Published: 06:00, 01 September 2020
As the government's Eat Out to Help Out Scheme comes to a close, businesses across Kent say they have benefited from the month of discounted dining.
For most the scheme ended yesterday and allowed customers to enjoy 50% off meals and non-alcoholic drinks, capped at a discount of £10 per person.
Philip Thorley, operations director of Thorley Taverns, said the scheme has been a resounding success for his restaurants and pubs.
Mr Thorley said: "I think it's been excellent from the public's point of view, I think it's been excellent from the staff and management point of view, and very good for the company's point of view.
"It's definitely generated footfall out to the venues, and it's got a lot of people out who previously were nervous about coming back out after lockdown."
The family-run company director said his staff have also seen the same people come back week after week to make the most of the scheme.
He said: "We saw them coming out on week one, then booking for week two and week three as well."
Other industries have called for the same scheme to help them and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) have called on the government to extend the scheme for another month .
Mr Thorley chairs the Council of UK Hospitality, who are also doing the same.
He said: "I think the scheme has worked on every level that they wanted it to - it was plain, simple and it captured the public's imagination.
"I would very much like to see that and I think our customers and staff would welcome that as well."
The sentiment is shared by staff at The Boathouse in Yalding, near Maidstone , who have been inundated with customers since the discount began in August.
David Peters, supervisor at the restaurant, said: "We've been fully booked all day Monday to Wednesday, and booked out five days in advance.
"It's been really busy but manageable at the same time, because with the rules about people having to sit down we can only really take bookings on tables that are seated.
"So it does help in a way that we don't have people just wandering around the pub - everyone has to be allocated a seat so we can manage that quite easily."
Mr Peters said many customers have used the discount scheme as an opportunity to try the pricey dishes on the menu.
He said: "Lots of people have been ordering more expensive meals like T-bone steaks and lobsters, things like that."
The restaurant supervisor also believes footfall will decrease when the scheme comes to a close on Monday.
He said: "I think the demand will definitely slip and go back to normal a little bit, but I think it's done the good that it intended to do."
Some restaurants owners have extended the scheme or will continue to offer discounts on week days.
The Plough in Langley is offering a £10 menu from Monday to Thursday throughout September.
Owner Becky Leach said: "It's been a great success for us here and has been busy.
"It has helped us get people back in the door and to show people what we have done to be Covid safe and to see the measures we have put in place.
"It's giving people confidence to get back out again.
"Hospitality has really struggled and I think the deal should be extended especially as we are going into autumn and pubs are all concerned without the sunshine if people will continue to keep coming out."
But not all business owners are quite as happy with the effects of the scheme.
Terry West, owner of The Crispin Inn in Sandwich, has had numerous issues, including the government portion of the payment taking up to nine days to receive.
He said: "It's been difficult, there have been too many people trying to book.
"When you've got social distancing to take in hand, you can't really then turn around and say 'come and fill the pub up'.
"You're torn between the fact of how many people you can get in the pub and keeping the social distancing, which means we've had to cut the numbers down anyway.
"Then every bill you're doing you've got to try and discount everything because the till doesn't do that, then you've got to sort it out at the end of the night so that's a bit of a pain."
Mr West believes the scheme would be more successful if it was done during a month other than August.
He added: "During August people are out anyway, whereas during November or December when it's quieter it would be a better idea."
This idea was supported by Toni Wood, the manager of BeetBar in Margate, who said: “It would have probably been more helpful in the winter when Margate is a lot quieter and people are less likely to be out.
“I don’t know if more people would have been out anyway because people had been locked down for three months.”