An exemption the government has included in the rules to allow freelancers to work over lunch is being operated by upscale restaurants encouraging up to 30 people to dine together as long as “the topic is business.”
Caprice Holdings, the restaurant empire run by multimillionaire Richard Caring, sent loyal customers this week inviting them to make reservations that appear to break the one-household rule.
“We want to be clear – when the topic is business you can always get together for a fabulous working lunch or dinner without the restriction of the ‘one housekeeping rule’, which is mixed households are allowed up to six people, ”the email said. . “We can accommodate up to 30 people in our private dining areas for business meetings.”
The Cinnamon Club, popular with politicians and lobbyists because of its location near the Palace of Westminster, said: “It has become clear that if you come to our restaurants for business reasons, you can meet for lunch or for dinner. dinner without the ‘only fireplace’ restriction and this is allowed for a maximum of six guests.
D&D London, which owns the upscale Quaglino’s, Le Coq d’Argent, Bluebird Café and German Gymnasium, said: “We are happy to confirm that you can still have business meetings over lunch and dinner. . As the main objective of your reservation is professional, we are delighted to welcome you as usual. ”
Jeremy King, co-owner of Corbin & King, who owns corporate favorites including the Delaunay on the Strand and the Wolseley in Piccadilly, emailed his preferred customers to tell them, “While social opportunities have to come from one household, has determined that business meetings are acceptable. ”
Despite the limited capacity of the elevators, several restaurants in the Shard and Heron Towers accept large reservations for business lunches. Duck & Waffle, on the 40th floor of Heron Tower near Liverpool Street Station, will take reservations for six people for a business lunch, while Sushi Samba, two floors below, will accommodate up to 14 people to chat spreadsheets during lunch.
Restaurants rely on “exception 3” of the 2020 Health Protection Act (Coronavirus, local Covid-19 alert level) (medium), which states: “Exception 3 is that the gathering is reasonably necessary – a) for business purposes or for the provision of voluntary or charitable services. ”
The messages seem to have worked. Many of London’s most famous restaurants, including The Ivy, which is part of the Caring Empire in Soho, and Le Coq d’Argent in the City, were doing a frantic Friday lunchtime trade.
At Sexy Fish, Caring’s last expensive fish restaurant on Berkeley Square in Mayfair, all tables were occupied, forcing walk-ins like Guardian reporters to dine at the bar, adorned with bronze mermaid sculptures. by Damien Hirst.
Browsing through the menu, which includes king crab and caviar sushi at £ 42 a piece that can be washed down with a £ 16,000 Armand de Brignac champagne, three groups of four did not appear to belong to the same household.
A group of four ladies who had dinner together said they were “sort of” having a business lunch when they “are old colleagues” making up for it. Further challenged, one party said it was “happy to break the rules because I know I won’t hurt anyone or else I won’t hurt”.
The women said they did not make reservations, but entered the restaurant and the butler did not ask them if they were from separate households. The restaurant manager, who asked the Guardian reporter to leave the restaurant, said he realized that the three tables of four were breaking the rules.
“We alert every guest and we do it via confirmation email,” he said. “We are doing everything we can… We are doing our best, we are taking as much care as we can… You can’t ask me a single question.
There seemed to be some confusion within government as to who could clarify the official position on business lunches. The Treasury suggested the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. BEIS, in turn, appointed a higher authority.
Downing Street said most inter-household working meals were not allowed and should only take place if there were no other options. But a spokesperson said the government was unlikely to take action against restaurants promoting business lunches.
“We obviously encourage people to use alternatives for work meetings when possible, such as workplaces secured by Covid, or by other means – virtually or by phone,” said a spokesperson for the n ° 10. “We explained this week why the exemption was introduced, to allow freelancers and others who may not have access to a workplace secured by Covid to use it. But we encourage everyone to act responsibly. “