The government’s Eat Out to Help Out restaurant discount scheme has been used 35 million times in its first two weeks, the Treasury has said.
The scheme, which launched at the beginning of the month offers guests 50 percent off food up to the value of £10 at participating restaurants on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. The discount cannot be claimed on alcohol and the scheme is in place only for the month of August.
The scheme, for which the government has set aside £500 million, has so far cost it £180 million, with 48,000 businesses having made their claims online. The Treasury guarantees restaurants will be reimbursed for Eat Out to Help Out claims within five working days, with no reported issues with that compensation thus far.
Last week, chancellor Rishi Sunak, whose department conceived the scheme to help boost restaurants’ chance of recovering from months of closure during lockdown, said the 10.5 million meals claimed in the first week had been “amazing.” Today, he said: “With at least 35 million meals served up in the first two weeks alone, that is equivalent to over half of the U.K. taking part and supporting local jobs in the hospitality sector.
“To build back better we must protect as many jobs as possible, that is why I am urging all registered businesses to make the most of this by claiming back today — it’s free, simple and pays out within five working days.” The Treasury believes the health of the hospitality sector could be key to the overall economic recovery of the country after the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of those participating in the scheme is east London restaurant Ombra. Its owners have been surprised by the surge in bookings in the first three days of each week this month. Chef Mitshel Ibrahim has had to open the restaurant on Mondays to accommodate the demand. Last Monday, the restaurant served 65 customers for dinner. In “normal times,” a “good” Tuesday or Wednesday would see 40, he said; at lunch, when the neighbourhood Italian restaurant is typically quieter, it would serve 10 – 15 guests. Last Tuesday lunchtime, it did 45. “We’ve never been busier,” Ibrahim said.
Ombra is not alone, with statistics from the restaurant bookings website Open Table revealing that businesses are 27 precent fuller on average than they were during the Monday — Wednesday period in August last year.
The problem for restaurants is that the big issues which threaten their long-term survival are unlikely to disappear in the remaining two weeks of the scheme. Rent is still owed, no national solution is in place to resolve the stand-off between tenants and landlords, and employee support through the government’s furlough scheme will expire at the end of October.
Eating out will help out now. But then what — who or what is going to help then?