Working lunch loophole ‘isn't enough' to save city centre restaurants

22 October 2020 by
Working lunch loophole ‘isn't enough' to save city centre restaurants

Restaurants and bars in high-tier areas are making the most of a loophole which allows people to have business lunches, but some operators warn it is not enough to sustain trade.

People living in Tier 2 and 3 areas are not allowed to see members of other households indoors, but can meet for lunch if it is for "work purposes".

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden told ITV's Peston yesterday that this was a "conscious choice" by the government to "prioritise people's jobs and livelihoods".

UKHospitality guidance says business meetings are exempt from restrictions at all tier levels.

Large restaurant groups including D&D London, Caprice Holdings, Corbin & King, Gaucho and M Restaurants are among those now accepting business bookings in London, which entered Tier 2 last week.

Victor Garvey, who owns SOLA restaurant in Soho, said: "If you look at the actual legislation as published, it's even clearer - this isn't a loophole, it's there in black and white that business gatherings count as exempt from the restrictions. So, provided guests can assure us that they're booking for legit business reasons, we'll continue to take those bookings unless and until the law changes."

Many central London restaurants rely on work lunches to boost trade during weekdays, but operators have warned the exemption is still not enough to sustain businesses in the face of falling city centre footfall.

Xavier Rousset, owner of the Black Book wine bar in Soho, said: "We welcome the news, but it still isn't enough to make any business viable in the coming weeks. The whole thing is still a slow death for the hospitality industry and as an owner, it is extremely distressing to see your business agonising without being able to do anything."

Corbin & King co-founder Jeremy King said that sales at his West End restaurants, which include the Wolseley and Brasserie Zedel, fell 50% this week after Tier 2 rules came into force. The group is now accepting bookings for work lunches, up to a limit of six people at a time.

In an email to customers on Tuesday, King wrote: "The problem with Tier 2 is that it is the worst of both worlds as we are left in ‘no man's land' with our clientele discouraged to come but no compensatory help from the government.

"What will really determine the survival of restaurants is establishing whether the government really cares about us and also admit their mistakes on all the peripheral idiocies that make restaurateuring nigh impossible: curfew, congestion charges, and the congestion inducing street barriers to name a few."

When contacted by The Caterer to clarify the rules around business lunches a Cabinet Office spokesperson pointed to guidance which states: "There are exemptions [to the tier rules] where people from different households can gather in indoor settings that are open, which includes for work purposes."

The changing restrictions have created confusion over how different rules should be enforced. The Metropolitan Police yesterday withdrew a letter suggesting pubs request photo ID to check if customers were from the same household, denying that it was official policy.

Image sourced from Shutterstock

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