'We'd know what to expect' - should Eat Out to Help Out return?

Restaurants have been busy under the government's Eat Out to Help Out scheme. BRITTANY WOODMAN

Eat Out to Help Out saw queues in Norwich - Credit: Archant

Restaurant owners who were overrun with demand in Eat Out to Help Out say they would still welcome its return and would make changes after last year's experience.

The scheme ran last August, and gave diners 50pc off their meals, up to £10 per person, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Thousands of restaurants across Norfolk and Waveney signed up and claimed back almost £12m from the scheme, designed to be a shot in the arm for the industry, in total. 

It was largely hailed a success from a business perspective, though received criticism for being in the wrong month - the combination of school holidays, more staycations and warm weather saw some tourist areas overwhelmed with demand - and for potentially leading to coronavirus spread.

With hospitality among the hardest-hit industries, it has been mooted that chancellor Rishi Sunak will reintroduce a similar scheme once lockdown has come to an end in his Budget on March 3.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak outside 11 Downing Street, London, before heading to the House of Commons to

Chancellor Rishi Sunak outside 11 Downing Street, London, before heading to the House of Commons to deliver his Budget. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Mr Sunak has not confirmed these plans, but refused to rule out the possibility in November.

Shun Tomii, who runs Shiki Japanese restaurant in Norwich, said the scheme had seen the restaurant become "crazy busy".

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"We weren't really ready for it," he said. "We had hundreds of missed calls every day, every night, as well as emails and direct messages on Instagram and Facebook.

"There were some angry people because they couldn't get a table, because there was obviously high demand on outside tables. We had a really tough time."

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He said there had been positives, though, in that it did introduce some new customers who had since returned.

Owner and chef Shun Tomii at Shiki Japanese restaurant

Owner and chef Shun Tomii at Shiki Japanese restaurant - Credit: Archant

He said if it was reintroduced he would most likely take part again, but said he had concerns that it had contributed to coronavirus spread and that he would significantly reduce capacity.

And Steve Munson, at The Gull Inn on the A146 at Framingham Pigot, said Eat Out to Help Out was "spectacular" and had been so busy they were forced to turn people away.

He said it saw families opt for more expensive dishes off the menu, with steaks making up a significant chunk of orders and becoming so in demand they needed daily deliveries to keep up.

For Kaeti Newport, of the Smokehouse in Ormesby, the first Eat Out to Help Out scheme was so overwhelming that she employed someone solely to answer calls and respond to messages.

But she said she would support a second outing - as long as it wasn't in August, an already busy time for tourist areas.

"If it came about we would do it again," she said, "we have got the processes in place and we have done it before so we would have a good idea of what to expect this time.

"But August is a terrible time to do it. They could give a three, four month leeway of when a business could choose to do it. In June and in September you need to generate business."

Landlady Kaeti Newport of the Smokehouse restaurant in the Grange Hotel at Ormesby St Margaret. Pict

Landlady Kaeti Newport of the Smokehouse restaurant in the Grange Hotel at Ormesby St Margaret. - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

Earlier this month, delivery website Deliveroo and 300 other restaurant groups called on the government to relaunch the scheme, and introduce other measures including prioritising hospitality staff for rapid testing and vaccination.

What is the science?

Previous case data has shown spread in hospitality settings can be low compared with others including workplaces and hospitals.

Earlier this month, Paul Hunter, a medical professor at the University of East Anglia, said the deal may have contributed to the spread, but was not the sole factor behind increased transmission rates.

"There's no single thing that will be the only factor to make the disease come or go," he said. 

"There is evidence that the Eat Out to Help Out contributed to increased cases in early September. Most epidemiologists believe [it] did contribute to increased transmission, but by no means was it the only thing that contributed."

The last day of the Eat Out To Help Out scheme in Norwich sees queues outside some places Byline: So

Eat Out to Help Out in Norwich. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

A study by Warwick University last autumn found areas with a higher rate of uptake experienced a "sharp increase in the emergence of new Covid-i9 infection clusters a week after the scheme began".

They estimated that between 8pc and 17pc of the newly-detected Covid-19 infection clusters could be attributed to the scheme.

Areas with high uptake saw a decline in new infections a week after the scheme ended, they said.

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