Tourism agency Fáilte Ireland has finalised and published guidelines around the reopening of pubs serving food, that will see customers restricted to spending a maximum of one hour and 45 minutes in a premises at any one time.

An additional 15 minutes will have to be put aside by the business for cleaning between bookings, the guidelines say, and to allow customers leave without mixing with the next group coming in.

Pubs, gastro pubs and bars will also have to collect contact information for the lead person in a party, in order to facilitate contact tracing in the event of a positive case of Covid-19 later being identified.

Where two-metre physical distancing is not possible, the guidelines say businesses are now allowed to implement a one-metre rule in controlled environments, once other risk mitigation requirements have been met.

"These guidelines are intended to provide clarity to businesses so that they can reopen safely on June 29th," Paul Kelly, CEO of Fáilte Ireland, said.

"I would like to thank my team and officials from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport who have been working tirelessly on ensuring these guidelines are practical while adhering to public health advice."

The publication of the guidelines follows 24 hours of intensive discussions between Fáilte Ireland and officials from the Department, during which guidance issued by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) for food service businesses was considered.

Fáilte Ireland was concerned about aspects of the HPSC guidance, including a requirement for customers to be restricted to spending a maximum of 90 minutes in a pub or restaurant at any one time.

It was also understood to be worried about guidance around contact tracing measures, including a proposed requirement for the contact details of everyone in a group to be collected.

The tourism agency claimed it advocated on behalf of the industry to ensure its concerns were addressed and a number of changes were accepted by the HPSC.

Fáilte Ireland said its guidelines are living documents which will evolve to reflect new Government advice and changes to protocols when they emerge.

Among the risk mitigation measures that pubs must put in place if they are to exercise a one-metre physical distancing rule are use of additional signage to ask customers not to enter if they have symptoms.

Entry will have to be regulated so that premises do not become overcrowded, with pre-booking encouraged as much as possible, the guidelines say.

Customers should be seated at a table except when using the toilet, paying and departing, according to the document, while clear signage should indicate the location of and route to the bathrooms.

A strict queuing system and limitations on number of users of the toilets at any one time must be enforced to ensure physical distancing, according to the rules.

Floor markings should be used to facilitate compliance with the social distancing advice particularly in the most crowded areas, like serving counters and tills.

Regular announcements should be made to remind customers to follow social distancing advice and clean their hands regularly, the document states.

It also says plexiglass barriers should be placed at tills and counters if feasible, as an additional element of protection for workers and customers.

The rules also say the number of servers per group of guests should be limited to the smallest number that is practical.

Disposable menus or laminated menus that can be adequately cleaned after each use, should also be used, while unnecessary items should be removed from tables.

The guidance also says that consideration should be given where practical to workers providing services to only one gathering and that they should not move between multiple gatherings in different venue locations such as function rooms.

Where possible, facilities such as toilets should not be used simultaneously by multiple gatherings, the guidelines say, but if they are cleaned in between usage, they may be used separately by different gatherings, within the same time period. 

In situations where the kitchen environment makes it difficult to physically distance, the guidelines say employers need to consider other measures such as dividing the kitchen into zones with an employee allocated to each zone, the staggering of workstations on either side of service area so that food workers are not facing one another and the provision of PPE such as face masks, disposable gloves and clean aprons/uniforms. 

The capacity of function rooms and smoking areas must be reviewed and altered if necessary, the guidance also says.

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The hospitality trade had been lobbying hard for a reduction in the two-metre rule, because providers said it would not be economically viable for them to reopen with a two-metre rule in place.

But there is concern that a defined maximum length of stay and mandatory pre-booking for customers may prove to be impractical for many providers, particularly those dependent on walk-in clients.

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Earlier, the Chief Executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, Adrian Cummins, said his members are concerned about the cost of safely reopening their businesses.

He said restaurants urgently need a €150 million package, which would break down to €33,000 of grant aid and supports for each restaurant to get them up and running.

He said this would go towards the cost of PPE, which he said costs €2,500 a month for a restaurant with a staff of 20 people and these businesses will be impacted by a reduced capacity because of one-metre social distancing.

He said the proposal to move from two-metre to one-metre has been a "gamechanger" for the industry and will give a lot of confidence to businesses about the viability of reopening.

'Two-hour sitting would be far more realistic' - bar and restaurant owner

The Chief Executive of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland earlier welcomed the draft guideline to reduce the social distancing restrictions but said it was important to point out that the restrictions only apply to pubs that will serve food, and not the normal "wet pub".

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Padraig Cribben warned that from a "viability point of view, it's going to be very challenging" but that it is still considerably better than the alternative of two metres.

Mr Cribben said the majority of pubs that serve food are already producing substantial meals.

He said it would be up to pubs to now decide if they could operate within the new guidelines and some pubs that serve food, may not open until later in the summer because they still face significant challenges.