Diners used the Eat Out to Help Out scheme more than 35 million times in its first two weeks, the government claims.

The scheme, which offers customers in restaurants, pubs and cafés 50 per cent off their meal up to a maximum of £10, was launched at the beginning of August in a desperate attempt to kick-start the struggling hospitality industry.

According to Treasury figures, across the country about 80 per cent of hospitality firms stopped trading in April and 1.4 million workers were furloughed.

The government set aside £500m to fund the 'eat out' scheme, which runs every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday until the end of this month.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak claimed this week that the discount scheme had ensured restaurants, pubs and cafés were actually 27 per cent busier from Monday to Wednesday this year than at the same time a year ago, before Coronavirus.

The 35 million figure for diners using the scheme was 'equivalent to over half of the UK taking part', he said.

But has the scheme really helped struggling restaurants and pubs in York?

We asked around...

Have York restaurants and pubs been helped by Eat Out to Help Out?

Yes, seems to be the simple answer.

"We have been very busy on days when the offer is available," says Michael Hjort, managing director of the York Food Festival and boss of the Chopping Block restaurant at Walmgate Alehouse. "That's in contrast with July, in the days before the offer. July was just dead."

Jean Zhuang, owner of new vegan restaurant The Orchid on George Hudson Street, agrees. "It has definitely helped," she said. In fact, she added, her restaurant may not have opened yet without the scheme. She took over the lease for the property in early March, which meant she missed out on any Covid grant support. With overheads and utility bills to pay, and no income coming in, Eat Out to Help Out had made a huge difference. "Without it we would not be opening."

The 50 per cent discount only applies to food, not alcohol. But even so, pubs which serve food and drink do seem to have benefitted.

"It has been a massive help," said Paul Gardener, owner of The Terrace on Fossgate. "We have never served so much food!" It was especially welcome after the pub being closed for so long, he said. The pedestrianisation of Fossgate had also helped - plus a relaxation on the rules for getting outside seating. "We have just put an application in."

Are there any drawbacks to the scheme?

It would have been nice if the scheme could have run five days a week, from Monday to Friday, says Michael Hjort - especially for restaurants like the Chopping Block, which aren't open on Monday so only benefit two days a week. But he accepts that there are limits to how much the government can spend.

There is also some confusion over just how the scheme works, he says. To be clear, each diner gets 50 per cent off meals (not alcohol) but ONLY up to a maximum value of a £10 discount per person. So if your meal costs £10, you pay £5; if it costs £20, you pay £10; but if it costs £30, you pay £20.

Some diners do get a bit confused and angry about this, says Mr Hjort - which doesn't make life any easier for staff struggling to cope with high demand on discount days. "So I would ask people to please be patient!"

Will the benefits continue once the scheme comes to an end?

One of the aims of the scheme seems to have been to encourage diners to overcome their fear of eating out by tempting them with a healthy discount - the idea being that if they have eaten out once safely, they'll be more likely to do so again.

Paul Tyler, centre manager of the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet at York, says there's no doubt Eat Out to Help Out has helped give customers of the various food outlets at McArthurGlen the 'confidence to adapt to the new normal’. He's optimistic that, with the new health and safety measures in place, customers will return.

Michael Hjort is a little more cautious. Yes, he says, those customers who feel comfortable with dining out will no doubt come back again - even once the Eat Out to Help Out discount ends at the end of the month. But there are other customers who are more cautious and who have not been willing to eat out, even with the discount scheme in place. "There are people who haven't eaten out since March and who won't until next year."

His big worry is that there may be a second wave of the virus which could hit the Christmas season - the most important time of the year in the hospitality business.

What are the safety measures?

Restaurants and bars have to arrange tables so as to allow for social distancing - tables should be two metres apart, or one metre with 'mitigation (such as barriers)

They must calculate the maximum number of customers that can be accommodated at any one time and limit numbers accordingly

Staff are encouraged to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly, and especially

- before and after handling food

- before handling clean cutlery, dishes, glasses, or other items to be used by a customer

- after handling dirty or used items, such as collecting used dishes

- after handling money

- after touching high-contact surfaces, such as door handles

Michael Hjort says staff at The Chopping Block who come into contact with customers all wear face masks. There is an especially rigorous cleaning schedule for taps, handles and doors -m and, of course, tables and eating implements

Restaurants and bars have to keep details of customers for 21 days so they can be contacted through test and trace if necessary.

How does Eat Out to Help Out work?

You can get a 50 per cent discount on food or non-alcoholic drinks to eat in at any participating restaurant, pub or café, up to a maximum of £10 discount per diner, every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday up to August 31

Yo can go as many times as you like.

You do not need a voucher and there is no minimum spend - though remember the maximum discount is £10 per person per meal. The discount does not apply to alcohol or to service charges.

The discount will be available automatically at participating restaurants. They will then claim it back from the government.