UK picks up diners' £500 million tab

Can Americans expect a similar dine-out incentive from Congress?

Sep 07, 2020 | Editorial | Government | Budgeting | Current Events | Spending Habits
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Sometimes the grass really is greener across the pond…

Or at least, the dinner bill is cheaper. Last Monday marked the final day of Eat Out to Help Out — the novel UK-wide government program designed to get people out of their homes and back to pub patios. Under Eat Out to Help Out, the government paid half of UK diners' restaurant tabs up to £10 per person (or $13 in Yankee speak) at participating restaurants, pubs, and cafes Monday through Wednesday in August. The program rolled out alongside a 15% VAT cut (value added tax) for hospitality businesses and as part of a £30 billion plan to protect and create jobs. The total bill? The UK bet upwards of £500 million ($664 million) on the hope that a temporary discount might trigger a lasting recovery.

So far, the program is showing promise. By its third week the number of customers in UK restaurants from Monday to Wednesday averaged 61% higher than the same days in 2019 and restaurant spending on those days was up 34%. Over 100 million discount meals were claimed by restaurants in total, and one in five restaurants has voluntarily continued the discount into September, sans government support and much to diners’ delight. Still, Britain’s 130,000 businesses and 1.8 million employees in the restaurant biz aren’t out of the woods yet. Restaurants’ daily revenue is still falling short of pre-pandemic levels, the VAT discount expires in January, and the UK furlough program is slated to end in October. As winter descends on Europe and fewer people are willing to enjoy their fish 'n' chips al fresco (even at a discount) the industry and government will need to find new ways to keep restaurants afloat.

The state of stateside restaurants is even more tenuous

While UK lawmakers hand out free food, US restaurants are finding creative ways to buoy their businesses while they wait for a bailout. The proposed RESTAURANTS Act (introduced in June) would provide $120 billion in structured relief and could save 11 million restaurant jobs. But it hasn’t gained the traction it needs to pass in Congress yet. On the PR side of things, the American National Restaurant Association launched a “Doesn’t dining out sound good?” campaign. Its ads aim to drum up restaurant nostalgia — think ambiance, great service, and everything else that can’t fit in a takeout bag — to draw diners back in. Meanwhile local governments are squeezing their already stretched budgets to shell out aid to the tune of $5 billion and counting. But these efforts can only shore up restaurants in the short tem. The Independent Restaurant Coalition predicts 85% of small restaurants risk permanent closure if Congress doesn’t step in soon.

Credit cards offer a silver lining of savings

But things aren't all doom and gloom. In response to shifting spending habits, select credit cards are boosting rewards for things like Instacart, DoorDash, Grubhub, and more to incentivize hungry Americans. So while you can’t count on Congress treating you to dinner anytime soon, you can take advantage of new perks and bonuses that make dining out more affordable. We’ve even noticed food delivery services dropping more promos in our inboxes lately for double the savings. Some credit card perks are limited-run. Others are permanent additions. What’s clear is that the right card can save you serious cash on groceries and food delivery in the months to come.