Keep on dining out, UK minister urges as popular cut-price offer ends

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LONDON (Reuters) - British finance minister Rishi Sunak urged diners on Monday to keep going out to eat as a popular government scheme offering half-price food in restaurants this month drew to a close.

The “Eat out to Help Out” initiative was designed to boost a hospitality sector that has been especially hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. It offered 50% off the price of meals on the first three days of the week at participating restaurants, up to a maximum of 10 pounds ($13) - with the government making up the difference.

So popular has it been that more than 64 million meals had been eaten under the scheme up to Aug. 27, according to the Open Table online booking website.

“The scheme reminded us why we as a nation love dining out and I urge diners to maintain the momentum to help continue our economic recovery,” Sunak said in a statement.

“I want to say thank you to the diners who have fallen back in love with their local, to the managers who have spent weeks ensuring their restaurants were safe and to the chefs, waiters and waitresses across the country who have worked tirelessly, sometimes with more customers than they’ve ever had before – all helping to protect 1.8 million jobs in the hospitality sector.”

Open Table figures showed the average number of seated diners between Monday and Wednesday this month was up 95% on last year.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a national lockdown in March and the Treasury said on Monday around 80% of hospitality firms stopped trading in April, with 1.4 million workers furloughed, the highest of any sector.

Several restaurant chains have already said they will continue offering the discount in September.

Reporting by Stephen Addison, editing by Elizabeth Piper