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On 22 February, the Prime Minister announced a multi-stage plan to reopen businesses and venues, including restaurants, coffee shops, bars and takeaways. The directive from the Government is that outdoor areas at hospitality venues can reopen, including for takeaway alcohol, from 12 April, with further restrictions being lifted in a staged process to follow. So, what does this mean for your business and how can you ensure that you keep yourself, your staff and your customers safe under the new guidelines?

Easing of social distancing rules and guidance for visiting a restaurant as a customer

As of 12 April, customers are permitted to visit hospitality venues with outdoor areas to eat and drink. For any premises serving alcohol, all customers must order via table service. A maximum of up to six people or two households may sit together to eat and drink outside. From 17 May this number may increase to up to 30 outdoors, while groups of six individuals or two households will be able to eat and drink indoors at hospitality venues. As outdoors, table service will be required. Full easing of restrictions will happen no earlier than 21 June. Business owners are advised to keep abreast of the latest Government guidelines to ensure that they are compliant.

Keeping visitors and customers safe

The Government’s comprehensive document entitled “Keeping workers and customers safe during COVID-19 in restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services” was updated on 15 March in light of the 22 February announcements. This helpful document contains guidelines, for keeping customers and visitors safe by minimising the risk of transmission of COVID-19. It is important that you follow these, both to comply with the Government directives and to ensure that you are not taking any unnecessary risks that could result in an accident or a claim being brought against you.

As a restaurant, bar, or café owner, you should:

  • Carry out a risk assessment
  • Keep a temporary record of your customers and visitors for 21 days
  • Lower capacity
  • Stagger entry times and manage queues
  • Use clear signage and guidance
  • Establish clear rules for customer toilets
  • Communicate with your customers

Your risk assessment must include the specific risks related to coronavirus

As a restaurant, bar or café owner, you are obliged to look after your employees and customers to reduce risks to the lowest practicable level. It is essential that your risk assessment addresses the unique risks of COVID-19 to include current measures such as social distancing rules and extra cleaning and hygiene measures. It is advised that you consult with and share the results of your risk assessment with your staff and publish the results.

Keep a temporary record of customers and visitors

Keeping a record of your customers will assist the NHS Test and Trace system to help contain any clusters or outbreaks. If you do not already have a system in place that takes records of visitors and customers, you will need to devise a system that will work for you and is manageable.

Reduce indoor capacity, stagger entry times and manage queues

You can lower the capacity of your restaurant or bar by calculating the maximum number of customers that can reasonably follow social distancing measures, considering the pinch points and removing tables where appropriate to increase the distance between them. Entry times should also be staggered, and this can be addressed by having table reservations at booked times.

Increase your capacity with outdoor seating

Many bar and restaurant owners are increasing capacity by putting tables and chairs outside in order to benefit from the initial easing of restrictions on 12 April. If you are placing them entirely on private land no permit is required but you will be required to apply for a permit if you are placing them all or in part on a public highway.

Many councils have simplified the application process for permits and/or removed charges for the current period in response to COVID-19. You should apply for the licence directly from your local council, who will be able to clarify current timescales and costs (if any). They will also inform you of any restrictions such as how big the furniture can be or where you can place it on the pavement, and other conditions such as marking the border of the seating area or leaving a certain width of pavement free for pedestrian traffic.

Provide clear signage on social distancing and hygiene

Ensure that you have clear guidance for your customers in the form of signage and visual aids and where possible contact customers beforehand by phone, email or via your website. You will also need signs and stickers for queue control; once indoor eating and drinking is permitted existing outdoor service areas should still be used for queueing if possible. These measures will ensure that your pub or restaurant doesn’t become congested or overcrowded.

Employ stringent cleaning and hygiene measures for the opening of customer toilets

You will need the toilet facilities to be open at your restaurant, bar or café and you must adopt clear guidelines to ensure and promote good hygiene, social distancing and cleanliness:

  • Display signs/posters to show good handwashing techniques, the need for more frequent handwashing and the requirement to sneeze or cough into a tissue
  • Use social distancing markers where toilet queues are formed
  • Establish a one in and one out system
  • Make hand sanitiser units available on entry to the toilets if possible
  • Ensure there are sufficient supplies of running water, liquid soap and drying options including paper towels and/or hand driers
  • Increase the frequency of toilet cleaning
  • Use disposable cloths or paper roll for cleaning
  • Keep toilets well ventilated
  • Display the cleaning schedule
  • Provide extra facilities for waste collection

Communication with your customers

It is essential that you provide as much information as possible to your customers before arrival at your bar or restaurant. This can be in the form of onsite signage and online booking forms. Provide posters showing how customers should behave to ensure their safety. You will need to consider how you communicate with the visually and hearing impaired. Customers should also be aware that the police and local authorities have powers to enforce the rules and regulations that have been put in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

We have a blog post that looks at seven ways to let your customers know you are open again, click here to view.

