As winter unfreezes, lockdown is beginning to thaw. While the roadmap is far from being set in stone – the Government enjoy changing their mind far too much for that – the successful, speedy vaccine rollout is cause to hope that the Prime Minister’s proposed dates are likely to hold steady.
Heading back into restaurants, pubs and bars under restrictions is by this point wearily familiar. If this lockdown has felt particularly long, particularly grey and particularly cold, heading back out is hopefully going to feel conversely joyous – like childhood Christmas presents, all the better for having waited.
Fortunately, the restrictions this time feel less cumbersome and more manageable. Tiers have been scrapped, the curfew has been dropped and no-one ever needs mention Scotch eggs again, as there will be no requirement to eat while having a drink. It seems that the NHS track and trace app will hang around for a while longer.
Rather than a stopgap that could slide into another lockdown, this time it really does feel like a return to normalcy. Each stage is likely to seem painfully slow to arrive, with Boris Johnson sticking firmly to five weeks between each lift – four to allow the data to roll in, one to give the country seven days to scramble in preparation – but done this way, it should ensure there’s no backwards stumble into the fresh hell of another lockdown. Here’s when we’ll be back, in London at least. See you at the bar.
When will pubs, bars and restaurants reopen and what will it be like?
* Eating and drinking outdoors are now permitted, meaning restaurant terraces and beer gardens can open up again.
* Table service only for venues that serve alcohol. It is not required for those that don’t.
* Groups of up to six people from different households can meet, or two households.
* Customers will be permitted to head indoors to use the loo, baby change or for first aid, and if payment outdoors is not possible. A mask will need to be worn, and lingering inside is not permitted.
* Much of the West End will be pedestrianised as it was last summer, meaning more businesses will be able to open up.
* Takeaway alcohol will be allowed, so venues without outdoor space will be able to trade.
* Games like pool, darts and fruit machines will not be permitted outdoors.
* Eating and drinking indoors will be allowed again.
* The rule of six/two household rule will now apply indoors, while outdoors groups of up to 30 will be able to meet.
* Table service will be required, as above.
* Masks will need to be worn when moving around a venue (for obvious reasons they won’t be required at the table).
* Shisha pipes and any other shared smoking materials won’t be permitted.
* Hotels will be allowed to reopen.
* All restrictions relevant to hospitality will be lifted.
* Nightclubs will finally be permitted to reopen.
A few do’s and don’ts of going out
* Do make reservations. While many London restaurants are still accepting walk-ins, reservations are being strongly encouraged as businesses try to manage numbers. Social distancing measures, which look like they will be in place until June 21, mean places have fewer tables, so your chance of walking in off the street is reduced regardless. Now is actually an excellent time to nab a table at somewhere you’d never normally squeeze in, as many of the capital’s “no reservations” spots have begun taking bookings.
* Don’t be put off if a restaurant asks for a deposit. No-shows plague businesses in the best of times, and now – with thousands of staff already laid off and many places hanging on by just a thread – managers are simply trying to minimise losses.
* Do expect lots of signs, perspex screens and PPE. No business wants to risk another lockdown, so most places are likely to be erring on the side of caution for a while yet.
* Do remember many staff haven’t been working for a while and some will be working particularly hard to cover colleagues that have been let go. Be patient.
* Don’t expect to pay with cash. While some places will accept it, many others won’t do. Remember the contactless limit is now £100.