LONDON (Reuters) – Pub owners across England’s COVID-19 hotspots were on Tuesday pondering a question that could decide if they survive or sink due to the coronavirus lockdown – when is a pub a pub, and when does it become a restaurant?
The question has sparked a bizarre discussion about some of England’s favourite snacks: fries, chips and pork scratchings – roasted pork rind – do not count as a meal, according to a government minister quizzed on the status of the delicacies.
But Cornish pasties, a much-loved meat and vegetable pie that dates back to England’s ancient tin mines, do count as a meal.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced a new tiered system of restrictions for England on Monday, with Liverpool and the surrounding Merseyside placed in the highest level, with pubs shut, to curb an acceleration in COVID-19 cases.
But under the government’s published advice, pubs can stay open in such areas “where they operate as if they were a restaurant – which means serving substantial meals, like a main lunchtime or evening meal.”
Such pub-restaurants may only serve alcohol as part of such a meal, according to the government’s advice.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said a substantial meal was clear – and did not include snacks such as pork scratchings, crisps or chips but did include Cornish pasties and possibly sausage rolls.
“A substantial meal means the kind of meal that you’d have for lunch or the kind of meal you’d have for dinner – a proper meal. It doesn’t mean a packet of crisps or a plate of chips or a bag of pork scratchings,” Jenrick told Sky.
Questioned at length by reporters on Tuesday, Jenrick agreed that a Cornish pasty with chips or side-salad would amount to a substantial meal.
“That’s a normal meal,” Jenrick told LBC. “People who actually run pubs and bars will be familiar with this and know how to operate this.”
Across the world, drinking establishments have been finding ways around rules demanding they close if only offering alcohol.
In Brussels, one brasserie said it would offer half-price sharing platters so people could still drink beer and wine by eating light snacks or olives, sardines, anchovies and “bruschetta maison”.
After Johnson imposed a lockdown on pubs in parts of northern England, some quipped that the “soup of the day” would soon be a pint of beer in many pubs.
English pubs are seeking clarification of the exact rules on food and what exactly constitutes a “substantial meal”.
The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), a lobby group for brewers and pubs, said around 970 pubs would be affected by Johnson’s announcement.
“Singling out pubs for closure and further restrictions is simply the wrong decision and grossly unfair,” BBPA CEO Emma McClarkin said. “If the government is really going to go ahead and force much of our sector to close, then a far stronger financial package of support is going to be needed.”
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Sarah Young; Editing by Michael Holden and Janet Lawrence)