New guidelines for the operation of so-called “wet pubs” contain few if any new restrictions on their operation, compared with pubs serving food.
The draft guidelines, which have been seen by The Irish Times, stipulate that physical distancing can be relaxed to 1m in a controlled environment, but that pre-booking and time-limited slots will not be required if a physical distance of 2m can be maintained.
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”. Strict guidelines are in place for the preparation of drinks, including that good hand hygiene be employed “where fruit garnishes are required”. 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”.
The bar counter cannot be used for seating or service to customers.
Customers must leave a wet pub by 11.30pm, meaning late bars and nightclubs will probably remain closed even if a wider operation of pubs without food is permitted by the Government.
There are extensive rules included on cleaning and disinfection, as well as advice on limiting interactions within a pub and the use of electronic menus, phone apps and menu boards as an alternative to the use of drinks menus.
Outside smoking area capacity must be reviewed and altered if necessary, with the amount of seating reduced to ensure “appropriate physical distancing measures”, while customers “must remain seated and order from their seat”.
In order to facilitate contact tracing, the name and telephone number of one person from a group must be taken and kept for 28 days. Customers must be able to enter and exit through separate doors, where possible, with doors propped open if fire regulations allow. Online reservation options are encouraged, “as not only will this communicate new procedures and practices, but it will also limit the requirement for queueing”.
Prominent signage must explain physical distancing practices, and markers illustrating the distancing must be displayed “throughout the premises”. The guidelines advise certain items must be cleaned after each use, including tables, stools, chairs, trays, pens and other reusable items customers come into contact with. Management is responsible for minimising entry and exit points, and managing physical distancing, rather than just relying on signage.
Bars must be divided into different zones, which are allocated to different employees, with movement between these areas to be minimised.
The Government expects to reopen all pubs by the middle of the month, amid ongoing criticism from industry lobby groups over the impact of the forced closure of wet pubs on the trade.
Pub groups gave a guarded welcome to the draft guidelines. Pádraig Cribben, chief executive of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland, said there should be a level playing field between regulations governing wet pubs and those that serve food.
“We’re very clear on one thing: there has been enough Government-sponsored apartheid on pubs,” he said. He said the sector had been “led up the garden path” on reopening dates on three occasions, and emphasised that they should be allowed to open as soon as possible.
Donal O’Keeffe, chief executive of the Licensed Vintners Association, said the new guidelines still represented a “huge restriction” on normal ways of doing business. “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”.