Is there such a thing as a free lunch? No, but you might be able to score a big discount in August. Today, Chancellor Rishi Sunak offered the country discounts on meals out as part of his "eat out to help out" scheme to support the hospitality industry.
The scheme is part of his Covid-19 mini budget, announced in the House of Commons today – a £30bn plan designed to rescue the economy from a coronavirus-induced recession.
So, how does it work, to which restaurants does it apply – and how much could you save on a meal out with your family, all while supporting the country’s eateries?
What is the scheme, and how does it work?
The Chancellor said that restaurants participating in the scheme would be able to offer half price meals every Monday to Wednesday throughout August.
This means that everyone in Britain is entitled to discounts at restaurants over a total period of 13 days next month.
The scheme starts on Monday August 3 and runs until Monday August 31. Companies can start to register on the Government's website from this coming Monday, July 13.
The restaurants will be able to claim the discount back and will be reimbursed by the Government within five working days, the Chancellor promised.
Some 129,000 businesses employing 1.8million people can sign up, crucially including pubs - of which 90 per cent serve food - restaurants and cafes. The same team which set up and ran the Government's furlough scheme have been deployed by HM Revenue and Customs to run this scheme.
Businesses serving food need to register before the start of August - then, all customers need to do is turn up, order, and pay for the remainder of the bill.
The Government reportedly considered introducing a £500 voucher to scheme to spend on the high street, but that was not among the raft of measures announced.
The Treasury says the scheme will cost £500 million. At £10 each, that works out 50million meals, but one official admitted: "That is an estimate - let's see." This is because officials do not know what will be the appetite for the scheme.
Why has the Government created it?
Restaurants were asked to close their doors on Friday 20 March. While some tentatively reopened their doors on Saturday in the most significant easing of lockdown measures to date since then, the industry has been hit particularly hard by the crisis. There has already been a number of permanent closures and a spate of redundancies in the sector is expected.
Many restaurants will rely on customer confidence in the coming months to bounce back and retain staff when the furlough scheme draws to a close.
Rishi Sunak described this measure to get pubs and cafes “bustling again” as one that has never been tried in the UK before. “This moment is unique, we need to be creative,” he said. “To get customers back into restaurants, cafes and pubs and protect the 1.8 million people who work in them, I can announce today that for the month of August we will give everyone in the country an “eat out to help out” discount.”
August was chosen as the best month to proceed with the scheme because the Treasury wants to help restaurants and bars which are struggling back onto their feet through July as the lockdown eases, after like for like spending in restaurants in May was down 65 per cent. The scheme - like other measures - is always kept under review, and so could be extended beyond the end of next month, although there are no plans for this at present.
How much could my family save on a meal out?
"Meals eaten at any participating business will be 50% off up to a maximum discount of £10 per head for everyone, including children,” the Chancellor said.
The offer includes children's meals, so it will save families of four up to £40 when dining out.
According to the Treasury’s Plan For Jobs document, the discount can be used ‘unlimited times’ on eligible days but will only include non-alcoholic drinks. Since there is no limit to the number of times you can use the discount, in theory you can get half price meals on three consecutive days.
An £80 food bill for a family of four would be reduced to just £40, subsidised by the Government. A meal out for two that costs £20 will be reduced to £10, but a £25 meal for two would only be slashed down to £12.50 each because of the £10 cap per person.
Where existing offers are concerned, guidance is being published next week but the Treasury expects most companies not to have to provide further discounts given they are being paid to offer 50 per cent off deals.
Where can I find participating restaurants?
Any venue that serves food can sign up for the scheme, including pubs, restaurants and bars. However, the discount will not be applicable for takeaway and delivery, only for sit-down meals. As businesses begin to register for the scheme, it will become clearer how widely used it will be.
Are any high-end restaurants participating?
At the moment there is no full list of names of restaurants participating, but there’s no reason why high-end and independent restaurants as well as popular chains can’t take part to lure customers back through their doors.
Further details on how restaurants can sign up will be released on July 13.
However, since the discount is capped at a maximum of £10 per head per meal, it’s unlikely to cover the cost of a starter in a three-course Michelin-starred meal – though family of four would still save £40 on the entire cost.
Townsend restaurant, a modern British dining room, café and wine bar from Nick Gilkinson at Whitechapel Gallery, is planning a four course menu priced at £28 (£18) to take advantage of the scheme. La Fosse, an award-winning B&B and restaurant in Cranborne, Dorset, also confirmed with Telegraph Food shortly after the announcement that it intends to participate in the scheme.
"It’s great to see the Government have recognised the need to support the restaurant industry. I think this is a positive move - the VAT cut is welcome, too. We weren’t originally planning to open mid-week, however because of this scheme it looks like we will be able to to do so," says Nick Gilkinson.
"It’s good news for restaurant owners. My team are existed about the prospect of having a buzzing restaurant once again. Restaurants will need to be creative in order to get the most out of it: for us it means we can serve a 4-course meal for just £18, which is exactly the kind of value that we want to be able to offer without compromising on the quality British produce we use at Townsend."