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Government Will Half Social Distancing Rule to Speed Up Restaurant Reopening

Some restaurants are getting ready to reopen on Saturday 4 July

Restaurants are preparing to reopen on 4 July after government indicates it will reduce the social distancing rule from two metres to one metre tomorrow Michaël Protin/Eater London

The government is expected to halve the two-metre social distancing rule in England this week, in order to facilitate the reopening of restaurants and the wider hospitality industry on Saturday 4 July.

It is understood that the plans, which have long been the ambition of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, are being finalised in Downing Street this morning; confirmation is due tomorrow, according to Sky News. The move, which hospitality industry trade body UK Hospitality has said increases many businesses’ capacity from 30 to 60 percent, will pave the way for some restaurants and pubs to reopen for dine-in customers in the government’s third phase of lockdown lifting.

That July date, since it was announced in May, was loaded with uncertainty. Because wording in the government guidance said that some venues “crowded by design” would potentially not be able to reopen, it has left many restaurants unsure if and how they would be able to do. There is not yet any indication that tomorrow’s announcement will include all restaurants and the wider hospitality sector.

Alongside the confirmation that the social distancing measure will be reduced, the government is expected to provide “covid-secure” safety guidance for businesses reopening. The Times reported at the weekend that measures would include strict limits on customer numbers inside, strict distancing in dining rooms, pre-bookings, and queues outside. Businesses have the dual obligation of ensuring staff as well as customer safety, even when they will be operating with fewer employees for service at reduced capacity.

During service, the leaked guidance reported by the Times states that napkins and cutlery will be brought to tables with food, single-use disposable menus will be used, and condiments will be brought to tables on request; no salt and pepper will be placed on tables.

Guidance will encourage shorter menus, and fewer staff in kitchens and dining rooms, with waiters expected to wear masks and/or gloves, or at the very least wash their hands before serving another table. Contactless payments will be encouraged.

In pubs, guests will be discouraged from standing and ordering at the bar; instead table service via digital ordering will be implemented. More regular cleaning will be encouraged across all premises.

As restaurants await guidance, some operators have been preparing pro-actively for reopening. Clare Smyth, chef-patron of two-Michelin-starred Notting Hill restaurant Core, told the BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning that plans were in place — and bookings had been reopened — for the 4 July date. She said she’d prepared masks for the whole team, “if that’s what’s required.”

In light of a recent YouGov poll which found that 58 percent of Britons did not welcome further relaxation of lockdown rules, Smyth added that “guest confidence is the most important thing right now. “We need to get this right — we need to start slowly,” she said. Citing preparation that included masks and covered cloak rooms, hand sanitisers, and QR codes for wine lists, Smyth said that restaurants were experts in food and health safety and that reopening with Covid-secure measures in place would be “an extension of that.” She added that it was going to be difficult but that they had to get it right because “we haven’t got a second chance at this.”

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