US burger chain Wendy’s has announced plans to open its first “dark kitchens” in the UK as bosses aim to cash in on the rise of online delivery apps including Deliveroo and Uber Eats.
The company is the third largest burger chain in the world after McDonald’s and Burger King, with around 6,800 outlets in 30 countries, but it quit the UK in 1999.
It returned to the UK this year with a store in Reading and aims to open new sites in Stratford, Oxford, Croydon and Romford by the end of the year.
In total, bosses hope to open around 400 sites across the country over the next five years, including the new dark kitchens – named because they do not serve customers in person but cook for delivery – which will be run with franchise partner Reef.
Between five and 10 sites are set to open in London by the end of the year, with the company expecting to reach up to one million households initially.
Abigail Pringle, international and chief developments officer, said the focus will be in London initially, but could be expanded to other towns and cities.
In addition, Wendy’s is in advanced discussions with 30 potential franchise partners to open new restaurants, with the company’s board in the US fully behind long-term expansion plans in the UK.
She said: “I think that we will make a meaningful impact… this year we think we could reach probably more than a million people in London with even what we’re planning for 2021. So, we think that we can have a pretty big impact.
“We know that we want to be able to engage with consumers in every town and market, so the way the people work, live and play, and we know that we want to be able to grow and do that.”
Deliveries will be available through all major platforms, Ms Pringle said, rather than the company signing up for an exclusive agreement with just one service.
She said: “We’re partnering with multiple delivery service providers… so, I think you’ll see all the major players that do delivery in the market being part of the proposition.”
Franchise partner Reef has already operated dark kitchens in the UK for the past few years and will use its expertise to drive the growth, she added.
The plans come at a time when burgers are big business on food apps after households shifted to online takeaway orders in record numbers during the pandemic.
US rival Five Guys is one of the most popular restaurants on the Deliveroo app and has enjoyed a rapid expansion in the UK in recent years, alongside another rival Shake Shack.
Wendy’s said it plans to “open and operate 700 delivery kitchens over the next five years across the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom” after successful trials in the US and Canada, but did not specify how many of those sites in total would be in the UK beyond its initial London sites.
It comes as the firm revealed sales hit 493.3 million dollars (£357 million) in the three months to the end of June, compared with 402.3 million dollars (£291 million) in the same period a year ago.
Bosses said this was due to increases in franchise fees and extra spending on advertising driving customers to sites.
The company said the new restaurants in the UK could create up to 12,000 new jobs.
Ms Pringle said the decision to return to the UK after so many years comes because “we have a really strong and growing US business and that wasn’t true over 20 years ago.”