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Indoor dining set to reopen after some late-night changes to regulations

Outdoor dining recommenced last month but many businesses didn’t have capacity to open.

Updated Jul 26th 2021, 9:27 AM

1886 Outdoor dining People seated in outside dining areas in Dublin City centre last October Source: RollingNews.ie

THOUSANDS OF PUBS and restaurants across the country are reopening their doors to indoor hospitality today for the first time in months. 

Outdoor dining was recommenced on 7 June but many businesses that did not have the capacity for outdoor seating had to remain shut until today. 

Some so-called wet pubs will be reopening for the first time in 15 months since closing their doors in March 2020. 

At present, only those who are fully vaccinated will be permitted to dine indoors. A Digital Covid Certificate QR reader will be used by pubs and restaurants in order to check for valid vaccine certificates, but paper certificates will still be accepted by hospitality staff.

Unvaccinated children will be allowed to join vaccinated adults once seated two metres away from other tables.

Failte Ireland’s guidelines for pubs and restaurants were published over the weekend, and have since been updated, setting out that a maximum of 6 persons aged 13 or over are permitted at a table.

This limit of six does not include accompanying children aged 12 or younger.

The total combined capacity at a table cannot exceed 15 overall. Multiple tables cannot be booked.

While the Digital Covid Certificate will be the primary evidence used when going into a pub, restaurant or café to access indoor hospitality, other forms of evidence or documentation will also be allowed.

Indoor dining regulations published in the early hours of this morning set out that the EU Digital Covid Certificate or a Covid-19 certificate issued by a state other than an EU Member State or a recognised equivalent is an acceptable form of proof of immunity at the door. 

Vaccination proof can be a “record or other evidence in written or electronic form” in English or Irish that says a person is vaccinated, including a HSE vaccine record or EU Digital Cert, as well as a record from a body in a country that is giving the vaccine. 

Proof of identity, and to prove someone is under 18 years old, can be given by a passport, student ID, a Garda age card, Irish residence permit, or a national ID card issued by another state or any other official document which includes a photograph. 

The updated Fáilte Ireland guidelines outline that “the name and contact number of each customer (18 and over) must be taken for contact tracing purposes”. 

However, the document goes on to say that businesses must been a record of the time and date of arrival at the premises of a group/sole customer and “the name telephone number of the lead person in a group/sole customer for Covid-19 contact tracing purposes”. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, chief executive of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland Padraig Cribben said he is “sure that will be corrected” and said: “The reality is that it will only be the lead contacts that will be required”. 

Closing time remains 11.30pm, but the time limits for staying in a pub or restaurant have been scrapped.

‘Nervousness and trepidation’ 

Outside Dublin, wet pubs were permitted to reopen for a few weeks last September before Covid-19 restrictions saw them shut again. However, in the capital wet pubs remained closed. 

One such pub that has been closed for the greater part of the past 16 months due to a lack of outdoor seating space is Castle Inn in Cork City. 

The Journal spoke to the pub’s owner in advance of today’s reopening. 

“We’re excited … as well as a bit of nervousness and trepidation because it’ll be the first time we’d have to really manage the door and ask people for their vaccination certificate before we let them in,” publican Michael O’Donovan said. 

Another pub reopening for indoor service today is the Boar’s Head on Dublin’s Capel Street. This pub has been open for outdoor dining in recent weeks, but has been shut to indoor services since Christmas. 

“The outdoor dining is brilliant at the moment because you have the weather,” pub owner Hugh Hourigan told The Journal. 

“We’ve been lucky in the last couple of weeks because you’ve only got two or three wet days, but there is an appetite to get back indoors,” he said. 

Similarly, O’Donovan said he’s been chatting with some of his older customers in recent days who have said “they feel they’ll be safe when them come in because it’s vaccinated people only”. 

“They won’t be mingling with, as they said, younger people who might not be vaccinated,” he said. 

