On July 4, the UK government allowed the opening up of pubs and dine-in restaurants across the nation. Though tabloids tagged it as ‘Covid Independence Day’ and celebrated it as a respite from the lockdown, it did little to bring out patrons in large numbers. So in August, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ plan, which subsidised 50 per cent (up to GBP10 per person) of the cost of a meal across restaurants, on Mondays to Wednesdays for the whole month.
This seemingly small incentive of a ‘tenner off’ swiftly revived the restaurant industry across the country and the British culture of getting-out experienced a sort of renaissance. Over 84,000 restaurants across the UK signed up for this deal, within the first three weeks of which over 65 million meals were served.
The scheme was a success almost instantly. To show his intent, Rishi Sunak even volunteered as a waiter at a popular brasserie! ‘Monday through Wednesday’ became the new weekend. Families would queue up at their favourite neighbourhood joints to avail the discount on meals. Restaurants installed makeshift barriers, rearranged the alignments to maintain some social separation, but still maintained maximum allowable occupancy levels.
From pubs, cafes, patisseries, curry-houses and fast-food eateries to even the elite Michelin star bistros across the land, all were again brimming with regulars. Occupancy at some places reached record levels. The ‘tenner off’ scheme not only revived the dwindling revenues of the sector, but gave a huge confidence boost to stepping out! The stigma of eating out amid the fear of the virus evaporated, with a perfectly targeted incentive. And the effects spilled over to non-discounted days.
Thursday became the new Monday. With consumers now feeling more buoyant and ‘re-addicted’ to eating out, encouraged by the incentive, restaurant occupancy in August saw much higher levels than in July. The government scheme has ended now, but many restaurants are continuing it, taking the 50 per cent rebate on their book. They do not want the momentum to drop, and the kick-start torque that the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme has granted is enough to propel the inertia of trade beyond the lockdown.
Incentives work, if they are targeted at end-consumers. As the world grapples with varied forms of losses and with many consumer-facing industries on the brink of extinction, this scheme is a blueprint of triumph. Consumer behaviour does not change quickly, so to overcome the temporary fear, an easy-to-comprehend and targeted motivation directed at the patron is effective. We will soon see many other sectors open up, not only in Britain, but globally too, where a backing of similar incentives would perhaps be needed.
However, for many industries, the incentive could just be lifting of restrictions. Museums opened this week in London, with bookings for over a week immediately sold out. Similarly, the turnstiles of stadia will soon be flooded as day football matches allow supporters in, although an extra incentive could be the likes of a Lionel Messi signing up for an English club?!
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)