The final numbers, published by the Treasury this morning, showed that 84,700 establishments had signed up to the scheme making 130,000 claims at a cost of £522 million, £22 million more than the government had initially accounted for. The scheme’s use grew each week during last month. The number of claims are also likely to increase, since businesses have until the end of September to claim back the 50 percent applied to meals throughout last month.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who introduced the scheme to aid an industry hit hard by the pandemic, claimed the scheme’s popularity had helped protect the livelihoods of the 1.8 million people working in the hospitality sector and drive the nation’s economic recovery from coronavirus. During August, he’d admired the popularity of the initiative, calling the take-up “amazing” and observing that “Brits are backing hospitality.”
He said: “Today’s figures continue to show Eat Out to Help Out has been a success. I want to thank everyone, from restaurant owners to waiters, chefs and diners, for embracing it and helping drive our economic recovery.
“The scheme is just one part of our Plan for Jobs and we will continue to protect, support and create jobs to ensure we come back stronger as a nation.”
However, with the government’s job retention scheme (furlough) set to expire at the end of October, there are growing fears that mass redundancies will be made, no matter any boost restaurants and other hospitality businesses were given during the month of August.
This is despite a huge increase in footfall during last month, which in normal years is typically a leaner time for trading for restaurants. According to data by online reservations website, OpenTable, restaurant bookings increased by an average of 53 percent on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays throughout the whole of August, compared to the same days last year. Last month, restaurant bookings were down 54 percent on average from Mondays to Wednesdays compared to July 2019.
On Monday this week — the final day of the scheme — bookings were up 216 percent compared to the equivalent day in 2019.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive trade body UK Hospitality, said the scheme had been a great success for the industry after a very difficult period. “Our members have reported very strong bookings throughout August at a time when the sector really needed a boost,” she said, adding that it had contributed to increased consumer confidence. “It has helped provide a lift in consumer confidence which is going to be key for hospitality businesses as they look to reopen and help rebuild the economy. The scheme has provided a timely boost in trade which will have helped many businesses safeguard jobs all around the U.K.”
David Page, Chairman of Fulham Shore, the investor behind Franco Manca pizza chain, said the scheme had immediately increased customer numbers by over 50 percent, which enabled the group to get all staff back to work. “In fact, we are now creating new jobs by hiring and training more people as fast as we can!” he said.
Stephen Wall, managing director and co-founder of the Vietnamese fast casual restaurant chain, Pho, said it had been amazing. “It’s so nice to see our restaurants full of happy staff and customers again,” Wall observed. “It has certainly benefitted our early week figures and seems to have encouraged the British public to dine out safely, as our restaurants are filling up and staying busy throughout the weekend, too.”
Nonetheless, more help is required, as hospitality businesses across London still face myriad uncertainties as they head into the autumn. As well as preparing for the end of furlough, restaurant tenants face the prospect of eviction at the end of September, as legislation protecting them from such an eventuality expires. They have just three weeks to negotiate a new agreement with landlords, and in many cases, still owe rent for the weeks and months during which they were closed because of the enforced lockdown. Industry representatives have repeatedly called on the government to intervene with financial and legislative protections.
As has been apparent throughout August, Eat Out to Help Out has given a much-needed boost to an industry that had been hammered. Now, a growing list of London restaurants have announced that they will continue to offer self-funded discount incentives into the autumn, while others are wary of the precedent discounting might set. What happens next will be key to the long-term survival and viability of restaurants in the capital.