A national lockdown was imposed on 27 March 2020 in Ireland which included all dine-in retail food establishments. To date, restaurants and cafés are currently permitted to continue operating a takeaway service only. The Irish Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business (the Roadmap) consists of five phases. While cafés and restaurants providing on-premises food services are expected to reopen in Phase 3, scheduled to commence on 29 June 2020, this is on the condition that they comply with social distancing measures and will implement strict cleaning protocols.
For now, social distancing means spacing of 2 metres between customers. For many restaurants, particularly those with space constraints, this reduces business to a level that is not economically viable. Restaurant representatives are urging the Government to adopt the World Health Organisation advice of a 1 metre physical distance requirement. This will be a key factor for many restaurants planning for a potential reopening during the summer. Meanwhile restaurants should consider the range of other official guidance and requirements that will apply to their operations.
Maintaining a Safe Working Environment
As employers, restaurants will have to adhere to the rules that apply to workplaces generally as well as those that are specific to food businesses.
The Return to Work Safely Protocol dated 9 May 2020 outlines a mandatory set of Government rules which apply across all industry sectors. Restaurants and cafés should consider the following before re-opening:
- Assess the premises to determine whether public health measures such as social distancing can be facilitated, both for staff and customers
- Reorganize and rearrange other physical infrastructure of the restaurant, such as food production areas, washrooms and /or installing Perspex screens and hand hygiene areas
- Implement a queue management system /safe waiting area and correct distance markings
- Put in place card payment methods where practicable
In order to maintain a safe working environment upon re-opening, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has published checklists for employers that set out additional cleaning, sanitizing and disinfection measures. As the HSA can order the closure of a restaurant, it is advisable to treat these measures as being mandatory.
Food Safety Measures
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) sets out guidance on food safety to be implemented before re-opening. Restaurants should ensure that their food safety management systems are updated to include any additional processes or procedures that are required to minimise the spread of COVID-19 such as carrying out deep cleaning of work spaces and ensuring that staff members receive adequate food safety and hygiene training.
Minimising the Risk to Workers and Customers
Food workers that display any symptoms of COVID-19 should not come to work. Employers should also issue employees with a pre-return to work form. There is no mandatory obligation on an employer in Ireland to carry out temperature or other checks on its employees or customers as this is not currently required by health authorities. The FSAI does not require food workers to wear PPE such as face masks and gloves but instead recommends that proper hygiene and hand washing measures are in place.
Response by the Irish Restaurant Industry
The Restaurant Association of Ireland published its Plan for Reopening and Sustaining the Irish Restaurant Sector. Among the proposals, it has requested a waiver of licences for outdoor seating to enable restaurants to fully utilise outdoors spaces. This is a trend which has emerged in other European countries and could usefully be implemented in Ireland in the coming months.
COVID-19 has resulted in significant additional hurdles for restaurants looking to reopen for dine-in services. Alongside the physical distancing rules, there are sector-specific measures for safe reopening of food premises. The Health Service Executive, the Health and Safety Authority and/or the Food Safety Authority of Ireland may issue further guidance for restaurants before we reach Phase 3, which restaurants should observe when reopening. We are available to advise restaurants, workplaces and employers at this challenging time.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.