Managing the service of food and drink

Takeaway and delivery services

For the provision of food and drinks that are intended for takeaway or delivery, the following measures will continue to be advised to minimise the potential spread of coronavirus:

  • Use online ordering where possible to reduce queues and promote staggered pick-up times
  • Have zones where delivery drivers can collect packaged food items in order to minimise their contact with kitchen employees
  • Set out clear markings for people who are queuing to collect takeaways
  • Ask customers to wait outside in their cars where possible
  • Ensure waiting areas do not obstruct public spaces

Serving food and drinks at pubs, restaurants and cafes

Once indoor and outdoor seating at your establishment is permitted, the following steps are required:

  • Encourage the use of contactless payments
  • Keep staff contact with customers to a minimum
  • Use indoor table service where possible with one staff member assigned to a table
  • Use table service, obeying socially distanced regulations
  • Enforce the wearing of suitable face covering by staff and customers, unless exempt
  • Minimise contact between kitchen workers and front of house employees
  • Increase outdoor service areas where possible

Kitchens and food preparation areas

All Government guidance on managing food preparation and food service areas should be followed.

  • Allow kitchen access to as few people as possible
  • Keep interaction between staff to minimum, including during break times
  • Implement team shifts and rotas
  • Ensure the use of suitable face coverings at all times, unless exempt
  • Space working areas to maintain social distancing
  • In large kitchens, use cleanable panels to separate working areas
  • Provide floor markings and use one-way systems
  • Minimise access to fridges, freezers, food storage pantries and cupboards
  • Keep contact at handover points to a minimum

View the full reopening checklist for food businesses.

Cleaning your restaurant or café

High standards of cleanliness are imperative and you will need to employ upgraded and more frequent cleaning before and after opening. You will have to establish cleaning procedures and ensure sufficient hand sanitiser facilities are in place before you reopen.

Before reopening

  • Check if ventilation systems need to be serviced or adjusted
  • Check air conditioning systems

You can seek advice from heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) engineers or advisers.

More information can be found on:

After reopening

  • Wedge doors open where appropriate to reduce touch points (This does not apply to fire doors)
  • Ensure frequent cleaning of objects and surfaces that are touched regularly
  • Provide adequate disposal arrangements for cleaning products
  • Clean surfaces and objects between each customer use (tables, card machines, trays etc.)
  • Clean work areas regularly
  • Open windows and doors to maintain good ventilation

More information can be found on the website.

Managing the workforce

Unless you have been operating a takeaway service, many of your employees will have been away from the workplace for several months, or even more if they have been shielding or on furlough. Employees who have been shielding or who are returning from furlough may have been away from the workplace for three months or more. It is important that they feel they are coming back to a safe environment. You will need to implement training on the safety measures that you have put into place not only for them but for your customers and visitors too. The only way to keep your customers safe is to ensure your employees are safe and that they understand they cannot work if they develop symptoms. You will need to know the steps you have to take if an employee becomes unwell with possible coronavirus symptoms. If you have employees who cannot work, please read our guide.

Back of house areas and staff breaks

Social distancing must be maintained amongst staff members.

  • Stagger break times
  • Use safe outside areas if possible
  • Install screens to protect staff in front of house areas
  • Implement social distancing markers for common areas such as toilets and changing areas
  • Provide masks for all staff and appropriate

Workforce management

Keeping your team safe will include thinking about how they will get to work.

  • Avoid the use of public transport wherever possible by encouraging staff to walk, cycle or drive
  • If staff do need to use public transport, remind them that it is mandatory to wear their face covering whilst in transit
  • Minimise the necessity for people to travel together if they are not from the same household or support bubble
  • Clean vehicles between shifts and handovers
  • If an employee is required to stay away from home, keep details of their stay on a central log
  • Ensure all workers maintain good hygiene by using hand sanitiser and/or washing their hands frequently

More information on keeping your customers, visitors and staff safe when you reopen for business can be found on the following sites:

What can The Retail Mutual do for your business?

The Retail Mutual understands that this has been a difficult time for restaurant, bar and cafe owners and we hope that the staged reopening will bring some much-needed relief.

We have created a dedicated resource hub to help independent business owners affected by coronavirus. This includes useful Government information and links, and a range of informative articles to help you navigate your way through the pandemic.

If you have introduced a new take-away or delivery service, installed new outdoor seating or have made adjustments to the interior of your premises, you may need to review the terms of your cover to make sure your business is protected. At The Retail Mutual you can get a free quote or buy your cover online 24-hours a day or call our UK-based Member Services Team on 0333 2121 280.


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