What could social distancing in post-pandemic pubs look like?

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

Social setting: which approaches to Covid-19 social distancing are being taken by hospitality businesses around the world?
Social setting: which approaches to Covid-19 social distancing are being taken by hospitality businesses around the world?

Related tags Health Safety Public house Beer Alcoholic beverage

From potential city-wide open-air café bars to limited capacity and table-service only – how are pubs and bars across the globe planning to reopen under social distancing measures?

With the UK Government slated to review country-wide lockdown on 7 May, questions are beginning to be asked about what Britain’s pubs and bars may look like under social distancing measures that advise staying more than 2m (6ft) apart from anyone other than members of your household.

​On 17 April, British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) chief executive Emma McClarkin outlined that Britain’s pubs would need a minimum of three weeks’ notice to reopen after lockdown measures are lifted​​, explaining that the reopening process for the pub trade will be “enormously hard”.

President Emmanuel Macron previously outlined that France would begin to lift lockdown measures on 11 May with nurseries, schools and colleges to be “progressively opened” first and foremost with cafés, restaurants and bars to potentially follow suit from early June. 

Though measures closer to home are yet to be confirmed​, noises from UK bar groups and operators have ranged from JD Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin stating that he hopes to open his near-900-strong stable of pubs in June to the likes of East Anglia-based group Chestnut, which outlined it will be taking reservations across its 11-strong business from July 1.

In terms of the post-pandemic picture across Europe, a broad range of approaches to social distancing in pubs and bars are being suggested or already taken.

In Sweden, whose approach to the virus has generated international interest given they’ve eschewed full-scale lockdown under the advice of leading epidemiologists, restaurants and bars have been allowed to stay open provided they adhere to social distancing rules – though a number have closed due to lack of trade.

Restaurants and bars are only allowed to trade if they exclusively offer table service, with operators mandated to space groups one to two metres apart to prevent overcrowding. In the past week, five bars in capital Stockholm were forced to close after failing to follow these rules.


Spilling into open spaces

Across the Baltic Sea in Lithuania, the mayor of capital Vilnius has tabled proposals that some believe will turn the historic city into one big open-air café bar. 

Remigijus Šimašius has permitted bar and restaurant owners to transform the historic city’s outdoor plazas, squares and streets into outdoor drinking and dining space in order to allow their businesses to serve guests observing social distancing rules.

“Nearby cafés will be able to set up outdoor tables free of charge this season and thus conduct their activities during quarantine,” Šimašius explained in a recent statement. 

At the time of writing, 18 spaces had been slated as temporary outdoor homes for Vilnius’s bars and restaurants. 

Phased opening, reduced capacity and table spacing 


In the Czech Republic, where sales from pub windows have been allowed to continue under lockdown, authorities have stated that outside pubs, gardens and restaurant terraces will reopen on 11 May. 

While inside space may reopen two weeks later, they will be required to follow strict social distancing measures, which are still to be finalised, with non-compliant pubs forced to remain closed.

What’s more, in Austria, it’s been revealed that restaurants will be allowed to reopen from 15 May if they adhere to rules including a maximum of four adults per table – with at least 1m distance between diners – with service staff required to wear masks while taking orders and serving.

Guests will also be advised to book tables in advance to avoid queues and make it easier to trace possible infection chains should the need arise.

Further south, authorities in both Spain and Greece have stated that bars and restaurants will open under social distancing measures and reduced capacity.

It’s been suggested that bar terraces in Spain could reopen from 4 May at 30% capacity and with a number of other distancing rules in place, while Greek businesses, while not opening until at least June, will only offer outdoor service for a reduced headcount.

Take a look at our interactive map of Europe for the most recent information on what measures pubs and bars across the continent are taking amid the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Minimising contact

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Guidance from US-based design and strategy firm Streetsense, which specialises in retail, restaurant, hospitality and real estate solutions, advises that bar and dining areas must be reconfigured to accommodate for social distancing – “dramatically increasing the space between groups”. 

The firm suggests that implementing social distancing policies may yield a 30-50% reduction in covers for weeks, perhaps months, and that operators should consider using an off-site storage facility to keep their venue clutter-free while measures are in place.

What’s more, it’s Pandemic Relaunch Toolkit​ – published in April – also states: “Pick-up and delivery procedures must be mastered and kept safely separated from the dine-in guests.

“Service will need to be modified to minimise contact, reduce table touches and ease potential moments of friction like arrival, table setting, dropping food and payment. 

“Stringent sanitation and disinfection procedures require staff retraining and attention to detail, while daily staff temperature testing and contact tracing will be essential to protecting the integrity of your establishment.”

Guests signing health declarations

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Hong Kong-based group Black Sheep Restaurants has published a full blown Covid-19 Playbook ​that advises scheduled venue sanitising and hand washing every 30 minutes, for example, as well as a blanket ban on physical contact.

What’s more, the group has created a mandatory health declaration for guests to sign before entry – or risk being turned away at the door.

Once inside, the guidance advises physical distancing will become the “new normal” for the foreseeable future and it currently using every other table to allow guests required space. In addition, its venues are planning to offer diners hygienic storage – for example, a paper bag sealed with a sticker or a sealed envelope – to store any masks.

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