The UK Government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme’ has been ‘a real boost’ and ‘brilliant’ for Scottish hospitality businesses according to key operators.
It’s been such a success in fact that Signature Pubs is considering extending the scheme beyond August by doing it themselves. Said Louise Maclean, Director of Sales and Marketing, “We ran it in Glasgow’s Church on the Hill and McLaren’s on the Corner in Edinburgh and it has been brilliant. I think we are going to do it ourselves in September.
But Louise added that there is still a long way to go before Signature reaches the point when the business is making money. She continued, “Let’s not also forget that this is not money-making and labour costs are through the roof, what with lots of extra members of staff to welcome and show customers safely around the building and so on. The halcyon days of hospitality are still a long way off.”
Louise also said that it has persuaded customers to venture out who might not have otherwise, plus they also got some interesting customer feedback as a result. She explained, “What it has done is give people that were swithering an additional reason to venture out and because we have put safety front and centre, they feel great when they are in our venues. We have had more reviews about how safe they feel over anything else.”
Derek Marshall, chef-patron at Glasgow’s Gamba restaurant was a little sceptical about Eat Out to Help Out at first. He told DRAM, “We only re-opened on the 5th of August and the first Wednesday (we are closed Monday and Tuesday) wasn’t that busy at all and we had more people booked in for lunch than dinner. But the second week was really busy and next Wednesday, 19th August is looking really busy and the dinner bookings are out in front.”
AJ Mcmenemy co-director of Dundee-based Macmerry 300 was also a little unsure as to whether Eat Out to Help Out would be worth their while or not. He said, “We are running the scheme in Dundee’s Abandon Ship and The Bird and the Bear and we have seen a spike in business midweek. I was sceptical at first because I assumed it would detract from our weekend business but it hasn’t.”
As it turned out, the scheme also brought some unexpected benefits. Said AJ, “I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but it has also helped with social distancing by encouraging customers out on all different days of the week instead of everybody coming out at the weekend, well a Saturday night mainly.”
Other operators were also concerned about it eroding their weekend trade but in the case of Signature and Gamba this hasn’t been the case either. Said Louise Maclean, “Friday trade is not where it was, but it is spreading out throughout the week. Saturdays, in general, are becoming a longer day as more people venture out and every single one of our venues have seen sales rise week on week since they opened.”
Said Derek Marshall, “It’s not really taking away from my weekend business, which is doing really well. Maybe that’s because we’re the only fish restaurant open. Will this trend continue? I don’t know. We are getting a lot of new faces in the restaurant but our regulars are also supporting us.”
Gino Stornaiuolo, Manager Director of Paolozzi Restaurant & Bar in Edinburgh, which was only open a week before being forced to close for lockdown, was a little more cautious. He said, “We are doing fantastic numbers Monday through Wednesday because of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. It might be taking away from weekend business slightly, but it’s too early to tell.”
Glasgow’s Ox and Finch and Ka Pao have been fully booked Monday to Wednesday and Managing Director Jonathan Macdonald of owner Scoop Restaurants nevertheless recognises that some customers are still reluctant to dine out. He said, “Naturally, lots of people are still apprehensive about coming out to eat for the first time. For a lot of diners, using the scheme has been their first time out since pre-lockdown and we have had lots of positive feedback about the additional safety and social distancing measures that we have implemented . It has been a real boost to us to have both Ox and Finch and Ka Pao fully-booked Monday to Wednesday.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said that the government does not intend extending the scheme beyond the end of August.