Britain's pubs and restaurants had 'the busiest Monday of the year' as more than 73,000 outlets took up the Government's half-price Eat Out to Help Out scheme on food and soft drinks.
Spending at eateries was up by a sixth on the same day the week before, as tens of thousands of people went out to enjoy the discount on food and soft drinks which is running from Mondays to Wednesdays throughout August.
Some restaurants in London said they would extend the 50 per cent discount offer through into next month, without the subsidy from Chancellor Rishi Sunak, in the hope of catching more returning workers.
But fears remained that some employers had advised staff not to return to the offices until 2021, and the British Beer and Pub Association warned that more than one-third of pubs cannot break even one month after reopening.
However, among the pubs enjoying a boost was The Owl in Loughton, Essex, which tweeted: 'Busiest Monday this year so far, excellent scheme and really shown it works. Thanks for the support, Rishi Sunak and team.'
Andrew Macleod, of Emilia's Crafted Pasta in London, said guest numbers had doubled on last week, while John Molnar, of The Cod's Scallops in Nottingham, said eat-in sales exceeded takeaway for the first time since March.
Diners sit outside at restaurants on James Street in Central London yesterday as they take advantage of Eat Out to Help Out
Diners enjoy a meal on James Street in London's Marylebone area yesterday as they make the most of a lunchtime discount
People enjoy a half-price meal at restaurants on James Street in London's Marylebone yesterday afternoon
People queue up to enter a McDonald's restaurant on Queen Street in Cardiff yesterday which is offering the discount
An HM Revenue & Customs spokesman said on its Facebook page: 'By midnight August 2, 73,089 restaurants have now signed up to the Eat Out To Help Out scheme. Sign up and register your restaurant, pub or café now.'
But the British Beer and Pub Association, which represents brewers and pubs, warned this week that more than one-third of pubs in the UK cannot break even one month after reopening.
When is it available?
It runs every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from August 3 to 31.
What is it?
A 50 per cent discount when you eat in up to a maximum saving of £10 per diner. The business reclaims the value of the saving from government.
What establishments can take part?
Restaurants, cafés, bars or pubs; work and school canteens; food halls.
What are the restrictions?
No discount on alcoholic drinks or service charges.
Do I need a voucher?
No. The discount will be automatically applied by the participating outlet. The saving can be used alongside other offers and discounts.
How do I find participating outlets?
Treasury has set up a postcode finder that will list outlets offering a scheme within a two mile radius - here
What about chain restaurants?
Ninety businesses have registered to take part in the scheme, including McDonald's, Burger King, and KFC; burger chains such as GBK, Five Guys, Honest Burgers; coffee shops such as Costa, Starbucks, Pret a Manger, Caffe Nero; pub chains such as Wetherspoon, Fullers, Greene King, Mitchells & Butlers; restaurant chains such as Wagamama, Pizza Hut, Pizza Express, TGI Fridays, Côte Brasserie, Franco Manca.
The finding, from a survey of the group's members, came exactly a month after pubs in England reopened on July 4 after lockdown.
About a quarter of pubs also said they didn't feel their business was sustainable beyond the end of March 2021 under present conditions, despite the launch of Mr Sunak's scheme on Monday.
When lockdown measures were announced on March 23, most retailers were forced to close unless they sold essential goods such as food.
The national shutdown prompted many stuck indoors to turn to online shopping, with internet retailers such as Amazon reporting a boom in sales.
The launch on Monday triggered a rush for some of London's best-known eateries, although the area around Covent Garden was still largely devoid of its usual hordes of office workers, tourists and theatre-goers.
But the steep discounts whetted the appetite of the area's remaining regulars at a nearby branch of By Chloe, a vegan restaurant chain. Its sales increased by 20 per cent on the first day of the scheme compared with a week earlier.
Despite the signs of the initial success of the scheme, the lure of cheap lunches and dinners will not be a silver bullet for the country's struggling hospitality industry.
Many people in Britain remain worried about the risk of infection in shared spaces, hampering efforts by Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government to get the economy going again and to get workers back in their offices.
'Coming to London feels like you've walked into a scene from 28 Days Later,' Stephen Entwhistle said, referring to the 2002 post-apocalyptic horror film as he waited in By Chloe for his lunch.
The 35-year-old advertising worker said the scheme gave him a chance to lend a hand to Britain's economy. 'I will probably go out a lot more now, rather than trying to decide what to cook every day,' Mr Entwhistle said.
Data from booking firm Opentable showed a 10 per cent jump in the number of diners at reopened restaurants