More than 100 million discounted meals have been claimed for under the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme, the chancellor has said.
Rishi Sunak said the scheme had helped to protect 1.8 million hospitality jobs since it began on the first Monday in August.
It provided diners with a state-funded 50% discount on food and soft drinks between Mondays and Wednesdays, up to a maximum of £10 per person, at participating businesses, before ending on 31 August.
The discount is clawed back through claims submitted to HM Revenue & Customs.
The aim was to boost the struggling hospitality industry, which was among the worst-affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Treasury cited figures from online restaurant booker OpenTable showing that, on the final day of the scheme, bookings were up by 216% compared to the same day last year.
More than 84,700 establishments signed up, making 130,000 claims worth £522m, although restaurants have until the end of September to claim back the discount, so these figures are expected to grow.
The scheme has been so successful that many restaurants – including Pizza Hut, Bill’s, and Pizza Pilgrims – have decided to continue offering 50% off most items without government support.
Mr 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.”
More than 51 million meals were claimed for in England by 27 August, more than two million in both Wales and Northern Ireland and more than six million in Scotland.
During the scheme’s final full week, the number of seated diners was up 63% compared to the same period in 2019, and up 95% on Eat Out To Help Out days. Saturday and Sunday of that week were up by 9.4% and 32.1% respectively, according to OpenTable.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said the scheme had been a “great success” for the industry.
She added: “Our members have reported very strong bookings throughout August at a time when the sector really needed a boost.
“It has helped provide a lift in consumer confidence which is going to be key for hospitality businesses as they look to reopen and help rebuild the economy.
“The scheme has provided a timely boost in trade which will have helped many businesses safeguard jobs all around the UK.”
Despite the rapid growth and success of the scheme, the chancellor has so far ignored calls for it to be extended – and with government debt now standing at around £2trn, there is no indication that Mr Sunak will change his mind.
The Federation for Small Businesses’ chief of external affairs, Craig Beaumont, last week said: “We’ve seen the behaviour change, we’ve seen people going in and enjoying their local small businesses safely, and we’ve seen our high streets beginning to reinvigorate.
“And that’s why we really want to see an extension to the scheme, or some form of the scheme, to continue to guarantee that this continues throughout the autumn. We need the economic recovery to really take place, and the hospitality sector should be at the heart of that.”