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Wed 13th May 2020 - Legal Briefing

Trading spaces by Michelle Hazlewood

As a sector, hospitality is incredibly creative and dynamic. Our businesses have a long-standing track record of evolving and innovating so as to keep attracting customers into their venues. When the time (finally) comes pubs and other licensed premises can reopen (hopefully in July according to the current government “roadmap”), operators will need to follow agreed protocols so they can reopen in the right way – with the paramount concern of safety for everyone at the heart of it.  

So now is a prudent time for operators to review the use and potential expansion of trading space to accommodate social distancing measures that will assist in making it financially viable to reopen and the consequential potential impact on the premises licence or other permissions. This could encompass adapting beer gardens, obtaining (or expanding) pavement cafe areas, refurbishing unused function/back rooms or borrowing space from other areas.

The obvious first area to look at is the use of outside space and beer gardens. In order to reopen in the first instance and accommodate customers, you should look at how you are set up to trade externally. This could include constructing gazebos and/or temporary outside shelters to provide protection for greater numbers of people, investing in outside heaters or temporary fencing. In terms of maintaining the required levels of social distancing, you will need to think about access to toilets and how the flow of customers internally might work in practice. A couple of portable toilets in the car park might not be the most attractive option but could help solve that particular quandary.

Then think about outside areas near your site – what about the strip of grass across the road or running alongside the pub that might be owned by a local resident? When the green light comes for reopening, could you borrow that to expand your trading space and provide the necessary distancing required? 

Here’s a checklist for operators to consider:
– Updating food registrations to cover off different types of operation. Do you currently cover off takeaways? Have you started selling bread or other provisions?
– Formal variation of the premise licence to bring in other activities, for example screening films outside, plus extra space that may include the car park.
– Pavement licences – for the use of areas owned by the council but you may need to consider local bylaws restricting outside drinking. There is also the possibility of needing a street trader’s licence if your sales point moves outside.
– The unused function room – may need to be licensed or could it operate under off sales?
– Pop-up bars – secure initial approval via temporary event notices before expending on a licence variation.
– Ensuring off sales are on your licence – the dispensation provided by the government is in respect of planning only.
– Late-night refreshment permission if takeaway food demand has increased into the later evening so you are able to trade after 11pm.

In cities or high streets where so many pubs have no outside space available to them, then it would be positive to see councils release public spaces to help support business. In Europe, authorities are looking favourably on this approach. For example, the Lithuanian capital Vilnius has been turned into a giant open-air cafe with authorities allowing hard-hit bars and restaurants to set up tables outside free-of-charge in order to respect social distancing rules as the country gradually eases lock-down restrictions. According to the mayor’s office, about 200 cafes, bars and restaurants have applied to set up outdoor seating in public places and the city has said more space could be made available if necessary.

Going forward, in this country this could be an opportunity for Business Improvement Districts to shine. A partnership approach between local councils and hospitality operators for the benefit of businesses and local residents. Clearly this won’t work in some areas, but for town and city centres that have pedestrianised streets, squares or other suitable public spaces, then it could prove pragmatic and worthwhile. Indeed, some towns have generous public areas already licensed that could be put immediately to good use for our sector.

It’s essential to the UK’s economic and social well-being that hospitality is helped to bounce back strongly and the support from both national and local government enables businesses to do so, in a safe, creative and sustainable manner.
Michelle Hazlewood is a partner at John Gaunt & Partners
John Gaunt & Partners is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

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