Farm shops with restaurants and cafés have been making full use of the government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, as they strive to stay profitable while helping to feed the nation.
Under the scheme, eateries have been able to offer a 50% discount on food and non-alcoholic drinks on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, worth up to a £10 discount per diner throughout August.
Participants are required to keep records of the number of meals served and the total amount of discounts given, and can then claim the money back from HMRC online each week.
Thornes Farm Shop
One farm café that has been making use of the scheme is Thornes Farm Shop, near Crediton, Devon.
Run by Rebecca Jones on behalf of fruit and vegetable grower Anthony Thorne, the new farm shop was opened in 2010 and sells a wide variety of home-produced food, plus other lines from local piemakers, butchers, brewers and bakers.
Throughout the height of coronavirus lockdown, the shop was providing a vital local service, developing a box scheme to deliver food to elderly customers in particular.
The new restaurant at Thornes Farm Shop was opened in February, but had to close again in March. But on 4 July it reopened and, with the help of the Eat Out to Help Out subsidy, is doing a great trade.
“There was a lot of hard work involved in meeting all the new guidelines,” said Ms Jones. “There is a fair amount of paperwork, and we had to measure out all the tables and chairs to respect social distancing rules.
“Since reopening, we have been doing about 45 meals a day, but this has grown to 80 a day with the new government scheme.
“We’ve attracted a lot of new customers – especially families coming for lunch. The fact they can feed a child a healthy, farm-produced meal for just £2.50 is great.”
Mr Thorne, who has owned Thornes Farm since 1986, producing soft fruit and vegetables as well as keeping Shorthorn cattle, says the scheme has been very simple to use.
“We have a good system in place to keep the accounts separate, and just submit the claim weekly, which HMRC then pays straight into our bank.”
Another farm shop and café getting the best of British farm produce to a growing customer base is Mackenzies Farm Shop and Smokehouse, near Otley, North Yorkshire
Championing a wide range of local foods, including vegetables, artisan breads, cheeses and their own smoked meat, the shop stayed open throughout lockdown. But the café closed in late March, until early July, when government restrictions eased.
According to marketing manager Olivia Parker, restaurant sales started to grow after some initial nervousness, but have really taken off since the introduction of the East Out to Help Out scheme.
“The number of covers a day has doubled for the first three days of the week,” she said. “Thursday has become the new Monday.”
One of the added benefits is that people who have been attracted to the farm restaurant then visit the farm shop, finding out more about the quality produce supplied by the local food and farming industry.
Hilltop Farm Shop and Café
It’s not all be so positive, however, with one farm shop and café in Cornwall opting out of the scheme.
Hilltop Farm Shop and Café at Slaughterbridge, near Camelford, posted a notice on its Facebook page explaining that “due to unprecedented numbers of people and a percentage of those people being downright rude and ignorant, we will not be doing this scheme next week”.
“I will not let my staff continue to run around like headless chickens just to be abused, shouted at by customers who feel they have a right to have everything half price at whatever time of the day they choose,” wrote business owner Gary Down.
His daughter, Megan, who runs the catering side of the operation, explained that normally she would be doing about 90 meals a day at this time of year, but the half price offer had boosted this to more than 200.
But the scheme had attracted a different type of clientele, who were more demanding and less patient.
‘Deserved boost for farm cafés’
The Fabulous Farm Shops website has compiled a list of farm shops that it knows are taking part in the Eat Out to Help Out scheme in England, with more than 80 now listed.
Site manager Claire Mortimer says about half of all farm shops have an eating facility and the government’s scheme was providing a deserved boost for many.
But Ms Mortimer is critical that the discount refund is available to all food establishments, including McDonald’s and KFC.
“It’s a great initiative, but should have been reserved for small independents, like farm cafés and restaurants, which are doing so much more to promote healthy British food to the general public.”
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