People are being urged to spend their ‘Eat out to help out’ government restaurant vouchers at independent eateries to help support a wider “ecosystem” of small suppliers, staff and local economies.
The scheme is part of the government’s Covid-19 recovery plan to aid the hospitality sector, where the impact of coronavirus has led to losses of £30 billion, according to new research by agency CGA, and the resulting closures and impact on livelihoods are only just being felt.
To coincide with the voucher scheme, which launches today (3 Aug) and offers £10 off meals on Monday-Wednesdays at participating eateries, a campaign in the south west is urging people to spend them in “the right the places”.
The Bristol Food Union (BFU) and the Welsh Independent Restaurant Collective (WIRC) are calling on people to look out for the stickers in local independent restaurants, and choose to spend there rather than multinationals.
Co-founder of BFU, Aine Morris, said: “When you see a local independent restaurant die, a whole ecosystem of staff, suppliers, community and service providers go with it.
“It leaves a bad taste in the mouth that the biggest beneficiaries of this scheme will be the big multinational chains, like McDonald’s. The value of the voucher will make a significant different to small businesses.”
Simon Wright, restaurateur and co-founder of the WIRC, said: “As restaurants are reopening, they’re facing reduced capacity and increased costs from Covid-proofing premises and a huge dent in consumer confidence.
“Customers choosing to use Eat Out to Help Out in independent businesses will be directing government support where it’s needed most, protecting jobs in local economies.
“Independent restaurants are the heart and soul of towns and villages throughout Wales. They create local jobs, bring people out to the high street, underpin tourism and support our farmers and producers,” he said.
It comes as some restaurants have reopened after months of closure, while others that have not been able to absorb the financial impact of Covid-19 have announced their closure, including popular Bristol pizza chain, Flour & Ash, which said it was unviable to re-open at a capacity of less than a third.
Morris said: “The big issue is that public perception is that everything is back to normal [for restaurants], but they’re opening with less than 40 per cent of covers and with the majority of the same costs and overheads.
“Some are saving on the staff costs, but then they’re run ragged and it’s very stressful. Or they’re trying to bang out as much food as they can, with takeaways or eating outside. I don’t see how it’s financially viable in the long term.”
Despite the challenges, Morris said there is a real sense of “making hay while the sun shines”, and warned that the hospitality sector faces a difficult period ahead with the impact of a recession, a potential second wave of the pandemic during winter months, and the colder temperatures meaning less people will want to sit outside.
Suppliers of fresh produce to restaurants, pubs and cafes are largely seeing orders return to normal, she continued, while smaller artisan producers have benefited from farmers’ markets reopening and some adding more frequency.
The WIRC formed during lockdown to try and save jobs and businesses in the independent eating out sector in Wales. The BFU is a collective of restaurants, food businesses and community organisations, helped feed the city of Bristol during Covid-19 and keep local supply chains in business.