Guide to safely reopening licensed premises during COVID-19

27 Jun 2020

The government announcement many of us have desperately been waiting for arrived on 23rd June, allowing pubs, bars and restaurants to reopen from Saturday 4th July 2020.

While this is undoubtedly positive news for our industry and reopening will allow businesses to begin to limit some losses and start a new chapter, it will be far from business as usual. Customer and staff safety is, of course, paramount, meaning licensed premises need to find new ways of operating to limit transmission and adhere to social distancing measures.

It’s a tall order but, for many licensed premises, it can be done. We’ve been advising businesses nationally on legal musts through to practical considerations by webinar, and we’ve put together some key pointers below to help you effectively plan.

Overview of reopening rules

  • Reopening is restricted to table only service.
  • Customers are required to give contact details upon arrival, in case Test & Trace is necessary.  
  • Where social distancing of 2m is not possible, people should stay 1m plus.
  • Up to two households of any size can meet indoors, so may share a table, for example.

What are the main challenges presenting pubs and restaurants during reopening?

We don’t want to be the masters of doom and are, of course, extremely excited about beginning to get our brilliant industry back on its feet. However, realistically speaking, we all know it isn’t going to be easy — particularly for smaller premises and nightclubs, live music venues and theatres which must remain closed for now.

There are many challenges, but these are the main ones. Then we’ll move on to ideas and solutions, we promise.

  • The entire hospitality sector centres on sociability, yet accommodating groups from more than two households or groups of over 6 people is not currently possible.
  • Favoured pastimes such as ‘dropping in for a drink’ or chatting at the bar are not, for the moment at least, as it looks like venues will favouring booking over walk-ins due to having to take and store customer contact details for 21 days. 
  • A distance of even 1 metre-plus greatly affects business viability, reducing capacity and presenting logistical challenges such as distance between tables.
  • Minimising contact between staff and customers requires operational changes for many premises, from table service to potentially implementing new technology.
  • Reducing transmission risk and optimising staff and customer safety involves logistical and practical changes, from sanitiser stands and screens to making changes to the layout of your venue.

Most challenges involve cost — and making a monetary investment after great losses isn’t easy.

However, with creative planning, partnership working and outstanding communication with staff and customers, there is hope and light ahead.

Things are starting to look up, and a cautionary toast may soon be in order.

Maximising income potential

Every venue will have a lower maximum capacity than previously. Spacing tables further apart and no bar-standing space limits the number of customers through the door and lowers earning potential.

To help overcome this, think about:

Maximising outdoor space, for example adding as many tables as you can accommodate.

Applying for a pavement license

Repurposing car park spaces into further outdoor seating.

Fixing up a forgotten or neglected area to create more room.

Trialling different table layouts to safely increase capacity.

If you haven’t already, considering a delivery or takeaway arm, which may be more worthwhile if you are reopening than it was during full lockdown.

Plan for:

How you will obtain and store customer details for 21 days, particularly for walk-in customers.

How takeaway orders can be collected while minimising staff and customer contact.

How you will safely manage a queueing system.

How you will advise of new house rules, for example, when taking a booking, upon arrival and around the venue and on tables.

If you should invest in a booking, ordering and paying app, considering the type, upfront costs and commission rates.

How you will manage entry and exit to maintain safe social distance.

Practical changes to facilitate safe movement, for example, one way signage, floor markings, customer explainers and screens.

Back of house changes for allowing staff to work safely, including behind the bar, kitchen areas and cellars.

Customer anxiety

Magazine Left Lion undertook a survey of 6,000 people to assess public feeling around reopening of licensed premises.

34.4% of people want to go out for a drink asap, with a slightly higher number (35.9%) wanting to wait a week or so and 29.7% not planning to go out for at least a month or longer. In terms of eating out, 27.5% plan to go out asap, while a considerably higher number (38.1%) want to wait for around a week and 34.4% don’t intend to go out for at least a month or more.

Even customers keen to return to favourite venues will be looking for reassurance from staff that it’s safe to visit. From the same survey over 75% of customers said they want to see hand sanitiser or hand washing on entry and around the venue, and 88% expressed the desire for regular visible cleaning of tables, chairs, surfaces and toilets.

