Operators have reported strong sales since the launch of the government's Eat Out to Help Out initiative on Monday, describing the 50% discount offer on food and soft drinks as ‘amazing'.
UKHospitality had estimated that 93% of eligible businesses had signed up and 3.3 million people accessed the government's restaurant finder ahead of Monday's launch.
William Lees-Jones, managing director JW Lees, which runs 150 pubs across the north west of England and north Wales, said sales across the estate were up 44% year-on-year on Monday when the scheme launched, and grew by a further 9% on Tuesday.
Tim Foster, founder of the Yummy Pub Co, said the scheme was working at his Wiremill Pub in Lingfield, Surrey, with guest numbers up 145% week-on-week and 30% of customers making their first trip out since lockdown began.
"Weather has an impact, but not this kind of impact," he said.
Peter Borg-Neal, founder of Oakman Inns, added: "The Eat Out to Help Out scheme has been fantastic for us – we have been over twice as busy as we were this time last year. It great to see people socialising in a safe environment and the scheme is clearly protecting jobs."
Will Beckett, co-founder of Hawksmoor, which took more than 15,000 bookings for the 13 days of the scheme across its six restaurants, said: "Although we've seen lower sales due to the lower spend per head, but we're still incredibly happy – everyone loves having busy restaurants and lots of new people are coming in and trying Hawksmoor for the first time, or finding a way to come back that they can afford at the moment. Anything that encourages people to leave the home and start enjoying restaurants again is great."
Exeter gastropub Jack in the Green, meanwhile, said it was fully booked on Monday to Wednesday for the next two weeks, with a good average spend per head.
Trevor Brown, owner of the Pickled Ploughman in Adderbury, Oxfordshire, said: "Oh my word, I am shattered. I just hope Rishi Sunak has a big cheque book. 136 covers and probably turned away another 50. Eat Out to Help Out is amazing."
Damian Wawrzyniak of House of Feasts in Peterborough tweeted that he'd served 46 guests for lunch on Monday, but warned of the complications of managing the discount, saying cooking and serving was "nothing compared to deducting food but not alcoholic drinks".
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