IT’S called managing expectations. When a child asks for a pony for her birthday, you gently suggest a toy one would be more practical. If the local paper runs a story headlined “Parents consider pony gift”, you’re in trouble. If all you can muster up on the big day is a hobby horse, there will be tears before breakfast.

So it was on Wednesday, when lockdown-fatigued citizens tuned in to Rishi Sunak’s Summer Statement hoping to be gifted £500 to help revive the high street and hospitality sectors and have a bloody nice time in the process.

What dreams could have become reality. What meals could have been eaten and beverages drunk. What queues around the block might have formed around Primark stores.

But Sunak had failed to manage our expectations. And what he delivered was not a pony, or even a pig in a poke, but the equivalent of gift-wrapping some stuff we already had lying around the house. In case you haven’t had access to the internet in the past decade, let me in on a secret: midweek restaurant deals (including buy-one-get-one-free, or “bogof”) are nothing new.

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Of course, the big difference here is that participating restaurants can claim back the price of the “free” meals from the Government, and therefore fill both their tables and their tills, but from a consumer perspective Sunak’s big splash turned out to be a damp squib.

The big reveal of the restaurant deal must have felt like a punch to the guts of those who are struggling just to get by and can only dream of a meal out, even a half-price one. To those who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, or have fallen through holes in the safety net of the furlough scheme, Sunak has quite literally responded with “bogof”.

While we were “all in it together” during lockdown, the sad reality is that for many in poverty life will stay much the same when it is fully lifted. Those currently champing at the bit to return to the pub or their favourite restaurant will likely do so regardless of any special deals, while those at high risk of coronavirus complications may opt to stay at home until September to avoid the discount-deal crowds.

The group perhaps most in need of a nudge from the Chancellor is those who have kept their heads well above water during the immediate crisis but for whom the threat of redundancy now looms.

Amid the disappointment that we aren’t getting £500 to spend, spend, spend there was much tittering about the slogan announced by Sunak. Some cunning linguist at the UK Treasury had persuaded him to go with “eat out to help out” as his rallying cry for Britons to venture forth. “Dine out” would have worked just as well, surely? Perhaps the hope was that Twitter would be abuzz about the innuendo, and this would distract attention away from critical analysis of what exactly was being announced.

Punchy slogans are all the rage at Westminster just now, and Sunak has even managed to string different words together, rather than just repeat the same one three times like his boss does. However, the soundbite department will need to try harder if it’s to produce gems of the calibre of “dig for victory” and “keep calm and carry on”.

I expect hipsters will be sporting ironic “eat out to help out” T-shirts by the autumn, but what will be printed on tote bags 60 years from now, when we are regaling our grandchildren with stories about the coronavirus years (I say “we” – I’ll be dead by then, but I’m sure my ghost will still be perusing the virtual shelves of gift shops).

The first challenge is to encourage people back into shops, bars, restaurants and cafes, and I propose doing this by turning personal indulgence into social responsibility – how about “shopping obsessions beat recessions” and “indulge in gastronomy, save the economy”?

We need to get people eating (eat pies, save jobs) and drinking (boost the bars – down some jars) but not to the point where they start expelling droplets into each other’s faces (keep quiet and carry on drinking) or forgetting about the need for social distancing (dine a la carte, but six feet apart).

Dating is a key contributor to the hospitality sector, but we don’t want potential lovebirds getting too touchy-feely or bursting each other’s government-approved bubbles. Accordingly the most romantic bars might want to add “careless kissing costs lives” to their wine lists.

Then there’s the thorny issue of holidays. With conflicting rules north and south of the Border and a real danger of local lockdowns both at home and abroad, it’s clear the safest option for the time being is to stay on home soil. “Staycations protect our nations” gets the message across without conjuring any images of boiler suits at borders, while “stay in Scotland and carry an umbrella” combines two pieces of useful advice.

With masks becoming mandatory in shops today, the most important slogan to bear in mind pre-dates all the Second World War classics. As they said in 1918, amid the “Spanish flu” pandemic: coughs and sneezes spread diseases.