by Charlotte Segaller
Proposals to allow betting shops to serve a wider range of food were put forward by the Government last week.
Pre-packed sandwiches and snacks will be on offer in betting shops next year, if Parliament approves the proposals this autumn.
Under the current law, betting shops can only serve biscuits, crisps, nuts, tea, coffee and soft drinks.
The revised law would not allow food to be cooked on betting shop premises, although it would not prohibit the use of microwave ovens for heating up pre-packed food, such as burgers.
Shop windows would no longer have to be obscured, and displays advertising the services offered inside the shops would be allowed.
Betting shop operators have welcomed the proposals, and most have expressed a desire to take advantage of the additional freedom.
Ladbrokes, which has 1,950 shops visited by about three million people a week, plans to introduce new fridges and dispensing machines as part of a £74m refurbishment programme, although it has yet to estimate turnover from food and drink sales.
The company's spokesman believed that further changes allowing food to be cooked in betting shops were a possibility in the future. However, he added that most of Ladbrokes' shops would be too small to offer this service.
Brent Walker's William Hill chain envisages serving sandwiches and hot snacks such as pasta at many of its 1,750 shops, and may install a new form of bench seating with attached table space for customers who wish to eat.
Conversely, Coral, Bass's betting shop arm, does not see food and drink as an important part of its future business, and has no plans to introduce any hot snacks.
It will pilot a range of sandwiches at the larger shops in its 750-strong chain if the law is passed, but a spokeswoman for the company stressed that its shops would not be trying to compete with fast food chains.
That was not a view shared by Stuart Price, fast food consultant at Stoy Hayward, who told Caterer that betting shops offering food would be competing directly with smaller fast food operations.
He said the shops were often situated near small fast food outlets at secondary sites away from high streets, and the two would compete for daytime business - the main source of fast food companies' revenue.
He added that the changes would not necessarily have an entirely negative impact on fast food companies, as some could gain a market by selling through vending machines, as introduced in a variety of venues in the USA.
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