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11 August 2022

Opinion from Adrian Leopard & Co

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Pubs and restaurants – does 1 metre distancing work for you and is it fair?
Adrian Leopard 319

Pubs and restaurants – does 1 metre distancing work for you and is it fair?

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Businesses desperate to find solutions to operate

As the days towards the end of the more general lockdown pass en route to 4th July, more and more people are wondering how pubs and restaurants can “manage”. The latest utterings from leading operators is that a 1 metre distancing requirement would enable many outlets to open and restore literally thousands of jobs. Indeed they cite the fact that the WHO rules specify 1 metre.

At first glance this sounds very encouraging. As things stand there is no facility at all so getting some part of the industry moving seems like a very good idea, not just for the public but for the government and the furloughing scheme. The hospitality industry is proving quite expensive at the moment. Of course for those running restaurants, it is in fact all about money. Floor space in catering is the basic requirement – the more you have the more tables you can stuff in. Trying to create a 2 metre distance is going to be an enormous challenge.

But 1 metre can be done in some places. The question is would this enable enough tables to be ranged to have a sufficient turnover to justify operating the business? It is not necessarily about feathering nests – it is more a case of can sufficient turnover be achieved to pay the overheads. One thing that may be has been forgotten is that since the lockdown started, the national minimum wage has increased so businesses are now having to factor in higher wages than they did before, and with wages go pensions, national insurance contributions and so forth so the cost of labour has gone up.

Keeping tables apart is just one issue for the trade. If social distancing is to be maintained, then who is able to sit at these tables? At the moment only members of the same family who live together so for any system of opening to be of any real value, the distancing rules will have to be reviewed in any event. Are we really ready to see the rules wantonly chucked out to enable us to go and have dinner with friends or business lunches with people you may not know that well at all?

There seems no doubt that with all the talk of lifting the lockdown, there is only so much compromise being talked about as regards social distancing – it is the keystone to the entire government strategy to prevent the disease from spreading. Bringing distancing down to 1 metre may be possible – a number of experts have already said that in their opinion 1 metre is sufficient and that 2 metres is a belt, braces and string measure. On the other hand, restaurants and bars are in general areas where people are in close proximity for a long period, sometimes hours so the risk is elevated.

Establishments which have outside areas, beer gardens and the like are fortunate as they have an additional facility and being outdoors, it may be that the social distancing regulations could be less stringent. Beware though that if the rules become too complex, confusion will creep in and no one will really know what they are doing! So KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid.

But there is another side to it which has not been mentioned before and that is fairness. Is it fair to allow larger and by definition probably more wealthy businesses the opportunity to arrange their affairs to be able to open when smaller entities simply are too small to be able to do anything at all. In fact, the probability is, taking pubs, bars and restaurants all together in the round, the number of businesses capable of arranging their affairs to be able to open and maintain a sufficient distancing policy and still be viable is probably actually pretty low, perhaps only 20%, maybe even less. I do not believe anyone has tried to tot that one up yet.

Many will say that fairness is sadly irrelevant in the present circumstances and that opening what we can is the priority. If that particular line is adopted then there has to be clear ongoing assistance to those unable to avail themselves of the opportunity but it is a fact that as time goes by, the more businesses that find themselves unable to operate, the more will simply go out of business on a permanent basis.

Judging by current public opinion, the majority of the population will want to see social distancing continue, and probably on an enforced basis. The alternative really is to drop the rules altogether and take a punt.

I wonder where you stand on that one. Why not record your comments on our Facebook posting?

Adrian Leopard 27-05-20

Photo Alexander Kovacs

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