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Eat Out To Help Out diners battle to book for final days of 50% off

Restaurant chains are extending the 50 per cent off meal deal into next month by footing the cost themselves amid calls for the Treasury to continue covering the bill.

At least £336million has already been claimed from eateries after diners have got an average of £5.25 off across 84,000 outlets taking part in the scheme.

Its success in encouraging people to leave their homes this month from Mondays to Wednesdays has led business leaders to call for it to be extended into September, with the Government picking up the cost.

Diners have again reported restaurants being fully booked as people rush to use the scheme giving up to £10 off per diner before its last day on Bank Holiday Monday.

Some chains – such as Harvester, Toby Carvery, Bill’s, the Three Cheers Pub Company, Stonehouse Pizza and Carvery and Q Hotels Group – are extending the deal with the same discounts, but will foot the bill themselves.

The move is a last roll of the dice for many restaurant chains which teeter on the edge and have had to shut stores after being battered by the pandemic.

And yesterday the virus claimed another high street victim as Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca is to close more than a third of its restaurants.

Twitter user Fee said: ‘Literally every pub and restaurant in Shrewsbury is booked up tomorrow night! #EatOutToHelpOut. All I want is a steak.’

Another hopeful diner said he was spending a few nights in Ripon, North Yorkshire, with his wife where all restaurants in the town centre were ‘heavily booked’.

Diner Danielle Hughes, 24, a student from Livingston, West Lothian, estimated she has already saved £150 while eating out every Monday to Wednesday this month.

She told BBC News: ‘I’ve just been trying to make the most of it. It’s all been really good. Even all the places that have been really busy, they have all had super good customer service.’

But she added: ‘I’m not going to go out at all in September. In September I will be eating at home probably for the whole month.’

The Treasury said more than 64million meals have now been claimed by diners since Chancellor Rishi Sunak launched the scheme at the start of the month.

Some 10.5million meals were claimed in the first week, before climbing to a total of 35million for the first two weeks.

A total of 87,000 claims have been made by restaurants and cafes signed up to the scheme, the Treasury said.

But town centres are reeling from hundreds of restaurant closures at the likes of Pizza Express, Frankie & Benny’s and Bella Italia restaurants.

Its success in encouraging diners to leave their homes has led business leaders to call for it to be extended into September.

Traffic data from Tom Tom shows more people have been out and about in cities across the country on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings as they make the most of the scheme.

Mike Cherry, chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: ‘This scheme is one that genuinely works in helping to get people out into small businesses.

‘A nationwide one-month extension would go some way to helping many firms which are still only just about managing in this time of crisis.’

Mr Sunak said: ‘Today’s figures continue to show that Brits are backing hospitality – with more than 64 million meals discounted so far, that’s equivalent to nearly every person in the country dining out to protect jobs.

‘This scheme has reminded us how much we love to dine out, and in doing so, how this is helping to protect the jobs of nearly two million people who work in hospitality.

‘I am urging everyone, where they can, to continue to safely enjoy a meal while the scheme remains open.’

Claims from the first two weeks of the scheme cost around £180million, according to HMRC.

David Page, co-chairman of Franco Manca owner Fulham Shore, said: ‘Eat Out to Help Out immediately increased our restaurant customer numbers by over 50 per cent, thus enabling us to get all our staff back to work.

‘In fact, we are now creating new jobs by hiring and training more people as fast as we can.’

Andy Laurillard, chief executive of Thai dining chain Giggling Squid, said: ‘As a result of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, we have managed to avoid making any redundancies and we no longer have any of our 950 staff on furlough.’

David Gallacher, director for Harvester, Toby Carvery and Stonehouse Pizza and Carvert, said: ‘We’re absolutely thrilled with how our loyal guests have come out to support us in August, making the most of a great initiative from the Government.

‘Every one of them have really helped our restaurants get back on their feet after such a long period of closure and we’re extremely grateful they’ve chosen to come back and visit us after such a long time away.

‘We wanted to say a big thank you to them, and we feel the best way to do that is to continue to keep the great offers coming and allow all our guests to enjoy another 50% off mains, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the start of September.’

Harvester operates 174 restaurants across the UK, while Stonehouse Pizza and Carvery has 97 outlets and Toby Carvery has 154 locations.

Yesterday Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca announced it is to close more than a third of its restaurants, after becoming the latest dining firm to be hammered by Covid-19.

The group, which was founded by former Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers and Mark Selby, said it will close ten of its 28 sites.

The founders said they intend to ‘try and save jobs’ wherever possible, in an email to staff.

A spokesman said there were currently no plans to extend the Eat Out to Help Out scheme into September. 

Sites in London, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool, Chichester and Southampton have been earmarked for closure, after it saw a ‘significant’ depletion in cash reserves over the past four months.

It said it has seen the rent, as a percentage of sales, of sites in city centre locations increase dramatically, making a number of these restaurants ‘untenable’.

The group said it has therefore decided to only reopen restaurants it believes will not lose money, even if sales are significantly reduced, in order ‘to avoid putting the entire business and every job at risk’.

Wahaca said it is considering a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) restructuring deal in order to facilitate its cost-saving plan.

The announcement comes after a number of dining chain rivals, such as Byron Burger and Pizza Express, have announced permanent closures in the aftermath of the lockdown. 

Earlier this week, Wetherspoons warned the coronavirus crisis will push it into the red despite a ‘rapid acceleration’ in sales this month thanks to the Eat Out To Help Out scheme.

The pub chain told investors that equivalent bar and food sales in the 44 days to August 16 were 16.9 per cent lower than in the same period last year.

The slump came despite the opening of 844 of its 873 pubs following their closure in March as the virus lockdown was imposed.

Wetherspoons founder and chairman Tim Martin, 65, said the loss of business means it expects to post a loss for the year to July 26.

But as with other pubs and restaurants, trading at Wetherspoons improved this month after the Eat Out To Help Out scheme was launched.

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