THERE’S a clink of glasses and gentle buzz of conversation as Manchester restaurants and cafes start to see a boost from the Eat Out To Help Out discount dining initiative. The government scheme offers up to £10 off food and non-alcoholic drinks, in a bid to boost the struggling hospitality sector. And so far it seems to be putting food on the table — for staff and customers alike.
‘For us, this is potentially the difference between being able to open and not,’ says Ritchie Bagnall, general manager of Masons Restaurant & Bar at Manchester Hall.
‘On a normal [pre-Covid] Wednesday we might have 14 covers booked, now we have 26. Without this scheme we had four. That wasn’t sustainable.
‘Of course, we’re still down on where we would be. We were closed for three months and we have to limit the numbers of covers we can take, so on a weekend where we might have been busy before we now have a limit due to social distancing.
‘We now have to have staff in place to check customers’ temperatures as they arrive, and to sanitise everything constantly.’
But Ritchie and his team want to make sure all the special elements of eating out remain. ‘We are having to be a bit imaginative to keep the extra magic,’ he laughs. ‘But I think people have missed eating out. Where normally we would greet people by taking their coats, now we can’t — and we have to take time to explain why we can’t do that at the moment. Everything takes more time. But it is wonderful for us to have guests back with us.’
As well as taking part in the Eat Out scheme, there are other ways customers can help. ‘Pushing boundaries and trying something new is great,’ says Ritchie. ‘People might have gone to a chain place before, but now they’re trying independents while it’s more affordable. Or they’re splashing out a bit more. We’re seeing double the amount of starters and desserts being ordered at the moment, where otherwise people might just come for a main. Sharing a good experience on their social media is a huge help too, and can encourage friends to try us.’
Under the scheme, diners get 50 per cent off food and non-alcoholic drinks when dining in on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout August, up to a maximum discount of £10 per customer. But over at Quarter House in the cool Northern Quarter, they’ve taken things a step further — adding to the government discount.
Head of sales and marketing Emilia Kolbjørnsen explains: ‘It’s been a rough couple of months for us all so we understand that every little helps. Our managing director, Andrew Blackburn, decided to ignore the £10 cap and cut the price of all food and soft drinks by 50 per cent, and so give even more back to our customers.’
So, what else can we as customers do to help? ‘Keep buying local and independent,’ Emilia says. ‘‘We have a personal investment in the local community and care about the areas we operate in. We also employ young local people and want them to have long-term jobs well into the future.’
It’s a sentiment echoed by Jennifer Hughes, brand partner at Peru Perdu in the Cotton Factory on Princess Street. ‘Although the offer is brilliant, we would love to see guests explore wines they may not have tried before, treat themselves to a cocktail pre or post-dinner and maybe go for those side dishes they wouldn’t normally try,’ she says.
‘It’s important to remember that more guests spending money in the restaurant means more staff we are able to employ, and therefore it is benefiting all.
‘We are extremely busy thanks to the scheme’
AS WELL as traditional restaurants, other food businesses have also been able to make the most of the Eat Out scheme.
Lisa Skolosdra Short manages Food Sorcery cookery school in Didsbury. She says: ‘We’re offering the Eat Out To Help Out scheme with a short cookery class and a meal for two on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
‘We would never have been able to offer what we are now without the scheme, and we are extremely busy with it, too. We have three 90-minute sessions a day on those days: one at lunchtime, then an early evening parent and child one, and then an evening one. It’s a different type of dining experience. People love being able to cook and eat in our MasterChef-style kitchen.
‘This scheme is getting us through August after three months closed, so we are very grateful. It means we can offer a £70 session for two for £50, which is a good saving. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that they will carry it on after August, given how successful it has been.’