Working lunches in the pub could be exempt from lockdown restrictions

Hannah Uttley
·3-min read
Meeting people inside pubs and restaurants in tier 2 and tier 3 areas is not allowed - PA
Meeting people inside pubs and restaurants in tier 2 and tier 3 areas is not allowed - PA
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..

Working lunches could be exempt from coronavirus lockdown restrictions after an apparent "loophole" emerged.

Meeting people inside pubs and restaurants in Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas such as London, York and Manchester is not allowed as part of efforts to try and contain the spread of Covid-19.

But on Monday night, Number 10 and local authorities suggested such meetings were permitted so long as they are for "work purposes".

Government guidance stipulates that up to 30 people from different households may meet indoors for work purposes as long as the place in which they are meeting is set up to follow Covid guidelines.

Westminster Council has pointed at least one business owner who asked about working lunches towards the exemption on the ban on indoor meetings if deemed necessary for work.

A Number 10 spokesman said that while current guidance advises people to limit their social contact and work from home as much as possible, "people are permitted to meet indoors for work purposes in 'high' or 'very high' areas".  

Three-tier Covid lockdown map
Three-tier Covid lockdown map

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said office workers who can work from home should continue to do so, and that employers are encouraged to "minimise face-to-face meetings and use video conferencing software wherever possible".

The spokesman added that under Tier 2 restrictions, which apply in areas where the risk of Covid is deemed high, individuals should not be attending restaurants or cafes with those outside their household.

In Tier 3 areas, where the risk is deemed very high, pubs other than those which serve "substantial meals" are closed and residents are banned from eating in those premises or at restaurants with people from outside their household. 

Restaurants are now calling for greater clarity over the rules because the loophole could provide a major boost for venues reliant on lunchtime trade from office workers.

Will Beckett, the co-founder of steak restaurant chain Hawksmoor, said: "It's entirely unclear whether it's allowed. Definitively, it would have a positive impact on the economy if it was deemed to be allowable, but it seems to be a recipe for a loophole."

Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of industry trade body UKHospitality, said: "It is unclear – it's a real grey area. The Government has given an exemption for business meetings up to 30 or meetings or gatherings that are deemed necessary for work purposes, but it's provided no guidance on where those meetings can take place.

"We're asking for urgent clarification because in central London, if the working lunch is gone, there's no trade."

Businesses in London and other major city centres have been among the worst hit by the pandemic, with an increase in people working from home and a dearth of tourists causing sales to plunge. Many restaurants in the capital are heavily reliant on sales from business meetings, which are responsible for the majority of the lunchtime trade. 

Ranald MacDonald, managing director of Boisdale Group, which operates a string of restaurants in central London, warned that he will have to lay off staff and go from making a loss while trading to "haemorrhaging money" if he is prevented from accepting business bookings.

He said: "Most workplaces are unlikely to be as health and safety conscious as restaurants, certainly no more so. London is the business capital of Europe, and business happens over lunch."