Q&A: What are the new rules for pubs and restaurants?

Businesses must ‘make a record of the substantial meal or meals ordered’ by each customer

What are the new rules concerning restaurants and pubs?

This week another rule was added to the ever-lengthening list of regulations for pubs and restaurants during the Covid-19 pandemic. They must now keep records of the food they serve to customers for 28 days and make them available on request to gardaí.

Under Statutory Instrument 326 businesses must “make a record of the substantial meal or meals ordered… by each member of a party of persons and each sole person permitted, or otherwise granted, access to the premises…”

This follows on from regulations introduced in mid-August mandating a limit of six people to a table, the provision of hand sanitiser stations around the premises and the wearing of facemasks by customers when they are not sitting down.

What’s the logic behind the new rule?

With no end in sight to the pandemic, there is concern among health officials that people are becoming increasingly fatigued with the restrictions around socialising, particularly the mandatory €9 meal which must be ordered with alcohol. While gardaí say compliance remains high, in the last month it has detected 74 pubs in breach of the regulations.

Regular inspections of pubs around the country by gardaí are continuing but they are resource intensive. Officials believe mandating pubs to keep records of receipts will encourage compliance with the rules and make it easier for gardaí to catch offenders. Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said the measures are aimed at pubs “flouting” the existing rules.

How will the new rules affect me?

They probably won’t, unless you own a pub or restaurant. The rules are designed to enforce compliance on the business, not the customer.

“The Government doesn’t care if you had a cup of coffee or a desert, or whether you went for the banoffee or, as one publican asked me last night, if you went for the garlic sauce or the pepper sauce,” Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said.

“What it is about is basically a bit of common sense prevailing here, the reality is, as of today the law is you can only open if you’re serving food as well.”

Of course, the new rule might make your local pub more insistent you order that €9 toastie alongside your pint. On the upside, another part of the statutory instrument extends pub opening times to 11.30pm.

What does the hospitality industry say?

It is generally unhappy. The Licensed Vintners’ Association (LVA) said the measures would create an additional workload. However, Adrian Cummings, CEO of Restaurants Association of Ireland, was less aggrieved. He said the requirements seem “doable” but more information was needed, adding his main issue was the lack of advance consultation.

What has been the political reaction?

Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry hit out at what he described as “Stasi” guidelines. He was joined by Fianna Fáil junior Minister Anne Rabbitte, who called them “a step too far.”

Labour Leader Alan Kelly also didn’t hold back, calling the rules “completely and utterly bonkers”. The new law was just “too draconian”, he said.

Mr Kelly said the Government had “gone off reservation” and they are going to face public backlash. Several politicians, along with the LVA have asked the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) to urgently review the matter.

Other Government politicians, including Mr Donnelly, have argued most restaurants and pubs would collect this data anyway and that it would not pose much of an administrative burden.

What does the DPC say?

The DPC doesn’t appear overly concerned with the measures. Contact details for diners are already recorded under regulations introduced earlier in the summer. The only change now was the meals ordered by the dining party would also be recorded, said Deputy Commissioner Graham Doyle.

“The interference with fundamental rights in this case is not significant and the data collected and the purpose for its collection (ensuring compliance by pubs/restaurants with the regulation) mean it is unlikely to result in any significant risks to the rights of an individual,” he added.

“Where the interference with fundamental rights is not serious, the justification for the personal data processing does not need to be weighty. In this case, the stated aim of Government in procuring compliance with the regulations through inspections by An Garda Síochána in the context of the pandemic is sufficient justification for the level of interference that arises.”

Mr Doyle said it was not the job of the DPC to decide on Government policy, only to monitor compliance with data protection law. “And, in this case, the legal basis is sufficient.”

How will the regulations be enforced?

The new rules are defined as “penal provisions”, meaning restaurant and pub owners found in breach could face criminal sanction, including up to six months in prison and a maximum €2,500 fine. However, rank and file gardaí have yet to receive instructions on the manner in which the regulations should be enforced.

Already, at least one business has said it will not comply with the law. Hotel Doolin in Co Clare said on social media it would not be recording what its customers ate as “we have enough to be doing trying to keep our business open and keep everyone safe without following nonsensical laws”.

Anything else of note in the new regulations?

As expected the law limits the amount of people at an indoor “cultural or entertainment” event to 50 people and details criminal sanctions for organisers who flout this rule.

But it also contains the following provision: “A person shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that he or she does not attend an event in a relevant venue where the number of persons attending the relevant venue (for whatever reason) exceeds 50 persons.”

These means, for the first time since the start of the pandemic, there is a legal obligation on individuals not to attend events which host more than 50 people.

In other words, if you walk into a cinema or theatre and see every seat occupied, you have a legal obligation to walk out again.

However this section is not a penal provision, meaning it is not clear what sanctions, if any, a guest might face for attending such an event.