The restaurant industry has been one of the sectors hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Although the Government’s furlough scheme provided some much-needed aid in the form of covering restaurants’ wage bills, it did not include other overheads such as rent, leaving many businesses in a precarious position. Despite restrictions easing in July, concerns still remain that social distancing measures and customers’ safety worries will make restaurants uneconomical to run.
Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ latest poll in London suggests a majority of Londoners (52%) would feel safe eating at a restaurant or drinking at a bar outside.
This level of confidence among half of the public could be a result of upgraded safety procedures seen in restaurants, such as staff wearing masks or plastic screens between tables. Indeed, we found that a majority (53%) of respondents would be more likely to visit to a restaurant or pub if the staff wore masks to cover their mouth and nose.
Even among respondents who initially said they felt unsafe eating at a bar or restaurant inside, 50% would be more likely to visit if the staff wore masks to cover their mouth and nose, suggesting that such safety measures could be the best way for restaurants to build back customer confidence again.
Londoners feel safer eating outside rather than inside, based on suggestions that transmission is lower outside where the air can circulate freely. Indeed, only 37% of Londoners feel safe eating inside at a restaurant compared to 53% who feel safe eating outside. As the summer months come to a close and diners can no longer sit outside, this problem could become more acute unless restaurants are able to reassure consumers that it is safe to eat indoors if the right precautions are taken.
With these concerns in mind, Chancellor Rishi Sunak included measures designed to encourage the UK public to go out and eat at restaurants in his 8th of July £30bn economic recovery package. Chief among these measures was the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme, which offers a government-backed 50% discount for customers at restaurants and pubs from Monday to Wednesday throughout the month of August.
Our poll found that a majority (52%) of Londoners said they were likely to take advantage of the scheme. Notably, 42% of those who feel unsafe eating at a restaurant outside said they were likely to take advantage of the scheme.
18-to-24-year olds were extremely likely to say they would take advantage of the scheme (69%), suggesting the scheme is generating real enthusiasm in some quarters. Indeed, restaurant chains such as Franco Manca have reported huge sales increases following the first week of the scheme, supporting the notion that the scheme could be bringing much needed relief to restaurants.
The picture for the restaurant industry in London is not as bleak as it seemed in March and April. There seems to be growing confidence among the public around the safety of eating out, which the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme could help solidify. However, there is still a long way to go before the whole public feels safe eating out, given that the majority of the population still feels unsafe eating inside. Unless this level of confidence changes, there is a danger that business may plummet once the discount scheme ends.