City restaurants are preparing to allow business lunches to resume after legal advice suggested work meetings are allowed at hospitality venues under an exemption to Tier 2 restrictions.
The rules, which came into effect last weekend, mean people cannot mix with another household in pubs or restaurants.
The hospitality sector has already warned that a Tier 2 lockdown will be the “death knell” for the already struggling industry.
However there has been growing confusion over what the Tier 2 restrictions mean for work lunches and whether a loophole in the current guidance, which allows exemptions for work, could permit business lunches in the City.
The government guidance places no limit on the group size when meeting or gathering for purposes, but there is little to no clarity on where those meetings can take place, however.
It is understood that the government will allow lunches to take place in hospitality venues but these must be strictly for business purposes and not for meeting work colleagues socially.
In a sign of the growing confusion over the tiered system and possible exemptions, one Westminster council source told City A.M. they thought it was unlikely the council would allow this.
Restaurant gives green light to lunch meetings
Martin Williams, the chief executive of M Restaurants and Gaucho, said legal advice meant necessary work meetings will be allowed to go ahead at his venues.
“Having spent the past month consulting with the City of London Police, UK Hospitality and our legal counsel at the highest level (Barristers and Queens Counsel), we believe that our interpretation of the government guidance is that business meetings which the guest deems reasonably necessary for work purposes are permitted to take place in our Covid-secure venues,” Williams said.
“At these meetings, food and beverages are permitted to be served.”
He added: “The fact that restaurants are having to search for rationale to permit a common-sense approach to safe dining in our venues and to protect jobs is an indictment on Sadiq Khan who made claims to be the most pro-business Mayor of London, yet has completely failed to support hospitality nor a broader business.”
“Restaurants are a workplace”, says Boisdale boss
Ranalad Macdonald, managing director of London restaurant group Boisdale told City A.M. last week that he could be forced to close for lunch if work meeings are banned.
He also warned that without an exemption for restaurants the restaurant group will have to lay off a number of staff. “All our lunch trade is business… We will go from making a loss whilst trading to haemorrhaging money.”
In a letter to Nickie Aiken, MP for Cities of London and Westminster, and Westminster Council, the Boisdale boss said: “Restaurants are the work place when workers meet while being paid during working hours to discuss business. Most workplaces are unlikely to be as health and safety conscious as restaurants. Certainly no more so.”
But it is understood that Westminster Council’s licensing and regulatory services have now confirmed that the legislation “makes an exception for gatherings of up to 6 people, indoors, from different households, for work purposes as long as the meeting is considered reasonable”.
This loophole could be a lifeline for the City’s hospitality sector reliant on lunchtime trade from office workers.