All good things must come to an end, they say, and today sees the end of the government funded Eat Out To Help Out scheme.
Launched by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in July, for three days a week the deal offered half-price discounts on eat-in food up to the value of £10 per person.
It was designed to help kick-start a hospitality industry decimated by the COVID-19 lockdown.
And it worked – 84,000 restaurants and cafes took part in the scheme, serving more than 64 million meals in just three weeks.
But despite the government’s data showing the rapid growth of the scheme – with 10.5 million meals claimed for in the first week, 35 million meals in the second, and 64 million meals in the third – it has so far ignored calls for it to be extended.
The Federation for Small Businesses is among those wanting a continuation of the practice.
Its chief of external affairs, Craig Beaumont, said: “This scheme has been an overwhelming success. We’ve seen the behaviour change, we’ve seen people going in and enjoying their local small businesses safely, and we’ve seen our high streets beginning to reinvigorate.
“And that’s why we really want to see an extension to the scheme, or some form of the scheme, to continue to guarantee that this continues throughout the autumn. We need the economic recovery to really take place, and the hospitality sector should be at the heart of that.”
In a sector where 80% halted trading and 1.4 million employees were furloughed, the scheme was such a welcome boost that many restaurants have taken it into their own hands to continue it.
The hospitality sector was one of the industries hardest hit by the virus, with 80% of firms halting trading and 1.4 million workers being furloughed in April.
Chains like Pizza Hut, Bill’s and Pizza Pilgrims are among restaurants to say they will continue with the 50% discount next month.
Other smaller businesses are also following suit, such as The Arabica Bar And Kitchen in London’s Borough Market.
Its operations manager Pedro Oliveira said: “The incentive from Rishi has definitely had an impact, and a positive one, to give some formal normality to the lives of the public. So we thought it’s time for us to do something as well, so we decided to carry on that scheme for September.”
With government debt now standing at around £2 trillion, and rumours of tax hikes on the horizon to service it, there is no indication that the chancellor will change his mind.
In a statement, Mr Sunak said: “As the Eat Out to Help Out scheme draws to a close, I want to say thank you to the diners who have fallen back in love with their local, to the managers who have spent weeks ensuring their restaurants were safe and to the chefs, waiters and waitresses across the country who have worked tirelessly, sometimes with more customers than they’ve ever had before – all helping to protect 1.8 million jobs in the hospitality sector.
“The scheme reminded us why we as a nation love dining out and I urge diners to maintain the momentum to help continue our economic recovery.”