Thursday 27 August 2020

Every little helps

There’s now only one day left to take advantage of the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme, which finishes next Bank Holiday Monday. This government-funded scheme, which has been running since the beginning of August, allows pubs, restaurants and cafés to offer a 50% discount on food and soft drinks (although not alcohol) on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, up to a maximum of £10 per transaction. So far it has proved extremely popular, with over 64 million meals being sold. Many venues have been fully booked and have had to turn customers away.

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.

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.


  1. Whilst it's been extremely popular with punters, (I've had to book twice in order to guarantee a table and avoid having to physically fill in a Track and Trace form), a few eateries actually withdrew from the scheme citing aggressive customers who couldn't grasp the fact that there were less tables due to social distancing, also places at costal resorts have commented that the scheme would've been more beneficial to them in the closed season.

    1. I encountered the customer aggression in Rhyl last week, with a customer refusing to accept they couldn't come in. I'm pretty sure they left a stinking Tripadvisor review afterwards, too.

  2. Spot on Mudgie 👍 I've eaten out around five times and remarkably good value.
    Mrs BB birthday on Monday and six of us are at a place that's usually too expensive so a real boon

  3. Replies
    1. It should carry on as long as you youngsters are willing to pick up the tax bill in a decade or so, Cookie.

      I've "saved" over £250 this month, but far more importantly I've got my old Dad out of the house and into pubs and coffee shops, and it's the pensioners, seeing there's less reason to be terrified than the BBC would like us to believe, that'll keep the pubs going in the medium term.

    2. government debt is never repaid, it's montised. you know that. you're not daft.

    3. You've really gone to town on this unconventional monetary theory, haven't you? A government has to pay the coupon on its debt. When the debt matures, any reasonably solvent government should be able to roll it over, but it may end up paying a higher interest rate. However, if it can't refinance its debt, then it ends up defaulting.

      Yes, especially given current ultra-low interest rates, the UK could theoretically borrow a more than it already has, but the chickens would come home to roost eventually. And monetising the debt is basically a euphemism for inflating it away.

  4. Taken advantage on our boating trip, the only downside was that, one day, the three pubs we could visit, canalside were fully booked. So, it required a taxi to the Spoons in Redditch (another time they've saved us!)

  5. No. Though it would make sense to, I never found the time to book/go. Drinking at full price in the pubs on the weekend is still more my thing.

  6. Oh drat! Your twitter feed is down, no piggy-riding today.

    1. Mine is perfectly OK, as far as I can see.

    2. No, it's gone, used to be on the left-hand side above "my other blogs".

    3. Ah, I was just playing about with the left-hand sidebar and it disappeared. Back now.

  7. Professor Pie-Tin28 August 2020 at 15:45

    I'm choked,I tell you.
    Heading back to Blighty in 10 days for an overnight stop on the way to a Greek island and we won't be able to take advantage of this scheme.
    There were some good bargains to be had in that there London too - Hawksmoor were doing steak and chips for a tenner with a £5 corkage on BYOW on a Monday which would have suited us fine.
    Tbh, we're looking forward to escaping from the North Korean outpost that Ireland is becoming.
    Apart from the opening of wet-led pubs next Monday being postponed yet again it is now a criminal offence for more than six people to gather together at a social event in a private house, either inside or outside.Six 'effing people !
    There are only five people in ICU with Covid-19 in the entire country out of a population of six milllion.
    Whatever plot there was Paddy has long since lost it.

    1. Well if they were all in the same ICU, they could have a party with impunity

  8. Made a point of only using restaurants Thu-Sun. Don't need a "nanny state" govt telling me when to eat out.

  9. Professor Pie-Tin30 August 2020 at 10:25

    The death of Chadwick Boseman led the bulletins on Sky News all day yesterday.
    Nope,me neither.

    1. Did you see this map, Prof?

      The Irish Republic is the only country in Europe where bars have not been allowed to reopen *at all*.

    2. Professor Pie-Tin30 August 2020 at 14:38

      I hadn't seen that particular map Mudgie but I was half-way through writing something on here a couple of days ago about it when I gave up through sheer depression.
      Most of Europe's bars have been open since the beginning of the summer, some even by the end of April and two countries never bothered closing them at all.
      The Vintners Federation of Ireland report that two-thirds of their members expect to be bankrupt by January if the pubs don't re-open this year which is increasingly looking like it will be the case.
      Most depressing of all is that virtually the entire population has been hoodwinked into believing mask-wearing and keeping the pubs closed is the only way forward and that anyone who thinks otherwise is an unpatriotic lunatic.
      There is zero debate or consideration in the media for anyone with an alternative view.
      It's mainly taken up with UK/Boris/Brexit is bad diatribes.

  10. Professor Pie-Tin4 September 2020 at 09:32

    Stay and Spend is the newly-launched Irish version of Rishi's Dishes announced to coincide with the end of the summer but somehow I can't see it grabbing the attention of the public in quite the same way as the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
    In order to claim the 20% reduction on restaurant meals punters have to upload their restaurant receipts to a Government app and they'll then be given that money in tax credits at the end of the year.
    You see what I mean ?
    But to coincide with the scheme new regulations have been introduced which are sending the hospitality industry demented.
    From now on not only do restaurants and pubs serving food have to record contact details but also exactly what food each customer was served with records to be kept for 28 days in case O'Plod decides to check up.
    Suddenly pizza toppings have assumed new importance in the fight against the virus.
    Ireland is still the only country in Europe where pubs remain shut and incoming travellers are forced to quarantine for two weeks even though where they came from usually has a far lower C-19 incidence than Ireland,currently the 4th-worst in Europe.
    I think we've stepped through the looking glass now.

    1. And then the health police come knocking on your door for eating the wrong type of food.

    2. Professor Pie-Tin4 September 2020 at 11:01

      I think at the moment they've got their hands full thinking up ways to cancel Christmas by using Halloween as a dry run for it.
      Their motto appears to be " Pints of Porter without the slaughter ".


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