Why a restaurant in Leeds has created its own discount scheme

A restaurant and bar that is in “survival mode” after the coronavirus outbreak left the office district where it is based looking like a ghost town, is offering its own iteration of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

Monday, 24th August 2020, 4:45 pm

Mad Frans based at Wellington Place has seen its footfall plummet since offices shut down as a result of coronavirus and has been reduced to opening on just Fridays and the weekend.

The Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which is offering a 50 per cent discount to encourage people to visit restaurants, has had an adverse impact on Mad Frans with fewer people dining out at the weekends.

Ryan Fraser, owner of Mad Frans, told The Yorkshire Post: “The scheme is fantastic but it is just deviating everyone from a weekend to Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and we’ve seen a massive decline.

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Challenges: Ryan Fraser, owner of Mad Frans in Leeds, hopes to entice the public back into his bar with a discount deal every Friday until the end of September.

“We were relatively busy on Sundays and now it’s absolutely dead.”

To counteract this, Mad Frans is now offering 50 per cent off on a spend of over £10 per person on food every Friday until the end of September. “People are spending their money going out on Monday to Wednesday so we’re just trying to counteract this by doing a deal on Friday,” Mr Fraser said.

Recently, he warned that the restaurant may end up having to close its doors if offices at the Wellington Place development don’t reopen.

Mr Fraser said: “We cannot survive as a business by operating just on Saturdays and Sundays. Come November, the doors will be shut, we’ll be bust.

Offices in Leeds city centre have fallen silent following the pandemic.

“We can’t open Monday to Thursday because it’s a ghost town. There’s no one at Wellington Place.”

Earlier this month, Mad Frans started opening on Fridays as well but only served drinks. It didn’t make any money, Mr Fraser says, so it has now started to serve food as well.

Despite the launch of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which provides a 50 per cent discount for those eating out on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, Mr Fraser doesn’t believe it’s feasible for Mad Frans to reopen on other weekdays.

He says that even the Caffe Nero at the site remains closed while another branch of the chain just a few hundred metres aways is open because the footfall from office workers is just not there.

Question marks remain over the future of office spaces in cities across the country.

“The big chain isn’t opening at all,” Mr Fraser said. “That shows you really how quiet it is. That’s a risk we couldn’t afford to take.”

The restaurant now has to provide a table service meaning that it needs six staff on hand whenever it is open.

Mr Fraser hopes the discount scheme coincides with a meaningful return of office workers in September.

“If these people come back, it’s a great way for us to introduce new food, we’ve got a new menu, but also to give them 50 per cent off so they remember us,” he said.

The restaurant owner admits that offering the discount is a “big punt” but given the business is in “survival mode” it is important to get people in.

Mr Fraser added: “It’s an alternative for people to say, ‘I don’t want to go out on a Wednesday night because I’ve got an early start on Thursday morning. What I can do is go down to Leeds, get some quality fresh grub from an independent and still get 50 per cent off’.”

Before the pandemic, hospitality provided 210,000 jobs in Yorkshire and equated to eight per cent of regional employment, according to the trade body, UK Hospitality.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said: “Hospitality is hugely important to Yorkshire’s economy.

“A major blow to hospitality in the area would see significant damage to the local economy.”

Lack of office traffic hits city

Leeds has suffered when it comes to footfall since lockdown was lifted owing to the fact that it has a higher percentage of office workers than other towns and cities, according to data from the Centre for Cities High Street Recovery Tracker.

Centre for Cities said areas like Leeds have suffered because many office workers are still working from home.

A spokesman said: “Bigger city centres have had smaller Eat Out To Help Out booms and this is likely to be due to office workers remaining at home. On the other hand tourist places, such as York or seaside towns, have seen bigger increases in footfall.”