home.

Pano Christou, chief executive at Pret A Manger, told The Telegraph last week: “I think there’ll still be opportunities coming up in London… [but] far fewer than we have in the past.

“I think when we go out to regional towns what we realise is takeaway is probably a smaller proportion, dine in is probably a higher proportion. So you just have to have more seats to appeal to that customer base.”

Mr Metcalfe opened the first Pret in 1986, before founding Itsu in 1997. He is no longer involved with Pret, having sold his final stake in 2018 when the sandwich chain was bought by investment company JAB in a deal reported to be worth around £1.5bn.

Itsu currently runs around 80 restaurants across the UK and employs almost 1,000 people.

The company nearly collapsed during the first year of the pandemic and was forced to pursue a insolvency arrangement after months of closures.

Itsu returned to the black in 2022, posting a profit of £1.3m, compared to a loss of £7.9m in 2021, as sales jumped from £58.6m to £101.2m.