Up to around 5,000 jobs are under threat at Upper Crust and Caffe Ritazza owner SSP amid a shake-up following plunging passengers numbers at railway stations and airports due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The group warned it expects to open only around a fifth of its sites in the UK by the autumn as travel is set to remain at very low levels amid the Covid-19 crisis.
It has launched a consultation on a restructure to “simplify and reshape” the business in the face of the pandemic, which it said could lead to more than half of its 9,000-strong peak season workforce being axed.
The group said head office and UK staff would be affected by the cuts.
Rail union RMT said the “savage” job cuts highlight the need for the Government to step in and help the rail sector and support services amid the coronavirus crisis.
SSP chief executive Simon Smith said: “In the UK the pace of the recovery continues to be slow.
“In response to this, we are now taking further action to protect the business and create the right base from which to rebuild our operations.
“Regrettably, we are starting a collective consultation which will affect our UK colleagues.
“These are extremely difficult decisions, and our main priority will be to conduct the process carefully and fairly.”
SSP has around 570 sites across 130 airport and railway stations in the UK and Ireland, but also has operations in 35 countries worldwide.
It runs travel sites for chains such as Burger King, M&S Simply Food and Starbucks, while it also has its own brands including Millie’s and Upper Crust.
The firm has so far not launched any “material” restructuring in its other global operations, as it believes there will be a faster bounce back outside the UK.
SSP has seen sales almost entirely wiped out in April and May, down around 95% and, despite a slight recovery in June, revenues were still around 90% lower last month.
It recently warned over operating losses of up to £250 million for the second half of its financial year.
The firm said despite some tentative signs of a recovery in the travel sector, rail passenger numbers still remain around 85% lower than a year earlier and the air sector has stayed largely closed until recently.
It believes that short-haul air travel may see a limited pick-up in July thanks to so-called air bridges between countries over the summer holiday season, but it does not expect a meaningful pick-up in airport and train passenger numbers.
Mr Smith said: “The objective of the action that we are proposing today is to ensure that we manage through this pandemic, rebuild our business as demand recovers and, in time, deliver long term sustainable growth for the benefit of all our stakeholders.”
He added the group will keep open the possibility of opening more sites if it sees sales improve over the summer.
Mick Lynch, assistant general secretary at rail union RMT, said the “savage job cuts shows that support services across the rail industry are facing a real crisis in the months ahead which will hammer both the workforce and those who rely on their facilities if the Government doesn’t intervene as the lockdown eases”.