New lockdown rules to come into effect on 2 December prohibit the sale of alcohol without a ‘substantial meal’ alongside it – leading to confusion from punters and publicans alike on what constitutes a large enough food offering.
The environment secretary, George Eustice, has suggested the British pub stable snack made up of an egg, sausage meat and breadcrumbs could be sufficient to qualify as a meal.
“I think a Scotch egg probably would count as a substantial meal if there were table service,” he told LBC.
“Often that might be as a starter but yes I think it would, but this is a term that’s understood in licensing since it is, you can have the concept of a table licence for alcohol that also requires you to serve a substantial meal.
“That is the model that is being followed.”
It comes after housing secretary Robert Jenrick fuelled debate last month by suggesting the same logic could be applied to pasties.
“If you would expect to go into that restaurant normally, or pub, and order a plated meal at the table of a Cornish pasty with chips or side salad or whatever it comes with, then that’s a normal meal,” he explained in October.
Mr Eustice added that the idea of a substantial meal was “understood very much by the restaurant trade”, despite reports to the contrary.
Tim Foster of the Yummy Pub company wrote on Twitter: “I’ve been in this game for 22 years – I have never used the term ‘substantial meal’ until I saw it in Covid government guidelines.”
Some 57 per cent of England’s population will be placed under tier two restrictions when the new measures come into force later this week – while 41 per cent will be placed under tier 3, which allows hospitality firms to open as takeaway-only businesses.
Along with anger from some in the hospitality trade, the measures and other rules in the tier system have also drawn the ire of scores of Tory MPs.
Mr Eustice admitted the restrictions may not be “perfectly consistent” or fair.
On the “substantial meal” rule, he said: “The evidence has been that some of the challenges we have had with pubs were where you had large groups of people congregating and actually not maintaining social distancing, they were just drinking.
“They were more likely to maintain social distancing sat down and having a meal.”
He told Talkradio: “The measures we’re taking are all about trying to break the cycle of infection and that doesn’t mean that every rule that we introduce and every requirement we put on people is perfectly consistent or might even be considered perfectly fair – indeed, they won’t be.”
Additional reporting by agencies