Eat Out To Help Out, it sounded like a bawdy joke when it was first announced, but the government funded two-for-one scheme last summer went on to be hailed by the hospitality industry as a vital lifeline.
However, the scheme has also been accused of leading to increased transmission of COVID in August, when the scheme ran, as well as through all the months of copy-cat schemes that ran right until the Christmas lockdown. So it wasn’t clear which way the government would fall on a renewed scheme this time around. But it now looks like EOTHO-2 is not on the cards.
The prospect of free food courtesy of the government this week proved a mirage. The Handbook reported back in summer that you could potentially get £180 off a single three course meal, a fact confirmed by the Treasury Press Office. So perhaps it makes sense that after spending £849m last August that there would be reticence about throwing taxpayer cash at this.
The Chancellor confirmed that the scheme isn’t necessary because, in essence, we can fund it for them. Confirming this he said that “Consumer confidence is at different levels and there’s actually a lot of pent-up desire”
In other words, ‘people are gagging to go to pubs, so they’ll be fine’.
Which is quite gamble. There is also likely to be significant hesitancy, particularly among the younger unvaccinated population. It’s noteworthy that this is often the cohort most nervous about returning to the workplace.
But the Chancellor thinks a spending spree is inevitable: “I think we probably now have higher confidence that there will be consumption-led recovery even without intervention than we did before”.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has also dismissed speculation about the role of Eat Out To Help Out, or EOTHO, in super-spreading COVID, telling Politico’s Westminster Insider podcast, that “Every other Western European country also had a surge of cases when you got into the autumn, none of them seem to have done the same thing, so what’s the explanation for that?”
It’s an explanation that doesn’t quite tally with the data, with Warwick suggesting that EOTHO may have been to blame for between 8 and 17 per cent of all new detected clusters of coronavirus emerging during August and September in the UK.
Whatever the reasoning for not resurrecting it, we’ll miss EOTHO. The cheery first-year-graphic-designer logo and the clumsy double entendre alone made it worthwhile. But also it did real good to the industry, bringing back customers at just the right moment and putting Treasury money into the tills of restaurants and pubs across the nation.
It also led to the months of further, non government funded, discounts, good for consumers but also keeping restaurants operating, albeit at slightly reduced profit margins. Farewell EOTHO, let’s hope this ‘pent up desire’ gets us through.