How To Stay As Safe As Possible In Pubs And Restaurants

Don't bend the household rule – but do follow these expert tips.

The Christmas socialising season is upon us, but it looks very different this year under England’s three tier system.

In tier 1, you can go to pubs and restaurants with up to five friends outside of your household, but that applies to very few areas of the country (currently the Isle of Wight, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly). In tier 2, you can book a table with a substantial meal – as long as you only sit with people in your household. And in tier 3, pubs and restaurants can only offer takeaways.

If you’re tempted to go to the pub – in any capacity – this Christmas, it’s likely to increase your exposure risk to Covid-19 compared to sitting at home.

“There’s still a lot we don’t know about the transmission of Covid between people, but there’s a strong consensus that Covid is spread more rapidly: indoors rather than outside, in crowded spaces, and where people cannot adequate keep their distance from others,” Professor Paul Hunter, an expert on infectious diseases at the University of East Anglia, tells HuffPost UK.

“At the start of the national lockdown, we saw a surge of infections in England but only really in those authorities that were in tiers 1 and 2 where there were fewer pre-existing restrictions on mixing indoors.”

Despite the risk, for some, supporting a local business, getting a change of scenery and having a mental health boost feels the right decision.

With that in mind, here are some tips for staying as safe as possible if you’re going to visit a pub or restaurant.

Don’t bend the household rules

If a mate says “go on, no one will know”, try to avoid temptation – even if they suggest booking two tables next to each other.

“Don’t bend the rules on not being allowed to socialise outside your household or bubble,” says Professor Hunter. “Just because you’re sat at another table, doesn’t mean you can spend two hours talking to a friend at the next table. That is still socialising indoors and against the rules in tiers 2 and 3.”

The household rule is there because you’re unlikely to be able to maintain social distancing with others on your table (or people nearby that you know).

Pubs and restaurants have also been told they must not accept bookings from multiple tier 2 households and must discourage “mingling” between tables, so do the staff a favour and don’t push your luck.

Wear a face covering

The guidelines state you should wear a face mask in a pub or restaurant “except when seated at a table to eat or drink”.

“The best available scientific evidence is that, when used correctly, wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets in certain circumstances, helping to protect others,” the government says.

“Because face coverings are mainly intended to protect others from coronavirus (Covid-19) rather than the wearer, they are not a replacement for social distancing and regular hand washing.”

Sanitise your hands

You’ll probably be asked to sanitise your hands when entering the premises, but you should also re-sanitise where possible if you come into contact with frequently touched surfaces – such as doors or the bathroom.

“There’s a risk of transferring the virus via hands or surfaces,” Professor Sally Bloomfield, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, previously explained.

“If [someone] is infected, they will: a) be expelling droplets that will settle onto surfaces, and b) likely be touching their mouth or nose and have the virus on their hands. Avoiding transmission via their hands and contact surfaces is key.”

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Look out for good Covid practices

“Try and judge how well the management is doing on its safe Covid practices,” says Professor Hunter. “If you feel uncomfortable or are not impressed, try somewhere else.”

A key thing to look out for is how busy a venue is. Under the government guidelines, restaurants and pubs should be spacing tables two metres apart, “or one metre with risk mitigation where two metres is not viable”. To reduce your risk, avoid cramped spaces.

“If there are many people inside, the probability that someone may be infected is higher and the smaller air volume is less able to dilute the virus,” Dr Julian Tang, a consultant virologist and Professor in the Department of Respiratory Sciences at University of Leicester, previously explained.

Stick to the one-way system

Hospitality settings have been advised to implement measures to reduce the congestion of customers, such as encouraging everyone to follow a one-way system when popping to the loo, or entering and exiting. Do your bit to help maintain social distancing by sticking to it.

Stop leaning on the bar

Pubs and restaurants have been advised to “reduce the number of surfaces touched by both staff and customers” – this includes leaning on the bar.

In tiers 1 and 2, pubs are required to offer table service anyway, so this shouldn’t be a big problem. But if you’re in a tier 3 area collecting a takeaway, avoid leaning on the bar – both for your own health and as a courtesy to other customers and staff.

Sit in a ventilated spot

Choose your seat wisely: if there’s a spot by an open window or open door, take it. You could also consider sitting outside if a venue has heaters or other helpful facilities. Good ventilation can help reduce infection rates.

“If the virus is in the air and you remove that contaminated air, you also remove the virus. This is what ventilation does,” Dr Tang previously explained.

“Think about if you have a smoky room or burn toast in the kitchen. Opening the windows dramatically lowers these contaminants, replacing bad air with fresh air. You can smell the impact almost immediately.”

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Don’t drink too much

Having one too many impairs our judgement, so we may be less stringent with social distancing measures, says Professor Hunter.

“Enjoy your food and drink, but remember drunk people may not be able to be safe for themselves or others.”

Pay by contactless

Hospitality venues have been asked to encourage contactless payments where possible – so now’s not the time to raid your piggy bank. Have your card ready.

Avoid public transport

You can’t jump in the car if you’ve had a drink, but that doesn’t make getting a bus or train home a good idea, either.

“Public transport, due to the proximity and shared surfaces, makes it a perfect place for viruses to spread,” Dr Jenna Macciochi, an immunologist based at the University of Sussex, previously told HuffPost UK. “Avoid any non-essential journeys on public transport.”

Consider staying home if you’re vulnerable

“If you’re clinically vulnerable – and especially if you’re clinically extremely vulnerable – you should think twice before going to any crowded indoor venue,” says Professor Hunter. “This includes pubs and restaurants, until you have completed a course of vaccine.”