Rishi Sunak urges public to support their favourite restaurants as ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ scheme launches
The Chancellor said the hospitality industry is ‘a vital ingredient to our economy’. (PA)
Rishi Sunak has urged the British public to help save the jobs of 1.8 million hospitality employees by making use of the Government’s ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ restaurant discount scheme.
The Chancellor issued the plea as the programme, which hands customers a 50% Government-backed discount in participating restaurants, pubs and cafes, formally launched on Monday.
But ministers are facing calls to exclude fast food from the drive or risk undermining their own anti-obesity push.
The scheme, unveiled at last month’s coronavirus economic statement from Mr Sunak, gives customers up to 50% off on all food and non-alcoholic beverages consumed on-site.
Major chains including Costa Coffee, Pizza Express and Nando’s have signed up to the drive, which runs on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout August, with an ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ website launched to help people find outlets taking part.
The scheme is designed to shore up businesses which have been hard-hit by months of lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19, but formal value-for-money concerns have been raised by HMRC’s most senior official over its use of public funds.
Launching the drive on Monday, Mr Sunak said: “Our Eat Out to Help Out scheme’s number one aim is to help protect the jobs of 1.8 million chefs, waiters and restaurateurs by boosting demand and getting customers through the door.
"More than 72,000 establishments will be serving discounted meals across the country, with the government paying half the bill.
“The industry is a vital ingredient to our economy and it’s been hit hard by coronavirus, so enjoy summer safely by showing your favourite places your support – we’ll pay half.”
He added: “The scheme will help protect the jobs of the hospitality industry’s 1.8 million employees by encouraging people to safely return to their local restaurants, cafes and pubs where social-distancing rules allow.”
But the initiative aimed at getting more people into eating establishments comes amid a major government drive to tackle obesity, with restaurants soon expected to display calorie counts on menus in a bid to encourage healthier eating.
Research shows that obesity is a major risk factor for dying of Covid-19.
Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson Munira Wilson said: "We all recognise the need to support the high street through the pandemic, but the Government should have been more discerning with this scheme.
"Obesity is already an immense challenge for people and the NHS, but the latest research suggests it also contributes to the deadliness of coronavirus. With a number of fast-food chains signing up to the scheme, it seems clear that public health did not factor into the Government's decision.”
She added: "The Government must put public health first and exclude from the scheme meals and drinks proven to contribute to obesity. We cannot afford to risk lives as we re-open the economy."
The Treasury said many restaurants taking part in the programme would offer “healthy and low-calorie options”, and said the scheme “should be enjoyed as part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle”.