Rishi’s dishes: has Eat Out to Help Out worked and should it be extended?
Restaurant and pub diners have tucked into 64 million discounted meals in three weeks
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced that Brits are “backing hospitality”, with 64 million discounted meals claimed in the first three weeks of the government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
Running every Monday to Wednesday throughout August, the scheme gives diners a 50% discount, up to a maximum of £10 per person, on food and non-alcoholic drinks.
According to data from the Treasury, a total of 84,000 restaurants, pubs and cafes across the country have signed up for the initiative, which ends on 31 August and is aimed at supporting 1.8 million jobs in the hospitality sector.
In a statement yesterday, Sunak said that “with more than 64 million meals discounted so far, that’s equivalent to nearly every person in the country dining out to protect jobs. This scheme has reminded us how much we love to dine out, and in doing so, how this is helping to protect the jobs of nearly two million people who work in hospitality.”
But with the discounts due to come off the menu next week, what could the future hold for the industry as the coronavirus pandemic continues to hit the economy?
The new weekend
Within days of the government scheme’s launch, a new trend emerged within the UK’s hospitality sector. Many outlets reported an uptick in bookings for early midweek days but said that weekends were generally very quiet.
As Eat Out to Help Out got under way, a spokesperson for Rick Stein Restaurants told The Telegraph that “Monday to Wednesday looks like it will be the new weekend during August”, and this prediction has proved correct.
A new report from restaurant booking website OpenTable shows that during the third week of the scheme, the number of customers at UK restaurants from Monday to Wednesday was 61% higher than during the same period in 2019.
And customer numbers for the week were up by 17% year-on-year.
Many business owners have praised the scheme for helping to save jobs and bring customers back into restaurants and pubs.
David Page, chair of Fulham Shore, which owns Franco Manca and The Real Greek, said: “Eat Out to Help Out immediately increased our restaurant customer numbers by over 50%, thus enabling us to get all our staff back to work. In fact, we are now creating new jobs.”
Andy Laurillard, CEO of Giggling Squid, added that “Rishi’s dishes have been a massive hit with customers and our staff. The tremendous success of the August scheme, combined with the temporary VAT reduction and fantastic support from our landlord community, have made the difference between failure and survival of our business.
“As a result of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, we have managed to avoid making any redundancies and we no longer have any of our 950 staff on furlough.”
Less drinking and rude customers
On the negative side, many outlets says that during the “usual” weekend - Friday to Sunday - customers have continued to stay away.
Politico’s Jack Blanchard spoke to a maitre d’ at a busy Turkish restaurant in Stockport who claimed that the scheme had “made things worse”.
“All these people just come on Wednesday instead of Saturday,” the head waiter said. “That couple would have had two bottles of wine if they were here on Saturday night.
“But they have work tomorrow, so it’s two small glasses of wine instead. And they will not be coming back at the weekend. This whole thing is costing us money.”
Meanwhile, some pubs in Wales are considering ditching the scheme, with owners claiming that it is leading to “grief” and angry abuse from customers, WalesOnline reports.
Carl Willett and Paul Cinderey, landlords of the Paddock Inn pub in Tenby, said: “We are seriously considering pulling the plug on this due to the extreme levels of rudeness, lack of understanding, and complete impatience of some of our recent customers.”
‘Repeat the scheme’
Despite some outlets’ criticisms of the scheme, new YouGov research has shown that the majority of Brits (59%) support extending Eat Out to Help Out for another month.
“This includes 77% of those who made use of the discounted offer over the course of August, and even those who didn’t are in favour by 43% to 28%,” according to the polling company. “Overall, just 21% of Brits oppose extending the scheme.”
The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), which represents brewers and pubs, is among those calling for the government to extend the scheme.
The optional programme has been a “great success” for many of its members, the BBPA says, adding that the benefit to the recovery of some pubs and the wider hospitality sector has been “immeasurable”.
However, the trade body argues that “wet-led” pubs - outlets that mainly only serve drinks and bar snacks - are not getting enough support from the government, leaving many struggling to survive.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the BBPA, said: “The government should definitely repeat the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. It has provided a much-needed boost to sales in the early week for some of our sector as it tries to recover.
“That boost to the pub and wider hospitality sector - amongst the largest employers in the UK - is much needed and will help secure jobs and build consumer confidence.
“Repeating the scheme, particularly as we approach quieter months for trade, would be a significant help. However, it still remains the case that ‘wet-led’ pubs still need further support from the government elsewhere.”
The London Evening Standard reports that dozens of restaurants in the English capital are planning to continue offering discounts after Eat Out to Help Out ends next week, in order to keep up the “feel-good factor”.