What the chefs think of Eat Out To Help Out

There was excited talk from foodies about the prospect of splitting their restaurant bills with Rishi during August thanks to Eat Out To Help Out. A fortnight into the scheme, we caught up with a few Trencherman’s chefs to find out how it’s gone

Ellis Pannell, chef patron at Pyne Arms in north Devon

I’ve never known our phone to ring so much,’ says chef Ellis Pannell of cosy rural dining pub, the Pyne Arms, on Exmoor. ‘It’s mad. We only signed up to Eat Out To Help Out on the Monday and bookings have been unbelievable. We’re closed on Mondays anyway but we’re now pretty much full on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the whole of the month. Interestingly, it hasn’t ruined the weekend trade – we’re still full – but that’s probably because there are a lot of people in north Devon right now and because of our smaller capacity.

‘I’ve heard negativity from chefs saying they couldn’t do it because they were already too busy and I heard that one restaurant stopped doing Eat Out To Help Out because it was bringing in too many people, but I don’t really understand that as it’s up to you how many bookings you take.’

There was concern among some chefs that diners would be looking to pay the least amount possible when they took part in the scheme, but Ellis says: ‘We’re just not seeing that. Customers are buying wine and beer alongside the food – in fact, we’re ordering double the number of kegs we usually do’.

Robert Ndungu, head chef at Acorn Inn in Dorset

Eighty miles away at the smart Acorn Inn in Evershot, Dorset, the story is pretty much the same. Head chef Robert Ndungu says: ‘We were quite scared of coming back as no one knew what would happen, but people have turned out to support us in a massive way and it’s been full on.

Nobody is watching their pennies: they’re buying expensive wines, and the luxuries I’ve put on the menu such as scallops and lobster are selling out. We’re actually taking more revenue than we were this time last year – even with the pandemic. It’s off the scale! We feel blessed to have been supported by our customers like this.’ 

Luke Matthews, head chef of Chewton Glen Hotel & Spa in Hampshire

In the New Forest, head chef Luke Matthews of Chewton Glen Hotel & Spa says: ‘Every day is like a Saturday,’ in describing the current state of business.

‘It’s incredible,’ he continues, ‘we’re doing two and a half times as many covers as we’d usually do on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. A lot of it is lunchtime trade.

We’re only offering the à la carte menu and people are certainly buying wine, so there’s no difference in people’s habits to what we’d normally see. We’ve also had 100 per cent full occupancy in the hotel since we opened a few weeks ago.’

Stephane Delourme, group chef at Rick Stein’s

It’s the same story in Cornwall. While it’s always busy in Padstow during August, the team at The  Seafood Restaurant and sister establishment St Petroc’s Bistro are experiencing an unprecedented number of calls from people wanting to book a table this month. Whether that’s because of Eat Out To Help Out or simply because people are holidaying in the UK instead of jetting off overseas, it’s hard to say, but who wouldn’t want to take advantage of feasting on just-landed seafood served at one of the UK’s most famous restaurants while making a chunky saving at the same time?

Rick Stein group chef Stephane Delourme says: ‘It’s always very very busy at this time of year but we’re massively up on last year in terms of covers. We got involved in the scheme to help the people; we didn’t really need to do it as we knew we’d be pretty full, but it’s good to help our customers save a little when they eat out. While it’s been nice for people we have had a number of very tricky customers – people are more tense that usual.’

He reiterates the other Trenchermans’ chefs observations that, despite going into a massive recession, customers are not being frugal: ‘They haven’t spent anything for three months because they haven’t gone out so they have money to play with and want to enjoy themselves. The people having the most difficult time right now are the chefs: they’re working long shifts in hot kitchens while wearing masks – it’s not pleasant at all.’

With restaurants booming, it’s getting a table that’s the tricky bit now – in Padstow and beyond. With the scheme stopping at the end of August, this is the time for anyone who hasn’t taken advantage of this opportunity to support the indies and save a few quid to hit the phone – with callback on.

Discover which Trencherman’s restaurants are running Eat Out To Help Out during August here.

Image: Robert Ndungu (right) of The Acorn Inn, Evershot

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