What I've learned while dining out with my daughter every day during Eat Out To Help Out

When lockdown eased and Rishi Sunak introduced a subsidised meals scheme, Daniel Davies-Luke decided to make the most of what was on offer

Daniel, 36, and his 6-year-old daughter Luna have eaten out everyday with the Eat Out To Help Out Scheme 
Daniel, 36, and his daughter Luna, 6, have eaten out everyday with the Eat Out To Help Out Scheme 

To me, a perfect evening is one spent in a restaurant. Going out for meals is our family’s guilty pleasure – and our biggest expenditure too.

But since the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme, which was launched on the 3rd August, I’ve taken my hobby to a whole new level. Along with my six-year-old daughter Luna, I’ve eaten out in a restaurant every single day. In fact, on a family trip to Edinburgh, we ate out four times in one day (including an afternoon break for hot chocolate and red velvet cake).

Although this may sound extravagant, I’ve saved around £250 from the scheme (which allows diners to get 50 per cent off their bill, up to a total discount of £10, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays) and introduced my daughter to a whole world of new foods. It comes as no surprise to me that the scheme has been so successful; in the first three weeks, it was used more than 64 million times, according to figures from The Treasury. 

Over lockdown, my wife and I managed to save a lot of money from not visiting restaurants, which paid for us to have our bathroom and back garden redone. But once the scheme was introduced, all of our savings went out of the window – even with a discount, I've learned that eating out is expensive. In the past month, we’ve tried everything; from making our own pizzas in an Italian restaurant, to Bao buns and even a three course Brazilian meal. My wife works long shifts as a police officer but I’ve been working from home, so the scheme has allowed me to keep my daughter entertained over the summer holidays. 

Whereas before we tended to stick to restaurants with good ratings – or ones we knew Luna would like – the discount has given us the opportunity to be more adventurous with our restaurant choices. Earlier this month, I took Luna to a place called Lamp Room in Seaham. I’d always wanted to try it, but with a breakfast costing £12 a head, I hadn’t been able to justify a meal there. But under the scheme I paid just £3 for Luna’s pancakes and waffles, so it didn’t matter too much whether she liked them or not.

Luna has even developed a penchant for mocktails. Whenever we go out for a meal, she asks the waiter for a ‘posh adult drink.’ One downside is that when the scheme is over, she will be demanding a mocktail wherever we go. When it’s half price I don’t mind – but the thought of paying £5 for a drink with lots of fruit but no alcohol makes me feel slightly uneasy!

Six-year-old Luna has discovered a love of mocktails since the start of the scheme

I don’t feel guilty about indulging in meals out, because lockdown was a tricky time for our family. I have Multiple Sclerosis, and my medication is an autoimmune suppressant. Although I’m not in the highest risk category, I was advised to shield and the only time I ventured out of the house was on a daily walk. Initially, I was concerned about the risks of eating in a restaurant. But on my first visit to a Tapas bar in Hartlepool, my mind was put at ease. The tables were socially-distanced, the staff were always washing their hands and the menu had been replaced by a QR code that you scanned on your phone – so no touching the same bit of paper as hundreds of other people.

You may be thinking: what’s all this indulgence doing to my waistline? In fact, I’ve actually managed to keep any extra weight off. When lockdown was announced, I was worried that I would start snacking more. To combat this, my wife and I tried intermittent fasting, where we only eat one meal a day. So far, it's paid off; I managed to lose a stone over lockdown. Since the scheme started, I’m still fasting and a restaurant meal is the only thing I eat all day.

One of the lavish meals the pair ate during the scheme 

My self-discipline did go slightly out of the window on our family trip to Edinburgh: I indulged in breakfast out, snacks, ice cream, cocktails, the works. I've found that the key is to be smart with your food orders. When there’s a hefty discount, it can feel tempting to opt for the larger portion, or an extra dessert. And why not? The scheme isn't going to last forever. But instead of eating a rump steak, I’ve learnt to always opt for the fillet.

While I'm enjoying the discounts, I know it's not feasible for the scheme to be extended. If it was, it should only be for small independent restaurants that need the business. I don’t like the thought of large companies like McDonalds, KFC and Starbucks getting a Government handout when they are doing just fine without it. I’ve also heard of several instances where people have abused the scheme through ordering a round of non-alcoholic drinks and paying for them, before ordering their starters. This resets the discount so they get 50 per cent off each. That doesn’t sit well with me. If people are going to use the scheme, they should use it well; it will be us paying the higher taxes in the future to compensate for it, after all. 

Most importantly, the scheme has allowed us to spend quality time together as a family. While eating at home can be enjoyable, nothing beats the experience of dining out in an independent restaurant; the humming background noise, friendly service and delicious food. I’ll be sad to see the end of the scheme, but it certainly won't stop us eating out in September.

As told to Alice Hall