Preston restaurants and cafes have hailed the benefits of the Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme - but warned that local coronavirus restrictions have had a big impact on overall trade.
Eateries that took part in the Government-backed 50 per cent discount scheme, said they had seen an increase in customer numbers just when they needed some extra help to make up for lost income caused by the coronavirus lockdown.
The scheme, which ends on Bank Holiday Monday, allowed restaurants to give guests a half-price discount on food up to £10 per person between Monday and Wednesday in a bid to support the 1.8 million jobs in the hospitality sector hit hard by the coronavirus lockdown earlier this year.
Figures nationally show that restaurants have claimed for more than 64 million discounted meals as it entered its fourth week.
But the introduction of extra restrictions in Preston on August 8 after a spike in local coronavirus cases was a blow, according to small business owners. The ongoing measures have restricted people from different households mixing inside homes, private gardens or indoor public venues like eateries.
The Federation fo Small Businesses is calling for a month’s extension to the scheme - at least extend it in areas such as Preston which have been through a second ‘lockdown.’
Louise Sey, owner of Ravenous Cafe, Cannon Street, said that it slowed business down even more than at the peak of the pandemic.
She said: “The eat out to help out scheme for us has been rubbish really because of the lockdown in Preston. The first week of the August was a little busier but after that, it has been ridiculously quiet.
“In fact, it has been even quieter than when our cafe was closed and we just offered takeaways. I have friends who own cafes and restaurants on the outskirts of Preston where they didn’t have the same restrictions and they have been fully booked with the scheme.
“There have been days we have only seen one or two tables come in all day, which is tough because I am already opening on half the capacity for social distancing. From speaking to most of my customers, people didn’t even know that cafes and shops were still carrying on opening through the second lockdown.”
One cafe to benefit , however, was the Ultimate Cafe in Go Outdoors at Deepdale retail park.
Andrea Edwards, co-owner of the cafe franchise, said that the scheme increased footfall but its ending now leaves her fearful for the coming months.
She said: “The scheme overall has been brilliant. We have seen a real uplift in our Preston cafe which was great because it had to get better. It couldn’t have gotten any worse for us. Then with the local lockdown we saw a decrease in number again but, last week was a great week for us.
"We are still trading on 40 per cent of our of pre-covid sales so we have a long way to go yet, but the scheme has been helpful in bringing people out and increasing their confidence in going back out to eat. But September now frightens me to death as it will be our new January - and we do not have the same Christmas and summer sales to take us through the difficult months.”
Dan Wade, general manager at Plau in Friargate, added: “The Eat Out to Help Out scheme has been a vital lifeline for us at Plau, we have been booked out fully for every night Monday to Wednesday.
“The weekend trade has fallen dramatically, but we think this is down to the local council lockdown.
“We are extending our own offer into September where you will receive 25 per cent off food Tuesday to Thursday with us, to keep up the eat out momentum going.”
Mark Whittle, Preston Business Improvement District manager, said : “The Eat Out To Help Out scheme has proved to be of benefit for the majority of participants. It has also helped to encourage customers to try new places, which ordinarily, they may not have.
“While it has been welcomed by those businesses offering the discounts, there has been a noticeable shift, from some, in terms of weekend trade, with customers opting to dine when the discounts are in place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Overall, it has been a welcome support tool in encouraging people to safely return to supporting leisure and hospitality businesses.
“Preston’s high street was recovering very well. Our year on year figures are understandably down, as are those nationally, but week on week we were outperforming the region and country, bucking all trends in terms of the numbers coming back; even beating Manchester and Liverpool on averages.
“However, sadly, but understandably, when local restrictions were imposed, we saw a dip. That said, the most recent report (last week’s figures), shows that this is now improving.”
Outside of the city lockdown area, the scheme proved a hit with business owners.
Jayne Taylor, operations director at the Villa in Wrea Green, said they had seen a boost in customer numbers.
She said: “The Eat Out To Help Out scheme has worked very well for The Villa. It has rewarded our regular diners and introduced new customers, whom we have seen on many occasions over the past four weeks.
“We have received a lot of positive feedback that they will return on a regular basis.”
Federation of Small Businesses national chairman Mike Cherry said the scheme should be extended. He said: “The Eat Out to Help Out scheme has been an overwhelming success in getting people back on their high streets and in their town centres. We now need to see it extended to continue the critical support that it is providing for small firms as we enter a period of economic make or break.
“It’s vital that we continue to offer as much support as possible in areas where restrictions have been reintroduced – this would be a great way of doing just that.
“As we head into the winter and New Year, the Government should be conscious of the fact that this scheme is one that genuinely works in helping to get people out into small businesses.”