Wednesday 2 December 2020 9:02 am

What counts as a substantial meal under new Tier 2 rules for pubs?

Scotch eggs were first mentioned in the House of Commons in 1979 by Labour MP George Cunningham, who said the proposed introduction of pub meals was little more than a decoy to sell more booze.

Pub food would “likely result in the sale of liquor — and that is what we are talking about rather than the sale of Scotch eggs and warm sausages,” he said.

Not a word more had been said about Scotch eggs in Parliament until today, when the food was mentioned three times during a Commons debate about what constitutes a substantial meal under the new tier system.

But, as Cunningham alluded to more than four decades ago, what MPs were really tiptoeing around was the sale of alcohol.

Pubs in Tier 2 regions can reopen from tomorrow as long as they serve customers a “substantial meal” with their drinks.

MPs, business owners and pub-goers have since raked through menus to determine what counts as a substantial meal — placing the Scotch egg under existential scrutiny.

So what counts as a substantial meal?

Is a Scotch egg a meal?

In short — no one really knows.

According to the government’s Covid-19 winter plan, “venues that serve alcohol can only remain open where they operate as if they were a restaurant, which means serving substantial meals (and accompanying drinks).”

The guidelines define “substantial meals” as “a full breakfast, main lunchtime or evening meal”.

But George Eustice, minister for environment and food, threw confusion into the mix, telling LBC yesterday: “I think a Scotch egg probably would count as a substantial meal if there were table service, and often that might be as a starter.”

Eustice was swiftly overruled by the Prime Minister’s official spokesman, who said: “Bar snacks do not count as a substantial meal… It’s well-established in the hospitality industry what does.”

Under the previous tiered system, government guidance stated that “a table meal is a meal eaten by a person seated at a table, or at a counter or other structure which serves the purposes of a table”.

However, the Local Government Association (LGA) said this was “open to interpretation” and there was “a degree of flexibility”.

The LGA added: “It would be difficult to argue that a single sausage roll or a snack pork pie constitutes a main meal, whereas if it was served plated with accompaniments such as vegetables, salad, potatoes it could be considered substantial.”

In October, pizza restaurant Common in Manchester was ordered to stop serving slices of its 22-inch pizza after local police said they didn’t “fit the substantial food brief”. However, the decision was later rescinded and the slices were deemed ‘substantial’. 

For now, it looks like the substantial meal saga will likely be left open to each pub owner’s interpretation.

Those serving little more than scampi fries will likely shut for the foreseeable future, with the government set to announce an extra £40m in funding for wet-led sites unable to reopen. 

How many drinks can I order?

The guidelines state that alcoholic drinks must be served with food, but do not detail how many drinks you can have, or if you can drink before or after eating.

The PM’s spokesperson on Friday said pub-goers will have to leave the premises once they have finished their food.

But for the 32m people about to enter Tier 2, last orders will now be at 10pm, with venues shutting at 11pm.

Technically, that means you can keep ordering drinks until 10pm, and drink for a further hour — as long as you eat your food very slowly.

Individuals in Tier 2 should only meet for dinner indoors with people from their own household or support bubble.

But as City A.M. reported last week, business lunches will likely form the only exception, after the Business Department confirmed colleagues can meet for a drink alongside their substantial meal.