Diners get taste for eating out again, but will it be crumbs of comfort?
Uncertainty for restaurants as ‘help out’ scheme that gave them a much-needed boost ends
04 September, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson
Otto Okun and Hubert Zanier outside Kipferl Kaffeehaus & Restaurant in Camden Passage
RESTAURANTS and business groups are hoping diners continue to splash out on meals as calls grow for more support for the hospitality sector following the end of Eat Out To Help Out.
The month-long government-backed scheme, which offered 50 per cent off for eat-in meals in participating restaurants, came to an end on Monday amid calls for it to be extended to help struggling businesses who saw trade wrecked by the coronavirus lockdown.
Business groups said it had been largely successful for those taking part, with numbers and customer confidence up, but warnings about what happens next are already being sounded as the buzz around the offer fades.
Hubert Zanier, managing director of Kipferl Kaffeehaus & Restaurant in Angel’s Camden Passage, told the Tribune it was now a case of “waiting and seeing”.
“It was a very busy, intense month,” he said.
“The biggest reward for us was in the new customers we attracted.
“We had dozens of people saying that they had walked past the restaurant lots of times but never come in. The offer gave people a reason to try us, and we are just hoping that they will keep coming back, now that the offer isn’t on.”
A number of large chains with restaurants in the borough said this week they will continue the scheme on their own in some form this month, but Mr Zanier warned this would be a lot harder for smaller businesses to make a success of.
“For larger chains, they have that customer base and marketing strength. For us to carry on these deals would mean using our social media, where we don’t necessarily reach new customers. So it would be very difficult to make a success of it, I think,” he said.
“Our biggest problem now is trying to make the business work with 25 per cent less covers. Business rates will kick in at some point next year, and we’re still paying the same rent and employing the same staff.”
Christine Lovett, chief executive of Angel’s business improvement district, said she had heard reports the scheme was a success and that some restaurants in the area were promoting their own discounts for September.
But she warned that more help is needed.
Ms Lovett said: “We have added our voice to other business representative bodies in London and around the country to call on the government to extend the scheme, or develop a new one in the autumn, potentially to help the wider hospitality industry including live music and cultural venues and theatres.”
Asima Shaikh, the council’s executive member for inclusive economy and jobs, said the scheme had helped to drive up confidence in people who might have been too nervous to eat out as the lockdown was eased.
“I think a lot of restaurants will use that new confidence to do their own things and offer their own discounts, but it won’t be easy,” she told the Tribune.
“The government needs to provide support to the hospitality sector to ensure that these restaurants in the borough who have participated in their scheme are still around this time next year.”