There is much to be said for no longer having to go to the office. Saving on commute time, the end of sad desk sandwiches and working in pyjamas all spring to mind.
But the office wasn’t all desk lunches, artificial lighting and pained small talk. It was human connection with colleagues, learning from one another, laughing with someone other than your partner and, crucially, the chance to go out for business lunches.
They make us feel happier about going to work and allow people the chance to make important real-life connections and deals that eventually help further careers.
But what is happening to the business lunch now London has entered Tier 2 restrictions, and we are all being advised to work from home where possible?
Here we outline what we know so far:
We are all finding the Tier Two rules bewildering and whilst social occasions need to be from a single household, BUSINESS MEETINGS ARE ACCEPTABLE within the rules. So, we wanted to let you know, we are proceeding with business bookings from different households. pic.twitter.com/tsVOX2Laii
— The Wolseley (@TheWolseley) October 20, 2020
Can I go for a business lunch in London under Tier 2 restrictions?
As society opened up post-lockdown over summer, the business lunch was slowly returning. Restaurants reported an uptick in customers, and some drinks companies reported a return to profitability as hospitality demand rose.
For the London hospitality industry the working lunch, complete with starters, wine and sides, is a key staple. Without this daytime income, combined with reduced capacity and a 10pm curfew, many restaurants, bars and pubs fear they will face an uphill battle this winter.
But now meeting people outside your household inside pubs and restaurants is not allowed under the Tier 2 restrictions recently implemented in London.
Up to 30 may meet indoors for work purposes, providing the venue follows Covid guidelines, however. So, unsurprisingly, a lot of confusion and debate has ensued this week around whether a business lunch counts as meeting indoors for work purposes.
The current answer appears to be yes, and no.
What has the Government said on the issue?
There appears to be a “loophole” in the Government’s Tier 2 advice which allows people from different households to meet in restaurants if they are holding a work meeting.
But following reports of the potential "loophole", a number 10 spokesperson told the Standard that a specific exemption was put in place to help freelancers without any office space, to make sure these workers are able to hold a business meeting somewhere indoors.
But he said that current guidance for office workers is that they should avoid business lunches in restaurants and pubs, in favour of virtual or in-office meetings. However, this is not enshrined in law.
The spokesperson said: "There is a specific exemption that is there for freelancers and the self-employed to allow people to have meetings.
"But we have been clear that we are encouraging people to meet virtually where possible."
How has the hospitality industry reacted?
In recent days Corbin & King, the group behind London institutions The Delaunay, The Wolseley and Brasserie Zedel, has led central London restaurant calls for all employees to be allowed to hold business lunches.
Co-founder Jeremy King appealed to customers and took to social media to state his intention for the group to take any business meeting booking.
The restaurant management wrote on Twitter: “We are all finding the Tier Two rules bewildering and whilst social occasions need to be from a single household, BUSINESS MEETINGS ARE ACCEPTABLE within the rules. So, we wanted to let you know, we are proceeding with business bookings from different households.”
Michelin-starred Galvin La Chapelle, steakhouse chains Gaucho and M Restaurants are among venues which have come out to say they will accept business reservations.
Other restaurants and bars have followed the call for widespread business lunches more cautiously.
Frank Maguire, head of marketing at Truman’s Brewery, said that the group’s venues would be accepting bookings for business lunches “so long as it is legal”.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of industry trade body UKHospitality, told The Times on Wednesday that she had asked for urgent clarification from Government on office workers being allowed business lunches “because in central London, if the working lunch is gone, there’s no trade".
The debate is just one of those being held between hospitality industry leaders and the Government.
Last week, UKHospitality warned that tougher Tier 2 Covid restrictions will put up to 250,000 jobs at risk in London's hospitality sector.
Celebrity chefs led more than 200 hospitality workers in a demonstration against Tier 2 restrictions on Monday, and on Wednesday an alliance of restaurateurs, business leaders and politicians called on the Government to scrap the “pointless” 10pm curfew.
What are Londoners saying?
Business owners and employees told the Standard they are keen to hold lunch meetings with clients in restaurants.
The owners of one PR company told the Standard they are frustrated by the Government’s stance on the issue.
Meritaten Mance, of Mance&Co Comms, said: “The loophole is another example of poorly thought out activations by the Government.
“Businesses are having to use these loopholes in order to survive, which they can hardly be blamed for after the constant losses generated by successive government action against a struggling hospitality industry."
She added: “We have had multiple important meetings cancelled because neither our staff or clients know how to comply safely with anti-coronavirus measures, thus affecting not only our business but also the restaurants, cafes and venues that are losing out to the much needed trade that these meetings generate.”
PR account director, Sophie Pettifer, said that it seemed "odd" that she and colleagues are allowed to share office space, but not go for a business lunch.
She said: "I’d like to still be able to go out for business lunches and it seems odd we could be in offices with colleagues but not dine out even 1:1.
"They’re such an important part of networking and building relationships and the new rules are just super confusing."