Takeaway firm Deliveroo and 300 restaurant groups are urging the government to run Eat Out to Help Out again when restaurants finally reopen.
They said the discount scheme, which gave 50% off meals in August, would boost demand for ailing restaurants.
They also said other urgent support was needed to stop “viable” hospitality firms failing despite optimism about the vaccination programme.
It came as one worried pub boss called for pubs to be reopened by April.
Young & Co’s Patrick Dardis accused the government of a “lack of respect” for the sector and of basing the decision to close pubs on “unproven” science – a claim which experts dispute.
In a letter to the prime minister, Deliveroo and partners including Itsu and Pizza Hut said that with all restaurant businesses closed, many were “under immense financial pressure”.
“Even when they are able to reopen to customers, restrictions around mixing of households and social distancing measures mean that a return to trading at full capacity will remain dependent on the successful vaccine rollout,” they wrote.
They said continued government support was “critical” to protect jobs, adding: “The withdrawal of support too early or too suddenly risks viable businesses failing just as the light at the end of the tunnel is becoming clearer.”
They said the Eat Out to Help Out scheme had helped restaurants “survive” in 2020 and should be run again “when it is safe to do so”.
The scheme – which gave discounts of up to £10 per diner on food and soft drinks from Mondays to Wednesdays – was used 100 million times in August. The impact was felt after the scheme ended too.
“The boost the scheme provided not only helped protect restaurants from closure but also showed customers the work we have done to make sure they are safe and can get back to enjoying great food,” the letter said.
It also called for support measures including:
- Extending the 5% VAT rate – reduced from 20% last year – on restaurant food until at least the end of 2021
- Extending business rates relief for the retail and restaurant sectors for a further financial year
- Maintaining the furlough scheme as long as is necessary
- Supporting businesses to manage their rental arrears
- And prioritising hospitality staff for small-site rapid testing and vaccination
In a separate letter to the prime minister, Young’s & Co’s Mr Dardis accused the government of a “lack of interest and respect” regarding the plight of pubs.
He said major pub chief executives, including himself, were quitting an industry forum set up by small business minister Paul Scully. He declined to name the executives.
He added that the industry needed a “road map” to reopening with social distancing restrictions in place, but that these should only be in place for a few months.
Questioning the science behind the current pub restrictions, he said: “We are shocked and appalled that the government is basing its decisions to keep the great British pub closed on unproven and unfounded statistics.”
A government spokesman said: “We are deeply disappointed that some pub leaders have decided to step back from meetings with ministers.
“As we plan our way out of restrictions, we will continue to engage relentlessly with the hospitality sector, as we have done throughout this pandemic, and our door remains firmly open,” he said.
Dr Bharat Pankhania, senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter medical school, said talk of reopening pubs by April was premature.
“What the executives of pubs need to know is that failure to get it right equals back to square one. And back to square one equals much more pain economically, much more hardship.”
He added: “Whichever way you want to cut it, you drink alcohol to relax and have a bonhomie with your friends.
“One of the consequences of relaxing is that you drop your guard,” he said.
Dr Julian Tang, honorary associate professor at the University of Leicester, agreed.
The consultant virologist said: “Opening pubs will bring more people into closer contact with each other – this will allow the virus to spread – we already know and understand this concept.”