Diners in rush to savour last day of eat out to help out scheme | Eat out to help out

Diners rushed to their local cafes, bars and restaurants on Monday – the last day of the UK government’s hugely popular eat out to help out scheme.

Dubbed “going for a Rishi”, the half-price meal offer throughout August was launched by the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to help preserve jobs in a sector that has been hard hit by Covid-19 lockdown.

Queues formed on Monday outside some restaurants, including Nando’s and McDonald’s, in city centres and high streets around the country, and three-hour waits for a table in a “virtual queue” via mobile apps were reported for other restaurants.

Escocesa’s manager Juan Moreno and customers Vesa Popova and Juliana Wang.
Escocesa’s manager Juan Moreno and customers Vesa Popova and Juliana Wang. Photograph: Sean Smith/The Guardian

The scheme gave diners 50% off, up to £10 per person, on all food and non-alcoholic drink consumed from Monday to Wednesday at the 84,000 venues taking part in the scheme.

The initiative proved a lifeline for many struggling restaurants, some of which are continuing price promotions into September at their own expense as they fear autumn trading will be poor. Sunak has urged people to keep on eating out to “maintain the momentum to help continue our economic recovery.”

The Spanish tapas restaurant Escocesa in Stoke Newington, north London, advertised the eat out to help out scheme as “Tapas with the Tories”.

Juan Moreno, the restaurant manager, said he expected more than 200 covers by the end of the day on Monday. Normally, the restaurant serves 40 to 50 people a day but this surged to 120 on eat out to help out days.

Richard Eversden and Charlie Gilmartin eat at Sublime with their toddler.
Richard Eversden and Charlie Gilmartin eat at Sublime in London with their toddler. Photograph: Sean Smith/The Guardian

“It’s been crazy the whole month,” he said. “The weekend was a bit quiet. People were coming from Monday to Wednesday because of the promotion.” Escocesa plans to offer its own discounts of 20% in September.

Vesa Popova, a 25-year-old account manager who was eating tapas with her friend Juliana Wang, 33, a user experience designer, said they had both used the meal offer “extensively” in August. “I don’t eat out very much [normally] but we are spending half-price on food, so may as well go out.”

Both were put on furlough during the pandemic and then made redundant but Wang starts a new job next Monday while Popova has a job interview the same day.

Lulu Jessica Shen, the owner of the nearby dim sum restaurant, Lulu, said the initiative had been a big help but she was worried about what would come next. Eat out to help out has brought new customers to her restaurant, while her regulars are too afraid to go out, she said.

“People are saying ‘I like the food’ but can’t afford to come back.” The number of eat out to help out meals served at her restaurant rose steadily from 300 in the first week of the scheme to 490 last week.

Restaurant owner and Lulu Jessica Shen.
The eat out to help out scheme has brought new customers to Lulu Jessica Shen’s restaurant. Photograph: Sean Smith/The Guardian

Over at the Sublime pizzeria near Manor House in north London, Charlie Gilmartin, and Richard Eversden, both 36, were having pizza with their toddler. They had been on their way home after a walk in the Woodberry wetlands when they spotted the eat out to help out sign at Sublime and spontaneously decided to eat out.

“For £20 we can all eat out together when it’s normally £30 or £40. It’s a big saving,” Eversden said.

The Treasury initially costed the initiative at £500m but its popularity is likely to push the final total above that. Diners had already claimed more than 64m eat out to help out meals – the equivalent of one for almost every person in the country – by the first three weeks of August, according to figures published by the government last week.

Source: The Guardian

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