August cost of gourmet UK: £522 million for 100 million meals

A scheme that ran through August to revive the UK’s hospitality industry hit by the Covid-19 pandemic cost the taxpayer over £522 million for 100 million meals that were 50 percent paid by the Boris Johnson government.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak launched the ‘Eat out to Help Out scheme’ under which nearly 85,000 restaurants (including Indian) and other food-serving establishments offered 50 percent discount up to £10 per person Monday to Wednesday in August.

Civil servants initially expressed doubts over the scheme’s value for money, but it has been widely hailed a success after attracting thousands of people who lined up outside restaurants across the UK after being hunkered down in homes for months, repositioning the ‘weekend atmosphere’ to Monday-to-Wednesday.

Sunak said on Friday, “From the get-go, our mission has been to protect jobs and to do this we needed to be creative, brave and try things that no government has ever done before. Today’s figures continue to show ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ has been a success”.

Also read: Widespread Covid-19 vaccines not expected until mid-2021, says WHO

“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,” he added.

The £522 million cost to the taxpayer is likely to increase with restaurants having until the end of September to claim back the 50 percent government-funded discount applied to bills. Buoyed by the spike in business, several restaurants have continued to offer the discount on their own.

According to Sunak, 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 Covid-19.

According to industry data, restaurant bookings increased by an average of 53 percent on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout the whole of August, compared to the same days in 2019. In July 2020, restaurant bookings were down 54 percent on an average from Mondays to Wednesdays compared to July 2019.

On August 31 – the final day of the scheme – bookings were up 216 percent compared to the equivalent day in 2019.

Kate Nicholls of trade association UK Hospitality said, “The ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme has been a great success for hospitality. Our members have reported very strong bookings throughout August at a time when the sector really needed a boost”.

“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 UK”.

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