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Can ‘Eat out to help out’ save the restaurant industry?

Eat out to help out sign in window

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PA Media

“Eat out to help out” is the chancellor’s latest move to help boost the hospitality industry.

He hopes that by offering up to £10 off a meal in August on certain days it will encourage people to visit restaurants and cafes.

But with the offer only available on 13 days during the month, is it too little, too late to save an industry already ravaged by a devastating wave of closures and job losses?

“There are still a lot of difficulties facing our industry,” said Marcello Distefano, boss of the San Carlo chain of restaurants.

“We’re running at reduced capacity and we’re still suffering from no-shows. and we’ve still got the major question over rents which will come to fruition at the end of September,” he told the BBC’s Today programme.

“We’re looking forward to the autumn with a little bit of trepidation at the moment with what’s happening.”

The chain has 21 restaurants across the country, but its problems are typical of an industry that has been brought to its knees during the coronavirus crisis.

Six of its branches remain closed and 130 of its 700 workers are still furloughed.

“We’ve still got three restaurants that are closed in London, predominantly in the Covent Garden area, which relies heavily on theatres and tourism. But even at the London branches open, sales figures are down 70-75% on last year,” Mr Distefano revealed.

“With there still being so many unknowns, we still have a sense of uncertainty about our future.”

Cautious consumers

“The hospitality sector has been hit particularly hard by the nation’s lockdown,” said Will Hawkley, UK head of leisure at KPMG.

“While some restaurant doors have reopened, consumers still struggle to shake off the words of caution that previously told them – in no uncertain terms – to remain at home.

“Worries around what will happen in city centres or during the winter, when the nights draw in and the weather gets colder, still remain.”

The Covid-19 crisis has seen a number of restaurant chains in trouble, with the loss of thousands of jobs.

Byron Burger became the latest business to add to the industry’s woes at the end of July, when it announced it was axing 650 jobs and closing more than half its outlets.

The owner of Cafe Rouge, the Casual Dining Group, went into administration in July and closed 91 of its 250 sites, with the loss of 2,000 jobs. The group has since been bought, saving 4,000 jobs.

Bella Italia-owner Azzurri also went into administration, which meant 75 branches closing and 1,200 jobs disappearing before it, too, was bought by a new business.

Carluccio’s is another chain that fell into administration, before being bought by the owner of Giraffe restaurants, although 40 of its outlets were closed with the loss of 1,000 jobs.

‘Right thing to do’

The “Eat out to help out” scheme applies to eat-in food and drink on Monday to Wednesday during August at more than 72,000 venues across the country.

The discount is capped at £10 per person and does not apply to alcohol.

It was launched last month by Chancellor Rishi Sunak as part of his £30bn plan for jobs to give the struggling hospitality industry a boost.

“The scheme will help protect the jobs of the hospitality industry’s 1.8 million employees by encouraging people to safely return to their local restaurants, cafes and pubs where social-distancing rules allow,” the Treasury said.

Business and Industry Minister Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Breakfast: “People want to support great local restaurants, great independent restaurants, and of course their favourite restaurant chains as well.

“I’ll be going out and helping those restaurants in Stratford-on-Avon, in London, wherever I can, of course. I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Asked if you could choose to pay full price, he replied: “It’s worth all of us going out and if the government is supporting the sector, why not?

“We should all absolutely make sure that we go out and enjoy that restaurant.”

Major chains taking part in the scheme include: Burger King, Caffe Nero, Costa Coffee, Franco Manca, Fullers, Greene King, McDonald’s, Nando’s, Pizza Express, Pizza Hut, Pret A Manger, Starbucks, Wagamama and Wetherspoon.

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