Keeping workers and customers safe during COVID-19 – Restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services

The government has updated its guidance to help ensure safety during the pandemic. The new and updated guides cover a range of workplaces including any food preparation or service setting where food and drink is sold for consumption at venues or for takeaway or delivery. For example restaurants, pubs, bars, beer gardens, food to go, cafes, social and similar clubs operating as bars and restaurants, mobile catering and contract catering at the point of service to the consumer such as in offices or similar environments. The guidelines do not replace existing health and safety duties, but they should be considered by employers when assessing risk and implementing control measures. As an employer, you have a legal responsibility to protect workers, customers, volunteers and others from risk to their health and safety.

Thinking about risk

Employers must carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment (which must be shared with employees after consultation) and take preventative measures. Failure to do so may lead to enforcement action. That means working through steps in the guide in order i.e. ensuring workers and clients who feel unwell stay at home, increasing hand washing/surface cleaning, making every reasonable effort to work from home where possible and where working from home is not possible to comply with social distancing (2m, or 1m with risk mitigation where 2m is not viable, is acceptable).  Mitigating measures include increasing cleaning, reducing activity time, using screens or barriers (including at points of service), using fixed teams and avoiding face to face working. If people must work face-to-face for a sustained period with more than a small group of fixed partners, then employers will need to assess whether the activity can safely proceed. No one is obliged to work in an unsafe environment. Any measures that are put in place must be reviewed to ensure they are working. Employers are expected to demonstrate this by displaying a notification in a prominent place in the business and on their website. Employers should also consider the security implications of any decisions and control measures they intend to put in place.

The recommendations in the rest of the guide are those employers must consider as they go through this process. They can also consider any sector-specific advice e.g. from trade associations. 

Keeping your customers and visitors safe

The guidance makes a number of direct suggestions including keeping a temporary record of customers and visitors for 21 days, and assisting the NHS Test and Trace with requests for that data if needed, adhering to the differing limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, lowering capacity, staggering entry times with other neighboring businesses, arranging one-way travel routes and advising patrons to avoid particular forms of transport. More guidance is promised on this.

Steps that will usually be needed include calculating the maximum number of customers that can reasonably follow social distancing guidelines, reconfiguring indoor and outdoor seating and tables to maintain social distancing guidelines, managing queues, reminding customers to follow social distancing and hygiene advice. Customer entry should be managed, with hand sanitiser available on entry. Where a venue uses outdoor space, the operator should plan for adverse weather conditions and be clear that customers cannot seek shelter indoors unless social distancing can be maintained. During normal operation customers should be asked to remain at their table where possible, and customer self-service reduced to a minimum e.g. cutlery should be provided only when food is served and be disposable if possible. Customers who are accompanied by children should be reminded that they are responsible for supervising them at all times. Indoor and soft play areas should remain closed. Venues should not permit live performances until further guidance is published. This includes entertainment, including live performances, that is likely to encourage audience behaviours that increase transmission risk, such as raised voices, singing and dancing.

Contractor visits should be carried out wherever possible at a time that reduces contact e.g. at night. 

Who should go to work

Everyone should work from home, unless they cannot work from home. Employers should consider who needs to go to work as well as how to protect those at higher risk. The guide sets out steps to consider including planning for minimum numbers and the monitoring of staff and protecting those at higher risk. 

Social distancing for workers

The guide sets out detailed actions to maintain 2m social distancing wherever possible (or 1m with risk mitigation where 2m is not viable), including while arriving at and departing from work, while in work, and when travelling between sites as well as how to reduce risk when the guidelines cannot be followed in full including reducing activity time, using screens to separate workers from each other and from customers, the use of fixed teams and avoiding face to face working. For restaurants, preventative measures also include minimising access to areas with limited space, e.g. walk-in pantries, minimising contact at handover points between staff working in different areas, e.g. kitchen, front of house and delivery drivers or riders, use of electronic methods of communication between services areas and kitchens. The guide notes that COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. It is not known to be transmitted by exposure to food. 

Cleaning and sanitising the workplace

The guide considers how to ensure that any site or location that has been closed is clean and ready to restart; how to keep the workplace clean and prevent transmission by touching contaminated surfaces; how to ensure the highest hygiene standards are operated in kitchen areas; how to help everyone keep good hygiene through the working day; how to minimise the risk of transmission in changing rooms and showers and how to reduce transmission through contact with objects and vehicles. Steps that workers are encouraged to take include cleaning shared equipment before use, and washing hands after handling customer items before moving on to another task.

Businesses are also advised to consider additional guidance on reopening food businesses and managing legionella risk.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings

Where workers are already using PPE to protect against non-COVID-19 risks, they should continue to do so – additional (or any) PPE beyond what is usually worn is not beneficial. Employers should not require or encourage the precautionary use of extra PPE to protect against COVID-19 in most circumstances. Whilst wearing a face covering may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure against transmission by an asymptomatic carrier, wearing a face covering is optional and is not required by law, including in the workplace. Employers should support their workers and customers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one. If an employee does choose to wear a face covering, they should wash their hands before putting them on and before and after taking them off. Wearing a face covering is compulsory on public transport. 

Managing your workforce

The guide advises on how to change the way work is organised to create distinct groups and reduce the number of contacts each worker has including the use of shift patterns and working groups and during work related travel. It deals with communications and training including when returning to work and ongoing communications and signage to make all are kept up to date with safety measures. Employers should assist NHS Test and Trace by keeping a record of shift patterns for 21 days.

Inbound and outbound goods

The guide considers how to maintain social distancing and avoid surface transmission when goods enter and leave the site especially in high volume situations.

Where HSE identifies employers who are not complying with guidance to control public health risks, they will consider taking a range of actions to improve control of workplace risks including enforcement.

Where to Obtain Further Guidance

The guide recommends the following sources in order to obtain further guidance for employers and employees:

COVID-19: what you need to do

Support for businesses and employers during coronavirus (COVID-19)

General guidance for employees during coronavirus (COVID-19)

COVID-19: cleaning of non-healthcare settings 

COVID-19: guidance for food businesses


Key contacts

Meet the team
Erin Shoesmith

Erin Shoesmith

Partner, Health & Safety
United Kingdom

View profile