Fears raised over loss of outdoor seating areas for restaurants under rule change

The temporary regulations brought in during the pandemic change back in October

A Bristol restaurant owner has expressed concern over the end of regulations that allow hospitality businesses to use sections of road for additional seating.

The Traffic Orders Procedure (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2020 has enabled many Bristol restaurants, cafes and pubs to use the outdoor space since the pandemic.

It was introduced to help businesses maintain customer numbers without breaking rules on social distancing due to Covid.

But the temporary regulations end in October, which means that outdoor structures such as decked areas or gazebos in the road will no longer be allowed.

At a time when hospitality businesses are already facing an uncertain future with uncapped energy costs and fewer customers able to afford eating and drinking out regularly due to rising domestic bills, many local restaurants and pubs are now worried about the additional changes in streets that aren’t pedestrianised.

Nutmeg Indian restaurant in The Mall, Clifton Village, added a specially built seating area in the road outside during the pandemic so customers could dine outside rather than in the small restaurant itself.

Owner Raja Munuswamy says the option to create a safe space outside for his customers ultimately saved the business during the pandemic.

Owner Raja Munuswamy of Nutmeg in Clifton

He said: “The introduction of the additional seating outside during Covid was a real lifeline for us.

“I’ve got no doubt that without it we would have been forced to close, at least for a period of time, and the business may never have recovered.”

Mr Munuswamy says Nutmeg’s current outdoor seating allows an extra 30% seating capacity because they reduced covers with social distancing in mind inside the restaurant.

“If we were to remove the outside seating as per the council request we would have no choice but to revert to the extra spacing inside.

“Throughout the period that the outdoor seating has been in place it’s been a real hit with customers who are more vulnerable than others and who would prefer to sit outside.

“Those customers would otherwise be uncomfortable with dining indoors, and if we remove that we’d definitely notice the reduction in our regular customers who come to enjoy our food outside.

“With everything else facing the hospitality industry at the moment, the rising costs of food and rising energy bills, we need help now rather than later, otherwise businesses like ours cannot survive. Venues will close and jobs will be lost.”

Bristol City Council says the powers that allow them to renew or create new licences for outdoor seating in suspended car parking spaces were removed by the Government in April 2021.

Nutmeg in Clifton is one of the Bristol restaurants to benefit from extra seating outside since the pandemic (photo: Duchess Media)

Without any new legislation to put these powers back in place, the council is unable to create any new licences or extend those that are ending in October.

A spokesperson for Bristol City Council said: “Supporting venues through the pandemic with temporary outdoor seating space was a key part of our strategy to ensure Bristol’s hospitality sector had the opportunity to survive the challenges of COVID-19.

“Under temporary legislation introduced by the government in July 2020, the council was able to change areas of the carriageway, such as a parking bay, into a footway to make it eligible for a pavement licence.

“These temporary licences will expire in October and the temporary legislation ceased in April 2021, so no new Traffic Orders can now be produced without new powers being granted by Westminster.

“We would welcome the opportunity to join businesses in further lobbying the government for new powers that give councils greater flexibility on this to offer more support as the national cost of living crisis worsens.”