Fáilte Ireland has said it is seeking a proposed time limit of 90 minutes for patrons of pubs and restaurants to be increased to two hours.
Draft guidelines issued by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) have indicated that restaurants and pubs which serve food, may be able to reduce social distancing to one metre if they limit customers to just 90 minutes inside their premises. It is also understood the guidelines would limit or stop walk-ins.
Tara Kerry, Fáilte Ireland's hospitality development manager, said the agency expects to be in a position to publish guidelines within 24 hours for pubs and restaurants reopening on June 29th once details have been clarified with the HPSC.
Ms Kerry told RTÉ's News at One on Wednesday that Fáilte Ireland was going through the guidelines today with the HPSC. Among the clarifications it was seeking was whether the two metre physical distance restriction could be reduced to one metre and if the proposed time limit of 90 minutes could be extended to two hours.
“We’re advocating for the two hour minimum. We are having some very good discussions around these issues and we hope to have clarification on that this afternoon,” she said.
Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, said while it "wholeheartedly welcomes" a potential reduction in social distancing from two metres to one metre, restaurants did have concerns.
“We’re in a better position to viably reopen on Monday week. We do have concerns following media reports today with regard to the 90 minute limit in restaurants and the restrictions on walk-ins. We would like to see the medical advice around those until we make further comment,” Mr Cummins told The Irish Times.
Mr Cummins said restricting customers to 90 minutes would be “extremely hard to police” and he did not think it was “achievable”.
“The big question everyone is talking about is how is this going to be policed because they are only guidelines, it’s not law,” he said.
Mr Cummins said extending the limit from 90minutes to two hours would be “a huge thing for us” and called for the guidelines to be published as soon as possible.
Padraig Cribben, chief executive of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland, welcomed the draft guidelines but said "from a viability point of view, it's going to be very challenging".
Mr Cribben told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland it was important to point out the restrictions only applied to pubs that would serve food, and not the normal “wet pub” – but that a one-metre restriction was still considerably better than the alternative of two metres.
“It will still be very restrictive, even at one metre seating capacity will be reduced by 35 per cent. But it is better than two metres,” he said.
Donall O'Keeffe, chief executive of the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) said the "drip feed release" of the guidelines was "sowing confusion throughout the industry".
“Pubs who serve food are due to reopen on Monday week, but they still don’t have clarity as to what will be required of them,” he said.
“These businesses need time to get their premises ready, to ensure their pubs are fully compliant while offering a safe and comfortable environment for their customers and staff. To avoid any further uncertainty, the guidelines for the industry should be immediately published in full. We need to know what will be required of pubs on June 29th and what will be required of pubs on July 20th, it’s that simple.”
Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster said "the suggestion of a maximum length of stay of 90 minutes and mandatory pre-bookings are a total non-starter for the industry".
Calling for realistic guidelines on both sides of the Border, he said: "These requirements would be unviable for many restaurants and pubs right across Northern Ireland particularly those who are dependent on walk-ins.
“We need to encourage people to visit our hospitality establishments again, not make them completely unattractive to customers. It would become a very mechanical thing, almost like a car parking transaction where there is ‘no return within the hour’.”