Restaurants, cafes and hotels have reflected on an “absolutely mad” month after the government’s innovative Eat Out to Help Out scheme got food outlets bustling again.

Several businesses stated that the scheme during August was “absolutely brilliant” as it helped turn the food industry’s fortunes around following months of slow trade which damaged a large number of companies across Cumbria.

Announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak during his ‘mini-budget’ in July, the government-funded scheme saw diners across the UK enjoy half-price meals throughout August on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Aimed at boosting restaurants and pubs post-lockdown, more than 72,000 venues nationwide signed up to the scheme, with the discount being capped at £10, and didn’t apply to alcohol.

The result of the scheme, hailed as a success by HM Treasury, has seen around £500m pumped from the government into the economy from more than 100 million meals, while it has proved key into driving the UK’s inflation figures to their lowest in five years.

Restaurant owner Steve Stables, who runs Salsa Mexican Bar & Bistro in Penrith and is co-owner of Bar ES in Keswick and Ambleside, confirmed that for them it has been “absolutely brilliant” and meant they had their best August yet while “building up a war chest” in case there is another downturn.

Mr Stables said: “For us it was really positive, especially for Penrith where we noticed a massive uptake to have our busiest August on record. Usually we’re busy Friday to Sunday and those are our quietest days, but instead it meant we were evenly spread in how busy we were from Fridays right through to Wednesdays.

“In Keswick and Ambleside it made less of a difference as they are always busy with tourists but we did still see a small upsurge with people perhaps having some extras like desserts that we wouldn’t usually sell as many of.

“To put it into perspective, we were up by around 15 per cent despite having a third less capacity. Last year we’d take £2,000 on weekend nights and maybe £1,000 in the week but we were making around £1,500 six nights a week, and even Thursdays ended up being busy because just from speaking to tourists they couldn’t get a table on those nights so would just choose to come when there was space in the end.

“It got to the point where we had to take the phone off the hook after 4pm and have an answer phone message several days before bank holiday Monday as we would literally have to have a member of staff apologising to hundreds of customers because we were fully booked. It was absolutely mad but has been massively important for us after we spent several months struggling. It has also helped pay off some of the lockdown investments we made into the Rationale and build up a war chest in case there is a second lockdown.”

In terms of whether the scheme proved to do the trick in getting people to change their habits back to eating out, Steve thinks its been a success.

He added: “It has definitely done the trick to get people out and about and relaxed about coming in. If it went on for longer we’d have had to employ more staff. For us I think customers have seen how we’re handling the covid situation and they are coming back as they’ve realised we’ve created a suitable environment. September has also been busier as there seems to be a continuing number of staycations.

“But now I don’t know whether that will last as the government have brought in this rule of six and that may dent confidence. I still feel that we could do with something similar in January as it doesn’t look like we can have the large Christmas bookings like usual.”

Several people have also commented on how quickly the government paid out from the scheme.

Carole Allchorne, co-owner of Alston House Hotel in the north Pennines town with husband Michael, confirmed they became so busy from the Eat Out to Help Out scheme that they made enough money to offset nearly two months of losses beforehand.

The hotel and restaurant employs nearly 20 people over full and part-time and were so busy they had to double their daily steak deliveries.

Confirming they’d never experienced anything like it in their 14 years at the hotel, Mrs Allchorne said: “It was very positive, the whole experience was amazing and it doubled our turnover for the month which is usually one of our busiest anyway.

“We never would have believed that would happen when we first found out about it and set off doing it, I’m sure the cows were pleased to have a rest as we got through that many steaks.

“We didn’t think there would be that many people in Alston to make such a difference but there are so many more tourists and staycations this year that has had a real positive effect. The Lakes is so full a lot of people are looking elsewhere to places like ourselves and that has continued as the bedrooms are busier than usual for September at the moment.

“The VAT reduction has really helped as well but we hope they do something similar during the winter to help us all get through.”