Byron, the burger chain, is racing to secure a takeover after becoming the latest major restaurant operator to teeter on the brink of financial collapse during the COVID-19 crisis.
Sky News has learnt that Byron, which employs 1,200 people, filed a notice of intention to appoint administrators on Monday.
The move is designed to provide protection from creditors as the company holds detailed talks with three potential buyers.
Sources said Byron’s board remained confident of sealing a deal in the coming weeks, with the likeliest outcome a pre-pack administration, which involves certain assets being sold to a new owner.
KPMG, the accountancy firm, has been running a sale process since early May.
The identity of the remaining bidders was unclear on Monday.
People close to the process said Byron intended to begin a phased reopening of its 51 UK restaurants from the middle of July.
Like other hospitality businesses, the chain struggled to access financial support under the Treasury’s emergency loan schemes, prompting warnings from industry bosses that the coronavirus pandemic could cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Companies including Casual Dining Group, the owner of Las Iguanas and Café Rouge, have filed notices of intention to appoint administrators, while numerous others – including Prezzo, Wahaca, Wasabi and the owner of ASK Italian and Zizzi – have hired advisers to explore options to raise new money.
Founded in 2007 with two sites, Byron was among many casual dining chains which expanded too aggressively and agreed to rent deals that they ultimately could not afford.
The chain’s profile was inadvertently boosted by pictures of the then chancellor, George Osborne, eating one of its burgers the night before he delivered the government’s comprehensive spending review in 2013.
Its existing majority shareholder, Three Hills Capital Partners, helped secure its survival in 2018, when it undertook a restructuring to wipe out its debts and close to underperforming sites.
During the coronavirus outbreak, the majority of its staff have been furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
Last year, the company recorded turnover of £70.9m, with a gross profit of £31.6m.
Sources have said that the COVID-19 outbreak came at “a frustrating time for Byron”, which was making progress in its turnaround plan under chief executive Simon Wilkinson.
Mr Wilkinson, a former boss of La Tasca, joined last year.
He is understood to have placed all of Byron’s hourly employees on minimum-hour payment terms to ensure they were protected during the lockdown.
Restaurant chains have been granted a 12-month business rates holiday, VAT deferral, and access to a separate grant scheme depending upon the rateable value of their properties.
Many, including Burger King and Yo!, the sushi chain, have withheld quarterly rent bills that were due at the end of March.
Byron declined to comment on Monday.