Q&A: How will ‘wet’ pubs operate from September 21st

Some pubs could be closed on regional basis if Covid-19 cases spike

Given the ban on bar counter seating, some small pubs may not be able to guarantee even one metre physical distancing between customers. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Given the ban on bar counter seating, some small pubs may not be able to guarantee even one metre physical distancing between customers. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


On Tuesday, Cabinet gave the green light for all so-called “wet pubs” (pubs which do not serve food) to reopen from September 21st, seven months after they first shut due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

What rules will the reopened pubs operate under?
They will operate under guidelines drawn up by Fáilte Ireland which designate pubs as “controlled environments” and therefore subject to strict restrictions. Most of the requirements already apply to restaurants and food-serving pubs which were permitted to open in June. However there are some new restrictions, particularly in the area of social distancing.

Will there be time limits for drinkers?
There will be two different standards in operation. In pubs which can only maintain one metre distancing between tables, customers will be allowed stay for a maximum of 105 minutes with 15-minute gaps in between each sitting to allow for cleaning. These pubs must also put in various other additional mitigation measures.

There is no time limit for pubs which can provide two metre physical distancing between tables. Closing times for all pubs will be set at 11.30pm, seven days a week. Drinking up time is a thing of the past; the guidelines state “all customers leave the property by 11.30pm.”

How many people will be able to gather?
These are similar to the guidelines for having people in your house. No more than six people can be seated at a table and those people can be from no more than three households. This applies to customers who book ahead and to walk-ins. If there is a queue for a table, only one member of the party should stand in the queue.

Pubs should also allow for one-metre physical distancing between members of different households sitting at the same table. There is no requirement for distancing between members of the same household.

What does it mean for pubs that serve food?
Pubs which serve food will operate under the new regulations from September 21st. In effect little will change for them, except that they no longer have to serve a €9 meal to customers wishing to have a drink. They will also no longer have to retain customer receipts for 28 days and make them available to gardaí during that period, a requirement which caused significant consternation when it was announced last week.

What else do the guidelines say?
The guidelines contain prescriptive advice on certain items, including that straws should be individually wrapped, and the document warns that “embellishment or decoration of glasses [such as cocktail umbrellas] should be minimised”. Garnishes must be refrigerated and covered, and served using a tongs or a scoop that “must have its own receptacle”. Fresh glasses are to be used for each drink, which staff “must handle ... by the stem or base”.

Crucially, the bar counter cannot be used to seat customers and all orders must be taken at the table by staff.

Will all pubs open on the same date?
That remains to be seen. Given the ban on bar counter seating, some small pubs may not be able to guarantee even one metre physical distancing between customers. Many pubs will also have to invest in training and protective equipment for staff, a significant outlay for businesses which have not operated since March.

The new guidelines will represent a “huge restriction” on normal ways of doing business, said Donal O’Keeffe, chief executive of the Licensed Vintners Association. “Not being able to use the bar is a very significant restriction for wet pubs and having table service only changes the dynamic.”

He raised concerns about the costs of compliance against a backdrop of greatly reduced turnover in pubs that reopen, and said he felt further financial supports for the sector would be “inevitable.”

Could some pubs be closed on regional basis if Covid-19 cases spike?
Yes. With concerning spikes in Covid-19 cases in Dublin and Limerick, the prospect of further regional lockdowns is a strong possibility. These would likely be very similar to the lockdowns imposed on Kildare, Laois and Offaly where all premises serving food and drink were closed to the public and could offer takeaway only.

“There is a particular concern highlighted by NPHET, in relation to Dublin and Limerick at the moment where we see a significant spike in cases,” Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said. He warned “public health advice and the epidemiology of the virus at any time” will always supersede the decision to reopen pubs.