What will pubs, clubs and restaurants look like in 2021?
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Hospitality venues are likely to take a “live and let live” attitude towards face coverings and social distancing when the measures are no longer compulsory, it has been suggested.
Attempts to enforce masks could lead to “petty friction” between staff and customers, while well-ventilated venues could axe social distancing, according to Professor Robert Dingwall, a scientist with the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag).
On Monday, the Prime Minister announced his plan to ease coronavirus measures in England, contingent on falling transmission rates and the continued success of the vaccine rollout.
Boris Johnson said outdoor venues like beer gardens could open from April 12, indoor venues could resume events from May 17, and nightclubs, which have been closed since March last year, may open from June 21.
Under the Government’s plans, all remaining legal limits on social contact could be lifted by June 21, and ahead of this, ministers have pledged to review social-distancing measures and other restrictions which were put in place to limit transmission of Covid-19.
The results of this review will help “inform decisions on the timing and circumstances” under which rules such as face masks and social distancing could be lifted, the road map says.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said the Government will be aiming to encourage “personal responsibility” rather than having social distancing laws “that get in the way of normal life” by the summertime.
Prof Dingwall said Britons are unlikely to adopt mask-wearing when it is not compulsory in pubs, clubs and restaurants.
Prof Dingwall, a sociology expert, said: “Very few hospitality premises would want to enforce masks – you’d have petty friction between staff and customers, and I think we will see much more of a ‘live and let live’ attitude.”
He added that while there will be “pressure on premises to improve hygiene”, well-ventilated venues are likely to scrap social-distancing measures after June too.
But Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UK Hospitality, said that during the first phase of reopenings, she expects pubs and restaurants to enforce “the same measures as we saw last year” such as one-way systems, socially-distanced tables, and sanitation stations.
Under Government guidance, indoor premises will only be able to admit two households or groups of up to six people from May 17 but under the Government’s road map, these limits are due to be lifted by the time clubs are allowed to reopen in June.
Ms Nicholls said clubs will be improved due to “having more to offer” – as many adapted to serving food alongside their bars last year in order to survive.
“There’s a hugely modern, dynamic, vibrant sector that’s heavily invested in giving its consumers a really good experience, and those operators who have managed to survive the pandemic will have improved what they can offer to customers,” she said.
“I do genuinely believe whether that’s nightclubs or venues more generally across the leisure and hospitality environment, consumers will be looking for value-added experience.”
Dr Clifford Stevenson, a social psychology professor at Nottingham Trent University, said although there may not be legal restrictions when clubs reopen, current social distancing measures may drive the demand for a more private experience at first.
He said: “There are lots of examples of clubs that use little snugs as a way of ensuring that groups can have a private experience.
“There’s ways of spatially designing clubs, which I’m sure owners will engage with, to get the most out of their square-footage.
Dr Stevenson added that the pandemic could herald a more respectful approach to clubbing, due to a growth in a shared sense of social responsibility.
He said: “I think people will simply be more mindful of the need to protect themselves to protect others. I think that will be enduring.
“The overwhelming finding on the research on restrictions is that the public are really good at that, of course with a few exceptions.”
He added that clubbers are more likely to be mindful of their personal hygiene in order to avoid infecting others in local community venues which inspire a “shared sense of identity”.
“The ethos of the club, and the ability to create a shared sense of identity and responsibility will naturally lead to people observing the hygiene measures more stringently,” he said.
“Some places have this identity already, some pubs are tied to the local area and will reflect the local community.
“Other places will have to work at it, they will have to think about who their clientele is, and how they create this sense of shared responsibility.”
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