When Rishi Sunak announced the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, it was praised by hospitality industry groups as providing “much-needed help” to the sector’s struggling businesses. I decided to see for myself how good the scheme really was, and ventured out to one of my favourite restaurants – a local, family-owned business serving Lebanese cuisine.
As I walked down the high-street towards the restaurant, it was evident that eateries were getting a much-needed boost in business; in many, there were lines of people waiting to be seated, with alfresco dining – packed with customers – taking up a significant part of the street. The situation at the restaurant I was headed to was no different; I was seated outdoors after a 5-minute wait. The food, as always, was very good. However, I noticed that the staff appeared to be a bit rushed, and it was evident that whilst the increased traffic was welcome, they were having to work hard to cope.
Upon finishing my meal, I had a brief conversation with the manager. He informed me that the restaurant’s turnover had increased by around 70% on the days the scheme was in operation – however, it had not seen significant increases on other days. Evidently, for this restaurant, whilst the scheme did in fact boost demand, it also had the effect of changing consumption patterns. This also raises the question as to whether demand will continue to remain high after the scheme ends. Some restaurants have decided to unilaterally continue the scheme even after government funding finishes at the end of August, indicating the sector’s worry about demand withering away.
A House of Commons library briefing paper listed some further concerns raised about the scheme. Questions were raised by the Institute for Government whether it would have the effect of ‘subsidising’ consumption by more well-off households that would have taken place regardless. Concerns were also raised about the fact that large corporate chains were eligible for the scheme. There were also criticism about not extending the offer to alcoholic drinks, for including unhealthy food, and for not being extended to sectors such as retail, which have also suffered greatly due to pandemic-related measures.
Nonetheless, in the first two weeks of it coming into effect, over 85,000 restaurants signed up to the scheme, selling 35 million discounted meals to diners across the country. By the time it ended, the scheme had served over 100 million of these meals. Furthermore, the highest number of meals claimed was in central London, an area where eateries have been particularly hard-hit by the lack of commuters and tourists.
On this basis, it is undeniable that this scheme has largely been a success. It is an innovative idea that has given struggling restaurants a much-needed boost in demand, and provided diners across the country subsidised meals. However, whilst many establishments have been saved by this scheme, now that it has ended, their future remains uncertain.