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There is now just two days left to get a discounted meal through the Eat Out To Help Out scheme – designed to support the hospitality sector – and so we can begin to evaluate its success. While we know from Government data that more than 64 million discounted meals have been claimed nationally, footfall data from our High Street Recovery Tracker, in partnership with Nationwide Building Society, allows us to estimate how it played out locally.
Overall, the scheme has been fairly successful. All cities (with the exception of Aberdeen, which has been in a strict local lockdown) have benefited from an increase in footfall on Monday to Wednesday evenings in early August, compared to the last week of July. Averaged across all city centres up and down the country, visitor numbers on these evenings were 8 percentage points higher than in late July.
In a number of cities (Southend, Bournemouth, Hull, Doncaster, amongst others), footfall on Monday to Wednesday evenings is actually higher now than before lockdown started.
But what else does the data say?
Smaller city centres appear to have benefited the most to date.
The scheme has been far less effective in large cities than in smaller ones and seaside towns. In London, the number of city centre visitors on Eat Out to Help Out evenings was just 3 percentage points higher than same nights in July. In comparison, it was 23 in Bournemouth and 22 in Southend.
When assessing the success of the scheme in seaside towns, we cannot ignore the role that the good weather and difficulties holidaying outside the UK this year will have also had in increasing footfall. It is likely that the scheme attracted tourists who had already been planning to eat out in a particular city because they were holidaying there.
It could also be that for large cities – and London in particular – people remote working were more likely to use the voucher in a local café or restaurant near their home rather than in the city centre. The absence of city centre office workers, who in pre-Covid times would have stayed in town for a drink or dinner after work, is likely to be the main reason behind the slow recovery of our biggest cities.
The scheme has not made Monday the new Friday
Data shows that the scheme slightly evened out footfall across the week, particularly in medium-sized cities (Figure 2). Unlike the response in footfall after pubs reopened (which attracted people mostly during weekends), the scheme contributed to bringing more people in during the week, especially on Tuesdays. However, activity still peaks on Fridays. In large cities the increase in footfall on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays has not been big enough to compensate for the absence of office workers on weekdays.
Moreover, there was no transfer of visits from outside from the weekend to Monday-Wednesday evenings. We could have expected that the voucher scheme would attract the visitors from outside the city who would usually come on the weekend. But that was not the case: in terms of share of people from outside, there was no direct shift from the end of the week to Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.
One thing the data shows, though, is that there were more people coming from the suburbs on these evenings than on Thursdays to Sundays. In many cities, including non-touristy ones (Huddersfield, Telford, Leeds), Eat Out To Help Out evenings had a higher shares and absolute numbers of suburban residents than the rest of the week.
This is particularly true for small and medium sized cities, and suggests that the scheme attracted suburban residents who may have been looking for a bigger choice of food and drink options, into the city centre. Conversely, this was less the case in large cities (which echoes the point made above about people staying in their local area).
When compared to end of July, Eat Out to Help Out evenings were more populated with outside visitors
The effect of the scheme is clearly visible when we compare Monday to Wednesday evenings before and after the scheme was launched. Averaged across all cities, 40 per cent of city centre visitors in these evenings lived outside the city at the end of July, against 45 per cent on Eat Out to Help Out evenings. In some cities, the difference is much larger. In Exeter, Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Bournemouth or Portsmouth, there is around a 10-percentage point difference, over a fairly short period of time.
While we can’t fully isolate the effect of the scheme from a general increase in tourist visitors, the chances are that when it was introduced, the scheme attracted people from the closest hinterlands or rural areas into city centres.
The next update of the tracker, at the end of this month, will provide us with a full picture of the effect of the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, and allow us to see whether these trends were confirmed throughout the month of August.
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