Reopening your hospitality business? – What you need to know - Kuits Solicitors Manchester
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Reopening your hospitality business? – What you need to know

Reopening your hospitality business? – What you need to know

24th June 2020 - Published by Kuits licensing team

Millions in the hospitality industry will have watched with anticipation on Tuesday (June 24) as the Prime Minister confirmed that the rumours were true, hospitality operators would be permitted to reopen on July 4, with guidance to follow.

It is notable that there will be a move to guidance rather than legislation, and therefore presumably hospitality businesses will simply be removed from the list of premises required to close under the Coronavirus Health Protection Regulations as of July 4. It seems, therefore, that operators will be able to open their doors from 00:01am on that day, should they wish to do so.

Indeed, the message from both Mr Johnson’s address to Parliament and from what we’re told will be the last daily briefing seemed to many to be a fairly final one. The industry, for the most part, is permitted to reopen and it should navigate that in the way it thinks best. As noted above, restrictions are to be downgraded from legislative requirement to guidance, and as such, it seems clear that decisions for both businesses and individuals are now to come down to their own risk assessments.

For many operators, this will be music to their ears. They are experts in assessing risk; in monitoring and managing customers; in customer safety and food safety. They do not want to be told in any prescriptive manner exactly how they must run their premises.

For others, there may be a nervousness. Perhaps they would rather know exactly what is required of them. Unfortunately for those in the latter category, specific requirements are not coming. What the guidance does is provides a menu of options and suggestions; ways in which you might make your premises Covid-secure, if appropriate.

There are few hard and fast restrictions that come out of these developments. So what do we know?

Firstly, only certain hospitality operators can reopen, with notable exceptions being nightclubs. The definitions of the types of premises that can reopen are not legal, so many may query what constitutes a ‘nightclub’. Our view would be that this is not necessarily a reference to the way a premises would have traded pre-Covid, but rather to the way it will trade now. As such, if a ‘nightclub’ wishes to effectively turn itself into a bar or pub by placing tables throughout the premises and serving drinks, they would in our view be permitted to open. Indeed, the guidance is wide in that it applies to ‘any food preparation or service setting where food and drink is sold for consumption at venues…’. The wording ‘food and drink’ cannot be prescriptive in that it requires both, given that pubs and bars are explicitly the targets of this guidance.

Secondly, whilst the message from the announcement was that table service is ‘required’ indoors, even this is not strict. The guidance is worded such that table service must be provided ‘where possible’, and where it is not customers should be discouraged from gathering at points of ordering/service.

Otherwise, the guidance provides detail of items that you should consider, but it is up to the operator to undertake a full risk assessment in order to demonstrate that consideration. Matters that you should consider in forming your risk assessment are summarised in this document (click to view or download).

As noted above, none of these items are requisites, so you should consider what works for your premises and if anything that is suggested is not appropriate, you should consider and document why.

We would encourage operators to see this as a positive development. If the guidance is to prescriptive, it provides too many opportunities for you to get it demonstrably wrong. As such, this allows you to work out what is right for your business, explain and justify this, and implement it. We would expect operators who are doing their best, and who have sensible justifications for the way they operate, to be given leeway by both customers and operators as they navigate the first steps of this reopening.

However, we would encourage operators to plan carefully. If something goes wrong, you will need to demonstrate that you have the systems in place such that it has gone wrong in spite of your best efforts, and not because of you.

Kuits is happy to assist you in putting together risk assessments if required.

Finally, and disappointingly, the announcements yesterday and subsequent releases are missing any big hitting changes to primary legislation. There had been suggestion that there may be sweeping relaxations in relation, for example, to permission for off sales or use of external areas. If any changes are proposed, they are yet to be announced or even hinted at officially. As such, operators will, for the moment, need to assume that their existing licences and planning permissions are what they have to work with. As such, if there are any changes that need making to those to allow for their new models, they must start taking advice on these now. We hope that authorities, in the absence of specific instruction from central government, will take a pragmatic point of view, but any proposals will need to be considered on a case by case basis.

The Kuits licensing team is happy to discuss your proposals and any necessary amendments with you in advance of your reopening.  You can contact partner Felicity Tulloch at felicitytulloch@kuits.com or 0161 838 7804, or associate Rebecca Ingram at rebeccaingram@kuits.com or 0161 838 7888.

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