The rules for pubs in tiers 1, 2 and 3 - and what a substantial meal means

The government's revised regional tiers are now in force. Here's what they mean for pubs and restaurants

The rules for pubs in tiers 1, 2 and 3 - and what a substantial meal means
Pubs, bars and restaurants in England are under new restrictions Credit: SOPA Images/LightRocket

The country has entered a stricter tier system than the one we saw previously, and this means harsher new rules for hospitality businesses, which change depending on the tier.

Pubs and restaurants in Tier 3 (very high level) – which includes Manchester, Hull, Newcastle, Bristol and Kent – are only allowed to offer takeaways. Those in Tier 2 (high level) regions can reopen, but only if they provide a 'substantial meal'. The 10 pm hospitality curfew has been extended to 11 pm for the lower tiers. 

The tier system will be reviewed every fortnight with the first review on December 16.

Here's everything you need to know about pubs, restaurants and the new tier system.

Tier 1 (medium level) rules for pubs and restaurants

Pubs, restaurants and cafés can open, operating in a Covid-secure manner and offering table service only. Even pubs that do not serve food are allowed to open.  

The 'rule of six' applies in Tier 1, allowing up to six members of different households to mix both indoors and outdoors.

The curfew system is relaxed slightly: previously, customers in Tier 1 pubs had to leave the premises by 10pm. Under the new rules, last orders can be called at 10pm, with people allowed to finish their food and drinks by 11pm.

Tier 2 (high level) rules for pubs and restaurants

Pubs, restaurants and cafés are allowed to reopen (and serve alcohol) but only if they serve substantial meals – this means that 'wet-led pubs' and bars that don't serve food cannot open.

In Tier 2 venues, only people of the same household can visit for table service only. The 'rule of six' (which allows six members of different households to come together) applies outdoors.

The one-hour extension to the curfew also applies to pubs and restaurants in this tier, with last orders at 10pm and punters needing to leave by 11pm. 

A Government official has warned that pub-goers in Tier 2 must leave after finishing their ‘substantial meal’. He stated there should be “no lingering”, and visitors must leave “once their meal is finished”. 

The Local Government Association (LGA) has also said that a “two hour turnaround” is the “maximum amount of time” needed for “a meal of multiple courses”. 

Tier 3 (very high level) rules for pubs and restaurants

The hospitality industry takes the biggest hit under the revised restrictions in Tier 3.

Pubs and restaurants are allowed to open for a takeaway service only. Previously, hospitality venues were allowed to stay open if they served substantial meals. 

 You can check what tier you're in here

What does a substantial meal mean?

Under the post-lockdown guidance, pubs in Tier 2 areas can only stay open if they can function as a restaurant, and alcohol can only be served with a substantial meal, but there is confusion over what constitutes a substantial meal.

The government guidelines describe it as "a full breakfast, main lunchtime or evening meal", but ministers have added their own interpretations to the debate. Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has said that pub snacks such as crisps or a side of chips would not count, but that a Cornish pasty might be considered a "normal meal" if it came on a plate with salad or chips. 

Environment Secretary George Eustice, meanwhile, told LBC that "a Scotch egg probably would count as a substantial meal if there were table service, and often that might be as a starter."

The confusion leaves chefs and landlords scrambling to rewrite menus and place orders for supplies as they plan their reopening.

Can I have a drink after my meal?

The guidelines do not state how much alcohol is allowed to be served with meals, and recent statements about how long customers can remain at the pub or restaurant are conflicting. 

The Prime Minister's official spokesman has said that there will be "no lingering" allowed and that customers could no longer stay "once the meal is finished". The Local Government Association (LGA) has suggested a two-hour turnaround is the "maximum amount of time for a meal of multiple courses".

But George Eustice has said that customers at restaurants and pubs in Tier 2 are allowed to finish their drinks. He told Sky News:“I think you can finish your drink provided you’re at a table and you’ve had a drink with a meal then, of course, you can finish your drink as well. 

“What you probably couldn’t do is have a small meal and then sit at the table all night ordering drinks.” 

With such a lack of clarity, it may be down to landlords and restaurant managers themselves to police tables. The LGA says that "enforcement will be targeted at those premises which are clearly stretching things too far by allowing customers to stay well beyond the duration of a meal and in effect facilitating longer drinking sessions".

Can I travel to pubs in different tiers?

While there are no restrictions on movement within Tier 1 areas, people in Tier 2 are advised to reduce the number of journeys they make within their own areas where possible. Walking and cycling is recommended if travel is necessary.

In Tier 3, meanwhile, the new restrictions state that people should try to avoid travelling outside the ‘very high’ area they are in, other than for things like work, education, or to meet caring responsibilities – meaning that Tier 3 residents should not visit pubs in the lower tiers.

What about pubs outside of England? 

Different rules apply to the other nations of the United Kingdom.

Scotland operates under a five-level system of local restrictions. In the highest level, 4, non-essential shops, pubs and restaurants are shut until December 11. In Level 3 areas, hospitality businesses are banned from selling alcohol and must close by 6pm. 

If you are resident in Wales, you can go to a Welsh pub or restaurant with up to three other people from different households, excluding children aged under 11, but they must close at 6pm and you will not be served alcohol from Friday, 4 December. 

You will need to provide identification in Welsh pubs so as to prevent English people from crossing the border for a pint. 

Ministers in Northern Ireland have decided to close pubs and restaurants until December 10. 

What does this mean for the hospitality industry – and for Christmas?

The Prime Minister recently apologised for what he called "the unavoidable hardship" experienced by workers in the hospitality industry, but said the 'Covid winter plan' aims to allow a loosening of restrictions for Christmas, in order for three households to meet for five days.

The measures – which are significantly tougher than under the previous tier system – were described as “catastrophic” by pub chiefs on November 22, with a warning that one million jobs are now on the line.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said the news is “far worse than anyone could have anticipated”. If the tiers had stayed as they were until March, she said, "we were already expecting 94 per cent of businesses in Tier 3 and 74 per cent of businesses in Tier 2 to go to the wall. Now we have restrictions that are even worse.

“This will have a catastrophic effect on a large number of businesses and all those jobs that were furloughed will now be lost. You are talking about the prospect of a million job losses and 30 to 40,000 premises closing their doors for good. This a cruel decision and it just feels as if the whole sector is being thrown to the wolves."

On December 1, Conservative MP Christian Wakeford suggested the rules regarding a substantial meal are only undermining valuable restrictions that could “actually make a difference”. The Bury South MP argued that ministers are “shafting” businesses in Tier 2, while those Tier 3 are “dead”. Mr Wakeford also said that more needs to be done to help the hospitality sector and that the restrictions have left him “struggling” to support his Government.

The tier restrictions are expected to be reviewed on December 16, and areas which make progress in slowing the spread of the virus could still be moved down a tier before Christmas.

But there will be no relaxation of the rules on pubs and restaurants, meaning hospitality venues in the new Tier 3 will remain shut.

Read more: What the new Covid tier system means for shops, sports venues and church services

What do you make of the new restrictions? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below