Research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies on 15th July has found that a strong plurality of UK respondents (49%) do not feel safe eating at a restaurant or drinking at a bar outdoors. On the other hand, 40% said they felt safe doing so.
A majority (56%) of respondents in Yorkshire and the Humber, one of the most severely hit regions by the coronavirus, answered that they would not feel safe eating out or going for a drink outside.
An even greater proportion of respondents expressed their fears when asked about eating or drinking indoors at a restaurant or bar, with 61% answering that they would not feel safe doing so.
Likewise, a large majority (71%) of those living in Yorkshire and the Humber as well as in the Eastern region of England answered that they would not feel safe eating at a restaurant or drinking at a bar indoors.
These fears are reflected in the fact that more than 80% of respondents have not visited a pub or a restaurant since they reopened on July 4th.
Our findings contrast with reports raising concerns that a rise in the number of coronavirus cases may follow from the reopening of pubs.
Looking more closely, we found that those living in London are almost three times more likely to have visited a pub than those living in Wales, for instance.
Moreover, a staggering 92% of those living in East Midlands, where the city of Leicester is under lockdown, answered that they had not visited a restaurant since their reopening. Likewise, more than 90% of those living in Scotland (93%) and the South West (93%) have not visited a restaurant since July 4th. The similarity in figures between Scotland and South West England is surprising, given that restaurants and pubs have been open in the South West since 4th July, but only started to reopen in Scotland this week.
Pubs and restaurants will, however, find comfort knowing that a large plurality (47%) of UK respondents would be more likely to visit a pub or a restaurant if the staff wore masks to cover their mouth and nose. Such measures, alongside hand sanitizers and social distancing, may reassure customers who have so far been reluctant to return to these establishments.
Of course, it may very well be that financial concerns trump safety and health-related risks. The economic crisis following the lockdown may have deterred many customers from going to a pub or a restaurant.
On the 8th of July, Chancellor Rishi Sunak put forward a £30bn economic recovery package which included measures designed to support the restaurant industry by encouraging the UK public to go out and eat at restaurants.
To support the restaurant industry and incentivise customers to eat and drink out, the Government’s stimulus package includes a VAT cut from 20% to 5% for the hospitality and tourism sectors until January 2021, which has allowed some establishments to cut prices in order to attract customers. Yet, our findings show that a majority of respondents (53%) are neither more nor less likely to visit a pub or a restaurant despite the lower costs of eating and drinking out enabled by these new Government schemes. On the other hand, 36% of respondents stated that they would be more likely to visit a pub or a restaurant following the Government’s announcements.
The Treasury’s stimulus package also includes an “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme pledging a 50% discount for customers at restaurants and pubs on certain days of the week in an effort to boost the economy. During the month of August, participating restaurants will be able to offer half price meals from Monday to Wednesday and claim a maximum of £10 back from the Government per meal.
A plurality (43%) of respondents answered that they will likely take advantage of the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme. 31% answered that they will be unlikely to do so.
The scheme may, however, gain traction amongst the younger segment of the population, as a large majority (65%) of those aged between 18 to 24 answered that they will likely take advantage of the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme.
Ultimately, the scheme might be successful due to the high proportion of respondents who believe it is their duty to support the livelihoods of businesses across the country. Indeed, a majority (58%) think that it is their duty to spend money on local businesses, while just 15% disagree. This suggests that the Government has pitched its “Eat Out to Help Out” campaign appropriately, tapping into the public’s desire to help businesses overcome the current crisis.
Overall, our findings suggest that Britons’ reluctance to go back to pubs or restaurants may well be a result of health and safety-related concerns rather than financial considerations. If it hopes to bring customers back to restaurants and pubs, the Government may thus want to strengthen its coronavirus health and safety policies for pubs and restaurants in order to further reassure the public.