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After 64 Million ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ Meals, U.K. Restaurants Wonder What Comes Next

The government’s August discount scheme has been a hit with diners, but its temporariness is starting to feel ominous

Diners sit outside at tables on a cobbled square in London
The scheme will end on 31 August
Ray Tang/Xinhua via Getty Images

The government’s August restaurant discount scheme has been used 64 million times in three weeks, new figures from the Treasury reveal. Eat Out to Help Out, which gives restaurant-goers 50 percent off food and non-alcoholic drinks up to the value of £10 at participating venues, was introduced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to help aid the recovery of the hospitality industry, one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic and resultant lockdown.

It takes the total amount claimed by the 84,000 restaurants involved across the U.K. to £336 million, a rise from the second week which saw the total collected by 85,000 restaurants at £180 million. After the first week of the scheme, 83,000 participating venues claimed £53.7 million. The average claim made by restaurants is £5.25 per cover. The government has said it allocated £500 million to fund the scheme, which draws to a close next Monday, 31 August.

“Today’s figures continue to show that Brits are backing hospitality — with more than 64m meals discounted so far, that’s equivalent to nearly every person in the country dining out to protect jobs,” Rishi Sunak said, having previously described the take-up as “amazing”. “This scheme has reminded us how much we love to dine out.” Sunak who believes that the recovery of the hospitality industry is key to the overall economic recovery of the country, said that the scheme was helping to safeguard the jobs of the almost two million working in restaurants, pubs, and cafes in the U.K.

Though it is scheduled to finish at the end of the month, hospitality trade body boss Kate Nicholls has said the success of the scheme in increasing footfall and boosting trade in restaurants warranted its extension into September. Indeed, while fears that custom will fall away when the scheme ends, a growing number of restaurants have announced that they will fund their own discount initiatives into the month of September in a bid to maintain momentum moving into the autumn.

What’s more, the effect of the scheme, due to the absence of office workers and tourists, has benefitted metropolitan centres like London less than it has smaller cities and seaside towns, according to the Guardian.

The coming months present restaurants with a litany of uncertainties: The industry has still not been given any reassurances on the looming matter of rent, with landlords — as the law currently stands — able to evict tenants which have been unable to pay bills as of the 30 September. And while Sunak praises Eat Out to Help Out’s ability to “protect jobs”, the effect of the pandemic on the industry has seen 22,000 jobs lost already this year, with fears over the future of many workers in doubt when the government’s job protection (furlough) scheme comes to a close at the end October.

The months of July and August, aided by the introduction of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, has provided restaurants with a much-needed boost — a 61 percent footfall increase Monday to Wednesday on last year, according to online booking platform Open Table) after an unforeseen and extended period of forced closure and in many cases, no revenue. What they now need to know is: what happens next?