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New U.K. Reopening Guidelines Leave Safety Decisions in the Hands of Restaurateurs

Fixed shift teams, but no specifics on social distancing or capacity

New restaurant reopening guidelines do not mandate fixed numbers for social distancing or capacity. The new draft from the government, as reported by Propel, tells restaurants to use “wider spacing,” introduce radios to transmit orders between dining room and kitchen, and, crucially, decide for themselves how many customers can “define the maximum number of customers that can reasonably follow social distancing at the venue.”

The draft does not require staff to wear personal protective equipment or masks, but does stress that COVID-19 risk assessments “must be done in consultation with unions or workers,” without outlining consequences for ignoring this directive. It also encourages restaurants to keep “shift teams” together, in order to reduce contact between staff members wherever possible.

These guidelines are an initial effort and it may appear that, as with its current response to restaurant rent, the government is attempting to let restaurants take their own measures. The lack of clarity on social distancing may be related to Boris Johnson’s continued contravention of current medical advice, in wishing to relax it to one metre as soon as possible. This would, inarguably, allow restaurants to operate with more covers, provided workers are comfortable doing so and provided owners are willing to address their comfort.

These are not finalised, but at this stage, it’s another example of a communication that raises more questions than it answers, with shades of the government reducing its accountability wherever it can. By not offering strict, epidemiologically validated guidelines on distancing and capacity, it could introduce rules that can’t really be broken into an environment where those rules could have severe impacts on public health. If staff get sick in an environment where “social distancing” is a vague concept, liability is practically out of the window; if an outbreak causes a shutdown which puts a restaurant out of business, the guidelines would contend that the restaurant has no-one to blame but itself.