Pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants in England may soon be able to reopen their doors for the first time since lockdown began in March.
But despite the easing of restrictions, a trip to a local bar or dining establishment could be a very different experience from how it was before coronavirus.
When will reopening begin?
In its recovery strategy document published on 11 May, the government said that the hospitality sector – which includes pubs, bars and restaurants – could start to reopen “no earlier than 4 July”, if Covid-19 safety guidelines could be met.
The government has yet to announce details of what these guidelines would be, but they’re expected to include rules on social distancing, heightened hygiene procedures and protection of bar and restaurant staff.
It will provide “further safer working guidance” for restaurants, pubs and bars “as soon as we can”, Business Secretary Alok Sharma said during Tuesday’s coronavirus briefing.
What are the rules now?
On 20 March, all pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes were asked to shut in order to stop the spread of coronavirus
The only exceptions to this were cafes and canteens at a few selected places such as schools, hospitals and prisons.
Since then, many restaurants have started offering food delivery and takeaways in order to generate income while their doors are closed. Some pubs have also been allowed to offer takeaway beers.
What about the rest of the UK?
Each nation of the UK is setting its own rules for the reopening of food and drink outlets:
- The Scottish government has outlined a phased approach to pubs and restaurants reopening but has yet to give a date for when this might take place
- Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakeford has refused to give “any promises about when pubs might reopen
- In Northern Ireland, the executive is due to discuss the subject on 11 June
What are the main obstacles to reopening?
The chief worry for many people in the hospitality industry is the issue of social distancing. Some have insisted that the current 2m distancing rule makes it impossible for bars, cafes and restaurants to make a profit.
Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of the industry body UK Hospitality, says that with a 2m rule, outlets would be only able to make about 30% of normal revenues, whereas 1m would increase that to 60-75%.
Some Conservative MPs have added their support for reducing social distancing, and the prime minister said on 10 June that the 2m rule was “under constant review”.
What other measures could be taken?
The Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca says it is considering a range of measures to keep staff and workers safe amid the pandemic.
Customers are likely to be given the option of ordering food on apps, while staff will be encouraged to wash their hands every 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, the Wetherspoons pub chain has said its staff will be provided with face masks and protective eyewear and it will run a reduced food menu.
Bottles of ketchup and mayonnaise will be replaced by individual sachets. Customers will also be encouraged to sit outside in pub gardens, while some indoor seating areas will be separated by Perspex screens.
How is the hospitality sector coping during lockdown?
The hospitality sector was the third-largest employer in the country in 2018, according to UK Hospitality.
But many restaurants and cafes were already struggling even before the Covid-19 outbreak, in the face of rising rents and falling consumer spending.
3rdlargest UK employer in 2018
3.2 millionworkers in the sector
99%of hospitality businesses are SMEs
£130bnannual turnover in 2018
67%expect it will be “months” before going to a restaurant
Source: UK Hospitality, EY
Thousands of workers in the industry have been furloughed under the government’s job retention scheme, which allows them to receive 80% of their monthly salary up to £2,500.
What have other countries done?
Many other countries have already reopened restaurants, bars and cafes around the world. In some cases they have had the use of lower social distancing recommendations – in France, for example, the recommended distance between customer and staff is 1m.
- Eating and drinking establishments in Paris can now serve customers on outside terraces, but staff must wear masks, and customers must also wear masks when moving around
- In Berlin, restaurants, cafes and snack kiosks are open, and people from two separate households are allowed to share a table, if they keep a distance of 1.5m from each other
- Spanish bars and restaurants have now been allowed to reopen if they stick to social distancing rules and only operate at 50% capacity
- Restaurants, bars and cafes in Italy reopened in May – restaurants must host reduced numbers of diners, with tables further apart and plastic shields to separate customers