‘A very big sticking plaster’ - Norwich restaurants welcome busy first week of half-price scheme
PUBLISHED: 08:02 11 August 2020 | UPDATED: 08:27 11 August 2020
The city’s restaurants and cafés have welcomed a rush in midweek bookings under the government’s money-off scheme, though fears remain over its impact on weekend trade.
August saw the introduction of the Eat Out to Help Out (EOHO) initiative, which offers 50pc off food and soft drinks (up to £10 per head) on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout the month.
It has largely been met with a rush of bookings, with much of the industry now looking at jampacked calendars.
In particular, businesses in tourist areas, hit by a combination of the heatwave, a rise in staycations and the summer holiday, have faced enormous pressure.
But while Norwich has not benefitted from the sunseekers and tourists who have headed further afield, demand has remained high.
Daniel Smith, owner of the Warwick Street Social in Norwich, as well as the Ingham Swan and The Wildebeest at Stoke Holy Cross, said the offer had made every day feel like the weekend.
“It has driven people to other days of the week,” he said. “It has boosted trade on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday across all three sites.
“As a business owner it’s a great thing. Every day is like a weekend, which is phenomenal.”
And he said the feared knock to weekend trade, as diners switch to cheaper days, had not materialised. Mr Smith said trade on the first weekend of the month had remained steady.
But it was not the picture everywhere - many businesses reported slower trade on Thursday and throughout the weekend, though said the hot weather may have played a part.
Victoria MacDonald, who runs both the Cellar House in Eaton and the Old Ram Coaching Inn in Tivetshall St Mary, said it had been busy, and that social distancing rules meant they had been forced to turn away 20 covers from the south Norfolk pub on one day.
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She said they had been able to bring back more staff this week and said while the scheme was a “very, very big sticking plaster”, it needed to turn into an increased level of trade through the autumn and winter months to have a long-lasting impact on the industry, including its suppliers.
“It was very popular last week, I don’t know how it will be compare this week, whether the novelty of it played a part, but it was very popular,” she said. “The weekend was a little bit quieter but that could have been because people were out at the beach.
“We hope these customers will discover new places to eat and stick with them, and spend their £10 more locally rather than with the big chains.”
Pinnochio’s, on St Benedicts Street, said they were having to turn customers away, while Ecky Limon, who runs Blue Joanna, on Unthank Road, said they were now fully booked for the next two weeks, with some slots left the following week.
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“It’s been really busy,” he said. “I signed up quite late, but as soon as I posted on social media we had loads of calls.
“It has been quite busy since we reopened on July 4, but this has helped. It’s gone well and in fact some of the misgivings I had have been fine. I’ve just made my claim to the government and it was really easy to do.
“It’s been really nice to be able to pass that saving on to the customer.”
At No 33 Café, on Exchange Street, which often has a queue snaking down the street, owner Nichola Hay said it had been a busy week.
“It has been really busy,” she said. “Monday is typically our busiest of the early weekdays but then Tuesday was busier, and Wednesday busier than that. Ordinarily this weather would be really bad for us because people are not coming to the city, they’re off to the beach or somewhere, so I’m really pleased and it’s a generous scheme.”
She said they had seen a slow down in trade on Thursday, a message echoed by many of the city restaurants we spoke to, including Gonzo’s Tearoom on London Street.
At Middletons, which has steak houses in Norwich and King’s Lynn, managing director Stephen Hutton said: “I guess the fear for all of us was that we were moving Friday and Saturday trade to Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday but for us that wasn’t the case at all.
“Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were three Saturdays in a row, we couldn’t have been busier. Thursday fell off a cliff, but it was decent sales on Saturday so all in all our sales are probably about 25pc to 30pc up.”
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He said the question for the industry was what would happen come September, and whether trade would begin to drop off.
In tourist areas, some restaurants found themselves overwhelmed with demand.
At the Kings Arms in Fleggburgh, the team created a special EOHO menu to ease pressure on staff, having initially said they would run the offer across their usual menus.
General manager Rebecca Adams said: “It’s been quite testing. On the first day we had about 20 walk-ins on top of our bookings and we’re running at limited tables already.
“We weren’t expecting the level of people that were coming in. It was just incredibly busy.”
At Branford’s in Caister, Tyrone Harold said their efforts to increase their outdoor seating space to make guests feel safe had in effect “created a monster”.
He posted on the restaurant’s Facebook to say it had been a “massive learning curve”, and that they had effectively, after increasing their outside dining area, turned Branford’s, which usually takes 90 covers at a push, “into a 300-seater restaurant without really realising the implications”.
Now emphasising the importance of bookings, with a reservations manager on hand to oversee capacity, Mr Harold said it had been much smoother.
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