IIt is in stories about the hospitality industry that they come up with a selection of ready-made metaphors. And so it is that the recently introduced level rules for the hospitality sector can in various ways be described as a collapsed soufflé, a shared sauce or, perhaps most appropriately, a complete dog dinner.
Last weekend, in part to alleviate its own rebellious MPs, the government released the evidence used to justify these restrictions: the closure of all level three pubs and restaurants and the rule that level two venues could only serve alcohol along with a “significant” meal ”, which forces all pubs without food supply to close. It was a thin document that referred to the obvious fact that pubs and restaurants without social distancing are cramped places where virus transmission is likely. It pointed to super-spreading events in South Korean and Japanese bars and clubs. However, it did not contain anything about transmission rates in premises that used strict infection control measures of the kind introduced in the UK since July.
It certainly did not mention one study by an economist at Warwick University, which suggested a link between rising levels of infection and the government’s “eat out to help” program throughout August. Again, it’s a strange job. It only claims a correlation – not a causal link – between rainy days when fewer people may have been expected to eat out and lower infection levels. This is also contradicted by a study by UKHospitality, the industry’s trade body, which reported a small number of infections among restaurant staff and customers.
Wrong, even though the government certificate may have been, it gave the industry something concrete to argue for. Social media was crowded with chefs and restaurateurs who insisted that their companies were Covid-safe. But the forensic arguments are quickly pushed to the margins when, at the urging of journalists looking for some relief, the exchanges degenerate into a jolly tale of what actually constituted a significant meal. Minister Michael Gove proposed a Scottish egg. Undoubtedly, he thought it was a brilliant choice and established his “man of the people”. Or maybe not. The invention of the Scotch Beard is claimed by the exclusive Fortnum & Mason store as a Georgian grab-and-go food for aristocrats traveling from London along the Great West Road to their country estates. The perfect choice for a government led by an old Etonian.
“It was annoying,” says chef Tom Kerridge, who owns a number of pubs and has recently shown a BBC documentary series on the challenges facing the sector during the pandemic. “You made Michael Gove laugh and joke about it, which showed a complete lack of respect for an industry that employs three million people. It’s not a laughing matter. Kerridge describes the government’s late offer of £ 1,000 for each of the pubs that cannot open at all as “embarrassing and condescending”.
The new rules have also shed light on how class-driven our attitude to the business of eating and drinking outside the home continues to be. In fact, they said that if you were bourgeois enough to eat something, you could be as urinated as you liked. But if you were an oik who just wanted to go to the pub for a pint, you could forget about it. As Kerridge puts it: “The people who create these rules live in nice houses with large gardens. Wet-led pubs [with no food offering] is the only space that many people have to get out of crowded housing. ”
Excitingly, early last week, the phrase “significant meal” was silently dropped from the guide, after it was revealed that it was defined by legal precedent. According to Law Gazette, a judge found in a 1965 case that the accompanying sandwiches were large enough for two men to continue drinking alcohol in a hotel during an “extension of supper”. The term has thus been replaced by “a table food”, which means a “meal that a person eats at a table”. But no, apparently if that table is in a pub and you only have a pint. But in a theater where the nice people you can trust go perfectly well.
The hospitality industry welcomed the introduction of an extra hour to the curfew to eat after the last service at 10pm, but otherwise the atmosphere was bitter. “The rules feel arbitrary and unfair,” a leading restaurateur told me, “especially when so many companies are struggling to survive.” The restrictions also require that people only eat with members of their own household. “If you are struggling to survive and think the rules are unfair, will you follow them or will you squint at them and conclude that it is not your job to police it?”
That’s a fair question. Policing of Covid-19 rules must be done with consent. And yet, these rules that cover the hotel industry have been so poorly written that such consent has been tested. We have been treated to the bizarre spectacle of cops wandering around pubs inspecting what is served and reaching an assessment of whether a piece of pizza, a pie or, yes, a shot beard, counts as dinner or not, as if they ‘are your mother . It’s confusing for diners, it’s a waste of police time and above all it’s grossly unfair to a hospitality sector that has rolled with every blow that this pandemic has thrown at it.