26 May 2022

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Al fresco dining – government appears to be moving the goal posts
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Al fresco dining – government appears to be moving the goal posts

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Desperation to open the hospitality industry may lead to disappointment if the weather is bad

There is no doubt about it that living through the pandemic has never been short of surprises, some good and some not so good.

This is the problem of tackling something which we as a society have simply not known during our lifetimes; life is a learning experience during its entire duration.

One of the latest changes is the government’s approach to al fresco dining which becomes permissible from 12th April, assuming the government’s road map continues according to plan. When al fresco was last permitted, businesses had to comply with the regulations and many did so at quite some expense. The measures included structures like pods, greenhouses and closed-in terraces, no doubt to keep off the worst of the potentially biting autumn winds.

Unfortunately it appears that the government has decided to adopt the smoke-free regulations which were created to define smoking shelters now to define outdoor spaces. These are more stringent and in essence state that a covered space cannot have sides that enclose more than 50% of the shelter. This means that keeping out those cutting winds may not be possible.

Eating outdoors can be an immense pleasure. There is no doubt that food and drink taste different in the fresh air. This is probably why picnics are so popular. It is ideal for warm balmy days and nights, especially on the French Riviera. It is less ideal for the potentially chilly month of April in England – remember those April showers? Going out for dinner wrapped up to the nines with your thermal underwear seems to lack appeal!

Local authorities have been instructed to be “supportive”. As a result it is anticipated that there will be varying standards which will cause frustration and possibly even ill feeling on the part of those whose authorities are more stringent than others.

It obviously seems eminently sensible to have one set of rules when defining such matters and perhaps there was a lack of thought when these particular rules were not adopted in the first place but of course it is easy to be wise after the event. The sad part is that it is frustrating for businesses which prepared themselves for the autumn conditions which may now find that it is not practicable to do so for the forthcoming period starting in April.

Unfortunately it is decision making time again. Hospitality business owners are faced with making changes to their outdoor arrangements, possibly at a not insignificant cost and still finding that they do not measure up to the needs of keeping their customers comfortable, especially if there is a fall of snow! The alternative is to wait a few more weeks and only open when indoor dining is permitted. The trouble is that that will be a big move which may get deferred if the road map is knocked off its pedestal.

As always this pandemic continues to create new challenges. Until it really is over, this is something which we shall continue to have to live with.

Adrian Leopard 19-03-21

Photo Kevin Martin Jose

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