Late last week, the government announced the imminent end of national restrictions in England and a return to the regional tier system that was first announced in October. Since then the tiers have been updated, beefed up, and bulked out, to further addle our thoroughly overwhelmed minds.
London has been placed in Tier 2, meaning restaurants - and some bars and pubs - will be reopening with yet more new regulations in place. We’ve tried our best to figure out what all the rules and restrictions mean and what you can expect when eating or drinking out from Wednesday, December 2.
What is this, the fourth time we’ve had new rules to figure out?
It’s the fifth. Not that we’re counting or anything.
Right. Okay then. Here we go again... So London’s in Tier 2 which means restaurants are reopening?
Yes. Restaurants are back baby!
That means I can go out with my friends again?
Yes, you can, but hold onto your masks people because this is 2020, so it’s not that simple.
Tell me more please.
Okay, so our old friend, ‘the rule of six’ is back and applies in outdoor public spaces and gardens only. That means that up to six people from up to six separate households can meet outside while respecting social distancing guidelines.
It’s December! How am I going to sit outside?
And what about inside?
Indoor mixing of separate households or support bubbles is not permitted.
So that means I can only eat inside with people I already live or bubble with?
Yes. That’s about the long and short of it. For now.
What do you mean ‘for now’?
The current regional system is expected to be in place until at least early February, however tiers are going to be revisited fortnightly from December 16th.
What does that mean?
It means that some regions might move up the tiers, and other regions might move down them.
And what joys do we have to look forward to if we - shivers - change tiers?
Simply put, there are fewer restrictions in Tier 1 (like the rule of six applying indoors as well as outdoors), and tighter restrictions in Tier 3 (like restaurants having to close again). You can read all about them here if you want to know more.
But will I be able to eat and drink out with my Christmas bubble?
Christmas bubbles are a bit out of our ballpark, but, according to the official guidelines, the answer is no.
What about the 10pm curfew, didn’t I hear that that’s gone?
Yes. But also no. The rule now states that last orders must be placed by 10pm, and that venues close by 11pm.
And I imagine I still have to wear a face covering when I go inside?
You imagine correctly. All the other safety guidelines remain in place, including face coverings, which must be worn by all hospitality staff and diners, except when sitting at their tables.
So does that mean I need to wear a face covering when I’m in a pub garden, or on a patio or restaurant terrace?
The official guidance describes the law applying to all hospitality ‘settings’ and doesn’t consistently differentiate between outdoor and indoor venues. Best perhaps to assume the rule applies both indoors and outdoors when at a ‘hospitality venue’.
And every time I get up I need to cover up?
Yes. Although you should only really need to get up to go to the loo or to leave, because table service is mandatory at all licensed venues.
I don’t understand…
Basically, if a restaurant serves alcohol, they must provide table service. Other venues like cafés and sandwich shops can sell from a counter and let you seat yourself.
Okay. I think I understand now. But what about pubs?
Glad you asked. Pubs and bars must provide table service and you can only order an alcoholic drink if it’s accompanied by what the government are calling ‘a substantial meal’.
So unless pubs or bars are operating as restaurants, they basically can’t reopen?
And what constitutes a ‘substantial meal’?
This has become a matter of fierce debate. Government ministers have also got involved, speculating about scotch eggs and side orders of chips and salad whilst apparently forgetting that they’re on live radio. Good times.
So what you’re saying is, you don’t really know?
No. And nor apparently does the government.
Is there anything else I need to know?
Not right now, but feel free to shoot any and all questions our way at firstname.lastname@example.org. And just remember to stay safe and to be patient, understanding, and kind out there. These are weird times, and everyone’s trying to adjust safely to the changes. Also, it’s Christmas.
Local restriction tiers: what you need to know - Department of Health and Social Care, Updated 30 November, 2020
Covid-19 Winter Plan - Cabinet Office, Updated 1 December, 2020
Face coverings: when to wear one, exemptions, and how to make your own - Cabinet Office & Department of Health & Social Care, Updated 26 November, 2020
Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) - Restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services - Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Updated 1 December, 2020
Making a Christmas bubble with friends and family - Cabinet Office, Updated 1 December, 2020