Beyond the Pandemic: Reopening Restaurants and Pubs

Starting the lockdown was sudden, dramatic, and relatively simple - close everything non-essential and stay indoors. Soon we will face a more delicate task; relaxing restrictions while minimising the spread of the virus. This will involve continued physical distancing, rigorous cleaning and operating under the uncertainty of having to bring back restrictions if the infection rate picks up.

This article focuses on restaurants and pubs, what their opening could look like, and what we and government can do to help.

If the UK government were to implement WHO distancing guidelines this would result in a 60% reduction in seated capacity for pubs and restaurants (footnote 1). Given the narrow margins for most establishments, operating at reduced capacity would not be financially possible. The lockdown is not meaningfully ended without opening the UK’s pubs and restaurants; to do so we need to create more seating capacity.


1. Relax table and chair licensing
Applying for a table and chairs license costs £480 and takes 2–3 months to complete (footnote 2). This process could be temporarily streamlined to increase capacity, allowing a venue to mark the required 1.8m area of clear pavement, take a photo and send it to the council for a free and instant license on the remaining space. Barrier, lighting and operating hour requirements for outdoor seating could also be relaxed.

2. Use the roadway
Wherever feasible and useful, parking bays and road lanes could be closed to traffic, allowing pedestrians to use the roadway and the pavement dedicated to outdoor seating. In areas with a high-venue density the entire road could be closed during venue opening hours. The logical way to operate these spaces would be as a food court, with tables shared between venues and disposable plates and cutlery much like previous street food festivals.

3. Provide open period certainty
It is likely that restrictions will be eased and intensified periodically until a vaccine is produced, but venues will have difficulty reopening without a guaranteed open period. The government could offer this guarantee by using the furlough scheme to cover staff costs should closure be required. E.g “Government is now allowing venues to open for a three-month period. Should closure be needed before then a furlough scheme for venue staff will operate for the remainder of the open time.”

4. Facilitate working together
Coming out of lockdown provides an unprecedented opportunity for collaboration between previously competitive venues. They could be encouraged to share seating space and may even find it useful to share staff and suppliers. They will need a facilitator to help make and maintain these connections, which could be the Local Authority, Town Centre Manager or a Business Improvement District.

5. Set best practice from the start
A host of new business practices will be needed to rebuild consumer confidence. For example, printed menus pose a transmission risk, restaurants will have to signpost or display them online. Or there may be challenges in maintaining social distance while queuing at a bar — a virtual ticketing system will need to be deployed. Best practice for these needs to be prepared and shared in time for venues to prepare to open.

6. Offset capacity loss with a negative business rates grant
Existing business rates data identifies the seating capacity for all UK restaurants (footnote 3). This information can be used to create a site-specific grant scheme to reduce the impact of the loss of seating for venues that cannot be allocated outside space, on the condition that they reopen.


1. This guide from before the pandemic suggests around 1m2 per customer in a restaurant. The Covid-19 WHO guidance recommends 2.5m2.

2. Camden Council example. Website and associated guidance showing required 1.8m of clear pavement.

3. Marked as ‘Retail zone’ in the detail section of a business rates valuation. Example, expand ‘how the valuation was calculated’.



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Camden Town Unlimited and Euston Town.

Camden Town Unlimited (CTU) and Euston Town are the elected organisations behind the Camden Green Loop neighbourhood strategy and climate action community.