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Is the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme really helping out?

Written by Comment, Featured, Food

At the start of August, Rishi Sunak launched the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme. It’s aim was to encourage spending in the hospitality sector, an industry which has been facing severe struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst the scheme looks very promising on paper, closer analysis reveals serious flaws in the plan.

Firstly, what is the scheme?  The Government have set aside a total of £500 million to subsidise dining across the UK. They offer to finance a 50% discount (excluding alcoholic drinks), up to a limit of £10 per head on meals purchased on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout August. More than 80% of UK pubs and restaurants have decided to participate.

Affectionately referred to as ‘Rishi’s Dishes’, the scheme aims to bolster the finances of the hospitality sector in anticipation of a potential ‘Second Wave’ of COVID-19 in the winter months. With the government discount in place, restaurants are able to avoid offering their own costly discounts in order to encourage people through the door.  

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One issue that many restaurants are facing is a lack of customers over the weekend. The scheme is only in effect from Monday to Wednesday, and customers are naturally altering the days they dine out to take advantage of the discount. Quieter weekends mean that the weekly revenue is not profitable enough to bring eateries back from the months of no business. Furthermore, with the easing of lockdown and restaurants starting to open up, the month of August was always going to be quite busy as it is the holiday season. It perhaps would have been more beneficial to have brought in the scheme after the summer rush, where a government boost may have prevented the economy stagnating in an autumn lull.    

It is not enough to bring eateries back from months of no business

Now, I personally disagree with the government’s recent proposals on tackling obesity. Insisting for calorie-count on all menus will undoubtedly cause a major spike in eating disorders. This is an obvious act of carelessness and insensitivity by the Government which does little to address a crisis largely neglected by modern Britain.

Despite this growing issue, some critics have argued that the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme is tone-deaf when considered alongside the Government’s ongoing anti-obesity strategy. I disagree with this criticism; the scheme is not going to be in place for long enough to substantially inflate any problem in public health. Only a very small percentage of customers will use the scheme regularly, and even then there is no guarantee they will choose particularly unhealthy meals. Removing the discount is far more likely to damage business than it is to affect the health of customers. 

The ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ policy seems to have had the unfortunate affect of provoking hostility towards those in the hospitality sector. This is a point that has been consistently highlighted by many of my close friends working in the industry, and is apparent through the outpour of articles which have emerged since the scheme began. Due to the popularity of ‘Rishi’s Dishes’, Monday to Wednesday has been almost too busy to cope for many eateries. Obviously, social distancing measures must stay in place for the safety of both staff and customer, and this means that full capacity is necessarily below normal. However, the number of staff working is also lower, and with such a constant flow of people desperate to claim their subsidised snacks, there is an immense pressure on the speed of service for workers who must simultaneously ensure both quality and courtesy under intense strain.

Having to work with the constant fear of coming home with coronavirus is a situation nobody should have to be in

To have rude and abusive customers who have waited 10 minutes too long for their £5 pizza, or have arrived too late and got turned away at the door, is just too much for some restaurants. Plenty have pulled out of the scheme in frustration with the aggression and entitlement of certain customers. Quite right too, it is bad enough dealing with some obnoxious customers on a normal night, but having to put up with this sort of rudeness, whilst also dealing with the fear of coming home with coronavirus is a situation nobody should have to be in.  

This leads onto my final point: encouraging so many people to go out and eat could be a detrimental move when Covid-19 is still a huge risk. While I want the food sector to be supported in some way, so that it doesn’t crumble and disappear, the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme puts restaurant workers in constant contact with strangers who might be unknowingly ill or asymptomatic. Plus, it encourages a sense of false-security amongst the general public, with everything seemingly back to normal – coronavirus who? In reality, many areas are still talking of local lockdowns, the number of cases are fluctuating every day and vulnerable people across the UK are still hiding in their homes. 

Last modified: 23rd September 2020

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