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Pubs and restaurants had their busiest ‘Monday of the year’

Britain’s pubs and restaurants had ‘the busiest Monday of the year’ as more than 73,000 outlets took up the Government’s half-price Eat Out to Help Out scheme on food and soft drinks.

Spending at eateries was up by a sixth on the same day the week before, as tens of thousands of people went out to enjoy the discount on food and soft drinks which is running from Mondays to Wednesdays throughout August.

Some restaurants in London said they would extend the 50 per cent discount offer through into next month, without the subsidy from Chancellor Rishi Sunak, in the hope of catching more returning workers.

But fears remained that some employers had advised staff not to return to the offices until 2021, and the British Beer and Pub Association warned that more than one-third of pubs cannot break even one month after reopening.

However, among the pubs enjoying a boost was The Owl in Loughton, Essex, which tweeted: ‘Busiest Monday this year so far, excellent scheme and really shown it works. Thanks for the support, Rishi Sunak and team.’

Andrew Macleod, of Emilia’s Crafted Pasta in London, said guest numbers had doubled on last week, while John Molnar, of The Cod’s Scallops in Nottingham, said eat-in sales exceeded takeaway for the first time since March. 

An HM Revenue & Customs spokesman said on its Facebook page: ‘By midnight August 2, 73,089 restaurants have now signed up to the Eat Out To Help Out scheme. Sign up and register your restaurant, pub or café now.’ 

But the British Beer and Pub Association, which represents brewers and pubs, warned this week that more than one-third of pubs in the UK cannot break even one month after reopening.

The finding, from a survey of the group’s members, came exactly a month after pubs in England reopened on July 4 after lockdown.

About a quarter of pubs also said they didn’t feel their business was sustainable beyond the end of March 2021 under present conditions, despite the launch of Mr Sunak’s scheme on Monday.

When lockdown measures were announced on March 23, most retailers were forced to close unless they sold essential goods such as food. 

The national shutdown prompted many stuck indoors to turn to online shopping, with internet retailers such as Amazon reporting a boom in sales. 

The launch on Monday triggered a rush for some of London’s best-known eateries, although the area around Covent Garden was still largely devoid of its usual hordes of office workers, tourists and theatre-goers.

But the steep discounts whetted the appetite of the area’s remaining regulars at a nearby branch of By Chloe, a vegan restaurant chain. Its sales increased by 20 per cent on the first day of the scheme compared with a week earlier.

Despite the signs of the initial success of the scheme, the lure of cheap lunches and dinners will not be a silver bullet for the country’s struggling hospitality industry.

Many people in Britain remain worried about the risk of infection in shared spaces, hampering efforts by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to get the economy going again and to get workers back in their offices.

‘Coming to London feels like you’ve walked into a scene from 28 Days Later,’ Stephen Entwhistle said, referring to the 2002 post-apocalyptic horror film as he waited in By Chloe for his lunch.

The 35-year-old advertising worker said the scheme gave him a chance to lend a hand to Britain’s economy. ‘I will probably go out a lot more now, rather than trying to decide what to cook every day,’ Mr Entwhistle said.

Data from booking firm Opentable showed a 10 per cent jump in the number of diners at reopened restaurants in Britain on Monday compared with the same day in 2019, the first rise since March.

At the start of last week, the number of diners had been down more than 40 per cent.

Mr Sunak announced the scheme last month as part of a latest wave of emergency measures to shore up the economy which contracted by a quarter in the March-April period. 

The £500million scheme offers 50 per cent off the bill for eat-in food and drink – up to £10 per person and excluding alcohol – on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in August.

The Government hopes the unprecedented subsidy, along with cuts to value-added tax for the hospitality sector, will help to reduce job losses at restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs which employ 1.8 million people.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, an industry group, welcomed the support but said around a third of Britain’s bars and restaurants are at risk of permanent closure.

‘At the moment it’s taking a little while to unwind,’ she said. The Government’s emergency support, which also includes a massive job retention programme and rules preventing eviction by landlords until September, was helping to slow job losses.

‘But they will start to come through,’ Ms Nichols said.

She said she was pressing Mr Sunak for more support in his autumn budget, including measures to help bring down the burden of rents and debt taken on during the crisis.

Scot Turner, vice president of operations at QOOT Co., which runs the By Chloe vegan food chain, said his firm would extend the 50 per cent discount offer through September, without the government subsidy, in the hope of catching more returning workers.

But he added it was extremely worrying that some employers had advised staff not to return to the offices until 2021.

‘My fear, in central London, is whether there’s enough being done to drag people back into town,’ he said.

The degree of caution that consumers feel is also a big unanswered question for the Bank of England which will announce its latest outlook for the economy tomorrow.

The uncertainties underscore the scale of the challenge ahead even for restaurants that have been swamped with booking requests such as the Hawksmoor chain of steakhouses, which is offering an extra £10 off between Monday and Wednesday in August, on top of the government’s subsidy.

When it announced 5,500 seats on its website with its Eat Out to Help Out offer, they were all gone within six hours.

‘So far, the re-openings have gone better than we hoped,’ said Huw Gott, one of Hawksmoor’s founders, above the growing hubbub from a dining room. ‘But who knows what September and October will bring?’ 

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