Sunak’s ‘Eat out to help out’ scheme puts UK curry houses at risk

Mr Asad Khan

Rishi Sunak was accused of “sacrificing” Britain’s curry houses last night amid claims that his refusal to include takeaways in the Eat Out to Help Out scheme will put as many as 50 per cent at risk of closure within a year.

The Chancellor said last month’s` initiative would protect the jobs of 1.8million chefs, waiters and restauranteurs by boosting demand and getting customers through the door.

It applied throughout August to eat-in food and drink on Monday to Wednesdays at more than 72,000 participating venues nationwide.

Diners’ bills were reduced by half in a move that Mr Sunak declared would encourage consumers to support their “favourite places” and kickstart the economy post-lockdown.

But Mr Sunak refused to extend the scheme to takeaways, sparking fury across the industry with new warnings that up to half of all UK curry takeaways now face going out of business.

Whilst takeaways have remained open throughout the pandemic, many Britons have remained uneasy about receiving deliveries due to the potential transfer risk.

Revenue “all but dried up” for scores of businesses until England passed its Covid-19 peak in May and rates of infection in finally began to drop.

High street establishments were relying on good sales in August to supplement months of limited income.

August is traditionally one of the busiest and most lucrative months in the takeaway calendar thanks to tourist footfall and the holiday season.

Instead, many experienced an unprecedented four-week slump as diners took advantage of the Eat Out to Help Out deal.

Restauranteur Asad Khan, the owner of celebrity hangout India Dining and takeaway Bombaylicious both in Surrey, yesterday accused Mr Sunak of killing off takeaways to protect large pub, hotel and restaurant chains, many of which are operated by wealthy Conservative donors.

Mr Khan, a serial entrepreneur whose portfolio also includes Formula One Hospitality, Stone Care, and tech platform Offie Delivery, warned that 50 per cent of the UK’s curry takeaways could close their doors by September 2021.

“By enticing people to eat out, businesses across the takeaway spectrum were left with few customers at a time when they needed revenue most,” he said.

“The UK’s takeaways helped to feed the nation throughout lockdown, with many establishments – mine included – providing the NHS and frontline workers with free or substantially reduced meal deals.

“After struggling through lockdown, we saw August as a time when some of the money we lost could be recouped.

“Instead, holidaymakers and regular customers turned their backs on high street takeaways in favour of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme – and who can blame them?

“Meanwhile, major restaurant and pub chains owned and operated by Tory donors have been protected.”

Mr Khan, who previously managed a number of restaurants in London’s Mayfair and Soho, including the Michelin star Jamavar and Corbin & King Brasserie Zedel, added: “It is my view – one that is shared by many across the industry – that by failing to include us in the scheme, half of curry takeaways are likely to go bust by this time next year.”

The Eat Out to Help Out initiative, which was first unveiled by Mr Sunak in July, entitled customers to 50 per cent off meals when they ate at participating restaurants on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout August.

Discounts were capped at £10 per person and did not apply to alcohol.

The scheme was designed to encourage people to visit restaurants, cafes and pubs, which were badly hit by the lockdown.

Around 80 per cent of hospitality firms stopped trading in April, with 1.4 million workers furloughed – the highest of any sector – according to government data.

Mr Sunak said at the time: “The industry is a vital ingredient to our economy and it’s been hit hard by coronavirus, so enjoy summer safely by showing your favourite places your support – we’ll pay half.”

But while the scheme was a success – officials said there had been more than 3.3 million hits on the ‘eat out to help out’ restaurant finder website in its first week alone – it drew fierce criticism for excluding takeaways.

Whilst food delivery giants like Just Eat were reportedly unaffected, smaller high street establishments that trade independently were “hit for six” at a time when they needed an injection of cash the most.

Many were relying on August’s extra income to save for the winter and the possibility of a feared second wave.

Without August’s boost, there are now “grave concerns” for the future of Britain’s 12,000 curry houses and Indian takeaways.

Mr Khan said Bombaylicious, his celebrated new Indian street food Concept in Coulsdon, Surrey, was relying on bumper takings in August when the number of orders should have been at its annual peak.

The establishment, which employs chefs from Michelin star kitchens and offers real flavours from Bombay, has donated hundreds of free meals to workers at Croydon University Hospital, Epsom General Hospital and East Surrey Hospital since it launched in mid-April.

It has now launched an ‘Eat In to Help Out’ scheme that will cut the price of its curries by 50 per cent from Sundays to Thursdays throughout September and October.

Mr Khan said: “Throughout lockdown, takeaways like ours have struggled to pay staff costs and other overheads while also seeing a substantial reduction in sales.

“The Chancellor’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which took vital business away from the sector, could have been the nail in the coffin for swathes of curry houses nationwide.

“He had the opportunity to extend the imitative across the board to include all businesses under the hospitality umbrella, but he refused to do so. He sacrificed us to save the larger chains.

“As a result, we hope our ‘Eat In to Help Out’ scheme will help customers to continue eating the food they love for less while helping Bombaylicious survive the next 12 months.

“We trust that other curry houses will adopt a similar initiative.”