Today, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announced that UK diners will receive a 50 percent discount on restaurant meals throughout August, as part of a wider package to help ease the burden of the pandemic on the hospitality industry.
The “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme attempts to encourage people to spend money in reopened bars and restaurants after the COVID-19 outbreak forced them to shut their doors. It will allow a 50 percent discount off food and non-alcoholic drinks, Monday to Wednesday, with a limit of up to £10 off per head.
The Chancellor also announced further measures intended to help the hospitality industry, including a cut to value-added tax (VAT) for food, accommodation and attractions, reducing it from 20 percent to 5 percent.
Restaurants have been some of the hardest-hit businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, having been forced to shut throughout the lockdown while still paying high rents. Many have called for the UK government to introduce measures to help the industry from reaching breaking point – particularly when social distancing guidelines make it hard for a large number to reopen and remain profitable.
For many restaurant owners, today’s announcement comes as a relief. “It’s the first good sign that yes, help is coming,” Victor Lugger, co-founder of the Big Mamma restaurant group, tells VICE News. “We reopened thinking, ‘People are going to come back because that’s what we’ve seen in France [where Big Mamma is based],’ and the announcement today shows us that we are right to be positive, and we are right to hope for better times, because help is coming.”
“Of course VAT is great, of course the voucher is great – everything they can do is going to help,” adds Lugger. “I am pretty sure they are going to announce some more measures to do with the landlord and rent situation, because restaurants can’t take the hit [alone].”
While the today’s measures come as good news for some, many in the hospitality sector don’t see these schemes as going far enough. “A six-month VAT cut is helpful, of course, but everything [Rishi Sunak has] done so far is meaningless for most, unless he does something on rents,” Jonathan Downey, founder of Street Feast, Milk + Honey restaurant and the Hospitality Union tells VICE News. “Two million jobs in hospitality are at risk, and we get £10 to spend at [Italian chain] Prezzo in August.”
The news comes as part of a wider collection of measures to help the economy during coronavirus, at a time when the UK is facing another financial recession. This includes a £2 billion scheme to create job placements for young people, as the end of the furlough scheme looms, and a temporary change to stamp duty.