When the British government told people they no longer had to stay home, it needed a convincing pitch to get everyone back outside and, crucially, spending money — especially in restaurants.
The answer: half-price food. For the month of August, the government has been paying for a 50 percent discount on all meals eaten in restaurants, pubs or cafes, up to 10 pounds ($13) per person, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
It’s a discount that Britons have taken up with relish.
In the first three weeks of the program, 64 million meals — enough for nearly the entire British population of about 67 million — were eaten using the discount, costing the government £336 million ($441 million).
But restaurant industry workers are worried: If diners retreat to their homes once it’s too cold to dine outdoors or unemployment rises as the furlough program ends in October, what then?
And even if customers want to keep coming back, restaurants face a lot of uncertainty.
Though new daily cases have been declining, with a seven-day average of 1,060 as of Monday, the economy in Britain fared worse than any other in Europe during the second quarter of the year, because of a longer lockdown period and heavy reliance on consumer spending.
Half of Britain’s restaurants are still closed, and the restaurant program doesn’t address how each establishment will make up for reduced capacity because of social distancing measures, or what will happen when the weather turns cold.
“Obviously, we don’t live in California or Dubai, we live in the U.K.,” said David Williams, co-owner of Baltic Market, a collection of street food and drinks vendors in Liverpool. “So there’s a finite amount of time that you want to eat a bowl of pasta outside.”