There is no such thing as a free lunch, or so the saying goes. But from Monday, families will be able to eat at many of their favourite restaurants at a considerably reduced cost as Chancellor Rishi Sunak — dubbed Dishy Rishi — dishes up a helping for the beleaguered hospitality industry.
His scheme, Eat Out To Help Out, is designed to give restaurants, pubs and cafes a much-needed shot in the arm after months of enforced lockdown by letting families dine out with up to £10 off per person.
Whether you’re missing your favourite pizza, can’t wait for a steak or want a cream tea to break up a sunny day at the beach, here is the essential guide to everything you need to know…
As a diner, it’s very simple: just turn up at a participating establishment, on the correct day, and order. The Treasury has set up a postcode finder that will list outlets offering a scheme within a two-mile radius
What is Eat Out To Help Out?
The scheme was unveiled by the Chancellor as part of his Covid-19 mini budget in July — designed to rescue the economy from a coronavirus-induced recession.
As its name suggests, this £500 million taxpayer-funded scheme aims to get families who have been hankering after restaurant meals during lockdown back at the table.
Diners can get a 50 per cent discount on food or non-alcoholic drinks up to a maximum discount of £10 per person.
The result? An army of mums and dads who are thoroughly fed up of spending time in the kitchen get to relax and let someone else do the cooking and struggling restaurant bosses get increased footfall and the opportunity to prove that eating out post-lockdown doesn’t have to be a terrifying concept.
The scheme will run every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday until August 31, giving you 13 opportunities for a cut price meal out.
Mr Sunak told the Mail: ‘Our Eat Out To Help Out scheme is designed to help breathe life back into our badly hit hospitality sector — helping to protect the jobs of the 1.8 million hard-working people employed by our much-loved local restaurants, cafes and pubs.
‘We want people to support the Covid-secure establishments that have reopened their doors up and down the country, and enjoy the summer in a safe environment.’
So how does it work?
As a diner, it’s very simple: just turn up at a participating establishment, on the correct day, and order. The Treasury has set up a postcode finder that will list outlets offering a scheme within a two-mile radius.
It’s probably best to book given that eateries are juggling new limitations on space, but otherwise once you are at your table you are good to go.
There is no need for a voucher, because the discount is automatically available at participating establishments, which then claim a reimbursement from the Government for the discount given.
The Government will cover half of the cost of the meal out, up to £10 a head, including children, meaning that a meal for one costing £20 would be reduced to £10, but a £25 meal would be reduced to £15, because of the £10 limit.
The offer includes children’s meals, so it will save a family of four up to £40 when dining out.
You can dip into the scheme as many times as you like, meaning you could in theory have half-price meals Monday to Wednesday all month. But remember: alcohol and service are not included.
Why has it been introduced?
Among the many industries to have been hit by the Coronavirus lockdown, hospitality has taken a massive hit.
Restaurants were told to close on March 20, with some tentatively reopening for the first time on July 4. But hospitality post-corona is very different, with social distancing limiting space, requirements to gather data from diners, not to mention all the cleaning. Combined with staffing and cash flow problems, it’s no wonder some still haven’t reopened.
According to trade industry body UK Hospitality, sales at pubs, restaurants and hotels across the UK plunged by £30 billion during lockdown, with revenues down by 87 per cent between April and June compared to last year.
Chief executive Kate Nicholls said the dramatic fall proved Government assistance for the industry’s 65,000 businesses was vital to avoid more failures and job losses.
Sadly, a host of familiar High Street names as well as much-loved local eateries have had to close permanently, triggering redundancies. Italian restaurant chain Carluccio’s escaped administration after it was bought by the owner of Giraffe restaurants. Yet it still had to close 40 restaurants, costing more than 1,000 jobs — more than half the workforce.
The owners of Zizzi and Ask Italian said it would close 75 locations, risking the loss of up to 1,200 jobs, while Casual Dining Group entered administration earlier this month, putting 1,900 jobs at Bella Italia, Cafe Rouge and Las Iguanas in peril if buyers can not be found.
Sandwich chain Pret a Manger has also announced the closure of several stores, and Pizza Hut is considering restructuring moves that could involve job losses.
But campaigners claim the scheme could lead to people eating too many calories at a time when the Government is trying to encourage many to lose weight.
A study by weight loss experts Noom found that dining out could see Britons consume 1,500 calories in one sitting by ordering extra food because of the discounts.
We’ll eat out twice a week
The last time Laura Mason-Byers and her family ate at a restaurant near their Worcestershire home was four months ago, just days before lockdown.
The communications manager, 36, her husband Colin, 37, and children Marley, four, Noah, seven, and Grace, eight, had been regular eat-out diners, and can’t wait to sit down in a restaurant again on Monday.
‘We already have a table booked,’ says Laura. ‘Miller & Carter, a steakhouse in Millbrook, Bromsgrove, which we drive past every day when we take Marley to nursery.
The last time Laura Mason-Byers and her family ate at a restaurant near their Worcestershire home was four months ago, just days before lockdown
‘The last time we went out was for Noah’s birthday back in March — thankfully we decided to go out before his birthday, because lockdown ended up being before the date itself.
‘We normally eat out two to three times a month; a cheeky midweek meal at a gastro pub, or a family curry on a Sunday, so we’ve really missed it.’
Both Colin, who is head of operations for a franchise company, and Laura have been working from home full-time while juggling childcare, so they are relieved to be able to go out and let someone else do hard work in the kitchen. So much so, they have already booked restaurants — and sometimes two — for every week in August.
‘I’ve had enough of cooking, so this is great,’ says Laura. ‘We’ve booked some meals as a family, but I have also booked a couple of places just so my husband and I can have a date night.’
How should a restaurant join?
Those who have already registered are good to go from Monday, but those who haven’t can still sign up until the end of the month.
The main requirement is that this is an ‘eat in’ scheme, so you must sell food to be eaten on site and you must have, or share, a dining area for customers.
It means popular takeaway chains such as Domino’s are not taking part, and you won’t get the discount at drive-thru branches of chains such as McDonald’s.
The size of the eat-in area is not specified, so some places with only a couple of tables could offer the discount, but this would only be available to the customers sat at those tables.
You couldn’t get the discount if they were full and you needed to take your food away. Restaurant bosses need to keep the records for each day they have used the scheme, including the total number of diners and total amount of discount given.
They then make a claim seven days after the date of registration — August 7 at the earliest. HMRC then gives out a claim reference number and (all going to plan) the claim amount goes into the registered bank account in five days.
Businesses will still need to pay VAT based on the full amount of the customer’s bill before the scheme discount is applied.
What do the owners think?
Saturday Kitchen regular and Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton says: ‘I hope it will encourage people to enjoy high end dining, in a relaxed and affordable way.
Instead of enjoying a select number of places, you can afford to indulge in a number more while supporting the restaurants and kitchens who have been dormant the past few months.
‘It means I and my chefs are back in the kitchen doing exactly what we love and we hope it helps kick start the economy.’
Over in Suffolk, Unruly Pig owner Brendan Padfield says: ‘I’ve certainly noticed a significant increase in calls as a result of the scheme. As my daughter calls him Dishy Rishi, well, Dishy is my hero!’
Piers Baker, owner of the Sun Inn, in Dedham, Suffolk, has joined the scheme, but remains uncertain about the benefits for his business.
He says: ‘It will probably benefit large chain restaurants, but I can’t see it working for us, though I acknowledge that it’s a good creative measure.’