The Eat Out to Help Out scheme may play to the advantage of larger restaurant brands, but businesses are within their rights to do what they must to survive, Pizza Pilgrims non-executive director Ian Edward has said.

To the dismay of many small-scale and independent restaurants, several major restaurant chains including Whitbread and Boparan Restaurant Group have extended the chancellor’s proposed discount – scrapping the £10 discount cap.

Acknowledging the frustration this must cause to smaller operators who can’t afford to subsidise a full 50% bill reduction, Edward told MCA’s The Conversation that ultimately, it is the prerogative of any business, large or small, to do what it feels is best for their recovery.

“There’s no right or wrong, really, you’ve just got to try and do what’s best for your business and your customers,” he said. “This is about survival first, and everything else is second.”

Of the opinion that the Eat Out to Help Out is a “great” way of incentivising consumers to return to the sector on quieter days, Edward added that if businesses take advantage of the scheme, it should serve to benefit them throughout the entire week.

“It’s a price driven thing, but when people get a good experience, they feel comfortable and they don’t feel that they’re at risk, I think that might encourage more of them to come out on the weekend and spend proper money,” he said.

“One of the things that people should do is to take advantage of this [scheme], to make sure that it’s not just an early in the week freebie, as it were, but to actually to try and build customer loyalty to get them to come back on the weekend.”

As one of the businesses choosing to lift the £10 cap, Greene King Premium Urban Pubs & Venture Brands MD Karen Bosher said that for the pubco, the scheme is not “about survival, it’s about getting people back into a safe social occasion.”

Bosher revealed that currently 60% of Greene King’s guest base is yet to return, so the group’s priority at present is to encourage those consumers to feel confident coming back to a pub.

“We need to encourage more people out to the pub,” she said. “They need to have that experience and to get their confidence up so they can return and have ritualised uses of the pub and restaurant spaces.”

“And I think that this initiative will go a long way to doing that.”

Given the importance placed on driving a return visit, Bosher added that it is paramount for those businesses participating in the scheme to ensure they deliver a safe and enjoyable environment, “so that each first visit back to the pub is a really positive one.”

“We’ve put a lot of money, investment, time and effort into making a really good pub safe to visit,” she said. “And if [the customer] then, as a subsequent consequence of this initiative, get great value for money, then that’s great news for the customers and hopefully that will embed a new relationship.”

So far, over 73,000 businesses have signed up to the scheme, and a recent survey conducted by UK Hospitality has found that 84% of businesses are planning to take part.

But whilst up-take and initial feedback has been “very positive,” with operators finding the initiative “easy and straightforward to get involved with,” UK Hospitality CEO Kate Nicholls was keen to stress that it is far from a long-term solution to sector recovery.

“The Government deliberately designed it to be a short, sharp, immediate intervention to see if they could get the market kickstarted and see what it did to consumer confidence,” she said. “The Treasury is clearly waiting to see what happens before they address whether further intervention is necessary.”

“So, I think there is a bit of a watch and see on if it needs to be extended, but I know that there are other levers that the Treasury is looking at to address any economic shortfalls that come through.”

“[The scheme is] all about consumers and consumer confidence and stimulating demand. It’s quite clear that other stuff will be needed to support the industry long-term.”