Following the lifting of lockdown and a return to the three-tier system, the government allowed pubs in tier 2 to open their doors, but only on the condition they serve a "substantial meal" alongside any alcohol sold.
Some 32 million people fall under the tier 2 rules, but there has been debate over what the term "substantial meal" actually means. The vague definition of the circumstances has confused the hospitality industry, on what they need to do to trade, and not be fined.
Is a "substantial meal" a few bags of nuts or pork scratchings? A sausage roll? A Pot Noodle or a sandwich? The debate has turned into the scotch egg saga, after government ministers contradicted each other on whether the spherical savoury food was enough to constitute a “substantial meal”.
The environmental and rural affairs secretary George Eustice said a scotch egg "probably would count" as a substantial meal. Meanwhile, Michael Gove had initially said that a scotch egg was "probably" not a "substantial meal" before doing a U-turn. Health secretary Matt Hancock has said that a "substantial meal" is one you "sit down to".
Unsurprisingly, sales of scotch eggs have soared since Mr Hancock's comment that they fit the bill for a “substantial meal”. Scotch egg maker Happy Belly saw a tremendous increase in enquiries from pubs without kitchens for the pork and egg food after the news.
Now we’ve had the first post-lockdown weekend, customers have flooded social media with their “substantial meal" experiences.
One was served a wrap in cling film, saying in a Twitter post: “We found a pretty normal pub last night. Bless them they don't usually serve food so have had to do this instead."
Dani Dyer recalled the scene from The Inbetweeners, in which Will orders three carvery dinners so he can get served alcohol in a pub.
Others have created memes of pork pies garnishes on pints and posted their receipts of ordering everything from scotch eggs and bowls of chilli to buttermilk chicken so they can be served drinks.
One Twitter user said he was leaving out a "substantial meal" for Santa to accompany his drink this year.
In a nod to the government's woolly definitions, and in a bid to get punters through its doors, the King’s Head in Lewes, East Sussex, is offering tier 2 special dishes on its “Dir-tier 2” menu for under £5 including "Sunak’s Sausages" and "Gove’s Goujon" plus “Priti’s Puds” and "Hancock’s Halloumi".
The Who’d A Thought It pub in Plumstead, southeast London, came up with the very simple idea of serving powdered meals that only need hot water to prepare. Containing a balance of carbs, protein, fats, fibre and vitamins his pub’s Huel food pouches cost £3.50 a pop.
Landlord Brian Hall reckons he's found a "pretty clever way to hack the system,” and offers healthier food not typically served in pubs.“It’s a hell of a lot healthier than the packet of peanuts our regulars are used to having with their pint," he said to the i, "and if it means that we can get our doors open in the run-up to Christmas then we’re all for it.”
The Caxton Arms in Brighton joked that it was to get around tier 2 restrictions by offering a pint named "substantial meal". Landlord Brett Mendoza posted a picture of his new draft on Facebook.
Meanwhile, the Royal Oak pub in Beccles, Suffolk, introduced a scotch egg pizza in a humorous take on the recent debate. “We are sure to survive and looking forward to getting back to normal,” said Oakfired’s Paul Jackson.
But some say there has been substantial food waste with the "substantial meal" policy. "Don’t go to the pub unless you are hungry," said pub worker Will Dalrymple. Who posted about how much food was being discarded so people could enjoy a quick drink.
Chief executive for UKHospitality pointed out the inconsistencies in the regulations: “How can it be ok to reopen theatres, sports grounds and cinemas and let them sell alcohol without table meals,” she said, "but I cannot sit outside a pub or restaurant and have a drink with my sister".
Non-alcoholic drinks can be served in pubs without you having to order a “substantial meal”. Those who are drinking and have ordered a "substantial meal" will not be able to continue drinking after they have finished their meals.
“We’ve been clear that, in tier two I believe, that you need to have a substantial meal if ordering any alcohol, and it remains the case that the guidance says that once the meal is finished, it is at that point [you have to leave.]” said Boris Johnson.
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