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Pubs and coronavirus: What is a substantial meal?

After confusion yesterday as to whether a Scotch egg can be considered a substantial meal under the new Covid-19 regulations in England, db examines the guidance.

The Scotch egg: bar snack or substantial meal?

From tomorrow, pubs in England in tier two areas will only be allowed to serve alcohol if it is accompanied by a ‘substantial meal’.

In an interview with LBC yesterday, Environment Secretary George Eustice said a Scotch egg would “probably count” as a substantial meal if there was table service.

In its Covid Winter Plan specification, the government defines this as “like a full breakfast, main lunchtime or evening meal”. However, this definition has led to some confusion.

Following Eustice’s comments yesterday, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson appeared to refute Eustice’s comments. The spokesperson said: “I’m obviously not going to get into the detail of every possible meal. But we’ve been clear: bar snacks do not count as a substantial meal but it’s well-established practice in the hospitality industry what does.”

Confusion: pizza and Cornish pasties

However, that has not always proved to be the case. In October, pizza restaurant Common in Manchester was ordered to stop serving slices of its 22-inch pizza after the police said they didn’t “fit the substantial food brief”. However, the decision was later rescinded and the slices were deemed ‘substantial’. Greater Manchester Police told The Metro that were “still awaiting clear guidance to be given around what constitutes a substantial meal”.

The term ‘substantial meal’ was referred to in the earlier tier system in England, which ended at the start of the current lockdown in November.

The guidance, which previously applied to tier three rather than tier two, noted: “Alcohol is only served for consumption on the premises as part of a table meal, and the meal is such as might be expected to be served as the main midday or main evening meal, or as a main course at either such meal.”

This appears to rule out only ordering snacks, side dishes and starters to be consumed with alcohol.

Back in October, LBC also grilled Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick on the subject of Cornish pasties. Asked whether they would qualify as a ‘substantial meal’, Jenrick said: “If you would expect to go into that restaurant or pub normally and order a plated meal, at the table of a Cornish pasty with chips or side salad or whatever it comes with then that’s a normal meal.”

Asked whether customers could order further drinks after finishing their meal, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson told the BBC: “It remains the case that the guidance says that once the meal is finished, it is at that point [you have to leave].”

Meanwhile, a pub in Brighton, which will be placed in tier two tomorrow, found a tongue-in-cheek ‘loophole’ in the current guidelines. The Caxton Arms later posted that it was offering a £5 and £10 substantial meal menu, requiring customers to order an item from either menu to be able to have a drink. They will then have the table for a maximum of three hours.

In Scotland, which applies the same logic to its level two restrictions, a ‘main meal’ is defined as “something more than a mere snack – such as a plated meal, usually (though not necessarily) eaten with cutlery, and could include a substantial filled sandwich or panini served with a side such as salad or chips, or a “soup and a sandwich” style meal, as well as other more substantial meals which may have more than one course.” The guidance states that “a common-sense approach” should be taken.

From tomorrow, pubs and bars not serving food will be forced to close in tier two areas. Reports are emerging today that the government intends to announce an extra £40 million in funding for wet-led sites operating in tiers two and three to be distributed via councils.

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