20/04/2021 - Permalink

Coronavirus: Hospitality businesses urged to think carefully about how they promote outdoor space

Related topics: Coronavirus / Public protection

Shropshire Council’s trading standards and licensing service is advising cafes, pubs and restaurants to think very carefully about how they are promoting the use of their outdoor space for drinking and dining in line with Step 2 of the Government’s roadmap out of the third Lockdown.

Hospitality business will have welcomed the relaxation of the coronavirus restrictions that has allowed them to reopen from 12 April, but they must ensure customers are served outdoors. This has led to businesses finding creative solutions to ensure the outdoor drinking and dining experience is more enjoyable for their customers.

It has, however, also led to complaints about businesses promoting their outdoor areas with digital images of marquees, gazebos and other structures that clearly show them with a roof and more than two sides in place. If businesses allow customers to be seated inside these structures, then this will be a clear breach of the current restrictions. There will be insufficient ventilation, which will increase the risk of transmission of the virus, and put the health and safety of customers and staff at greater risk.

Council officers who are following up these complaints are finding that in many cases the images have been taken for promotional purposes, and there is no intention that all sides of the structures will be in place when customers are seated. It is also perfectly understandable that businesses will want to have sides in place when premises are closed to protect furniture and discourage unauthorised use.

There is a further risk that the promotional images will mislead customers as to the environment in which they will be drinking and dining. As well as dissatisfied customers, who are never good for business, businesses may find that they fall foul of consumer protection legislation that prohibits unfair commercial practices.

Frances Darling, Shropshire Council’s head of trading standards and licensing, said:-

“We want to support businesses in their efforts to recover from the serious impact that coronavirus has had, and to do so in a way that is positive for both parties. Having to deal with unfounded complaints is not helpful on either side.

“I would urge our hospitality trade to, firstly, ensure that any structures being used as outdoor space are not ‘substantially enclosed’ and do satisfy the ‘50% rule’; and secondly, that any promotional images made available on social media and websites accurately portray the environment in which customers will be seated.

“I know that the majority of businesses are committed to doing their absolute best and are implementing COVID-19-secure measures to protect the health and safety of their customers and staff. Equally, I understand that the majority do not want to intentionally mislead their customers. However, in order to ensure a level playing field for those who do comply, it is important to understand that we will take enforcement action against those who don’t.

“Finally, I would advise that if you are unsure about what you need to do, please ask us for advice. We are here to help.”

Further guidance on structures and outdoor spaces can be found here.

Further guidance on unfair commercial practices can be found here.

Businesses can seek coronavirus-related advice by contacting advicecompliance@shropshire.gov.uk or 0345 678 9067 (option 4).  If further advice is required in relation to unfair commercial practices, contact the trading standards and licensing service at publicprotection@shropshire.gov.uk or on 0345 678 9000.