We ate out, did it help out?

So here we are, still in lockdown, and the Eat Out to Help Out scheme came to a close this week. The government paid 50% off your bill up to the value of £10 to encourage us all to go and eat out and support the hospitality industry. The scheme was available on Monday to Wednesday through August and got mixed reviews really. There was no compulsion to take part, the business had to register and record the relevant receipts to claim their £10’s back later. Many restaurants and cafes do not yet have indoor seating, or don’t open on a Monday to Wednesday (yet) so they didn’t take part. Others changed their hours specifically to open for the scheme and closed on a Thursday instead.

So it was a mixed bag as to whether you could find somewhere participating in the scheme, and then actually get a table. I took part by accident when I visited Borough Market at the beginning of the month. I also ate out across the rest of the month and I decided to compare my experiences of the different approaches these establishments took.

Didn’t Participate

When I visited the Rutland & Derby, who were relatively newly re-opened after lockdown, they weren’t participating in the scheme at all, so we paid full price although we visited on a Wednesday. That was no problem, my food was very tasty and my enjoyment of my visit was in no way diminished by not getting a reduction on the bill. Plus I had a pint so that would have been full price wherever I got it, since alcoholic drinks weren’t included in the scheme.

It is quite a long time since I have eaten at the Rutland & Derby. I enjoyed their Wurst of the Week lunch deal, but it was quite some time ago – probably a year or more. So the menu was unfamiliar to me. My dinner guest had the plant based frankfurter, and there were noticeably a few vegan options on the menu that I don’t necessarily remember from previously (although it’s fair to say I probably didn’t look too hard). I had the chicken and wild mushroom pie and I’ll be honest, I hadn’t noticed that this came from the ‘basket meals’ section of the menu.

Rutland & Derby

But sure enough, it was in a basket. Which was weird. And inconvenient as I was feeding Bam Bam when my food came out so I had to eat it one handed. But that’s no criticism of them. I wouldn’t say that pie and chips is a natural basket food and it got a bit messy towards the end, but it was delicious. Perhaps a pound more than I’d want to pay for it at £10.50, but no real grumbles from me – and I’m sure I could have had it on a plate if I’d known to ask. There were good social distancing and hygiene practices in evidence – not touching glasses, space between tables, keeping guests seated and so forth.

Did Participate

The Black Horse in Aylestone participated in the scheme to absolutely jaw dropping effect. I feel like we are really seeing a shift of people going to more rural locations to eat and drink and by-passing the city, which doesn’t really make sense in practice because the city is really quiet and therefore social distancing is a lot easier. Anyway, the Black Horse stopped taking bookings and operated a first come policy because they were so overwhelmed by the scheme. It just wasn’t manageable given the hundreds of phonecalls they were getting to book a table.

We visited on a Friday right at the start of lunch so it was easy to get a table. The Covid safety measures were excellent both inside and outside the pub, with an effective one way system, really good signage and a well briefed team who were able to stay friendly but still maintain a safe environment.

The Black Horse, Aylestone

I had the COB burger. This means is has cheese, onion and bacon. Like all Black Horse burgers, it is rather a thing of beauty. 2 thick crispy rashers of delicious smokey bacon, a fat handmade patty that is moist and indulgent, and a massive stack of skin on chips that would be worth the visit on their own. A really filling, satisfying meal – makes you sit back and puff out your cheeks when you’ve finished. And an utter bargain for £10.

Did Participate & Choosing to Continue

Although the scheme has finished, some restaurants are choosing to continue with it, or some variant of it, at their own expense. We went to Wygston’s House today who are offering 40% off their food menu. It was reasonably busy, but I will be honest I found the service to be interminably slow. It was 15 minutes before I was given a menu when I arrived, and I only got that because I asked…

This has got me thinking about conversations I’ve been having during lockdown about bad reviews. I’ll be honest, I don’t have many positives to pick out about either the service or the food (although one slightly older lady who served us was absolutely lovely, so I feel pretty bad about it) and it makes me wonder whether, at a time of global pandemic, I should write about it at all. If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all kind of thing.

It put me in mind of one CAMRA member I interviewed for a book I’m writing earlier in the year. He bewailed the many thousands of pub closures over the decades, but did emphasise that it wasn’t just social factors etc to blame, saying that some pubs closed because they just weren’t very good. Not every pub is worth campaigning for and trying to save. And that is probably worth remembering at this uniquely difficult time for the food & beverage industry.

Wygston’s House

But I sort of feel honour bound to write about it. The pint of Charnwood Outback was by far the best part of the experience (although no one could tell me about the beers). I won’t go back while there is 40% off, and so I certainly won’t be eating there at full price. If you get mediocre food and service, then it’s still not good value, even at 60% of the normal cost, right? I’d rather you all went out and supported good quality by paying a fair price for it. Anyway, I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions from my photos and say no more – we had the chicken parm, calamari and pulled pork loaded fries.

Help!

It’s still a beautiful building and one of their main draws was drinks in the garden, but unfortunately for them the Council have khyboshed that by putting a massive Covid testing centre right on their doorstep in Jubilee Square. Not their fault, but definitely far from ideal.

No one knew I would write up my visits. We paid in full for our meals, whatever was being charged on the day. Whatever the bill said, we paid – thanks to the Black Horse who gave us a cheeky discount that we only discovered when we looked at the receipt properly later. As ever my opinion is an honest reflection on my experience.

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