Burger King UK won’t be holding back on expansion over the next few years, and is looking to benefit from new land opportunities in the fallout of the coronavirus crisis, CEO Alasdair Murdoch has said.

Speaking at MCA’s The Conversation, Murdoch said the business, which currently runs approximately 500 UK sites through a mix of company-owned and franchise arrangements, was “looking long and hard” at a number of opportunities that have come about as a result of the pandemic, and has plans to open “many more new restaurants” in the next two years.

“We are pushing forward, and we’re in the fortunate place to be able to try and do that,” he told host and MCA contributing editor Peter Martin. “There is a whole heap of opportunity with the number of licensed premises going.

“It is very sad and doesn’t seem fair at all that some great assets are going to be picked up for nothing, but cynically, you can see why the Government wouldn’t necessarily want to intervene on the rental argument. They can see that someone else is going to come in and re-employ those people very quickly.”

With takeaway and delivery a significant part of its business model, Burger King has been less affected than most by the ever-increasing restrictions, and has been able to keep around 350 of its sites trading through the latest lockdown.

Though the number of overall transactions across its estate have dipped during the pandemic, Murdoch revealed this has been offset by a rise in average spend and average transaction value. He attributed this trend to a shift towards delivery, revealing that current delivery volumes are three times higher per outlet than they were before the crisis.

Given this increase, Murdoch said the brand was taking its commitment to tech innovation “very seriously,” and has been focusing on developments including double drive-thru lanes, parallel drive-thru lanes, click and park and click and serve.

“We spent what marketing dollars we had last year driving our tech,” he said. “One of the problems with a legacy business like Burger King is that every bit of tech that you have is almost as old as I am.

“That is slightly problematical, but we’ve managed to overcome it and we think we’ve gone from being a laggard to being very competitive from a technology point of view.”

Looking ahead, Murdoch said he remains “bullish” on the economy, but added that the growing feeling in Government to impose compulsory hotel quarantining for travellers entering the UK could present a significant challenge to the sector.

“We need to get on the front foot and try and educate Government about what to do with travellers,” he told attendees. “The reality is that we’re all going to be vaccinated a lot sooner than the rest of the people travelling in, so we need to think of a plan that works, as opposed to plan that kills everything.

“For the UK economy in the short to medium term it is going to be difficult,” he continued. “I don’t know how to predict how we’re going to come out, but I think we’re clearly going to come out later this year and we’ll be firing on all cylinders towards the end of the year.”