Meeting people inside pubs and restaurants in tier two and tier three areas such as London, York and Manchester is not allowed as part of efforts to try and contain the spread of coronavirus.
But No.10 and local authorities have suggested that such meetings were permitted so long as they are for “work purposes”, The Telegraph reports.
Government guidance stipulates that up to 30 people from different households may meet indoors for work purposes, as long as the place they are meeting is set up to follow coronavirus guidelines.
Westminster council has pointed at least one business owner who asked about working lunches towards the exemption on the ban on indoor meetings if deemed necessary for work purposes.
A No.10 spokesman said that while current guidance advises people to limit their social contact and work from home as much as possible, “people are permitted to meet indoors for work purposes in high or very high areas”.
A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said office workers who can work from home should continue to do so, and that they “encourage employers to minimise face to face meetings and use video conferencing software wherever possible.”
They added that under tier two restrictions - which apply in areas where the risk of Covid is deemed to be high - individuals should not be attending restaurants or cafes with those outside their household. In tier three areas, where the risk is deemed to be very high, pubs are closed other than those which serve “substantial meals” and residents are banned from eating in those premises or at restaurants with people from outside their household.
Restaurants are now calling for greater clarity over the rules, as the loophole could provide a major boost for venues reliant on lunchtime trade from office workers.
Will Beckett, co-founder of steak restaurant chain Hawksmoor, told The Telegraph: “It’s entirely unclear whether it’s allowed. Definitively, it would have a positive impact on the economy if it was deemed to be allowable, but it seems to be a recipe for a loophole.”
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of industry trade body UKHospitality, added: “It is unclear, it’s a real grey area.
“The Government has given an exemption for business meetings up to 30 or meetings or gatherings that are deemed necessary for work purposes, but it’s provided no guidance on where those meetings can take place.
“We’re asking for urgent clarification because in central London, if the working lunch is gone, there’s no trade.”