‘A very big sticking plaster’ - demand soars at restaurants in first week of half-price scheme
- Credit: Archant
Restaurants and cafés in Norfolk have seen a “supersonic” start to the government’s money-off scheme, with some eateries in tourist towns overwhelmed with demand.
August saw the introduction of the Eat Out to Help Out (EOHO) initiative, which offers 50pc off food and soft drinks (up to £10 per head) on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout the month.
It has largely been met with a rush of bookings, with much of the industry now looking at jampacked calendars.
In particular, businesses in tourist areas, hit by a combination of the heatwave, a rise in staycations and the summer holiday, have faced enormous pressure.
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At the Kings Arms in Fleggburgh, the team created a special EOHO menu to ease pressure on staff, having initially said they would run the offer across their usual menus.
General manager Rebecca Adams said: “It’s been quite testing. On the first day we had about 20 walk-ins on top of our bookings and we’re running at limited tables already.
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“We weren’t expecting the level of people that were coming in. It was just incredibly busy.”
But she said despite best efforts to adapt throughout the week they decided to create the set menu to ensure they maintained standards, and secured the repeat custom the scheme was designed for.
She said she had heard other businesses serving until 11pm to cope with demand.
At Branford’s in Caister, Tyrone Harold said their efforts to increase their outdoor seating space to make guests feel safe had in effect “created a monster”.
He posted on the restaurant’s Facebook to say it had been a “massive learning curve”, and that they had essentially turned Branford’s, which usually takes 90 covers at a push, “into a 300-seater restaurant without really realising the implications”.
They said they knew of restaurants dropping the scheme, but said they would continue and emphasise the importance of booking in advance, with a bookings coordinator on hand to monitor the numbers of customers there.
Since Wednesday, Mr Harold said, things had been a lot smoother.
‘Every day is like a weekend’
Daniel Smith, chef patron of the The Ingham Swan and The Wildebeest, at Stoke Holy Cross, and owner of Warwick Street Social in Norwich, said the offer had made every day feel like the weekend.
“It has driven people to other days of the week,” he said. “It has boosted trade on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday across all three sites.
“As a business owner it’s a great thing. Every day is like a weekend, which is phenomenal.”
And the feared knock to weekend trade, as diners switch to cheaper days, had not materialised. Mr Smith said trade on the first weekend of the month had remained steady.
At the Imperial Hotel in Great Yarmouth, Kirsty Storr said they could not be “busier or happier”.
“Last week we saw all sorts of people, from regulars who’ve been desperate to get back to some sort of normality, to locals to haven’t dined with us before and tourists who are here on their holidays,” she said.
“We’ve welcomed Eat Out to Help Out diners at breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner every day of the offer so far. We were run off our feet last week.”
She said Thursday lunch time had been slightly quieter than usual, but that trade picked up again over the weekend.
At the Duck Inn, in Stanhoe, which closes on Mondays and Tuesdays, the restaurant is now fully booked on Wednesdays for the rest of the month, while at the Rose and Crown in Snettisham, demand has been so high that the team has had to stop offering food in its garden to ensure there is adequate social distancing for families and visitors.
They said they had made the decision to ensure there was a “safe space for our customers and families to relax and spread out”.
And at the Hunworth Bell, near Holt, the restaurant is also almost fully booked on Wednesdays throughout August.
They said the main positive was that it had incentivised customers to eat out again, which had reassured them they could do so safely and encouraged repeat bookings.
It’s a ‘very, very big sticking plaster’
Victoria MacDonald, who runs both the Cellar House in Eaton and the Old Ram Coaching Inn in Tivetshall St Mary, said it had been busy, and that social distancing rules meant they had been forced to turn away 20 covers from the south Norfolk pub on one day.
She said they had been able to bring back more staff this week and said while the scheme was a “very, very big sticking plaster”, it needed to turn into an increased level of trade through the autumn and winter months to have a long-lasting impact on the industry, including its suppliers.
“It was very popular last week, I don’t know how it will be compare this week, whether the novelty of it played a part, but it was very popular,” she said. “The weekend was a little bit quieter but that could have been because people were out at the beach.
“We hope these customers will discover new places to eat and stick with them, and spend their £10 more locally rather than with the big chains.”
‘Thursday fell off a cliff - but the weekend bounced back’
In Norwich, which hasn’t seen the same rush of sunseekers and tourists, the rush was more manageable, though demand remained high - Pinnochio’s, on St Benedicts Street, said they were having to turn customers away, while Ecky Limon, who runs Blue Joanna, on Unthank Road, said they were now fully booked for the next two weeks, with some slots left the following week.
“It’s been really busy,” he said. “I signed up quite late, but as soon as I posted on social media we had loads of calls.
“It has been quite busy since we reopened on July 4, but this has helped. It’s gone well and in fact some of the misgivings I had have been fine. I’ve just made my claim to the government and it was really easy to do.
“It’s been really nice to be able to pass that saving on to the customer.”
At No 33 Café, on Exchange Street, which often has a queue snaking down the street, owner Nichola Hay said it had been a busy week.
“It has been really busy,” she said. “Monday is typically our busiest of the early weekdays but then Tuesday was busier, and Wednesday busier than that. Ordinarily this weather would be really bad for us because people are not coming to the city, they’re off to the beach or somewhere, so I’m really pleased and it’s a generous scheme.”
She said they had seen a slow down in trade on Thursday, a message echoed by many of the city restaurants we spoke to, including Gonzo’s Tearoom on London Street.
At Middletons, which has steak houses in Norwich and King’s Lynn, managing director Stephen Hutton said: “I guess the fear for all of us was that we were moving Friday and Saturday trade to Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday but for us that wasn’t the case at all.
“Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were three Saturdays in a row, we couldn’t have been busier. Thursday fell off a cliff, but it was decent sales on Saturday so all in all our sales are probably about 25pc to 30pc up.”
He said the question for the industry was what would happen come September, and whether trade would begin to drop off.