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Will the ‘eat out to help out’ meal discount be the shot in the arm eateries need?

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Readers and restaurant owners share their views on whether the Chancellor’s 50% Monday to Wednesday meal discount will make the difference and encourage locals to help replace lost tourism and business trade.

Traditionally the earlier week days have been quieter for restaurants with only really the business lunch crowd and a few stragglers to cater for.

But that may be about to change, at least in August, with the Chancellor’s £10 meal discount now active for all diners across the UK who can use it Monday to Wednesday as many times as they like.

The idea behind Rishi Sunak’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out‘ scheme, under which diners are entitled to a 50% discount on sit-in meals up to the value of £10, is to give restaurants, bars and cafes a much-needed shot in the arm following the coronavirus lockdown. It also aims to entice customers to eat out on those early week days to make up for the loss of office workers, many of whom are still home-based, and tourists.

But will it work? Taking to The Press and Journal’s Facebook page, some readers were skeptical with one, Ron Cameron, saying he was unlikely to use the Monday to Wednesday discount because “if eating out it’s at the weekend”.

Bill Ross commented on what he saw as conflicting Government messaging in recent weeks: “One day we are being told to eat less – then handed £10 of taxpayers money to eat out?”

Another reader was unaware of the scheme, suggesting the Government’s promotional messaging hasn’t yet reached everyone.

Participating businesses must register to take part in the scheme, and by midnight on July 26, HMRC reported that over 50,000 had done so.

Among them is The Globe Inn, in Aberdeen city centre, and owner Paul Beattie, is hopeful that despite bookings being quiet in the first week, things will pick up as word spreads.

Paul and Emma Beattie, owners of The Globe Inn, North Silver Street, Aberdeen, who hope word about the Eat Out to Help Out scheme will spread.

Paul said: “For this first week we’re not looking very busy at the moment but I think people will be on holiday and are taking advantage of running away with the kids because it’s the last chance they have this summer. So I think the second week we’ll see a change.

“I think it’s a great thing to try and get people out again. A lot of people are still a bit wary so it will be nice to try to get them out to show them we’ve made changes to keep them safe. Once they’ve come out and tried it it might encourage them to come out a bit more.”

But, having mentioned the scheme to customers in recent weeks, Paul feels the level of awareness is not as high as it could be.

“I think the awareness could be a lot better. I’ve spoken to a lot of customers about it and there are so many of them that are unaware it’s even running. We’ve put a bit of stuff together for Facebook now and we’ve been getting good feedback on that but I think, generally, it was spoken about at the launch and it was a great idea but then I think they haven’t said much about it since.

“That’s why I think this first week might be a bit slower. Some people will start going out and using it and then word might spread as people say, ‘We were out and got our meal for half price,’ and it will hopefully build momentum as it goes on.”

Karen Smith runs the Fig & Thistle in Inverness with partner Steven Dewart.

Karen Smith, who runs the Fig & Thistle Bistro in Inverness alongside her partner, Steven Dewart, the head chef, has registered their business and believes the discount will further incentivise locals to lend their support and help spread business across the week.

She said: “I think it’s going to be a popular thing and it will bring locals out at the start of the week rather than saving themselves for the weekend.

“Since we opened we’ve been nicely surprised by how busy it’s been – not what it was but as full as it can be – so we’re feeling calmly confident that we can tick over and get back and running, not as normal, but the way it has to be now. The scheme should help make it a more balanced week.

“It’s something people are looking forward to. We’re closed Sundays and Mondays because we have a family and work really hard the rest of the week, but we’ll be open on the Tuesdays  and Wednesdays.”

Karen took part in an online webinar organised by HMRC to explain the scheme to businesses, including how to process the discount, and believes that although it will create more work from an admin perspective, it’s still beneficial. The discount scheme is part of an overall package of measures to support the hospitality industry, including a 15% drop in VAT from 20% to 5% until January 12.

Karen said: “It will be beneficial. We’ve kept our prices the same, but we have changed some of our menu items and are spending more on local produce. That’s why I think the ‘help out’ scheme will work. It’s all about staying local and keeping suppliers afloat and staff on-board.”

Alan Bannerman, owner of The Red House Hotel and Dalmore Inn in Perthshire, is strengthening links with suppliers with food becoming an increasing focus for his business.

Alan Bannerman who owns The Red House Hotel in Coupar Angus along with Dalmore Inn in Blairgowrie said he believed bookings had come in on the back of the new initiative.

He said: “The fact it applies early to midweek which can be quieter days is good. In both of my places we’ve got a number of bookings [for those days] which is encouraging but how long will it last? It might be okay for the first week but are people going to keep going out on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays?

“That said, there may be people who have been shielding who might not have had the confidence to go back out and this might be an incentive. The fact we’re trying to do everything properly so they come and see there’s plenty of space between tables, staff are wearing masks, there’s hand sanitiser available, it might give them that reassurance.”

Both venues let customers know via social media that they were taking part in the scheme and have signs to make passers-by aware, too.

Alan added: “We’ve had it on Facebook for both places and we were given signs to put up so I would say most of the bookings for Monday to Wednesday are because of the scheme.

“The main thing is they’re getting the money off food and soft drinks, and soft drinks is a big part of the business [on those days]. There’s not so many have a bottle of wine early in the week. We do a three-course steak supper at Dalmore for £27.95 all of a sudden that’s £17.95 so it’s great value if you’re going out.”

The Red House is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and Alan believes the business’ food offering is going to be central to its future. With this in mind he has been working with local suppliers and food service company Brakes Scotland to source high-quality produce.

He said: “We’re proud to be the last hotel still open in Coupar Angus when many others have closed over the last four decades. The covid-19 crisis has left us trying to claw back as much turnover as we can in the last six months of this year, but without any weddings or coach party bookings taking place at the hotel.

“It’s clear that in the coming months, our food and drink offering is now going to be more important than ever, so we are keen to collaborate as much as possible with our fantastic bunch of suppliers.”