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  • Writer's pictureDom Ivison

Eat out to spread corona virus, put on weight and drive down inflation

As many flocked to restaurants taking advantage of 50% discounts we now find ourselves entering a second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic. Eat Out To Help Out, — the taxpayer-backed scheme which offered 50% discounts on meals- now discontinued, was a government initiative aimed at boosting the Food and Beverage industry that was hit so hard over the course of 5months of lockdown. The discount was used 64 million times in just three weeks highlighting its popularity with many taking advantage of the scheme, eating out at rates far higher than pre-Covid-19. The once praised initiative is now suggested to have contributed to the spread of the virus, a surge in obese behaviour and pushed UK inflation down to just 0.2% — a VAT cut for the hospitality sector from 20% to 5% also contributed. Eat Out To Help Out undermined anti-obesity efforts as unhealthy foods were not only not excluded from the scheme but also eaten in far higher quantities.

The UK has the highest death rate from coronavirus in Europe, it also has the third highest obesity rate and its economy suffered a bigger slump than any other major European economy in the second quarter, shrinking by a fifth and falling into its deepest recession on record..

According to ThisThat data 64% of people were not concerned about Covid-19 when the Eat Out To Help Out scheme was launched. That figure has since risen to 73% demonstrating that fear for the virus is closely linked to the R number increases and Government introducing measures reminiscent of intense lockdown periods. On the 22nd May 2020, 3,287 new cases of Covid-19 were reported. We then hit a noticeable low of 701 cases on the 1st of August 2020 and launched Eat Out To Help Out on the 3rd of August. On the 15th September 2020, just a month and a half later, the UK now sees 3,103 new reported cases of Corona Virus . So despite almost four months passing it seems as though we have learned little and have even less to celebrate.

83% of people missed eating out before Eat Out To Help Out was launched. The anticipation for the initiative was palpable- 50% off food in a recession with millions unemployed would obviously entice many to venture out of their homes and into the almost forgotten restaurant environment. 75% of people in the “ThisThat Eat Out To Help Out Survey” ate out more often because of the discount on offer. Nevertheless there was a maximum of £10 off per person and lower prices often resulted in people ordering more items as opposed to saving money. But where did people flock to for their meals?

We first took a look at people in the UK’s favourite restaurants. Out of 11 major chains, Pret A Manger, Nando’s, Pizza Express and McDonald’s ranked highest when asked where do you prefer eating, with KFC, Burger King and Subway making up the bottom 3 positions. However, when filtering the results by those who are not concerned about Coronavirus the results change drastically. KFC for example was ranked 10th/11 for people’s favourite place to eat, but of the people “not concerned” about Coronavirus, KFC rockets to first place suggesting Kentucky Fried Chicken was a popular hangout for those unfazed by the deadly virus. Of these people we were able to drill further down and found that the majority of those that ventured to KFC were women aged between 18–24. So were KFC joints a breeding ground for the spread of Coronavirus? That we are not certain of.

With KFC doing so well in light of Coronavirus, efforts from other players could have been implemented to adjust for customers wary of venturing into restaurants. Eat Out To Help Out was a scheme aimed at boosting the F&B industry but one could also see it as a scheme that made food cheaper for those less able to afford it. In light of this, restaurants around the UK should have realised this and adjusted marketing campaigns to target those less able to afford food whilst at the same time parade themselves as a safe space to eat having taken all necessary measures to restrict the spread of the virus. Fast food restaurants can do this. Perhaps in times of uncertainty, people flock to what they know best and what they can trust. People believe they maintain a uniform level of cleanliness, after all, protective clothing is synonomous with fast-food restaurants and have been part of the uniform for decades. The short timespan between ordering and eating also must make for the impression that you spend less time being exposed to the virus.

One could argue that perceived value for money was also only really realised at fast food joints. £10 off a £30 meal (33% off) from Slug and Lettuce has an impact but you could argue a less significant one given the affluence of their typical customer. In contrast heading to McDonald’s could afford you the entirety of the below (44 chicken nuggets, 6 burgers, 5 drinks, 5 large fries and 5 large wedges) between two people for £12.50 each (45% off).

What impact could this have on your health? An ideal daily intake of calories varies depending on age, metabolism and levels of physical activity, among other things. Generally, the recommended daily calorie intake is 2,000 calories a day for women and 2,500 for men. The £25 “meal” above contains 9056 calories. Shared with two and you’ll still have 4500 calories- over twice the recommenced intake for women and not far off twice the intake recommended for men.

Say what you will about Eat Out To Help Out. Like many Government initiatives you’ll always have those in support and those against. Personally I was in favour of the initiative but as we enter a second wave one can only speculate as to whether or not the scheme- aimed at boosting the F&B industry, in-fact, played a significant role in jumpstarting the second wave of Coronavirus.

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