The government package lets people eat out at more than 73,000 restaurants with the government covering half the cost, up to £10 ($13) per person.
Dishes piled up at a quirky southeast London pizzeria on Monday as the U.K. government’s restaurant revival scheme began.
A full-house made up of diners of all ages came out to enjoy half-price meals courtesy of the country’s finance minister.
At Voodoo Rays, it did not feel like there was a global pandemic as diners chatted happily over pizzas, sides, and soft drinks, all of which are 50% off paid for by the state.
But coronavirus guidance on entry, QR codes for online ordering, and servers sporting masks were a reminder of the crisis.
My three friends and I each tried to hit exactly £20 worth of food, stocking up on sides to squeeze the most use from Sunak’s generous scheme.
This was a common theme on Monday, according to Voodoo Rays’ manager Dan Beaumont.
He also said he believed the scheme seemed to be one of the main reasons business was so strong. Voodoo Rays was full, though he could not compare it to previous weeks as it had been closed since March.
Beaumont said he was excited to see the restaurant full of people and thanked the scheme for the turnout, but sees problems arising after August when the scheme is withdrawn.
The package launched on Monday is a unique bailout for the devastated English hospitality industry that will see the taxpayer pick up half the check for diners eating out.
It’s called Eat Out to Help Out, and was unveiled by finance minister Rishi Sunak to save many of the country’s struggling cafes, restaurants, and bars.
“Our Eat Out to Help Out scheme is designed to get more customers through the door – protecting jobs by giving businesses the confidence to retain and hire staff,” Sunak said in July.
People can eat out at one of over 85,000 restaurants that have signed up for the scheme and the government will cover half the cost, up to £10 ($13) per person.
On Tuesday figures from the government revealed that eager diners had enjoyed more than 35 million discounted meals.
Restaurants across the U.K. closed from March 23, when the country entered lockdown to control the coronavirus outbreak, until July 4 when lockdown measures began to ease.
But the British Retail Consortium (BRC), a retail lobby group said in the four weeks to August 1 footfall on high streets, the amount of people visiting city centres, was 47.5% lower than a year earlier.
It was a slight pickup from previous months, but signalled that consumers were still weary and needed an impetus to get back into prepandemic habits.
The BRC also said that the reopening of pubs and restaurants didn’t have a significant impact on retail footfall over the course of the month.
At Voodoo Rays, Beaumont said: “It will be interesting to see what impact it has on the weekend trade. Post-August there are of course major concerns throughout the whole of our sector, in terms of our progress in reducing the spread of the virus, but also the economic health of the country, as well as the ability to operate sustainably.”
“We fully support all the control measures designed to keep our customers safe, but will absolutely need more financial support,” he added.