“They see it as an opportunity to get our because a lot of them have not been to an outdoor beer garden.” 

colm-murphy-omagh-bombing-republicans-northern-ireland-troubles-conflict-real-ira-membership The Boar's Head, Dublin Source: Graham Hughes via RollingNews.ie

Hourigan said the experience of dining indoors will be similar to that of last summer. 

“Somebody will meet you at the door and we’ll have to do all the contact tracing,” he said. 

“It’ll be maximum groups of six, a metre distance between tables and the only difference this time, which is leaving it easier on us, is the time limit is gone,” Hourigan said. 

“But every premises will have their own guidelines [in relation to time limits]. Some of them will have to do turnaround tables for business purposes because the majority of businesses will only be able to cater for 50% occupancy on what they normally would be doing.” 

Hourigan told The Journal that the pub will be operating on a walk-in basis only and that it will not be taking bookings. 

“We did a certain amount of bookings last December when we reopened and there were a lot of no shows. It’s very, very unfair on businesses,” he said. 

Staff retention

Anecdotally, many hospitality businesses across the country have been finding it somewhat difficult to rehire staff as they’ve looked to reopen in recent weeks. 

Hourigan said the hospitality industry is “just starved for staff” at the moment, but added he’s been “very lucky” in that all of his staff will be returning to work. 

Nonetheless he said: “I’m going to be stretched now next week because I need an extra person because I’m going to have to stand at the door. 

“We have to do this right, we have to run it right. We’re a responsible organisation and a professional organisation. We have to run it right so we have to stand at the door checking the QR codes.” 

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While only vaccinated people will be permitted to dine indoors from today, unvaccinated people will be allowed to work in hospitality premises. 

“I have part-timers and one of them isn’t vaccinated,” O’Donovan told The Journal.

“He feels more safe by not coming back to work and I fully understand that. I have great sympathy for him because it’s an awful position to be put in,” he said. 

Screenshot 2021-07-23 133812 Michael O'Donovan alongside his wife and three children outside The Castle Inn

O’Donovan told The Journal that he has come in for criticism online from some people over the fact that the hospitality industry will only be reopening indoors for vaccinated people. 

However, he said with government support payments easing up, “the business won’t survive if we don’t open”. 

“We have bills to pay as well. So we need to start back and I think something that’s forgotten about,” he said. 

Earlier in the summer, the government announced a range of measures to help businesses reopen as restrictions ease, but confirmed the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) will be phased out in the coming months. 

The PUP closed to new applicants on 7 July. 

In October, the government launched a new Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS), a cashflow support scheme paid to businesses that are severely hampered in how they can operate due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But as the tourism and hospitality sectors opened back up last month, the Government now expects fewer and fewer businesses will qualify as the summer goes on. So the Government is giving businesses that are coming off the CRSS a ”bullet payment on reopening”, as Tánaiste Leo Varadkar called it.

It will come in the form of a double payment for three weeks, up to a maximum of €30,000. ”That’s going to be very helpful in terms of cash flow, restocking, and re-engaging with employees,” he said.

A new scheme will start in September this year for businesses that are still struggling to resume operations in the autumn, where their turnover is 75% lower than it was in 2019.

These businesses will receive a further grant in the autumn up to a maximum of €15,000.

“Being allowed to provide indoor service will come with a mixture of relief, hope and nervousness for many in the hospitality sector, especially those pubs in Dublin who have not been able to open their doors for the last 497 days,” said Donall O’Keeffe, Chief Executive of the LVA.

“The relief of trading will undoubtedly be tinged with trepidation. There are a lot of mixed feelings about reopening and what it’s going to mean in terms of handling difficult customers and protecting the welfare of staff. 

“For many in our sector this is not the way we wanted to reopen, but unfortunately it is the only option on the table,” he said.

“All hospitality premises should know that any business that flout the rules have the book thrown at them. This is far too important. Businesses taking chances pose risks to public health and also endanger the future of our sector. Everyone who is trading has to follow the guidelines,” concluded O’Keeffe.

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