Has Eat Out to Help Out actually helped out?

In August, more than 830,000 businesses signed up to the government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ (EOTHO) promotion. The scheme was widely accepted as a success, with owners claiming more than 100 million meals as demonstrated by Treasury figures. 

But did Eat Out to Help Out Actually Help Out, or did it merely spread potential revenue from the weekend across the week?

With claims by businesses amounting to around £522m so far (restaurants have until the end of September, so that’s likely to rise even further), many would say the scheme did help, especially in keeping small businesses afloat. However, it’s still unclear whether EOTHO has helped the industry find its (table) legs again, especially as we head into the leaner Autumn months.

We break down how the scheme actually worked and look at some of its criticism. 

The scheme explained

Eat Out to Help Out was a UK-wide, government-backed promotion that took place during August. In order to participate, restaurants and pubs had to sign up to the scheme.

It offered those eating out a 50% discount on food and soft drinks for a maximum discount of £10 per person. The promotion only ran on certain days of the week during the month – Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Notably, it only applied to food and (non-alcoholic) drinks consumed on-premises and not takeaways – the government’s goal was to get people back into restaurants and increase footfall.

While food and drink still appeared at full price on menus, each participating restaurant would apply the discount to the bill and then claim it back from the government. 

So… did the scheme actually help?

In general, EOTHO was widely well-received by the restaurant and hospitality industry. Several restaurateurs as well as the UK’s Hospitality Chief, even called for the project to be revived this Autumn. Data from Barclays Payments revealed that diners spent 34.2% more eating out on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays than they did back in July while figures for over the weekend held steady. Data released by the government also showed that bookings were higher by 216% at the end of the month compared to the same day last year.

The scheme certainly encouraged more people to eat out than in previous months. It also resulted in overwhelming demand for some restaurants on key days. However, card transactions in the UK were down 7% overall on last August, pointing to a more significant downward trend in people’s spending habits as a result of the pandemic. 

Criticism

While the scheme has put a smile back on many a restauranteur’s faces, it’s come up against criticism.

Overwhelm and increased hostility – Several pubs and restaurants ended up pulling out of the scheme in August when demand became too overwhelming. There was also increased hostility towards staff in some locations struggling to keep up.

Promotion of junk food – Some anti-obesity campaigners expressed their concern over how the scheme could be seen as green lighting and promoting junk food and unhealthy eating habits. It didn’t help that the offer was announced the same day the government was encouraging people to lose weight.

Not long enough – As pointed out by restaurant owner and lobbyist Andy Lennox in this interview with the BBC, while the scheme has greatly helped, he feels it’s been closed down too soon. With furlough coming to an end and a potential 2nd wave on the horizon, the Autumn is set to be a low point for restaurants and pubs who may require even more support.

The final verdict

There’s no doubt that restaurant bookings and footfall surged during the scheme. Many places not only saw their trade revived but were faced with unprecedented bookings. Some have even decided to carry the scheme on at their own expense into September. However, restaurant owners and workers are now looking to the quieter Autumn months ahead with great apprehension. Will they be able to survive this period, or is there a case from bringing the scheme back? 

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