Photograph courtesy of Solstock via Getty Images

Lizzie James


24 August 2020

Is Eating Out Helping Out?

Brits have got an appetite for bargains with thirty-five million meals claimed in the first two weeks of the government’s “eat out to help out” scheme, according to the Treasury.

That’s equivalent to over half of the UK population taking part. But aside from subsidising eating out and cheering up the nation, what is the point of the programme?

Throughout August, British citizens are eligible to receive 50% off all food and non-alcoholic drinks when dining-in at registered restaurants; only Monday through Wednesday, with a capped discount of £10 per diner.

The government has pledged to fund cafes, pubs and restaurants that have adopted the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme with reimbursements for the discounts given to the public. In short, it’s an effort to get people more comfortable entering public spaces again and save the hospitality sector in the aftermath of COVID-19.

It comes in the wake of the government’s initiative to cut the value-added tax (VAT) rate on the hospitality sector from 20% to 5% until January 2021.

The UK is home to 1.8 million chefs, waiters and restaurateurs. When the pandemic hit, 80% of the nation’s hospitality firms closed. An estimated 1.4 million workers were furloughed, the highest of any industry this year.

Slowly, as lockdown eases, restrictions lift and life regains a sense of normality, the hospitality sector is open for business again.

Over 85,000 restaurants have registered for the incentive thus far. However, two weeks in, over 40% of enrolled establishments haven’t claimed for government reimbursement

A budget of £500 million – taxpayer’s money –  has been set aside to cover the scheme. With the first two weeks only totalling £180 million in compensations, there’s plenty of funds left for the UK to use.

How is it helping?

After months of scaremongering to keep the population house-bound, it’s no surprise many are anxious about re-entering public spaces again. However, by tempting more out into the highstreets, the hope is to normalise socially distanced public gatherings.

More than this, the incentive helps households with constricted wallets have a good time out. After almost 10 million UK workers found themselves furloughed throughout the pandemic, spending on luxuries such as eating and drinking out had all but ground to a halt.

This act is a hug to all those starved of fun while being 20% down on pay with the government job retention plan.

Undoubtedly, the hospitality sector has suffered through the global pandemic and encouragement to reignite the industry and get the economy back on its feet post-lockdown is vital. The push towards dine-in services is a lifeline to the hundreds of thousands of waiters, cleaners and other staff who have just about held onto employment.

When the nation’s workforce returns to their factories, offices and shops, it will only be a partial celebration. The UK expects to see record-breaking unemployment numbers due to this unprecedented virus, regardless of government initiatives.

Evidence suggests that the hospitality sector could save the job crisis that looms. After the financial crisis of 2008, the industry produced 22% of jobs for the newly unemployed in the following years – it is hoped, with funding, citizens could see the same job recovery success in the aftermath of COVID-19.

The government programme has been highly praised for protecting businesses, securing future jobs and lining the population’s stomach with a wholesome meal. 

There have been calls for “Eat Out to Help Out” to be extended, although, with government spending stretched to its limit trying to stabilise the nation post-pandemic, it seems unlikely to continue.