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Restrictions extended in England – What pubs need to know

By Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

Extended measures: Suraj Desor, specialist hospitality licensing solicitor at Poppleston Allen, answers key questions about the extended Covid restrictions (image: Getty/Monkeybusinessimages)
Extended measures: Suraj Desor, specialist hospitality licensing solicitor at Poppleston Allen, answers key questions about the extended Covid restrictions (image: Getty/Monkeybusinessimages)

Related tags: Poppleston allen, Legal, Licensing, Health and safety, Coronavirus

The Prime Minister has confirmed restrictions in England will remain in place at least midnight on 18 July. Suraj Desor, specialist hospitality licensing solicitor at Poppleston Allen, answers key questions about the extended measures.

Q: Are step three measures still in place?

A: ​Measures in place for hospitality venues under step three shall continue until at least midnight on 18 July. In short therefore, if you are not operating as a nightclub, dance hall, sexual entertainment venue etc then you can open, both indoors and outdoors. 

If you are a restaurant, café, bar, pub, social club or casino then you can open subject to restrictions on how you serve food and drink on the premises – table service is required where alcohol is served.

The table service requirements are relaxed for cinemas, theatres, concert halls and sports grounds allowing a customer who has a ticket to order food or drink at the bar so long as it is consumed in the seating provided to watch the film, performance or event. 

All businesses must continue to comply with updated Covid guidance and regulations relating to Test and Trace, use of face coverings, social distancing and the number of people in a group – no more than 30 people outdoors and no more than six people or two households indoors, unless an exemption applies. 

Q: Can I repurpose my nightclub as a bar? And what are the rules around dancing?

A: Nightclubs can repurpose and open as bars, customers must be seated to order and be served, as well as consume food or drink. 

With regard to dancing, guidance currently advises that operators should maintain social distancing when providing entertainment and prevent entertainment that is likely to increase transmission risk, including communal dancing.

Q: Will pubs and venues be able to host live music events?

A: Guidance does not prohibit live music events, but it does determine that dedicated music events should be ticketed and held in a separate room from regular food and drink customers to prevent mixing. 

Where possible, avoid or discourage audiences cheering, chanting and singing along and lower the volume of music to a level that allows customers to converse without raising their voices. Attendance caps will apply. 

See updated performing arts guidance for more details: Performing arts - Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) - Guidance - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Q: Can I host a work or social event for more than six people at a venue?

A: Work gathering for social purposes (e.g. a work party) and private dining events for social purposes are only permitted within the social contact rules (rule of six).

Business meetings can take place if for genuine work purposes, and not social events, with unlimited numbers. Business events such as conferences, trade shows, exhibitions and ticketed private dining events such as charity or gala dinners and awards ceremonies, and corporate hospitality can also take place, however capacity limits apply and must be adhered to at any point throughout the event: 1,000 people or 50% of a venue’s capacity, whichever is lower at indoor events. 

Again, the usual social distancing measures apply as do table service rules for venues which generally serve alcohol unless an exemption applies.

Q: If I’m booking a venue for a social event of six to 30 people, will I be required to prove the purpose of the event and will guests be required to prove they are attending an approved event?

A: The venue has a duty to ensure guests of the gathering are there for the previously specified purpose. Practically, this may include for example taking details from attendees and cross referencing to an attendee list.

Q: Are there any other significant life events that qualify for increasing the size of bookings? Do milestone birthday parties, engagement parties or leaving parties count?

A: Guidance states that a “significant life event” is a ceremony, rite or ritual that celebrates a milestone in a person’s life, according to their religion or belief (e.g. a bar mitzvah or christening). A birthday does not fall into this definition, nor does an engagement or leaving party.

Q: Are there any other exemptions to the six person rule for indoor bookings?

A: Yes – there are exemptions for certain events and these have been relaxed further following the Prime Minister’s announcement on 14 June. 

For example, from Monday 21 June there will be no limit on number of persons attending marriage, civil partnership or alternative wedding ceremonies, related receptions or a commemorative event following a person’s death (such as wakes) either indoors or outdoors – however other social distancing requirements still apply. 

As with funerals, the limit on number of guests will instead be based on the capacity venues can accommodate while still being Covid-secure. The exemption does not generally apply to private dwellings indoors where otherwise usual indoor social contact limits of six individuals, or two households apply, an exception being urgent wedding ceremonies where one of those getting married is seriously ill and not expected to recover (these can go ahead with up to 30 people inside private homes).

Q: What steps can a venue take to prevent groups from mixing? Can customers be ejected from a venue for mixing?

A: Reasonable steps to prevent mixing include having a Covid risk assessment in place and making staff (and door staff where applicable) aware of the responsibilities they have to monitor customer behaviour to ensure social contact limits are maintained. 

A venue can remove or refuse entry to customers who are not complying with social distancing or refuse to provide NHS Test and Trace contact details.

Q: Can I sit at the bar in a venue, or do I have to sit at a table to be served?

A: As long as customers are seated, they can be served in any area of the premises. This includes bar seating. Operators should prevent groups mixing and maintain social distancing guidelines, these are 2m, or 1m+ with risk mitigation. 

Due to a venue’s responsibilities towards their staff however you may find that sitting at the bar is not currently allowed at a particular premises, based upon their assessment of the risks.

Q: Am I permitted to have background music? Can I have TV’s on?

A: Guidance states that “loud background music” could encourage activities that will increase transmission risk. What constitutes “loud background music” will be case specific – you can have background music but it should be kept at a reasonable level so as to not encourage shouting, singing or chanting. The same applies for use of TVs at the venue. 

Q: Can I set up extra seating to cater for customers who wish to watch live sport and entertainment?

A: Provided appropriate spacing is maintained, venues can set up additional seating. A dancefloor could be repurposed as a seating area, for example. Also see above as to volume levels and preventing behavior that could increase transmission risk. 

Q: How do the rules concern smoking? Can I smoke with others outside my group of six? Can I drink whilst smoking if I am unseated?

A: Customers can continue to smoke outdoors. However, licensees have an obligation to prevent groups mixing whether it be in smoking areas or otherwise. Customers can only drink and eat while seated.

Q: Can I play gaming machines, pool or darts at a venue?

A: Yes, there is no prohibition against these activities. However, venues should make the decision themselves as to whether use of gaming machines and indoor games can be played within the spirit of the guidance. 

Venues considering such use should ensure risk assessed mitigations are in place such as customers wearing face coverings, social distancing, players seated whilst consuming food or drink and appropriate cleaning regimes.

Q: Can venues offer buffet or carvery service food or catering for customers or events?

A: If you generally serve alcohol at the premises, table service is required and you cannot offer a typical buffet service as customers will need to order, be served, and consume food and drink whilst seated.

However, you may provide a carvery service where the customer orders a carvery meal option whilst seated, then chooses their carvery options from the carvery deck (wearing face covering and socially distancing) which is plated by staff. The customer can then return to their seat and be served their meal at their table by staff.

If your premises does not offer alcohol, then you may offer buffet or carvery service in the usual way, but your customers should be seated when consuming food.

  • For any legal enquiries please visit Poppleston Allen's ​​website​​​

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