In Depth

Eat Out to Help Out: Monday to Wednesday is ‘new weekend’ this August

Diners have a big appetite for Rishi Sunak’s meal deals - despite obesity crisis

Thousands of diners filled up restaurants - and their plates - yesterday following the launch of the government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme. 

Unveiled last month by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the initiative is designed to boost the UK hospitality industry in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic by enticing customers to eat in at restaurants, cafes and pubs

The scheme runs every Monday to Wednesday throughout August and gives diners a 50% discount, up to a maximum of £10 per person, on food and non-alcoholic drinks.

Ahead of yesterday’s launch, Sunak tweeted that more than 72,000 restaurants had registered to take part. And more than 3.3m searches had been recorded on the government’s online restaurant finder, he wrote.

A Treasury spokesperson said: “Eat Out to Help Out is designed to help protect the jobs of 1.8 million people who work in hospitality - a sector which has been badly hit by the outbreak.”

A welcome break?

The scheme has been welcomed by hospitality businesses battling for survival as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.  

A survey by trade body UKHospitality found that 84% of the businesses quizzed were planning to take part, with more than 50% were planning to roll out the scheme across all their venues.  

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “The chancellor recognised that our sector has been hit the hardest of all and this scheme goes some way to delivering the support vulnerable hospitality businesses need. It is encouraging to see our sector being recognised for its importance and the Treasury delivering decisive support quickly.” 

“Confidence is going to be key to securing the future of our sector and keeping jobs safe”, she added, but businesses have also been “quick to adopt the scheme”. 

Not everyone is convinced, however.

Russell Nathan, an adviser to restaurants at accountancy firm HW Fisher, told The Telegraph that smaller, independent businesses had not welcomed the scheme. 

“Restaurants fear that the discounting will actively encourage customers to spend less - to fit within the limits,” he said. “Many are already down to as little as 50% capacity due to social distancing, so the last thing they can afford is significant reduction in the average customer spend. 

“Then on top of that is the admin of processing it and the deferred reimbursement at a time when cashflow is critical to their weekly survival.”

The ‘new weekend’ 

The sector is already reporting an uptick in bookings for early midweek days. A spokesperson for Rick Stein Restaurants told The Telegraph that “Monday to Wednesday looks like it will be the new weekend during August”.

Fuller Smith & Turner, the parent company of Fuller’s pubs, added: “We have seen a definite upturn in bookings for the early part of the week.” 

‘Not crazy about it’

Although bookings have increased at participating outlets, many hospitality bosses fear that diners will stay away at weekends and spend less overall. 

Lubeck Sredojevic, owner of Boulevard restaurant in south Croydon, told the BBC that while he has signed up for the scheme, he was “not crazy” about it.

“I have more bookings than I normally have for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday,” he said. “But my Friday, Saturday and Sunday are worse. It will definitely affect the weekend and we won’t have as many people as we normally have.”

Will Hawkley, an analyst at KPMG, added: “The question will be, if people have gone out on Monday to Wednesday and had their meal half price, will they still go out at the weekend? That’s something we will need to look out for.”

And with the scheme only taking place on 13 days during the month, the BBC questions if Eat Out to Help Out has come “too little, too late to save an industry already ravaged by a devastating wave of closures and job losses?”  

Summing up the general feeling, Marcello Distefano, boss of the San Carlo chain of restaurants, said: “There are still a lot of difficulties facing our industry.”

What about the fight against fat?

The government last week announced a new obesity strategy aimed at helping the country to lose weight in order to “beat coronavirus and protect the NHS”. 

But health experts and commentators are warning that the new meal deal may fuel the obesity crisis.  Under the front-page headline “Rishi Two Snacks”, Metro reports that many punters were “scoffing” double portions when the scheme launched yesterday.  

Wired magazine predicts an “appetiser bonanza” and a “surge in over-ordering”. 

Meanwhile, The Telegraph’s Rob Crossan describes Eat Out To Help Out as a “catastrophe” in the fight against fat. “This is the state-sponsored equivalent of a ‘two for one’ burger chain offer on cheeseburgers, most often found in a tabloid at the weekend,” he writes. 

“This does little more than perpetuate the myth, long held beyond our borders, that the British relationship to food is akin to a starving dog being let loose in a butcher’s bin. We don’t discriminate, we value price above quality and we don’t care who knows it.

“It’s a catastrophe that will only make our already obese country even fatter, while doing little to solve the economic and psychological issues that lie behind the UK’s calamitous relationship with food.” 

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