While the basic rules are clear – that diners and drinkers can now sit inside in groups of 6, and outside in groups of up to 30 – there are areas that remain unclear.
Suraj Desor is a hospitality licensing solicitor at Poppleston Allen, which advises pubs and restaurant chains in the UK. Desor has answered some of the most pressing questions for City A.M readers.
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.
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: With nightclubs now able to repurpose as bars, what are the rules around dancing?
A: In nightclubs repurposing themselves as bars, customers must be seated in order to order, eat, drink or be served anything. Operators should maintain social distancing when providing entertainment, and prevent entertainment that is likely to increase transmission risk – including communal dancing sadly. Ultimately though it is up to the venue to make a judgment call on whether allowing customers to dance is within the spirit of the guidance and whether social distancing can be maintained to avoid mixing of groups.
Q: How loud can music be in venues?
A: Guidance states that ‘loud background music’ could encourage activities that will increase transmission risk. What constitutes ‘loud background music’ will be case specific – music should be kept at a level as to not encourage shouting, singing or chanting.
Q: Can I host a work or social event for more than 6 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 (inside rule of 6).
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 6 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 6 person rule for indoor bookings?
A: Yes – these include marriages or civil partnerships and related receptions, commemorative and significant life events (no more than 30 people) and parent & child and support groups (up to 15 people).
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 doorstaff 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 smoke shisha at a venue?
A: Venues are prohibited from providing shisha pipes or other similar devices for use on the premises.
Q: How do the rules concern smoking? Can I smoke with others outside my group of 6? 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 whilst seated.
Q: Can I go to a gaming arcade or a bingo hall?
A: Yes, you can. You may find your experience slightly different due to Covid guidelines.
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: Do venues have the option to 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 dance floor could be repurposed as a seating area, for example.
Q: Can venues offer buffet / 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 do not offer alcohol, then you may offer buffet/ carvery service in the usual way, but your customers should be seated when consuming food. More details can be found on The Poppleston Allen website