The Lowdown: ‘Helpy Hour’

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

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Related tags Restaurant Belgium Coronavirus

With bars, cafés and restaurants facing catastrophic financial losses due to the Coronavirus, Belgium has launched the ‘helpy hour’ initiative, to try and stop its hospitality establishments from going under.

Doesn’t exactly sound glamorous…
OK, so it sounds like a segment on a CBeebies programme, but that shouldn’t be an issue. If this is a way of ensuring the long term futures of hundreds of hospitality businesses, then who are we to judge?

Fair enough; so what’s it all about then?
‘Helpy hour’, as it has been dubbed, is basically the inverse of happy hour. Launched by Belgium’s Federation of Cafes as a temporary initiative to boost drink sales following the mandated closure of the country’s restaurants, cafés and bars, the scheme encourages customers to pay double the price for one drink; rather than getting two drinks for the price of one, as is the case in happy hour. And, unlike happy hour, ‘helpy hour’ has no daily start or end time; it’s up to the customer to decide if and when they want to pay double price for a drink. And before you make the joke that some London establishments have been charging double the price of drinks for ages, please don’t. 

How has the idea been received?
Given that hospitality businesses in Belgium only begun to reopen this week, it’s hard to gage whether the idea will make any difference to operators as they try to recoup some of the losses caused by the lockdown. The President of Belgium’s Federation of Cafes seemed optimistic, though, telling the Belgium Times​: “For years, customers have been pampered with happy hour. Now, we are going to try to do the opposite with 'helpy hour’, to help the cafes keep their head above the water. It is temporary, but we want to avoid an avalanche of bankruptcies. And when everything gets back to normal, the customer will be happy, because happy hours will return.” 

Have other countries adopted similar ideas?
Sort of. Restaurants in Spain have also begun to reopen this week, however, instead of giving customers the option of paying extra, some of those businesses have introduced Covid-19 surcharges to cover the costs of the pandemic.

How do they work?
Similar to how gratuity can be added, the surcharge is included in the final bill; except it isn’t optional. The idea is similar to that seen across a number of restaurants in the US too, with one Chicago establishment reportedly adding a Coronavirus supplement of 26% to all bills in order to cover the rising cost of ingredients.

Blimey. Do you think businesses in this country will be doing similar?
It’s impossible to know; but unless the Government comes out with a further package of support, which looks unlikely, hospitality businesses in the UK are going to need to do something to mitigate some of their losses. Indeed, hotelier Robin Hutson says that while he thinks hotel stays are not likely to incur extra fees, provided the Government does not introduce a proposed rule that would require rooms to be left vacant, restaurants may well have to supplement their incomes with surcharges, with new social distancing rules meaning that many must operate at 50% capacity or less. “It really all depends quite a lot on whether social distancing is relaxed or not. If we’re having to run our restaurants with less than half the tables, we would be running at a loss,” he told The Telegraph​. “We don’t want to just increase prices, which looks more permanent and clouds our general pricing strategy somewhat. For me, to have a surcharge that ultimately can be removed as soon as conditions are better is more transparent and more easily understandable for our guests.”

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