Gaucho and M Restaurants CEO Martin Williams has said it was a “no brainer” for his group to continue the Eat Out to Help Out scheme at its own expense.

Williams told MCA the Government-backed scheme had had an unexpectedly positive impact on higher end restaurants, with the higher spend per head making it relatively inexpensive to continue beyond August.

He acknowledged every group had to make its own call on discounting, and some less capitalized groups would struggle to afford to carry the cost.

But he criticized steakhouse rival Hawksmoor for announcing it would not offer its own version of the scheme, saying it was still too early to expect restaurants to “stand on their own two feet”.

Speaking to MCA, Williams paid tribute to Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s initative for building consumer confidence in eating out.

“I think it’s worked, it’s given people a reason to return to restaurants,” he said.

“To not replicate it at our own cost seems like a lost opportunity from our perspective.”

Parent company Rare Restaurants, which is backed by Investec Bank and SC Lowy, will offer exactly the same discount – 50% up to £10 on Monday-Wednesday.

“I think people understand it’s a fairly simple scheme and it’s relatively inexpensive if you’re a brand, like M or Gaucho, where the average spend is fairly high.

“But I think if you’re a high street offering, it’s a significant hit.

“It’s got momentum, it’s a great national scheme, it creates a lot of goodwill, so for us it was a no brainer to continue.”

Williams, who returned to Gaucho under its new backers a year ago, questioned Hawksmoor CEO Will Beckett’s suggestion that it was time for restaurants to be self-sufficient, contrasting the approaches of the rival groups.

“Every restaurant has to make the right call,” he said. “But when lockdown happened Hawksmoor decided to lay off staff when we decided to retain them.

“We decided to open our restaurants as soon as we could in a very safe way, while Hawksmoor dallied around, and backtracked before they finally made the decision.

“For them not to want to do this at this time, they have to have their own agenda and reason to do that and I’m sure it’s right for their business.

“But I think Will’s main point, that the restaurants have to stand on their own two feet without discounting, I just don’t think we’re ready for that yet.

“His business has got plenty people still furloughed, plenty of restaurants not open.

“We haven’t managed to open all of our restaurants, but actually, we don’t have anyone on furlough at the moment.

“We’re still seeing negative like for likes, particularly in central London and the West End.

“Whilst that’s the case, this is a recovery process and it’s going to be a long one. It’s not one which, because of a month of discounting through a government initiative, is suddenly fixed.

Williams sympathised with independents who did not have the luxury of cash flow or time and energy to focus on such initiatives.

“We are in a luxurious position by being institutionally backed,” he said. “We are fortunate our cash flow is buoyant.

“If we’d suddenly been doing cash calls or anything along those lines, then it might be a different, different conversation.”

He said a crucial element of the sector’s recovery was a return to central London.

“If London stays at 10% occupancy, I wouldn’t want to even guess how many businesses are likely to fail,” he added.

“If we can actually get people back in London and back working, entertaining themselves and clients, then I think it will be much less of a drastic number.”

The Gaucho boss suggested 25-30% of restaurants could be lost in the next year.

“There will be significant shrinkage, and some of those operators will fall by the wayside who probably haven’t been giving great value to their guests for a long time

“I’ve little sympathy for the poor operators who fall away at this time.

“The unfortunate part is, there will be good operators in significant danger if people don’t start returning to restaurants, particularly after furlough.

“Once furlough ends, and the wider economy takes a huge unemployment hit, then I think we’re going to see a lot of businesses struggling.”