Data shows the taxpayer-funded initiative is boosting trade when hard-hit businesses need it most, say industry watchers.
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Food sales in UK pubs and restaurants rose by a third in the week following the launch of the government’s Eat Out to Help Out subsidy scheme, research shows.
The survey by the data consultancy firm CGA found trade in managed outlets was up by between 95% and 106% on the first three days of the initiative which launched on Monday, 3 August, compared with the same period the previous week.
Whiles sales fell over the next four days when the discount did not apply, it still left the week-on-week increase at 31%, according to CGA, based on figures from 7,000 businesses.
The data comes after the government said diners had used the scheme more than 10.5 million times in the first week.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak launched the subsidy in an attempt to bolster the struggling hospitality sector, which has been hammered by the coronavirus lockdown, and to get people back into town and city centres.
It offers 50% off the bill for eat-in food and drink – up to £10 per person and excluding alcohol – on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in August, at more than 80,000 participating restaurants, cafes and pubs.
The discount is later clawed back through claims submitted to HM Revenue & Customs.
In a further bid to support business through the COVID-19 crisis, Mr Sunak has also cut VAT for the hospitality industry, which employs around two million people.
The initial sales figures may offer some ray of hope to the chancellor following confirmation the UK had dived into its largest recession on record.
The CGA survey also revealed the scheme had brought a wave of customers back to restaurants, with more than a quarter (27%) of adults having used the scheme by Tuesday (11 August).
Nearly a third (31%) said they had yet to use it, but were likely to do so before the end of August.
Where jobs have been lost across the UK
Crucially, the scheme appears to have achieved industry hopes of bringing back people who were previously hesitant about eating out.
Some 39% of those who have used Eat Out to Help Out were making their first trip out for a meal since the end of lockdown.
Of those who have still not dined out, a quarter (26%) say they are likely to make use of the scheme before it ends.
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Karl Chessell, business unit director for food and retail at CGA said: “This data shows the Eat Out to Help Out scheme is having the desired effect of boosting food sales for restaurants, pubs and others at a time when they need it most.
“Along with operators’ stringent hygiene precautions, it is encouraging consumers to venture out and see that they can have a safe as well as good value meal out.
“As the scheme goes on it will hopefully begin to have a positive impact on footfall on other days of the week too-though it is already clear that the sector will need sustained support from government after the scheme ends at the end of the month.”