Operator-funded extensions to the Eat Out to Help Out scheme have divided opinion, with some arguing the industry's survival should not be built on discounting.
Gemma Simmonite, owner of the Gastrono-me all-day cafe, in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, said: "The Eat Out to Help Out scheme has had profound results for us at Gastrono-me. On most Mondays to Wednesdays through August we've seen a 350% increase year-on-year. Even while reaping those results we're still concerned that the impact of extending the scheme could end up having a negative impact on the hospitality industry in the long term.
"Restaurants have to have a chance to find their equilibrium; to stand on their own two feet. Discounting is a hard habit to break customers from; we have to help them appreciate the real price of a meal out, and to not only be turned on by cheap fixes."
Gary Usher of Elite Bistros has also taken to Twitter, saying that although the scheme has "massively" helped the industry, he is worried that the "longer it goes on, the longer people lose sight of what food really costs".
The scheme has been widely credited as successfully encouraging people to dine out again in pubs and restaurants and has given customer confidence a much-needed boost post-lockdown, yet Usher, who operates six restaurants in the north-west of England, including Sticky Walnut in Chester, said: "It's not about now. It's about when it stops."
Among those open for the scheme to be extended at the expense of the government is UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls, who said during a CGA webinar on Thursday that, after furlough, the initiative had been "one of the most important schemes" the government had introduced in terms of building consumer confidence.
She added that she would be "urging the Treasury to continue it" into September, should any of the £500m fund remain "in the tank" at the end of the month.
Many other restaurants have decided to extend the scheme at their own cost into September., including Benares in Mayfair. Sameer Taneja, executive chef of Benares said: "We're delighted to see the positive impact Eat Out to Help Out has had so far – both lunch and dinner reservations have surged on the days the offer is available. This has allowed us to increase staff working hours and bring back more of the team from furlough. We can't thank our loyal customers enough for their continued support.
"The chancellor's scheme has improved consumer confidence by incentivising people to dine out. We hope by extending the offer to Thursdays for the remaining weeks of August, and also for September, we'll be able to welcome many more diners to Benares."