'Right now the bookings are like a reverse weekend'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

The Eat Out to Help Out Scheme Has largely been lauded a success.

Charitable organisation Springboard reported an almost 30% increase in visitors between the week prior to its introduction and its first week, and booking platform Opentable reported a 10% increase in diners compared to the same week last year. 

But is it all too good to be true?

Peter Lloyd, the chef and owner of SE1's Sticky Mango, called it "a a brilliant incentive" as the London restaurant recorded the same revenue over two days as it did in the whole week before.

"Covers are still soft for the rest of the week, but it tells us the confidence from customers to come out is there," he added.

Reverse weeks 

Whether the scheme is just shifting the busy part of the week to the first three days is a concern for Selin Kiazim at her Shoreditch restaurant, Oklava. 

Prior to the scheme, she said, "the bookings have been steady - as per usual on Friday, Saturday, Sunday - they're the better nights. We're at about two thirds of capacity, excluding lunches." 

"But right now the bookings are a reverse weekend," she explained. Tuesday and Wednesday, she added, "were our busiest days for sure."

"Friday and Saturday in the end just about okay, but bookings were on the day to get it to an okay number. For sure reduced trade on non EOTHO days."

While the past week's hot weather was bound to have an effect, she continued, "people have just booked up for their favourite restaurants on those days and then are at home over the weekend - or with friends in the garden."

"There's only a small pool of people who are actually going out at the moment - it depends on your location, and where we are in Shoreditch, we are a local restaurant in and around that Hackney area, people can walk to us or cycle or whatever, so it is easier.

"If you are a more local restaurant, more accessible - and basically away from central - you're definitely better off." 

Clashing with social distancing 

David Connell, General Manager at the South Lodge hotel in Horsham, Sussex, said it has seen a peak of interest from diners since it reopened, but that this comes with its own challenges.

"Whilst we are blessed with having a significant amount of al fresco dining space," he said, "it is only a blessing when the sun is shining. The recent good weather aligning itself with the launch of the EOTHO scheme has driven even more demand for our restaurants. 

And while the scheme may have been better timed for September or October "when perhaps things will quiet down a little," he joked, "we will be very happy for a round 2!"

encouraging people to eat out - and a second wave to hit

Even with the scheme in place, some remain concerned at the prospect of eating out.

The IGD, a food and consumer goods research group, recently found that 63% of people are still reluctant to eat out.

But for Pip Lacey - who, along with business partner Gordy McIntyre pre-empted the reopening of restaurants with Hicce Market, selling takeaway food and drinks from July 17th, the EOTHO has been phenomenal for business.

"It's sent bookings into the stratosphere," she said - with 150 people booked in on Wednesday last week. 

"100% certain" the scheme is coaxing out the demographic that might not have come out were it not for a "freebie," she said, "you get different people on bank holidays, Friday nights, Monday nights. People are very different, how they spend - especially in our restaurant, we have all sorts." 

"And it's good, because it's not that scary when you go out - as long as everyone is responsible - you know, wash your hands, don't spit on anyone, hopefully we'll get there." 

As for fears of restaurants being forced to close again to allow schools to reopen, she said: "It's wild, everyone is out and about. I know they want the economy to do better but if they didn't want everyone rushing out mingling, that's one thing they definitely shouldn't have done, and let it be a bit more organic and gradual.

"They can't do one thing with one hand and take it back with the other. It doesn't make sense guys." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 10th August 2020

'Right now the bookings are like a reverse weekend'