Restaurants serve up al-fresco dining revolution

Linda J. Dodson

The Government is relaxing planning rules to help restaurants and bars serve more people on pavements, terraces and even in car parks – heralding an al-fresco dining revolution filled with diners long into the summer evenings. 

Areas in Chinatown and Soho, central London, are set to have pavements widened and roads temporarily closed so they can be filled with dining tables. 

It is among several measures aimed at helping the beleaguered hospitality industry, including reducing the 2m social distancing rule that would have ruined many businesses. 

“Pubs, restaurants and cafes are the lifeblood of high streets and town centres across the country and we are doing all we can to ensure they can bounce back as quickly and safely as possible,” said Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary. 

The rules, which will apply to England only, are set to be debated on Monday, five days before restaurants will be allowed to serve customers on site for the first time since March 20. 

Having been starved of income for so long, the move is broadly welcomed, but industry experts warned it needs to be introduced thoughtfully so businesses are not saddled with extra costs and bureaucracy. 

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UK Hospitality, says firms should be allowed to take advantage of the relaxation by filing a temporary events notice, rather than having to apply for a new planning licence. 

“The devil will be in the detail on this one,” she says. “It could be really transformational over the course of the summer for many businesses if it’s very light touch in terms of notification and provided there isn’t a huge cost. 

“It needs to be quick, it needs to be free or very cheap, and it needs to have a light touch enforcement regime behind it and then it could be really helpful. 

“But if it gets mired in red tape, the Government’s good intentions will be frustrated by local enforcement. So we need very clear guidance to police and local authorities about what is supposed to be happening here.”

British Beer and Pub Association chief Emma McClarkin says al-fresco pubs will be welcomed by publicans and customers alike and give pubs more outdoor space in which to serve more customers. “For those pubs in more urban areas that do not have a pub garden, this is particularly good news.”

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