From Belfast to Manchester, diners feast on Eat out to help out

Amy Walker and Henry McDonald
·6-min read

The government-backed Eat out to help out scheme launched at 72,000 venues on Monday, aiming to boost consumer spending and protect 1.8 million jobs in the UK’s restaurants, cafes and pubs. It runs on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout August and offers a 50% discount on food and drink, capped at £10 a head.

So how are consumers reacting so far? The Guardian asked business owners in Manchester and Belfast:

Manchester

On Beech Road, a bustling area full of independent eateries in the the suburb of Chorlton, most restaurateurs were singing the praises of the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, as bookings doubled.

Sam Pollard, manager at the Laundrette, a restaurant that prides itself on cocktails and cheese-laden meals, said “any restaurant that hadn’t signed up to the scheme would be daft”.

“It’s been amazing, we were fully booked on all three days, and we’ve had lots of great feedback from guests. Bookings are also coming in fast for next week,” she added.

Although waiting staff were not wearing face masks, Pollard said she had no concerns over the safety of customers during peak times because of other measures, such as placing hand sanitiser dispensers close to tables.

Azzurri Group (includes Ask Italian and Zizzi) 1,200 jobs lost and 75 restaurants closed ahead of sale to private equity firm

Byron 31 out of 51 restaurants closed in rescue deal, with 650 job losses.

Carluccio’s Collapsed In March. About 1,200 jobs were lost when just 31 of its 73 sites were taken on by investor Ranjit Singh Boparan.

Casual Dining Group (includes Cafe Rouge, Bella Italia and Las Iguanas) Closed 91 of its 250 outlets last month, with loss of 1,900 jobs. Sold to private equity.

Chilango Has admitted being on the brink of collapse, with the potential loss of 152 jobs.

Pizza Express Closing 67 outlets, putting 1,100 jobs at risk.

Pret a Manger Closing 30 branches as part of wider restructuring that puts at least 1,000 jobs at risk.

The Restaurant Group Has closed 61 of the 80 branches of Tex-Mex chain Chiquito and 11 Food and Fuel pubs, eliminating 1,500 jobs.Also closing another 120 sites, mainly Frankie & Benny’s, with nearly 3,000 jobs going.

Tossed Went bust last month. Its 20 stores are shut. 260 staff made redundant.


Nearby, at the Mediterranean restaurant Zitano, the manager, who did not want to give his name, said the venue had only joined the scheme on Wednesday but calls soon poured in, with them being fully booked for the evening by 2pm.

“We’re receiving a ridiculous amount of bookings at the moment. [The scheme] means we can survive,” he said.

Although he believed staff were doing all they could to keep diners safe, wearing masks and gloves, as well as social distancing, he admitted they were relying on customers to comply with new lockdown rules about different households in Greater Manchester not dining together inside.

Both restaurants, which were busy on Friday lunchtime, said even though the discount was only available from Monday to Wednesday, weekend reservations remained strong.

However, a manager at a popular but small restaurant on the road, who also wanted to remain anonymous, said he would not be participating in the scheme for fear of compromising his staff’s ability to social distance, by overwhelming them with orders and customers.

“At the minute, we’re very busy in our kitchen but we’re managing to keep safe. My chefs said to me, ‘please don’t [sign up to the scheme] you’re going to kill us’,” he said.

But he admitted he was compromising the business. “So many people were calling up and cancelling because we weren’t offering the discount.”

Most Chorlton diners the Guardian spoke to on Friday were planning to exploit the discount. Taylor McKevitt, 22, a master’s student at the University of Manchester, felt the scheme was “especially helpful” for students, and her friends had been making plans. Especially pleasing was the fact they could get brunch for as little as £3 from their favourite spot, the Foundation Coffee House in the city centre.

Related: Chancellor's 'eat out to help out' plan: how to get value for money

Belfast

The Bengal Brasserie restaurant on Belfast’s Ormeau Road was bucking the trend of widespread job uncertainty by advertising for six new employees.

Bengal’s owner, Luthfur Ahmed, said he needed more part-time employees to cope with a surge in customers following the Eat out to help out scheme. Ahmed, who established his business on this religiously mixed road in the south of the city 31 years ago, said the government scheme had already been so successful, he would like to see it extended.

“Last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, which are normally our quieter days, we were bombarded with customers who wanted to use the scheme,” he said. “On Monday alone we had 144 customers in three separate sittings and I had to turn away 70 people that day. On Tuesday, we had 151 through the door and 163 on Wednesday. I really have to say that the chancellor’s scheme has worked well for us. I understand there is no magic money tree and the government can’t keep it going forever, but if it could be extended for a wee bit longer it would help us massively.”

Ahmed said the “massive pressure” of keeping his restaurant Covid-safe was why he was advertising for more staff. “Because we are having at 15-minute intervals to deep-clean every table we served and also re-clean the bathrooms, there is massive pressure on our current staff and that is why I need at least six more part-time workers.”

Further down the road, Tara Alexander and her sister, Stephanie, own the Graffiti cafe, which they opened back in 1989 when the Troubles were raging and even middle-class areas such as the Ormeau experienced violence on the streets.

Tara Alexander also praised the eat-out scheme for helping lift their business. Graffiti, which is renowned for its meat-packed Ulster fry as well as its range of vegetarian dishes, re-opened its doors on 3 July.

She said one of the Graffiti staples, an Ulster fry and a mug of tea, now cost £5 thanks to the scheme. “Our trade has been down 60% since we opened after lockdown. So, when the scheme kicked in it gave us a big boost. I have definitely noticed a big lift in people coming in.”

Stephanie Alexander added that government support had helped the business survive. “The bounce-back loan, the small business grant, the furlough scheme, have kept our heads above water. We are a small operation and I remember deep into lockdown my sister and I contemplated packing up the tent and leaving, but we’re glad we decided to fight on as we have been here so long. But the truth is without all those supports, I don’t think we could have kept going.”