Pubs call for clarity over beer garden shelters in Scotland as opening looms

Hospitality leaders have called for clarity over permitted shelters in beer gardens and restaurant car parks as the sector prepares to open after lockdown.

Many pubs, bars and restaurants have created covered areas in their outdoor spaces to give customers somewhere to shelter from the rain, with some creating innovative enclosed spaces for single households such as “ski gondola” or greenhouse style structures around tables for single households.

Others have invested thousands in marquees to protect their customers from the elements.

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However, industry leaders have warned some may technically fall foul of regulations published by the Scottish Government to define "indoors", leaving many pub owners worried their temporary awnings or tents may be deemed to break the law.

A member of staff serves drinks in the beer garden at the Bier Halle in Glasgow during the lockdown easing last summer.

Scottish Government guidance states only that a structure “should also be at least 50 per cent open: ie not all sides enclosed” and encourages businesses to consult their local environment health teams for an assessment.

However, pub operators said this definition left many uncertain as to whether their planned structures could come under scrutiny once hospitality re-opens at the end of this month.

Others who created the structures for use during the previous lockdown easing may find they are not allowed to serve alcohol in them under the new definition of Scottish levels, which are to be introduced at the end of the month.

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Paul Togneri, spokesman for the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, said some venues had invested in shelters to allow them to use their beer gardens last year, but may now have to adapt them or tear them down.

He said: “There are some concerns from our members, who may have potentially put in some structures that allow them some more outdoor service that may now fall foul of the rules.

"Having to make changes means additional costs for the businesses, who have invested to be able to open and trade outdoors.”

Mr Togneri added: "What we would look to see is for some common sense to be adopted by the authorities, such as areas where there could be one household sitting in a small structure around one table, then they should allow the service of alcohol.

"The possibility of transmission is actually less than if they were outdoors in that scenario. We hope common sense will prevail."

From April 26, when Scotland moves into level three of the lockdown easing process, pubs will be allowed to serve alcohol outside until 10pm, while inside they can only serve food and must close at 8pm.

From May 17, when the whole of mainland Scotland is expected to move into level two of the coronavirus restrictions, it is expected that hospitality premises will be allowed to stay open until 10:30pm indoors, with alcohol permitted, for two hour time-limited slots.

In 2006, when the smoking ban was introduced in Scotland, the definition of what constituted an indoor area was criticised for being unclear, stating that an indoor space was classified as “wholly or substantially enclosed”, leading to loopholes which meant people would legally be allowed to smoke in some designs of bus shelter, but not others.

‘We spent thousands on a marquee and are now dismantling the whole thing’

Angus Boyd, owner of Mitchell’s Restaurant in Carmunnock, spent £10,000 on a marquee for his venue’s car park last summer.

After investing further to install central heating to create more space for tables during the winter months to compensate for social distancing regulations indoors, lockdown happened and he was forced to close the restaurant.

Now he is dismantling the structure to ensure it is compliant with the Scottish Government’s rule to open 50 per cent of the walls.

He said: “The marquee in the car park is a contentious issue. We are waiting to see what happens down south as that will reverberate up here too. Last summer, we got the marquee as we thought we would have to serve tables outside, then after a week they sent us inside again.

"We have got a massive marquee, but we need to make sure 50 per cent of it is open, so we are now dismantling the whole thing to open up some of the walls. We had fixed it up to be warm and water tight for the winter, but then were never able to use it due to the current lockdown.

"We have taken 40 per cent of the seating out and put in perspex booths, which was expensive – the price of perspex quadrupled in a week.”

Balbirnie House Hotel in Fife installed gazebo-style pods outdoors last summer.

Wedding co-ordinator Christine Lowe said: “We have no concerns at all. We put the gazebos in last July and operated using them until we had to close again under the latest lockdown and had no problems.”

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