Hospitality guidelines: What restrictions can we expect?

No antigen testing or masks on dancefloors while tables of 10 allowed in restaurants

The reopening of nightclubs will not involve antigen testing, and will allow people to dance and drink without wearing masks. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The reopening of nightclubs will not involve antigen testing, and will allow people to dance and drink without wearing masks. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

With only a day to go before the reopening of nightclubs and live music venues - and further relaxations in restrictions for pubs and restaurants - there is a frantic last-minute rush by Government and the sector to agree on guidelines that will govern how they all operate.

On Wednesday, Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin was chipper about a resolution: “My message to those who are engaged - to promoters, to venues and to musicians - is to bear with us for another 24 hours. I am confident we will have a solution.”

Officials from her Department, the Department of Enterprise and the Department of Health were involved in intense discussions with the entire hospitality sector yesterday, with some parts of it happier than others.

A further meeting is expected to occur on Thursday evening at which guidelines or proposals will be presented by the Government. However, while all sides reported progress during frank and open discussions yesterday, there are still a number of outstanding issues that need to be resolved tonight.

As to a successful outcome, it depends on who you are speaking to, with pubs and nightclubs in particular of the opinion there are still significant gaps.

So what has been resolved?

Notwithstanding the recent spike in case numbers, the reopening of nightclubs will not involve antigen testing, and will allow people to dance and drink without wearing masks.

In addition, the issue around larger groups arriving into restaurants and pubs has been resolved. If, for example, 60 people arrive in a pub or restaurant, they can be accommodated as long as they sit in groups of ten at tables.

What remains outstanding?

One of the major issues revolves around bar service. At the moment, it is table service only in pubs and restaurants. However, despite some reports to the contrary, that is also the rule for nightclubs.

“Everyone thinks nightclub bars will be allowed, they are not,” says Donal O’Keeffe, chief executive of the Licensed Vintners Association, which represents the trade in Dublin.

“We said that no way a nightclub can operate unless you go to the bar. They generally don’t operate by table service. They generally don’t have much furniture. They are designed to encourage circulation, mingling and dancing.”

For Mr O’Keeffe, and for Pádraig Cribben of the Vintners Federation of Ireland, which represents pubs and nightclubs outside the capital, restoring bar service is crucial. In particular, if concessions are given to nightclubs for bar service, they need to be applied to pubs and restaurants as well.

“I think the big issue from our point of view is that whatever rules apply to a bar in a nightclub have to apply to a bar counter in an ordinary pub,” said Mr Cribben.

There have been various suggestions as to how bar service could resume. One is a socially distanced queue at the counter, another an ‘order and collect’ scenario.

But O’Keeffe asks if a lot of people at the bar ordering drinks are necessarily any more dangerous than people close together on a dance floor.

“How do you square that circle with 200 people on the dance floor at a wedding or a late bar.

“If they are all vaccinated and allowed to dance together, why would they not be allowed to go to the bar? That’s our position clearly. The Government position so far is that it’s table service only,” he says.

For Mr Cribben, many rural pubs still have not enticed back the sole local drinker who might pop in for a few drinks, and sit at the counter, and chat to other locals at the bar.

“They are going in on spec and don’t know exactly who they will meet but will know they will meet somebody local at the bar counter.

“The bar counter is the major issue. Queueing does not solve the problem. We accept, though, that social distancing is at play and should apply at the bar counter as well.”

Another issue that has yet to be resolved is how capacity is defined, and how many people will be allowed into pubs, restaurants and nightclubs.

What about live music versus DJs?

Another major area of confusion and contradiction is live music. While people will be allowed to mingle and dance in nightclubs, at live music venues people will have to remain at their seats, although they will be allowed to stand up. For publicans, that is a major anomaly.

“We need equality of treatment between all sides of the licensed business. There is a ridiculous anomaly at the moment where live music is supposed to be seated,” says Mr O’Keeffe.

Mr Cribben gives another example of a contradiction that will arise if the situation remains unaltered.

“Somebody asked me yesterday: ‘How come it is safe with 200 people dancing and sweating in a nightclub when I can’t have eight people in the corner throwing darts?’

“How do I answer the question?”

He also gave as an example a situation where people will not be allowed to dance or waltz in a pub if there is traditional music, or musicians playing.

“There are all those contradictions. If there had been a level of engagement with people who understand the nuances they would not have got themselves in the pickle. There was no engagement as usual.”

Both agreed that enforcement needs to be done at a high level with sanctions for establishments who don’t check digital certificates or take mobile numbers.

“The whip has to be cracked on this issue,” agrees Mr O’Keeffe.

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