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Ultimate guide to social distancing for restaurants, pubs and bars

After weeks of enforced closure, the UK's restaurants, pubs and bars have eventually been allowed to reopen their doors. However, with tough social distancing restrictions likely to remain in place for some time, how can hospitality businesses adapt to the new normal?


Social distancing rules are a major factor influencing the viability of hospitality businesses, particularly for those operating out of smaller venues. However, the Government recently amended its guidance, allowing hospitality businesses to reduce distancing to 1 metre plus, provided they implement other measures, such as the use of hygiene screens.

Larger venues are often able to remove tables to provide additional space, or utilise tent cards or stickers to mark selected tables as out of service but few businesses can operate viably with even a modest reduction in capacity.

Close off selected tables / seats with signage

If fixed tables can't be removed, stickers or tent cards can be used to prevent the use of selected tables / seats.

Temporary perspex or branded hygiene screens can be used to create physical barriers between tables, reducing the need to remove tables and cut capacity. Even so, many businesses will be forced to restrict access to pre-booked reservations only to control numbers inside the premises.

There's growing pressure on the Government to relax rules so that bars and restaurants can utilise outside spaces to serve as alfresco dining and drinking areas. Closing roads to traffic could help create continental style dining terraces, further increasing capacity, at least during the Summer months.


One of the biggest issues facing pubs and bars is the problem of people congregating at the bar. Although it's possible to install screens and sneeze guards to protect bar staff, this doesn't solve the issue of customers coming into close contact as they queue to order their drinks. Some pubs, such as the Betsy Wynne in Swansea, have decided to ban people from standing at the bar, enforced via bar-top signage. They plan to introduce table service, with customers browsing a disposable menu before placing their order via an app on their phone.

There are a growing number of contactless technology solutions on the market which allow customers to order drinks and food to their table. Apps, such as Orderly, can also be used for takeaways and collections, with payment processing included as part of the solution.

Implement social distancing at the bar with bar top strut cards

Help avoid a crush at the bar with a table service only policy, signposted with "Table Service Only" bar top strut cards


Over recent weeks, many restaurants and pubs have launched delivery and takeout services in an attempt to offset their overheads during the lockdown.

As customers are welcomed back into dining areas, it's likely that these initiatives will need to continue to help compensate for a reduction in covers and to cater for people who are not yet comfortable dining outside the home. A dedicated collection area or window, marked with clear social distancing signage, could allow take-outs to continue without negatively impacting capacity within the main restaurant.


Safe use of toilet facilities is yet another major hurdle to overcome. In smaller venues, spending a penny may be by request only. For those offering table service, this should be a relatively easy system to implement and manage. But preventing bottlenecks as people queue for the toilets in larger pubs and bars is likely to be a real challenge.

Roller banner divider screens provide a temporary physical barrier between tables

Roller banner hygiene screens can be used to create physical barriers between tables

Atlas Bar in Manchester has installed mirrors to help prevent customers bumping into each other as they navigate the narrow staircase to the first floor toilets. As part of efforts to reassure customers, they're promising to clean the toilets after each and every visit.

There have been calls for councils to install urinals in city centre streets, freeing up toilet facilities for female customers. But it seems most venues will need to rely on clear social distancing signage and careful queue management by staff. Customers will expect toilets to be sanitised regularly, with each clean clearly recorded and displayed on a cleaning register.


Concerns have been raised about the use of traditional, multi-use menus. Single-use disposable paper menus or Wagamama-style placemat menus are a simple and economical way to reassure diners and reduce hygiene risks. Alternatively, specially developed menus, made from tear resistant plastic which can be washed and sanitised in between uses, are becoming an increasingly popular option. The Piccolino chain of restaurants have opted for revolutionary anti-bacterial menus which remain 99% bacteria free even after repeated use.

Plastic menus which can be washed and sanitised between uses

Plastic menus can be washed and sanitised between uses

Single-use checklist menus can be used to reduce the need for servers to spend extended periods at a table or the need for people to queue to place their order at the bar. Diners can simply tick off the food and drink items they require and return the menu to the bar or leave it at the end of their table for collection. Menu posters, digital screens and hand written blackboards can supplement, or be used in place of, printed menus.


Recent surveys have indicated that many people will only return to establishments that can demonstrate stringent social distancing and hygiene precautions. There's lots to consider but it will probably be the simple steps that will have the biggest impact on public perceptions.

Clearly signposted hand sanitiser stations will be commonplace but they shouldn't be reserved for customers only. If front of house staff are observed regularly sanitising their hands, wearing face masks and thoroughly washing down tables and surfaces, customers can be confident that the same attention to detail is being observed behind the scenes. A time stamped hygiene sticker, applied to each table after cleansing, is a great way to provide further reassurance, as is the practice of presenting cutlery inside a paper bag, delivered to the table once diners have been seated.

Reassure customers with table hygiene sanitised stickers

Reassure customers that tables have been recently sanitised using timestamped stickers


In these uncertain times, effective communication will be essential as customers adapt to the new normal. A growing number of bars, pubs and restaurants have already started publicising their reopening plans in an attempt to promote their social distancing and hygiene policies and to raise awareness ahead of their relaunch.

The campaigns, which span web, social media, local and national media and on-site business reopening signage, are giving customers an understanding of what to expect, building trust and generating anticipation for the day they can once again enjoy a pint at their local and a slap up meal in their favourite restaurant.

A selection of social distancing solutions for the hospitality industry

Browse our entire range of 140+ Social distancing and hygiene solutions for bars, cafes, restaurants and hotels