Restaurants have claimed more than 100 million meals under the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, Treasury figures show.
Diners got a state-backed 50% discount on meals and soft drinks up to £10 each on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays during August.
The Treasury said restaurants have so far made 130,000 claims worth £522m, figures likely to rise as outlets have until the end of September to claim.
Restaurant bookings surged during the scheme, especially on the final day.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “From the get-go our mission has been to protect jobs, and to do this we needed to be creative, brave and try things that no government has ever done before.
“Today’s figures continue to show Eat Out to Help Out has been a success. I want to thank everyone, from restaurant owners to waiters, chefs and diners, for embracing it and helping drive our economic recovery.”
About 84,700 restaurants signed up for Eat Out to Help Out.
According to data from booking site OpenTable, restaurant reservations rose by 53% compared with the Monday-to-Wednesday period in August 2019.
In July, restaurant bookings were down 54% on Mondays-to-Wednesdays, compared with July 2019.
The final day of the scheme, Monday 31 August, saw a 216% jump in bookings against the equivalent day in 2019, according to OpenTable.
The government has set aside £500m to fund Eat Out to Help Out. About 80% of hospitality firms stopped trading in April and 1.4 million workers were furloughed – the highest proportions of any sector – according to government data.
However, the scheme has critics. Some pubs and restaurants pulled out in August, citing increased hostility towards staff trying to cope with the increased demand and need for social distancing. Some outlets were concerned the scheme could pull in diners earlier in the week to the detriment of weekend trade.
In July, the Institute for Fiscal Studies forecast the scheme would most likely be a “giveaway” that benefitted those well-off enough to eat out. And anti-obesity campaigners said the scheme “would be a green light to promote junk food”.
However, Stephen Wall, managing director and co-founder of the Pho restaurant chain, said it “has really been amazing. It has certainly benefited our early-week figures and seems to have encouraged the British public to dine out safely, as our restaurants are filling up and staying busy throughout the weekend, too.”
And Jes Staley, chief executive of Barclays, said spending data collected by the bank suggested the scheme had given a “real boost” to the hospitality sector.
He added: “Consumer feedback was also very encouraging, with almost one in five planning to continue dining out more often… and a similar number saying that they will return to restaurants that they would not have visited otherwise.”
Mr Sunak has ruled out extending the scheme, but some pub and restaurant chains, including Pizza Hut and Bill’s, have said they will finance similar offers this month following the jump in demand.
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