The scheme offering 50% off at restaurants ends on the 31st August.
I don’t think anyone thought Rishi Sunak’s move into Tastecard territory would have been as successful as it has.
With just one more day left to run, there have been more than 64 million meals served, with an average discount of £5.25 on each one. The initial £500 million that the Chancellor allotted for this will almost certainly be surpassed.
The scheme had two purposes. One to inject some cash into the dining industry, and the other to give us consumers the confidence to eat out after months when we couldn’t.
It’s certainly worked. I really wasn’t sure at first, but I’ve enjoyed five meals in total over the 12 eligible days so far. And many others have too – though it does seem the fully booked tables is more down to people going multiple times rather than everyone joining in.
(Actually on that, it does frustrate me that some people have viewed going frequently as “saving hundreds of pounds”. Whatever the amount they’ve had discounted from the bill they’ve spent the same amount if not more! So yes it’s a discount, but they are spending more they normally would)
There are a few news stories out about how people have saved hundreds of pounds with Eat Out to Help Out… but to do this they’ve spent far more than they normally would. So that’s not really saving money, is it?— Andy Webb CleverCash (@AndyCleverCash) August 26, 2020
But while it’s been going great in August, there’s an abrupt end next month. At the local restaurants I’ve been to this week as part of EOTHO, I’ve asked what it looks like come September and bookings are practically non-existent.
So if we want to restaurants to stay open so we can continue eating out we need to keep eating out now – and it’s still possible to do this at a discount. Here are my top ways to pay less.
Eat Out to Help Out in September
Some restaurants have said they’ll carry on with EOTHO in September – so you’ll still get 50% off per person, up to £10 (here’s a reminder of how it works). The difference is they’ll fund the discount themselves.
National chains doing this include Harvester, The Real Greek and Pizza Pilgrims. Sadly the government postcode checker won’t work for this independent extension so you’ll have to check websites and social media channels.
Restaurant discounts and promotions
Before Eat Out to Help Out, early and midweek was always a slow time for restaurants. So they ran promotions. And they’ll keep on doing this. They might not give the same level of discount, but it’s a good alternative to full price menus on Fridays and Saturdays.
Sign up for mailing lists for your favourite places as you’ll get told about new offers, and maybe even sent discounts on your birthday.
These two to three course options can be amazing value. Often they’ll be served at lunch or for early or late dinners and have a limited choice – but that’s no bad thing if they’re a fraction of the price you’d pay for picking off the a-la-carte.
It is worth checking against the main menu though. You’ll have more choice and you might find the set meal saving isn’t as big as your first thought – especially if you’re a vegetarian.
It’s not just the dodgy curry house on Brick Lane that lets you bring your own wine or beer – big restaurants do it too.
It’s likely to be early in the week, probably a Monday, and you will also have to pay a corkage charge. But say that’s £5 a bottle and you pick up a decent Malbec for £8 from the supermarket, you’ll be paying a fraction of the cost for a similar bottle on the wine list.
You can get a year membership to Meerkat Meals for around £2.50 (here’s the trick). This gives you two-for-one on starters, mains and desserts at participating restaurants, and it’ll also get you two-for-one cinema tickets. It’s only valid Sunday to Thursday.
Or you can look at Tastecard or Gourmet Society. The offers vary but you’ll get more flexibility than with the Meerkat scheme. It’s worth a go as you can get a three-month free trial of both right now (though it makes sense to do them one after the other).
I’m not a regular Pizza Express goer, but when I do go I’ll aways hunt online for a money off voucher. Obviously not all chains do this but there’s no harm spending a couple of minutes Googling your options while you wait for the kettle to boil.
Groupon is a good place to look too, particularly if you’re more fussed about what you pay than where you go. Look out for codes to give you extra discounts. And Londoners should keep an eye on the Time Out offers page.
Don’t forget you can also swap Tesco Clubcard points to spend at some chain restaurants.
From where you choose to eat through to what you order, the choices you make will inform how much you spend. So if you want to spend less, go to somewhere that’s not just good food but good value.
We’ve got a choice of four Thai restaurants where I live. Luckily all are very good. One is ridiculously expensive (£30 for a beef massaman before rice), two are mid-range and one is really cheap (£12 for curry and rice). For me it’s the last one that wins every time, and my tastebuds don’t really notice the difference.
The same goes for wine. Don’t forget that the bottle with the biggest markup is usually the second one on the list, while the house wine tends to be good value even if it is the cheapest.
And make sure you look at the whole menu. It won’t necessarily be listed in price order, and the bigger the menu the harder it might be to find those cheaper dishes.
Be upfront about how the bill will be split
If your finances are tight there’s absolutely nothing wrong with telling your mates that you can’t split the bill evenly.
It’s actually one of my bugbears. There’s always someone who orders the most expensive items and drinks more than everyone else – and they tend to be the person who says lets just split it!
I’m not saying get the calculator out every time – use your judgement. For instance if there’s just two of you and you regularly eat out together, it’s easier for things to work themselves out.
But when you are deliberately ordering cheaper items or not drinking (designated driver perhaps) then it’s best to be upfront before you order.