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Mixed reaction to reducing 2m distancing rules

There is a mixed feeling within the fish and chip industry over calls to relax the 2m social distancing rule.

While some shop owners believe it will make it easier for takeaways to open for walk-in orders and for restaurants to operate more viably, others still feel it is too soon to reduce measures.

The government has come under increasing pressure from MPs and businesses of late to review the guidance, which was issued back in March, in order to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

The World Health Organization says that a distance of 1m is safe, guidance adopted by countries such as China, Denmark, France and Hong Kong. However, the UK, along with Canada and Spain, has taken a stricter 2m stance while countries such as South Korea, Germany and US have opted for a middle ground of between 1.4m and 1.8m.

Industry group UKHospitality has joined the call for a reduction, claiming the move from 2m to 1m is the difference between opening at 30% of normal revenues or 60%.

John Molnar, owner of Cod’s Scallops, which has three restaurants and takeaways in Nottingham and one in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, would welcome such a move. He says: “We don’t have anyone in the shop at the moment, they queue at the door. If they did relax it, my next stage would be to allow people back into the shop, which makes things that bit easier.

“I’ve looked at the restaurant at Mansfield Road and we would have to move eight tables out of the restaurant based on the current guidance, but if the distance is halved we would only need to take out four tables, it’s a big difference.”

It’s not just the number of customers that his restaurant can accommodate that is playing on John’s mind but the economic sense it makes to get people back dining onsite.

John adds: “You look at the amount of food you put on a plate compared to the amount of food you put in a box and the difference is huge, it’s probably half just because of the plate coverage - and obviously we would charge more. That’s what we’ve noticed, how many potatoes we are using and that’s where your big profits are, in your chips.”

At Colmans Seafood Temple in South Shields, owner Richard Ord Jnr has already taken steps to adhere to the 2m social distancing rule ready for when the government gives hospitality the green light to reopen. Measures include reducing covers from 75 to 45 and limiting the online booking service to space out reservations.

A reduction in the social distancing rule to 1m would mean the business could operate at almost its pre-coronavirus capacity, yet Richard is still unsure: “Our tables were pretty much 1m apart anyway as we spaced them out for comfort. If the rule was to be relaxed we probably wouldn’t lose any covers.

“In that respect, it would certainly make a difference. It would allow us to get more covers and maximise our profits, but at the same time, I wouldn’t feel comfortable without a definite conclusion that a reduction in the distance would be safe. I’d rather carry on with things the way they are for a bit longer, wait for it to plateau out totally and then phase back into normal slightly slower.

“The other thing is would customers feel comfortable going back to that? Probably not at first. I think it would alienate a small portion of them, so I’d rather keep it as safe as I can for everyone.”

For Bizzie Lizzie’s owner Katie Davison it’s a clear 'no' to reopening her two restaurants in Skipton, North Yorkshire, with a 1m distance in place.

With the High Street Car Park takeaway open and Swadford Street remaining closed, she comments: “There are two heads you can rule with. You can rule with your business head and think 1m would be a lot easier to figure out how the restaurant would work, or your normal head which tells me that the UK has performed so badly in comparison to other countries that you can’t just go from 2m to 1m because it’s going to help businesses reopen. Any relaxation of the rules has to be done scientifically.

“At the moment, if we were able to open next week, I would not be comfortable doing it at 1m being inside.”

Although opinions are divided, one thing is for certain, the industry would like clarification on whether the guidance will change sooner rather than later.

John Molnar, adds: “Yesterday I priced up getting a vintage fabric windbreaker made and having those dividing the tables but I need something like 40 of them and it’s potentially thousands of pounds. Boris could turn around on 3rd July and say you’re not opening or you can open and you don’t need anything in place. We need to know what’s going on.”

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