Reopening Outside Spaces

Over the last few weeks hospitality businesses have been reopening their beer gardens and outside areas, to delighted customers. Up to this point the primary focus for restaurants and pubs had been on ensuring COVID safety indoors meaning that it would be easy for a business to overlook the safety of outside spaces. As these areas are going to be utilised more often and in different ways than before, the new service styles present their own set of unique risks. 

Rob Easton, Head of our Consultancy Services team at Shield Safety Group, highlights safety areas that must be remembered and highlights any new COVID rules for pubs and restaurants. 

The spring clean 

Every year, hospitality businesses have a ritual of preparing their outside spaces for the summer. Paths are cleaned, decks pressure washed, light bulbs checked, lighting timers adjusted for British Summer Time, furniture given the once over and tightened or replaced. It is important that these tasks are remembered and completed diligently. With the focus on COVID, businesses must not forget the normal safety tasks they undertake for outside areas. 

Outside structures 

The great British weather presents its own challenges, and a sunny beer garden can quickly be hit by an April shower resulting in customers running for cover. Over the coming weeks gazebos will be popping up and new structures built to cater for any inopportune downpours.  

When choosing and erecting the new structures, businesses must consider several safety implications. The structure must be stable and properly fixed to the ground, a flimsy gazebo or large garden umbrella can quickly be picked up by the wind. Is the structure inherently fire retardant? There is the risk of discarded smoking materials, firepits or cooking appliances catching the structure alight and then spreading to other structures.  

Until inside dining opens again (scheduled for 17th May 2021), all outside structures must be open to at least 50%, the same as smoking shelters. It is important to make sure that structures do not obstruct CCTV cameras and inadvertently impact licensing conditions or increase the risk of theft or damage. 

Toilet facilities can be used although proprietors must ensure social distancing as before, enhanced cleaning and the wearing of face masks. Inside toilets can also be used but following the same rules. 

Don’t disturb the neighbours!  

The expected huge demand for outside spaces from today, means that there might be an increase in noise complaints. The implication being that, just as a pub or restaurant starts to trade again and the tills are ringing, then they become subject to licencing reviews or investigation by the Environmental Health Officer. It is a balance between creating a welcoming space now and not jeopardising relationships with neighbours and impacting the future ability to trade.  

Amongst other ways, noise can be controlled by limiting capacity, considering if background music is needed, reducing trading hours and requesting that patrons respect neighbours. Of course, it is not satisfactory for a business just to say they are doing these things, they must be able to demonstrate the controls in place and action taken if controls are not followed. An incident log is the perfect tool for recording any action taken.  

Fire risks 

In a similar way that there has been a rush on gazebos and outside structures, demand has been high for patio heaters and fire pits. There is no doubt that sitting under a patio heater or next to a flickering firepit can improve an evening outside, but there are new risks introduced by using them. Both styles of equipment must be sited to ensure they do not present a risk of fire spreading. For thatched properties, it is very likely that the insurance policy would be invalidated if there was a fire pit in the garden.  

Gas heaters bring the risk of the use and storage of LPG and the heater must be inspected regularly to ensure it is good condition. Both fire pits and heaters should be secured to prevent them being moved and ideally the furniture around them should also be secured to prevent guests getting closer to the heater or pit. The fire risk assessment must be reviewed and updated to recognise the new risk introduced from heaters, new furniture layouts and structures, and ensure adequate controls are in place. Need help reviewing your fire risk assessment? Click here

Food offering 

It is understandable why businesses would look to develop an outside kitchen area, reducing distance between the cooking and the guest and bringing efficiency to delivery. It is one thing to do a BBQ as a one off for a garden party, it is a different challenge to set up and semi-permanent food offering outside. Consideration must be given to: 

  • Adequately controlling cross contamination  
  • Ensuring the temperature control is sufficient 
  • Preventing damage by pests 
  • Provision of hand washing facilities  
  • Ensuring waste is properly disposed of 

 The Food Safety Management System must be reviewed and updated to ensure that outside catering is suitably covered and then the team will need to be trained and understand the controls needed for this different process. 

Table Service 

To stop COVID transmission outdoors, table service for licensed premises is compulsory, even if the customer is not purchasing alcohol. If your premises is not licensed, then you may adopt indoor service but with social distancing in place. 

Our Safe to Trade Scheme can help you show customers that your business has gone above and beyond Government advice. Click here for more information.

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John Brennan

Blogs, covid-19, Food Safety

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