Britons help out with £35m of discounted meals in first two weeks


Diners have tucked into more than 35 million discounted meals in the first two weeks of the chancellor’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

According to figures released yesterday by the Treasury, more than 48,000 claims have been made by restaurants that signed up to take part.

More than 85,000 have registered to participate, including chains such as Brasserie Blanc, Pizza Express, Pho, Joe and the Juice, McDonald’s and Wahaca.

The figures follow the publication of data from Open Table, the booking service, suggesting that restaurants have on average been 27 per cent fuller on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday than during the same period in August last year.

The government initiative, designed to protect jobs in the hospitality sector, gives diners 50 per cent off a meal in participating restaurants up to a maximum of £10 a person from Monday to Wednesday until the end of the month. It includes soft drinks but not alcohol.

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, said: “With at least 35 million meals served up in the first two weeks alone, that is equivalent to over half of the UK taking part and supporting local jobs in the hospitality sector.”

He added: “To build back better we must protect as many jobs as possible, that is why I am urging all registered businesses to make the most of this by claiming back today — it’s free, simple and pays out within five working days.”

The scheme, which was used 10.5 million times in the first week, aims to help protect the jobs of the hospitality industry’s 1.8 million employees by encouraging people to safely return to restaurants, cafés and pubs.

About 80 per cent of hospitality businesses stopped trading in April, with 1.4 million workers furloughed, the highest of any sector.

Proving that there is no such thing as a free lunch, or even a discounted one, taxpayers will have to foot the bill of £500 million set aside by the government to fund the scheme. Some of the additional business on Monday to Wednesday appears to have been displaced from later in the week, though the net benefit is still significant.

David Page, 68, chairman of Fulham Shore, owner of the Franco Manca pizza chain and the Real Greek, estimated that while Monday to Wednesday was up by at least 50 per cent, Thursday and Sunday were down by 10-15 per cent and Friday and Sunday were unchanged. After the first week Mr Page, the former boss of Pizza Express, said there was so much extra business that he had brought the remaining furloughed staff back even though six of its central London restaurants were still closed.

Tim Barrett, a leisure analyst at Numis, said that there had been “a clear impact on consumer intentions”, adding: “The stimulus is clearly welcome for the sector’s cash flow, although the acid test will come in September, after the scheme has ended.”