Why Eating Out Did Not Help Out in the Long-Run

Shosha Adie
BSc Anthropology alumnus

It is a balmy Wednesday in London, and the usual ghost town that is central on a weeknight is bustling with well-dressed individuals smelling ripe from drinking in the city’s parks. The odd solo diner slurps noodles and scrolls on their phone. Social distancing goes out of the window as it hits golden hour, shiny-new outdoor tables and chairs spilling out of restaurants and up to the curb forcing pedestrians to sidle up close or step out into the road. 

Boris Johnson has recently conceded that perhaps, in hindsight, the eat-out-to-help-out scheme (EOTHO) of August which had made this aforementioned joviality possible has contributed to a rise in Covid-19 cases UK-wide. However, in striking that balance between keeping the economy afloat and public heath he reminds us that there are ‘two million jobs at least in the hospitality sector’ and ‘it was very important to keep these jobs going’. Yet, at a cost of around £522m, subsidising 50% off meals at selected restaurants up to £10, others have suggested that perhaps this money would have been better spent. 

Even some restaurant-owners who benefited from this scheme have suggested that more harm than good came out of this helping hand as where bookings had been once been spread out, they now became concentrated on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. These are traditionally slow days, deliveries and supply-chains accounting for this as perishables arrive in time for a busy weekend – a weekend trade that in some cases became non-existent. Many have also expressed relief now that EOTHO has come to an end as the scheme had been taking a turn on server’s mental health as they were deluged with orders and entitled customers— “Look we’re doing you a favour, why are we waiting so long for our orders? Chop, chop”. 

Around half of 208 hospitality operators interviewed by the Morning Advertiser saw their takings falling below or being on par with their usual expectations during EOTHO, average spend going down despite bookings and footfall going up. This begs the question, was it all worth it? Perhaps it is too early to tell, but with a second lockdown widely rumoured and in practise in certain parts of the UK it is clear that even the long-term goals of normalising eating out again is unlikely to be realised. 

Deliveroo’s eat-in-to-help-out, conveniently timed to arrive almost as soon as EOTHO ended, came across as sophisticated in comparison. Directly benefiting small restaurants by subsidising up to £5 off for orders over 20 pounds, unlike the government scheme, Deliveroo made sure national chains had to fund themselves to take part making the process much more nuanced. Those who had come to enjoy ordering their favourite foods to their homes during lockdown were introduced to more local restaurants to safely fall in love with.

Infamous British nights out are much harder to order-in. Interestingly, with the recent pub curfew of 10pm in England the government has managed to find a way to implement the failings of the EOTHO scheme without any of the benefits. Pub owners, and locals, can corroborate that night-outs now begin earlier thus the same amount of mingling is occurring, yet drink sales have already plunged by more than a third. Perhaps Parliament has not noticed this yet, as until recently this curfew did not apply to their parliamentary bars. With these mixed messages, and weak governmental response to the economic crisis, it seems possible that in the long-run eat-out-to-help-out will have done neither public health, nor the public’s opinion of Boris Johnson, any favours. 

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