Could pubs and restaurants close again? The latest rules and what happens if Covid-19 cases keep rising

Two months after pubs and restaurants were allowed to reopen their doors, albeit with considerable restrictions, the coronavirus rules are set to tighten. At Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s press conference on Wednesday afternoon, it was announced that most social gatherings of more than six people are to be banned in England from Monday. 

What are the new rules for pubs and restaurants?

As part of what Johnson dubbed “the rule of six”, pubs and restaurants will only be able to take bookings of up to six people in line with the new rules on social gatherings in place from Monday September 14. The six can be from multiple households. Hospitality venues can have more than six people inside in total, but customers on individual tables must not exceed that number.

The rules differ from previous guidelines in that police have powers to enforce them, and businesses will be expected to as well. Individuals who fail to comply can be handed a £100 fine, doubling with each offence, to a maximum of £3,200. Operators will also be required to collect details for track and trace; previously, it was merely guidance. Business that fail to ensure their premises adhere to the rules face fines. 

“It raises concerns,” says James Lyon-Shaw, who runs The Drumming Snipe and Greene Oak, in Surrey and Berkshire. “But when you actually digest it, how it affects us specifically, it won’t have a massive impact. From the start we chose not to take tables over six, and we wouldn’t take tables of more than two households.” 

Lyon-Shaw admits it can be tough to manage, but says it has worked well and the vast majority of guests have been compliant and understanding. He admits it’s difficult to establish who is in a household, and there’s a common misconception that a family counts as a household, even if they don’t live together. 

Stuart Young runs two pubs in Northumberland, The Blackbird and The Northumberland Arms, and also says he has enforced the guidance. “We get dozens of requests a week for large tables, we’re constantly saying no, and offending people by doing so,” says Young, who was hospitalised with Covid-19. He hopes the change will simplify things, and give pub “a bit more teeth” against customers who wish to flout the rules. 

Could pubs and restaurants close again?

It is possible, though nothing has been announced yet. Local lockdowns and curfews have been enforced throughout the summer, and the most recent, in Bolton, has seen a return to takeaway and delivery only for pubs and restaurants. 

In Caerphilly, which is run by the devolved Welsh Parliament, hospitality businesses have been allowed to remain open, though operators should check if customers are from the same household.