The term ‘Coronacoaster’ was coined to describe the peaks, troughs and uncertainty of 2020, and it certainly seems relevant for the hospitality industry this last six months. On 20th March, Boris Johnson announced that all pubs, bars and restaurants must close to help slow the spread of Coronavirus. The opportunity to reopen, in any normal sense, was not offered until the 4th July and even then, there were significant changes with social distancing and increased safety measures in place – limiting both covers and service options for many.
On the 8th of July, Rishi Sunak announced a new scheme to help encourage diners back out to support the economy and boost the hospitality sector. Eat Out to Help Out offered diners 50% off their food and soft drinks, up to a value of £10 a person when dining in.
It was anticipated there would be an approximate 10-15% increase on August 2019 sales, due to the scheme, however, to use a word we’ve all come to associate with 2020, the sales results on the back of the scheme have been unprecedented. Brands have reported 30-40% increases in sales. So many people took an interest in the scheme that customers complained they were unable to gain bookings, restaurants had reports of three hour queues and it’s reported that more than 100 million meals have been eaten during the duration of the scheme. This is indeed welcome news for an industry marked by six months of downtime.
Despite the scheme coming to its official end, several brands, chains and some independents have extended their own version into September, which is another positive. Initial feedback suggests that that 1 in 5 consumers who ate out on the scheme now plan to continue dining out more often to support the industry, and a similar number will return to venues they have previously not visited.
While the last few months have certainly been incredibly challenging, we are buoyed by the enthusiasm of the public to get back out and enjoy dining with friends and family .Not only is this crucial for the survival of so many businesses, but if managed responsibly, is a great way for all of us to share a little slice of normality.
Now, we just need to wait and see what the impact of the new ‘groups of six’ rule will be on the food and drink sector. Hopefully, there’s enough of an appetite and enough flexibility in that to keep the momentum going, but time will tell.