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Photograph: Romulo
Photograph: Romulo

London restaurateurs react to the £10 voucher scheme

What’s the verdict on Rishi’s handout?

By
Kate Lloyd
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Ah, 2020, the year the government gave us pocket money. That’s right, as part of racily titled plan Eat Out to Help Out, Rishi Sunak revealed on Wednesday (July 8) that he’d be giving us all a tenner to spend at a restaurant of our choice.

But you can’t just go rushing to Nando’s for one main, one refillable and a fino side, expecting to leave with vouchers to spare – the scheme isn’t quite that simple.

It’s running on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout August at businesses that decide to participate in the scheme – and it’s not just a straight £10 off. You actually get 50 percent off the cost of your meal up to a total of £10 per person. (So, to get the full £10 discount you need to eat £20 worth of peri-peri chicken.)

Meanwhile, the restaurant will get that money refunded to them by the government. Sunak’s plan also sees VAT dropping from 20 percent to 5 percent on hospitality, accommodation and attractions until January 2021, meaning that companies will get to keep more of their profits. 

But what do restaurateurs and industry experts think of the scheme? We asked six from around London and here’s what they said:

‘I can now see some light at the end of the tunnel’

Rowena Romulo, co-owner of Romulo Café & Restaurant says: ‘I’m quite reassured by the government’s measures to keep restaurants afloat. The Eat Out to Help Out scheme comes at the right time. People are bound to stay put in the country this summer, so it may prove just the ticket to make them support local and homegrown businesses like ours. But other incentives like a VAT decrease to 5 percent, the Covid grants and furlough scheme are badly needed to help kickstart business after months of lockdown. I can now see some light at the end of the tunnel.’

‘Londoners can eat a Michelin-starred lunch for £14 with it’

Jason Atherton from The Social Company says: ‘I will be taking part in the scheme, yes. I think it will encourage people to enjoy high-end dining, and further it’s a nice token. I think it’s definitely more suited to the high-street offerings but anything that helps the economy kickstart has to be a good thing. If you take my restaurants 5 Social and Social Eating House, our lunch menus are usually £24 and £25 pounds for three course respectively, and this is now £14 and £15 to eat three courses in a Michelin-starred restaurant for lunch. It presents incredible and affordable value whilst ensuring you really do get a memorable experience too, something we’ve been missing in the last few months. We hope to see people use it when they dine in with us next month.’

‘The problem we have is a little bigger than just needing a little boost to businesses’

Sebastian Lyall, CEO of hospitality group Lollipop, says: ‘£10 off may be a little boost to businesses however the problem we have is a little bigger than that. The going out “momentum” in London is very much linked to after-work drinks and dinner as people are already out of their homes and want to wind down with friends and co-workers before going home. This is non-existent now. Leaving home, even on the weekends, currently has such a big mental barrier which will take time to be removed.’

‘No government support is going to suit everyone’

Adam Byatt, Michelin-starred chef from Trinity, says: ‘I personally feel that, overall, the measures Rishi Sunak has put into place show that the cabinet has listened and reacted to the brilliant work of UKHospitality. It’s important to remember that each business has its own journey in this and must plot their own way back and that no government support is going to suit everyone. With the new measures, and leaving the issue of rent aside, those operations that went into this with a solid business should be able to come out of it. For me, the remaining most important concerns are simply a lack of consumer confidence and, of course, the call-in date for all deferred VAT and PAYE.’

‘It will mostly help the high-street brands’

Alexandre Santamaria, founder of Aware Hospitality, says: ‘It’s a “better than nothing” initiative. A nice gesture towards the consumers which should help the government with its popularity. It will mostly help the high-street brands with low average checks [the average amount spent per meal] and we look forward to seeing what is being done for mid-market and high-end restaurants.’

‘People are in the habit of eating at home and may need a boost’

Grace Regan, founder of SpiceBox, says: ‘One of our concerns about reopening is the number of guests we’d see coming to dine in at the curry house – people may be concerned about social distancing and have also gotten into the habit of eating at home and therefore may need a little extra boost to encourage them to dine out. The VAT cut is also a big help for small restaurant businesses like us. In terms of whether it is enough, it’s hard to tell right now! We’ll have to wait and see…’

What will restaurants look like in the New Normal? 

Black London restaurateurs reveal how their industry needs to change.

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