The half-off discount is supposed to encourage wary customers to support the UK's struggling restaurants and pubs.

By Jelisa Castrodale
July 09, 2020
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On Wednesday, British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak presented a "mini-budget" to the House of Commons, a £30 billion ($37 billion USD) plan to help the country's economy recover from its ongoing pandemic-related recession

Adriana Duduleanu / EyeEm / Getty Images

One part of Sunak's plan is what he called an "eat out to help out" discount, which allows diners to save as much as 50% on an unlimited number of meals out during the month of August. The discount is capped at a maximum of £10 per meal, per person, so don't book that table at The Fat Duck just yet. Restaurants and pubs in England were allowed to reopen last Saturday, so Sunak hopes the discount might encourage still-wary customers to support their local favorites during a socially distant lunch or dinner. 

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"This moment is unique, we need to be creative,” Sunak said. “To get customers back into restaurants, cafes and pubs and protect the 1.8 million people who work in them, I can announce today that for the month of August we will give everyone in the country an ‘eat out to help out’ discount.” (Sunak knows what you're thinking, and added that the government “wouldn't have lifted the restrictions [on dining out] if we didn't think we could do so, safely.") 

The discount will apply to any meal eaten (or any non-alcoholic drink ordered) in any participating restaurant or pub between Monday and Wednesday during the month of August, starting on Monday, August 3, and continuing through the end of the month. That means 13 days are eligible, so one ultra-determined customer could theoretically save £130 if they ate one meal out every day, or save £260 on two restaurant meals every day. (It also seems more likely that someone would take that challenge, you know, if we weren't enduring  a once-in-a-generation pandemic.) 

In addition to the per-person savings on the meals themselves, Sunak also announced that the VAT—value-added sales tax—would be cut from 20% to 5% on hospitality and tourism-related purchase. The BBC reports that the VAT discount applies to "eat-in or hot takeaway food from restaurants, cafes and pubs; accommodation in hotels, B&Bs, campsites and caravan sites [and] attractions like cinemas, theme parks and zoos." The lower tax rate will be effective from Wednesday, July 15 through Tuesday, January12. 

"[Sunak's] speech was pitch perfect, demonstrating both that he understands the unique nature of the moment yet is still unafraid to deliver less welcome political messages," the Financial Times gushed. "His call for people to rise above their fear of the virus and join the national recovery was imparted with a seriousness too often lacking from Boris Johnson’s bluff optimism." 

But others have been more critical of the plan, suggesting that it won't be applicable or helpful to the thousands who have been furloughed or lost their jobs entirely. "In theory it would have been a good idea," one Twitter user wrote. "But, the issue is, you have to have money to spend it!  And with so many new unemployed they will not be able to participate in this scheme."

"When you have NOTHING to spend 50% [off] does not help," another added

Although the discount doesn't apply yet—and restaurants and pubs can't apply to participate until next Monday—Sunak is getting a head-start on dining in. "Great to pop down to [Wagamama] after the statement today," he tweeted. "They’ve already bought more than 2,000 staff back from furlough and will be one of the many restaurants to benefit from the VAT cut and ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ vouchers." Uh, you mind picking up our check too?