“It’s the first time we’ve gone out for a nice evening meal since the lockdown,” said Mark Coia, who was enjoying a range of tapas at Dehesa with his partner Gillian.
As part of the scheme – announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak last month – diners get 50% off food and non-alcoholic drinks at a dinner, up to a maximum reduction of £ 10 per customer. “I had a great idea, go to a restaurant and get 50% off one starter, then move to another restaurant for the main meal and another for dessert, which would give you a reduction of £ 60 between two people in total, ”Coia said.
But like many customers, his priority is not just to get a discount for himself, but to support local businesses that have been hit hard during the nationwide shutdown. “We wanted to choose a place we hadn’t been before because of the program. It feels like things are a lot more normal now and it’s nice to see Soho reopen, ”he said.
The 32-year-old business manager works in Soho but, like many office workers across the country, he still works from home and could be until 2021, he said.
“You can see how badly Soho has been hit, there are still so many restaurants and bars closed because even though they are allowed to come back now, the offices are not asking workers to come in, so without people do not be invited to go out, be difficult. So I think it’s a great plan in that regard.
Around the corner, in the usually crowded royal courtyard, 26-year-old doctors Heta and Bairabi were enjoying a long-awaited meal from Pizza Pilgrims, one of their favorite restaurants in town.
“It’s still very quiet, even the metro stations are much quieter,” Heta said. “I think some people are still afraid to go out.”
Like many, they said they would have come for dinner regardless of the new discount program, but it was an added bonus that might keep a few more people coming back.
On the other side of Covent Garden, the cobbled streets were also much quieter than the pre-lockdown periods, with one pub displaying a sign that read ‘Wanted: Customers’.
Finn Hadley, 25, and his partner Beth, 20, both work in the hospitality industry from their home in Surrey, so they were especially happy to see tables fill up thanks to this program, even though things were calmer than usual.
“We’re starting to feel a lot more comfortable going to places and getting used to the social distancing measures in place. We prefer to sit outside so we chose to do that tonight, ”said Hadley, who was at the Covent Garden branch of Be at One.
“I think it will help the industry and keep customers coming back, but people will be careful and if they are not comfortable going out, they will not come.