Hans Henrik Agger of Carl’s gastropub in Copenhagen told The Morning Advertiser (MA) that the Danish government’s decision to reduce social distancing rules from two metres to one metre, in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance in early May, provided a “workable” solution as his business bounces back from Covid-19 lockdown.
“If we had to open with two metres [social distancing], it would be difficult to make a profitable business because we would have to reduce our seating by at least 70%,” he told MA. “With only 40 or 50 guests in our restaurant it would have been almost impossible to make a business out of it.
“I know that our administrator Horesta – which organises all bars and restaurants – has been fighting for this one metre. Thankfully, the government agreed to go from two metres to one metre.”
Agger, whose pub spans more than 6,000sq ft near the Carlsberg brewery in Denmark’s capital, first opened in November 2019 and offers around 40 beers on tap and approximately 100 canned brews.
The halving of social distancing measures in Denmark means Agger only has to reduce his covers by 30% as opposed to the 70% cut that a two-metre rule would have mandated.
“If they hadn’t reduced from two metres to one metre between people, I think it would have been impossible to survive without any support from the government,” he explained.
“A lot of bars and restaurants would have stayed closed because it wouldn’t have made sense for them to open up. We are very glad that we have the one-metre ruling because it makes a lot of difference.”
At the time of writing, Denmark had recorded 11,734 cases of Covid-19 with 580 deaths – with just 35 new cases on 2 June as it becomes one of the first European countries to emerge from lockdown.
Reopening under one-metre distancing
Speaking to MA on 22 May, Agger explained that after two-and-a-half months of closure and surviving on an adapted takeaway offer – “we had a basement full of 40 taps’ worth of beer and had to do something with it” – his site has successfully started post-lockdown trade in both internal and external areas under a number of rules, including one-metre distancing.
“We opened up and, of course, the people of Copenhagen have missed eating out and drinking out and being together,” he says.
“We’re still limited to maximum groups of 10 and you have to be seated one metre away from each other but it’s not a problem for us because of our size. We had to move about a third of our tables to fulfil the conditions, but it will work for us. For four days, we’ve been almost fully booked.”
Agger adds that guests are not allowed to sit face to face with bar employees for more than 15 minutes – essentially stopping people sitting at the bar for extended periods – that he’s not allowed to operate after 12midnight, and that guests are not allowed to dance.
“The next step in opening, from our perspective, should be an increase in the number of people we’re allowed to serve together – and begin to have weddings and company functions. At the moment, we’re allowed to have maximum groups of 10, but there must be one metre between each person.”
Calls for a UK cut
In light of a number of countries – including Denmark, France, Lithuania, Singapore and China reducing social distancing measures in keeping with WHO advice to maintain at least a one metre (3ft) distance – there have been increasing calls for the UK to follow suit from stakeholders in the hospitality sector.
The British Institute of Innkeeping’s (BII) chief executive Steve Alton, for example, told MA that two-metre distancing will cause a lasting headache for publicans whose businesses, he argues, are built on “the opposite of social distancing”.
“Social distancing in any business will be challenging but, in hospitality particularly, the plans and procedures that will need to be put in place are huge in number and complexity,” he said.
“Our venues are designed to provide the opposite of social distancing and each pub is unique in its layout, space and location.”
What’s more, the British Beer & Pub Association’s chief executive Emma McClarkin added: “A strict two-metre social distancing requirement would not be viable for the vast majority of pubs. We believe most pubs wouldn’t be able to open and operate with such conditions and those that tried would find it incredibly costly and impractical to do so.”
However, despite cut calls from the hospitality sector and a number of senior Conservative MPs, Housing minister Simon Clarke told Sky News on 2 June that the Government intends to maintain two-metre social distancing.
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