It’s one of the most pressing questions of the week: what is a substantial meal?
Pubs and restaurants can reopen their doors in Tier 1 and 2 areas of England on Wednesday, but with different rules to before.
In Tier 1, lowest level of restrictions which will initially apply to Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and Isle of Wight only, drinks can be served but via table service only.
Alcohol can only be served with a “substantial meal” in high risk Tier 2 areas, while in Tier 3 locations they can only offer delivery, takeaway or drive-through services.
It’s left restaurant and pub owners and potential diners alike scratching their heads, trying to work out what that means.
New Tier 2 coronavirus rules
From Wednesday 32million people will be living with Tier 2 restrictions, which include pubs and restaurants having to stop serving at 10pm, then giving customers another hour to leave.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has admitted the new post-lockdown coronavirus restrictions would cause “a great deal of heartache and frustration” for the hospitality industry, but confusion is also spreading as people try to understand what qualifies as a substantial meal.
What is a “substantial meal”?
The government’s Covid Winter Plan document describes a substantial meal as “like a full breakfast, main lunchtime or evening meal”.
Now, government ministers are trying to explain what that means, unable to decide, particularly when it comes to the humble Scotch egg.
On Monday George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said they could count.
Mr Eustice said: “I think a Scotch egg probably would count as a substantial meal if there were table service.
“And often that may be as a starter.
“But yes, I think it would.”
However, earlier in the pandemic, when these rules were first introduced in the autumn to Tier 3 locations, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick suggested a Cornish pasty – arguably bigger than a Scotch egg – would not count as a substantial meal, unless it was served with chips and a side salad.
Mr Eustice was later overruled by Downing Street when a No10 spokesman said: “Bar snacks do not count as a substantial meal…It’s well-established in the hospitality industry what does.”
Mr Gove told Good Morning Britain an egg wrapped in sausage meat and bread crumb is “probably a starter”, though shortly afterwards backtracked, telling ITV News it was a “substantial meal.”
“I myself would definitely scoff a couple of Scotch eggs if I had the chance, but I do recognise that it is a substantial meal.”
On GMB Mr Gove rules on having a drink with a substantial meal have “been defined in law for years now”, but was unable to tell viewers what it said.
“The serious point is the pubs have known for years now what a substantial meal is,” he added.
“They can serve whatever they choose, provided it’s in tune with appropriate rules considering whatever tier they are in,” while also suggesting the government is relying on customers to use their common sense.
Mr Eustice and Mr Jenrick have both said the term “substantial meal” is a well-known and long-established term in restaurant and pub licensing, hinting the onus will mainly be on business owners to make the final decision.
Other Tier 2 pub rules
Pub-goers in Tier 2 are also banned from lingering after eating their meals.
Last week Downing Street made it clear punters must leave once they’ve finished eating, and not stay for another drink.
The PM’s official spokesman said: “We’ve been clear that, in Tier 2 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.”
There is, however, no limit in the government’s Covid Winter Plan on the number of drinks you can have with your meal.
Alastair Kerr, from The Campaign For Pubs, told Sky News, that landlords would “operate a common sense policy”, but the extra hour between last orders at 10pm and doors closing at 11pm “doesn’t bring much benefit”.
He said that some publicans could allow a customer to order multiple drinks to help cover operating costs during that hour, but would not “endorse unsociable drinking”.