More than 35m discounted meals were claimed in the first two weeks of the government’s “eat out to help out” scheme for Britain’s hard-pressed hospitality sector, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced.
Figures released by HM Revenue & Customs show that Britons increasingly got the appetite for the cut-price offers, with the number of claims submitted by participating businesses more than doubling in the second week from just over 10m in the scheme’s first week.
Under the plan, 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 Wednesday’s in August. The online booking service Open Table has reported that restaurants have been on average 27% busier than they were on the same days of August 2019.
The Treasury said it expected the number of discounted meals to rise because it had so far received claims from only 48,000 of the 85,000 participating restaurants. The bill for the scheme in its first two weeks was £180m, with an average claim of just over £5.
Sunak, who first announced that diners would be eligible for money off their bills in his July mini-budget, said: “Today’s figures show that Britain is eating out to help out – with at least 35m meals served up in the first two weeks alone, that is equivalent to over half of the UK taking part and supporting local jobs in the hospitality sector.”
Restaurants, bars and cafes were among the hardest hit businesses by the lockdown imposed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and eat out to help out was designed to boost trade as the government began to wind down its furlough scheme.
Despite some reports that “eat out to help out” was leading to weaker activity on other days of the week – Sundays and Thursdays in particular – Sunak said the scheme was vital to limit the expected surge in unemployment among the 1.8 million people working in the hospitality sector.
About 80% of hospitality firms stopped trading during April, with 1.4 million workers furloughed, the highest of any sector.
Sunak, who has put aside a total of £500m for the scheme, said: “To build back better we must protect as many jobs as possible, that is why I am urging all registered businesses to make the most of this by claiming back today – it’s free, simple and pays out within five working days.”