Bar owners find creative ways to skirt COVID restrictions [Updated]

Basket of Scotch eggs with one split open to show cross-section
Photo: Inga Rasmussen (Getty Images)

Update, November 30, 2020: As a COVID-19 resurgence across Europe this month forces businesses to shutter once more, some British pubs are finding clever means of staying open in the face of new restrictions, just as their Yankee brethren did this summer. According to the BBC, England’s recently instated “tier two” regulations dictate that pubs in high-risk areas can only stay open if they function as a restaurant rather than a bar—and that “alcohol can only be served as part of a ‘substantial meal.’” Just like we noted back in July (see below), terms like “dining” and “meal” are vague descriptors open to interpretation and uneven enforcement. But one government official is doing local pubs a solid with a useful serving suggestion that might help them stay open: Scotch eggs.

“I think a Scotch egg probably would count as a substantial meal if there were table service,” environment secretary George Eustice recently told LBC radio. “Often that might be as a starter, but yes, I think it would.”

Scotch eggs are a common pub snack across the U.K. and one of those things that absolutely ought to be more popular within the U.S. bar scene. If you order a big honking Scotch egg and it’s got a generous meat-and-breadcrumb layer to it, then yes, it’s probably the equivalent of ordering a substantial appetizer or entree salad. If it seems arbitrary for officials to be quibbling over things like table service and exactly what constitutes a substantive meal, Eustice explained that pub crowds were the likeliest to mingle closely and in large numbers, and that tier two regulations are designed to curb that behavior.

Advertisement

“They were more likely to maintain social distancing sat down and having a meal,” Eustice said.

Original post, July 22, 2020: As long as there are rules, people will find ways to get around them, and even rules that are intended to protect everyone from a deadly pandemic are no exception. In New York State, bars were recently allowed to reopen, but with these caveats: customers must be sitting down and they must be eating food. And not just bags of potato chips, either. Governor Andrew Cuomo demands dining. His reasoning, as the New York Times reported last week, is that if patrons are just drinking, they’re also walking around and mingling and possibly spreading the coronavirus. The ruling was vague enough, though, that it didn’t explain what “dining” actually meant.

So even before the governor’s press conference ended, enterprising bar owners were thinking up ways to get around his edict, including Chris Turner, food and beverage director of The Lafayette Brewing Co., a brewpub in Buffalo:

Advertisement

“I don’t even think his press conference was done by the time I hit print on it,” Turner told Forbes. Since then, though, he’s come up with a classier cheap menu that includes items like pretzel fries and fish sticks.

Syracuse.com catalogued several other bars around New York State that have come up with creative low-price menus.

Advertisement

Hamburg Brewing Company in Hamburg initially handed out Dum Dums lollipops for a penny, but switched over to crackers, which probably go better with beer anyway. The item is so official it has a place on the menu.

Advertisement

Meanwhile, in Saratoga Springs:

Advertisement

“I mean why not, they’re his chips, they’re his rule so he might as well get some recognition and acknowledgment for another little hurdle we have to jump through as business owners,” owner Matthew Bagely told Albany’s WRGB-TV. Harvey’s took the liberty of adding a $1 order of Cuomo Chips to every order. Customers said they also made great paperweights for the check. They proved so popular that they sold out in two days. Now Cuomo Chips look like pretzel bites. But the name is so much fun—and presumably brought in so much business— that Bagely has decided to keep it.

Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

burnersbabyburners
Burners Baby Burners: Discussion Inferno

“Sure, the point of this law was to make sure people don’t get COVID19, pass it to everyone they meet, then suffer lifelong side-effects if they don’t die horribly, but I need to make a buck and I don’t care about actually making sure my business is safe and responsible!”

Get more clever about keeping your customers away from each other while they visit your establishment, that should have been their goal. What kind of person looks at that situation and says “I need the easiest, cheapest, laziest way to ensure I barely obey the new law while ignoring the longer-term needs of my customers and the community as a whole”? It seems pretty scummy. Not surprising, just scummy.