Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme was used more than 10.5 million times in its first week.
The scheme – intended to boost Britain’s struggling hospitality sector -means the government pays for half of each meal eaten at a cafe, restaurant or pub on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday this month. The discount is capped at £10.
Mr Sunak described the take-up as ‘amazing’ with Treasury figures showing 10,540,394 diners took advantage of his scheme in the first week.
We spoke to restaurants, bars and pubs across south west London to sample reactions to the policy which will cost the UK taxpayer £500 million.
Richard Underhill, owner of Tooting’s Richard’s Kitchen, praised the scheme.
He said: “It is very, very positive and I’m glad the government has done this.
“It has brought new people in and regulars that I haven’t seen for a little bit.”
The 54-year-old father-of-three closed for 15 weeks during the lockdown and is concerned about the future of his business.
He said: “It was a case of sitting down in lockdown and asking, ‘Is it worth it?’”
Richard’s Kitchen opened three years ago with August traditionally a slow month.
Mr Underhill said: “This year has been different. I’m very, very happy, August is normally a lot quieter for me.”
He also noticed the change in pattern regarding his busiest days in the restaurant.
“It has changed my working week around a bit. Normally, we start off Monday slow and build up for the weekend. This sort of means we start the week off with a bang and slow down for the weekend.”
“I am damaged, I’m just above the waterline, so hopefully not too many choppy seas ahead.”
Steakhouse restaurant The Lass O’Richmond Hill has benefitted from the government’s scheme.
Landlord James Doyle, 34, described the scheme as a ‘fantastic initiative’ that provided an ‘extended level of customer support’ and he was ‘happy to try something that could help the industry’.
Mr Doyle revealed during the scheme’s first four days, the restaurant had seen 250-300 covers and he explained the business was well-prepared for a post-Covid age.
The restaurant had ‘lots of space and was well laid out’ to help customers to keep safe.
During lockdown, Mr Doyle ‘painted the pub and re-did the garden’, which helped the restaurant total sales be ‘up 20%’.
Mr Doyle praised his customers for sticking to safety guidelines ‘very well’ and the restaurant enjoyed “good feedback” since reopening.
The number of ‘safe and happy’ customers has meant there were many ‘return customers’ when the scheme has run.
Mr Doyle said that the restaurant would apply for an ‘AA rosette’ such was the success they have enjoyed before and after lockdown.
Twickenham’s award-winning restaurant Avocado and Lemon has been much busier thanks to the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
Waitress Lydia Glendinning, 20, who has worked at the cafe for 18 months, said: “It’s been much busier. Especially on Mondays, it’s very busy because everyone comes in for the discount.
“We weren’t very busy when we first opened. Each week we get busier. We sometimes have quite an old customer base so we are not seeing our regular people, we’re seeing a lot more young people.
“There are more young people coming out to eat now, but also in general because all the old people are shielding.”
French Bistro Le Petit Sud, in Kensington’s Palace Gate, is pleased about the uptake in business but remains concerned for what the future will bring.
Restaurant director Charles Montanaro, 31, described the scheme as ‘a great initiative’ and was among one of the better things the government has done so far.
However, he is worried that while it is busier ‘it is not a lot busier, because obviously we are still living in a pandemic and there’s still a lack of confidence in people going out’.
Given that he has lost two thirds of his business, he described the comparison to this time last year as ‘impossible’ due to the fact that last year they had ‘beaming weather with thousands of tourists in London, with Royal Albert Hall open, which isn’t comparable’.
The restaurant is ‘completely Covid secure’ with comprehensive cleaning every two hours and cleaning the toilets every 20 minutes.
This scheme has been ‘really helpful’ for the business, but he does remain uncertain, as this scheme ‘will only help for a period of time’.
The Red Lion in Barnes has seen an increase in business.
Bartender Sid Mayall, 31, said: “We’re doing actually really well, but it’s still a struggle the whole time.
“We’re making a lot more money because there’s more people here, but, I think, in terms of this pandemic happening, I don’t think it’s very helpful. I think a lot of people are going out spreading the virus around needlessly really.
“We have to stay on top of it just because we have to work, we need to make money. The weekends are always busy here.”
Mr Mayall, a bartender at the pub for four years, explained that before the scheme staff had Monday to Wednesday to prepare and reclean the bar but increase in numbers means ‘basically we have a five-day weekend’.
He added: “It’s just busy all the time.”
The Waterman’s Arms in Barnes has seen an increased balance between food and alcohol sales thanks to the Chancellor’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
General manager Adam Sandford, 27, said: “It’s definitely helped with Monday to Wednesday trade.”
He described how business compared to last year had ‘definitely picked up as a result’.
Mr Sandford said there had been ‘a slightly more even split just in terms of the Eat Out to Help Out but alcohol hasn’t taken a dip. Just increased food sales’.
The pub partially re-opened for takeaways on May 28.
He added: “Since other pubs have opened trade has dropped off a little bit because everyone’s spread out to other pubs which are open and restaurants but compared to last year it is still better.”
Mark Gurney, 41, co-owner of Salon restaurant in Brixton, says the eight-year-old business has benefitted from the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme.
He said: “It’s like having every weekend on a Tuesday and Wednesday
“Our customers have been fantastic – they’re really excited about coming back and eating out. It’s been a really wonderful couple of weeks – seeing a lot of regulars and new customers.
“Customers have a new-found love of restaurants – they realise how important the hospitality sector is to health, well-being and the enjoyment of life.
“It’s a fantastic offer from the government to help provide incentives to go and eat out – we’d be mad not to get involved.”
Contrary to popular opinion, the Eat Out to Help Out scheme has not worked to benefit the whole high street.
Elliot Roberts, 28, director of the family-run café Windmill Tearooms on Wimbledon Common, has voiced concerns with regard to the effectiveness of the scheme on small businesses.
Mr Roberts said: “The only people that seem to have benefited from it are the chain store.
“It’s just given me the new job of trying to claim my money elsewhere.”
The scheme, which applies to both chain and independent businesses, risks being unfairly weighted towards the larger companies who can afford marketing campaigns to inform customers of their involvement in the gov funded project, claimed Mr Roberts.
“If we hadn’t put a sign up in the window, they wouldn’t have known we were signed up,” he explained.
Mr Roberts said he doubted people were spending more with them and thinks that the end of the scheme may actually improve his income revenue, as patrons return back into local businesses.
SWLondoner reporting team: Meghna Amin, William Hutchings, Olivia Emily, Noah Keate, Charlotte Way, Evie Taylor, Cerys Turner, Laura Durrington, Jasmine Laws, Amy Holliday, Iwan Stone, Sean Boyle, Brooke Davies, Ploumy Coutsiouri, Anu Kumaresan and Jack Harrison