Food Leisure Sector – How to Restart your Business Legally

By Matthew Owen

It may seem a lot longer than 10 weeks since you last went to your favourite pub, café and restaurant, but it could be months before you will be able to, or more importantly want to, frequent them again. Social distancing and staff kitted out in some form of PPE will not exactly enhance the social experience and joy of drinks and meals out.

The whole leisure industry is suffering terribly from the Lockdown and is likely to be more adversely affected than most as it is generally a discretionary customer spend and will be last out of Lockdown. Most sympathy must be reserved for the local independent operators.

Thankfully though, we  are starting to see tenative steps towards normality resuming.  This week sees some fast food operators and coffee chains re-opening for drive through customers. There seems to be, understandably, pent up demand, with long queues reported at many well know fried chicken outlets.

The Government is trying to assist the sector by introducing temporary permitted development rights pursuant to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Order 2015.

“These rights permit restaurants, cafés and bars/pubs to operate a food takeaway service, without requiring a change to their planning permission. This will run to 23 March 2021, and as with many Coronavirus measures may well be extended.”

The “provision of takeaway food” includes any use within Class A5 and any use for the provision of hot or cold food prepared for collection or delivery to be consumed, reheated, or cooked by consumers off the premises.

There are some simple conditions that need to be observed, including the operator must inform the local authority of which premises are being used or will be used for the provision of takeaway food at any time until the deadline. The use class will revert back to its previous lawful use after 23 March 2021 or, if earlier, when the provision of takeaway food ends.

Important Legal Points to Bear in Mind

For tenants this might be a lifeline, in being able to adapt their businesses and keep custom, showing their customers that they are “open for business”. For many it might not be financially profitable but it might just be the life support the business needs to see it through. However from a legal point of view they should:-

  • Check their leases in relation to user clause. Often takeaway will not be a permitted use and consent from the landlord should be obtained
  • Try and persuade your Landlord to issue the consent in letter form rather than the delay and cost of a formal lease variation
  • Make sure to notify the local planners in writing

We would hope that landlords issue consents as required, albeit in mixed use buildings (ie with apartments above), there may be constraints on them issuing consents, or may be reasons of good estate management as to why they would not want to consent. Of course it is far better for landlords to have a functioning tenant.

Matthew Owen is a solicitor in our Commercial Property team. You can contact Matthew here.