Eat out to help out’: 64m meals claimed in UK under scheme

Number of people in restaurants 61% higher than average for Monday to Wednesday last year

The “eat out to help out” scheme encouraged more people into UK restaurants last week, taking the total number of meals claimed since the beginning of August to more than 64m – the equivalent of one for nearly every person in the country.

The figures released by HM Revenue & Customs suggest the scheme – where diners can claim a half-price discount up to a maximum of £10 per head on food and non-alcoholic drink on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in August – has provided a much-needed boost for the embattled hospitality sector.

In the run-up to the end of the scheme next week, the chancellor said the figures demonstrated how popular it had been so far, with 10.5m meals claimed in the first week, rising to 35m in the second and 64m by the third.

“Today’s figures continue to show that Brits are backing hospitality – with more than 64m meals discounted so far, that’s equivalent to nearly every person in the country dining out to protect jobs,” Rishi Sunak said.

He said the scheme, announced in his summer statement in July, had helped to protect the jobs of almost 2 million people working in hospitality, adding: “This scheme has reminded us how much we love to dine out.”

Restaurants, pubs and cafes apply the discount to a customer’s bill and then claim the money back from the government.

In a reflection of its widespread take-up, HMRC said £336m had been claimed so far, indicating that consumers were receiving a discount of about £5.25 per head on average.

However, the bill for the Treasury is expected to rise further, with potential to surpass the £500m Sunak had originally budgeted for, as claims are expected to keep rolling in from the 84,000 outlets taking part until a deadline for submissions at the end of September.

With the UK economy in the deepest recession since records began, Sunak has come under pressure to extend the scheme to support hospitality firms. Some venues are, however, planning to continue offering discounts once the scheme ends.

According to Sky News, the Grosvenor Estate, which owns property in London’s West End, plans to cut rents for restaurants in its buildings that apply £10 per head discounts until the end of September.

Since the launch of the scheme, figures from OpenTable, an online restaurant booking platform, show the number of people in UK restaurants is 61% higher than the same days last year on average for Monday to Wednesday.

Visitor numbers to smaller cities and seaside towns have increased most as a result of the scheme, according to a study by the Centre for Cities thinktank. However, the continued absence of office workers from many big cities has meant places like London and Manchester have benefited least.

Restaurants, bars and cafes were among the hardest hit businesses by lockdown, with a higher proportion of hospitality workers furloughed than in other sectors.

Despite warnings that encouraging people to eat out would accelerate the spread of the virus, the scheme is designed to boost trade as the furlough scheme is wound down.