So I thought I would run a Twitter poll on how much use people had made of it. This was widely retweeted and attracted an impressive 786 votes.
As you can see, it shows a U-shaped distribution, with the largest group not having taken advantage at all, but almost as many having made good use of it on more than one occasion. Indeed, one person replied that he had so far used it no less than sixteen times. The reasons for not using it at all included simply being too busy, being someone who didn’t eat out at all, and not thinking it worth abandoning their usual routine. Nobody stated that they were still too frightened to visit hospitality venues.
POLL: Have you taken advantage of the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme?— Pub Curmudgeon 🍻 (@oldmudgie) August 25, 2020
Obviously if it involves doing something outside your usual routine, many might not find the saving worthwhile, although others will see it as too good to refuse. Amongst other things, I’ve used it to have a couple of Wetherspoon’s steaks, which I don’t normally bother with, but are hard to resist at less than a fiver. While obviously sourced at a price, they’re actually considerably better than you might expect. On one occasion I added a couple of slices of black pudding for half of £1.05, but the other time they had run out. The way the bills are presented makes it difficult to work out exactly how the discount has been calculated, as the menu prices include a drink, but the value attributed to the alcoholic drink is certainly well below the full list price.
The complaint has been made that the scheme does virtually nothing to help pubs that do not sell food. However, realistically, for the government to subsidise half-price alcoholic drinks would have been a political non-starter. I also suspect that it would have generated surprisingly little additional trade apart from that shifted from other days in the week – as I have argued in the past, people are much more deterred from drinking in pubs by lack of opportunity than high prices as such. There may well be a case for additional targeted support for wet-led pubs, but surely the key to reviving their fortunes must be the general restoration of economic confidence and ending the climate of fear. And any government initiative to help the hospitality industry should be welcomed.
Eat Out to Help Out is of course a broad-brush scheme, and will pay for many meals that people would have eaten anyway, or that have been shifted from other days in the week. But there is no doubt that it has generated a lot of additional business overall, and one of the keys to its success has been its simplicity and lack of small print. It is giving specific support to a sector of the economy that was one of the worst hit by the lockdown and provides a large amount of relatively low-paid employment. Plus, going forward, it should help to allay many people’s fears the risk involved in visiting hospitality outlets and make them feel more comfortable about returning in the coming months.
And, if you’ve missed out, or you just can’t get enough, some pub operators such as Ember Inns are continuing it into September at their own expense. Although not, I suspect, Wetherspoon’s.
They say good things must come to an end, but we’re extending 50% off food and soft drinks until 9 September! That’s up to £10 off per person from Mon-Weds, so your local is calling your name 🍴— Ember Inns (@EmberInns) August 26, 2020
T&Cs apply. pic.twitter.com/T1178oQQD5