New Covid-19 outdoor guidelines permit gatherings of 200, live music in hospitality settings

Overall capacity to depend on size of area, with no ‘intermingling between tables’ allowed

Live music and performances will be permitted in hospitality settings and multiple tables can be booked for outdoor events for up to 200 people under new guidelines published by Fáilte Ireland today.

However, there must be “robust protective measures”, with numbers attending up to the limit of 200 to be determined by the area an event is taking place, under new guidelines released on Friday morning.

The guidelines also state that “intermingling between tables is not permitted”.

“Overall capacity will depend on the size of the outdoor event area where customers will be seated,” the guidelines say. The updated guidelines also allow for live music and other performances outdoors in hospitality settings, subject to relevant public health guidance.

The performance area for live music must be two metres from customers. Customers are to be asked to remain at their tables apart from when using a food-counter service, using the toilet, paying, arriving or departing.

“Robust measures” are to be put in place to “ensure that customers are not permitted to move freely around the outdoor event area”. Access to areas where customers collect their own food must be “staggered”.

Contact tracing is required, according to the guidelines, along with ventilation, physical distancing, cleaning, face coverings, good hand and respiratory hygiene, and staying at home if one feels unwell.

BBQ, buffet and self service is allowed – but only where a queueing system can be put in place. Otherwise, a table service must be used.

The queueing system must be overseen by dedicated employees. All items for customer use at a buffet should be “individually wrapped or a single-serve item”.

“Pre-prepared covered portions are recommended,” while “once the customer has collected their food, they must make their own way to their assigned table.” Customers are still not permitted to use bar counters to order drinks or for seating, the guidelines say.

Similarly to indoor settings, seating layout and table plans will need to be reviewed to ensure recommended physical distancing and other protective measures can be strictly adhered to. Physical distancing of one metre is needed between people seated at tables, while the table size limits are the same as for indoor dining.

The publication of new guidelines, including new sections on outdoor events, follows advice from the Attorney General to the Government that up to 200 people can gather for certain events outside. This advice was issued in the wake of controversy over an event organised by former minister Katherine Zappone and attended by several political figures including Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

Understanding

Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, said his members’ understanding from the guidelines is that bookings can be taken now for Communions, Confirmations, parties and other events of up to 200 people in outdoor hospitality settings.

However, he expressed deep frustration with aspects of the rules – specifically the ban on intermingling between tables. He said this ban would prevent a bride and groom from visiting their guests’ tables.

“The key problem for us is tables of six and you cannot intermingle and it has to be policed at all times, which is a nightmare for us to operate – considering you could have 200 people on street drinking and no policing of that,” he said.

Mr Cummins is seeking an urgent meeting with officials, and he called for clarity on who had drafted the rules - whether it was Fáilte Ireland, the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), or the Department of Health.

Representatives of the hospitality industry had been shut out of the process, he said. “This is another example of the industry being left outside the door when key decisions are being made again.”

The chief executive officer of the Vintners Federation of Ireland, Padraig Cribben, welcomed the new guidelines. He told RTÉ’s News at One the guidelines brought “a new level of clarity” and that his members could now cater for parties.

Mr Cribben said he wished the guidelines had been drawn up with the stakeholders involved.

Matt McGranaghan of Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland described the revised guidelines as “a small and significant step forward” towards the full reopening of the sector.

Legal expert Dr Laura Cahillane, meanwhile, called for the law about Covid-19 guidelines to be made clearer as very few people actually knew exactly what the law was in relation to such restrictions.

Face coverings

Under the guidelines, customers will be asked to wear face coverings and masks when circulating around outdoor dining areas, serving areas and using indoor facilities. There should be segmented areas for smokers and non-smokers.

An outdoor space can be covered by a roof so long as not more than 50 per cent of the perimeter is covered by a wall, windows, gate or similar type of construction. Outdoor areas must not be wholly or substantially enclosed, the guidelines state, meaning in practice it cannot have sides that can be opened or shut or cover more than half the perimeter.

A marquee or gazebo with a roof and four sides, for example, would not be an outdoor space and would instead need 50 per cent of its wall area open to the external air. Much of the area of outdoor spaces must be cleaned twice daily, including entry and exit points, smoking areas, seating and benches, and toilets, while tables, seats, trays and reusable items have to be cleaned more frequently.