While the hope is that customers will assist in maintaining safe practice and will want to support venues at their most challenging time, some will undoubtedly be anxious and seeking proof that visiting is as low risk as possible. Of course, this can add to potential worry for staff, who are trying their best and potentially anxious about being at risk themselves.

Communicating and building trust

  • Use social media to share photos and videos of the new customer experience. A walk-through video can be really helpful in settling anxiety and managing expectations.
  • Share updated relevant policies and procedures via your customer email list and social media.
  • Clearly communicate with customers about all changes, including bookings, cancellations, menu or facility reductions and any other house rules.
  • Before fully reopening, trial your new set-up, perhaps with family members or a small group of regular customers to allow you to spot and correct any operational glitches.

Policies, procedures and processes

Many of the trusty policies and procedures you’ve used for so long are no longer enough. Your doors are reopening to a new world and it’s crucial to ensure your venue is COVID-compliant.

  • Current guidance on operating safely is available here from GOV.UK.
  • Develop a full risk assessment that is COVID secure and ensure you take your staff through it.
  • Plan the steps you need to put in place for staff, including screening and temperature checks, PPE (making available and training in using correctly), managing staff mental health and wellbeing, and the creation of health declarations.
  • Arrange a comprehensive meeting with the agency who supplies your door staff to ensure full compliance and risk management.

Remember, staff can be trained while on furlough, so this can be undertaken before reopening.  CPL Learning offers free online training for staff specific to COVID-19. Main focuses for staff training should be:

  • Hygiene and cleanliness both front and back of house.
  • Social distancing.
  • Managing customer conflict and anxiety.
  • Dealing with non-compliance.
  • Safe use of PPE and changes to work routine.
  • Undertaking and complying with risk assessments.
  • Managing new operational procedures, including table service, distancing and queueing.

Hygiene overview

Hygiene and cleaning is central to a safe and successful reopening in the climate of COVID-19. We cover guidance around this fully in our webinar, but here are the main headlines:

  • Make sure both staff and management are informed of how long Coronavirus can live on different surfaces.
  • Ensure regular deep cleaning of premises, as well as ongoing cleaning during opening and in between each customer group.
  • Ensure staff are fully trained on your updated hygiene policies.
  • Offer staff as much protection as possible, with front of house handwashing stations and regular times for doing so.
  • Develop cleaning records, which are in clear sight for customers to see as well as staff to use.
  • Ensure correct PPE and equipment for cleaning.
  • Modify toilet areas to be COVID-compliant, for example controlling entry and exit, automatic or foot-pump hand washing and shutting off every other toilet cubicle or urinal to avoid close contact.

Promotion and marketing

Promoting the offer your venue has for customers has never been more important, as every pound truly counts in making your reopening viable and commercially successful. To keep costs down while ensuring new and old customers know about your reopening, you can utilise some or all of the following routes:

  • Barclays Next Door.
  • Google Places and Google My Business.
  • Your local BID.
  • Instagram for capturing the experiential, theatre that visiting your venue entails.
  • Facebook Business Boost Grants and support hub.
  • Unite with other local businesses for cross-promotion and support.

Financial support for your business

Although times are undoubtedly hard, there is support available. If you haven’t already, considering utilising the below loans, payment holidays and rebates can be a big help in steadying the current stormy waters.

Coronavirus Bounce Back Loan: between £2,000 and £50,000 through a Bounce Back Loan scheme. The government will guarantee 100% of the loan and for the first 12 months

Job Retention Scheme: Flexible and available until October

Deferring VAT: Until 31 March 2021

Deferring Self Assessment payments on account: January 2021

Business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure: 2020/2021

Statutory Sick Pay rebate: You can claim two weeks from the first qualifying day your employee is off work if the period of sickness started on or after:

13 March 2020 – if your employee had coronavirus or symptoms or is self-isolating because someone they live with has symptoms.

16 April 2020 – if your employee was shielding because of coronavirus.

28 May 2020 – if your employee has been notified by the NHS or public health bodies that they’ve come into contact with someone with coronavirus.

You can read the full government guidelines here

If you’d like help developing a tailored plan for safely reopening your venue, or want us to review your risk assessment or policies or want to book onto our advice-packed webinar then please contact Jo on 07734 255807 or at

Written by the Night Time Economy Team ©2020 | Share this article link
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