Eat Out to Help Out: Businesses claim £849 million for 160 million meals

The Eat Out to Help Out scheme cost the government millions. Credit: HMT

UK businesses claimed more than £849 million from the government through its Eat Out to Help Out scheme, with diners enjoying more than 160 million discounted meals by the time the scheme wound up.

Some 49,000 restaurants, pubs and cafes made a claim before September 30, said HM Revenue and Customs, with restaurants accounting for 55% of claims - pubs made up 28%.

The average discount claimed under the scheme per meal was £5.24.

Over 52,000 businesses registered for the scheme, under which a 50% discount, up to £10, was offered on meals and soft drinks on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout August.

The scheme was designed to encourage people to spend money eating out after the UK's first coronavirus lockdown was lifted.

It was hailed at the time for reinvigorating the economy after severe downturn, but a study by the University of Warwick suggested the start of the scheme could have helped contribute to an increased spread of the Covid-19 over the month.

Around 93% of claims were made by small businesses with just one outlet, although these represent just over half of the total value of claims as chains received larger amounts from the government.

A total of 172 large businesses represented 18,134 outlets which made claims during the programme - more than a fifth of all sites involved, HMRC said.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak was criticised for promoting the scheme by serving meals at Wagamama without wearing a face covering. Credit: HMT

Chains such as McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Express signed up to offer discounts through the scheme.

The government data reveals the number of meals discounted by the scheme and the total value of claims increased each week as more people used the offer every week before it ended.

Around 26.5 million meals were claimed through the scheme in its first week, steadily rising to 44.5 million in the final full week.

The last day of the scheme, August 31, saw another 16.9 million claims.

Customers secured an average discount of £5.24 per meal claimed, the figures show.