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What the New U.K. Coronavirus Restriction Tiers Mean for Restaurants and Pubs

Restaurants will not have to close under any of the restrictions, but pubs that cannot serve “a main meal” will

A single restaurant table on a Soho road in the heart of London
London is currently in the lowest tier of restrictions
Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Images

Prime minister Boris Johnson laid out a three-tier system of coronavirus restrictions for England today, Monday 12 October. Categorising areas as “medium risk,” “high risk,” and “very high risk” by the number of cases per 100,00 people, Johnson announced that in very high risk areas, pubs and bars will close, but “food-based” pubs and restaurants will be allowed to remain open. London is currently in the medium risk tier, which means it will be subject to current COVID-19 restrictions: the “rule of six,” and the 10p.m. hospitality curfew.

Coronavirus restrictions for restaurants: Tier 1: “medium risk”

  • No restaurant or pub closures, but the 10 p.m. hospitality curfew will still apply.
  • The “rule of six” will apply and households will not be banned from mixing indoors.

Coronavirus restrictions for restaurants: Tier 2: “high risk”

  • The 10 p.m. hospitality curfew will remain in place.
  • Households will be banned from mixing indoors, including at restaurants and pubs.

Coronavirus restrictions for restaurants: Tier 3: “very high risk”

  • Pubs and bars will be ordered to close, but “food-based” pubs will be allowed to remain open alongside restaurants. This means that pubs and restaurants alike cannot serve alcohol unless a customer purchases a meal.
  • The 10 p.m. hospitality curfew will remain in place.
  • Households will be banned from mixing indoors, including at restaurants and pubs.

Johnson later added that pubs that “can operate as a restaurant and serve alcohol only with a main meal” would be the only pubs and bars allowed to open. Joining Johnson at a press conference, chancellor Rishi Sunak outlined a “bridge” furlough scheme, for workers whose businesses are “forced to close” for up to a week.

Johnson’s announcement came too late for some businesses in the north of England soon to enter tier 3, which had already ordered supplies for the week on the assumption of remaining open. They will now have to close from Wednesday. The precise definition of a “food-based” pub and what constitutes a meal is also up for debate, but it currently appears to apply to anywhere with a kitchen that serves hot food for consumption on its premises. It is unclear what the epidemiological rationale behind allowing consumers to drink and eat, but not just drink is when it comes to transmission of the novel coronavirus.

Johnson also said that at tier 3, while restaurants will not have to automatically close, interventions with “local leaders” could lead to specific measures in specific locations, including the closure of restaurants. The distinction between restaurant and pub closures could also mean that at tier 3 level, where household mixing is prohibited, a restaurant — allowed to open, and, in the most theoretical sense, trade — would not receive the two-thirds’ wage furlough scheme support, while a pub, closed, would. This was only exacerbated by Rishi Sunak’s later announcement that only businesses forced to close by a lockdown would be eligible for job support.

These tiers do not have an impact on the 10 p.m. hospitality curfew, which remains a fragile policy for the government under severe pressure from restaurants, pubs, and bars, as well as both Conservative and Labour MPs.

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