Pints and peanuts do not make a pub a restaurant – Dr Tony Holohan

A few “fellas drinking pints and eating a packet of peanuts” will not constitute a pub operating as a restaurant, the chief medical officer has warned.

Dr Tony Holohan urged the trade to be “sensible” after it was confirmed that pubs could reopen ahead of schedule on June 29 if they operated as restaurants.

They do not require a restaurant licence to open but must comply with strict social distancing protocols which would prohibit gatherings around the bar and require people to be served at appropriately spaced tables.

Pubs were one of the first sectors to close down amid the coronavirus emergency, closing their doors on March 15.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>Dr Tony Holohan said people knew the difference between a pub and a restaurant (Brian Lawless/PA)</figcaption>
Dr Tony Holohan said people knew the difference between a pub and a restaurant (Brian Lawless/PA)

At the daily Covid-19 briefing, Dr Holohan was asked what a pub had to do to be considered a restaurant.

“I think the intention is that if a pub is going to operate as a restaurant, then in terms of this particular disease and if they are in full compliance with the public health advice in the way that a restaurant would need to be, then there wouldn’t be a reason why that activity couldn’t happen,” he said.

“That’s not the same as us saying that a few fellas getting together for a few pints and having a packet of peanuts constitutes a meal and constitutes a restaurant.

“I think people will be sensible about it and they have to be sensible.

He added: “I think most Irish people know what a restaurant looks like. Most Irish people know what a pub looks like. Even though you can sometimes get food in a pub and you can sometimes get alcohol in a restaurant, most people know the difference between the two and we think people will be sensible about this.”

The National Public Health Emergency Team, which Dr Holohan chairs, is to develop guidance for the hospitality sector ahead of June 29.

Pubs that do not serve food can reopen on July 20, in the final phase of lockdown relaxations.

Publican representatives have welcomed the Government announcement.

Both the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) and the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) said it came as a “major relief” to the pub sector across the country.

Padraig Cribben, VFI chief executive, said: “This is a welcome shot in the arm for publicans who will have been closed for more than four months by the time they reopen on July 20. Pubs were the first sector to close on March 15, a decision our members supported for the good of public health.

“Moving the reopening of pubs to July means publicans can avail of an extra three weeks trading, something that is particularly relevant as it extends the summer season.

“While the Government’s announcement will come as a major relief to the trade, it shouldn’t mask the precarious future faced by pubs. Altering social distancing guidelines to one metre remains a priority as this would give publicans some chance of running a viable business until a time when social distancing rules no longer apply.”

Donall O’Keeffe, LVA chief executive, said: “After a prolonged period of uncertainty, pubs who serve food are relieved to finally receive the green light from Government that they can definitely reopen along with restaurants on June 29.

“We were consistent in advocating for pubs to receive the same treatment as other hospitality businesses that serve food and drink, so we are pleased that the Government has taken this on board in the adjusted reopening roadmap.

“Pubs will adapt and while it may take time for our valued customers to become accustomed to this new reality, it’s important to remember this won’t be forever and a strong and vibrant trade will emerge at the end of this crisis.”

Meanwhile, the Restaurants Association of Ireland has called on the Government to allow all hospitality businesses to reopen on June 29 as long as they comply with public health advice.

The organisation also called for a reduction of the two-metre social distancing measure to one metre.

Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, said: “I have been speaking to many of our members over the past few weeks, and what’s coming back to me is that the two-metre distance is just not a workable restriction for most restaurants.

“For smaller businesses and many local establishments, to create a two-metre distance between customers could mean that their capacity for customers drops to less than half of their usual. This could see some restaurants not reopening, as they won’t make enough money from customers to cover the expense of reopening.”

He added: “The WHO says that one metre is a safe distance. This can be more easily implemented by businesses, and will ensure public safety, while also safeguarding Irish businesses and livelihoods.”