The Lowdown: substantial meals

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

What constitutes a substantial meal in a pub to be able to buy a pint scotch egg

Related tags: Coronavirus tier system, Pubs, Scotch egg

Government restrictions demanding pubs operating in Tier 2 areas only open if they’re able to serve food has left minsters scrambling to explain what constitutes a ‘substantial meal’.

Scrambling…I see what you did there. Eggcellent
You’re too kind.

Remind us what’s happening
Well, in what could be fairly described as one of the most bemusing sagas to arise from the Coronavirus pandemic, ministers and journalists have spent a considerable amount of time this week debating whether or not a scotch egg could be classed as a ‘substantial meal’. It comes after the Government introduced stricter Tier 2 measures that demand pubs and bars only open if they’re able to serve or provide food - and we don’t just mean a packet of pork scratchings or Space Raiders. The controversy began on Monday (30 November) when the Government’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary George Eustice told Nick Ferrari on LBC that scotch eggs ‘probably would count’ as a meal under new Tier 2 rules. The following day, Michael Gove waded into the debate by telling Good Morning Britain (GMB) that he believed a scotch egg was more of a starter but could be bulked up with garnishes like pickle or a salad, before later clarifying to ITV News that the snack did count as a ‘substantial meal’. Then, yesterday (2 November), Health Secretary Matt Hancock  sought to explain the rules by declaring on GMB that: “A scotch egg that is served as a substantial meal, that is a substantial meal”. As has become the norm with anything Hancock says these days, it wasn’t entirely clear what he meant by that, though.

Blimey, they’ve really made a meal of this (or maybe not). What hasn’t the Government bothered to provide greater clarification?
Both Gove and Hancock were keen to put the onus of responsibility onto the operators, claiming that substantial meal regulations have applied to the hospitality sector for years and so pubs and restaurants should instinctively understand its nuances. The notion of what does and does not count as a substantial meal was raised previously in October, when pubs and bars in Tier 3 areas faced the same restrictions. At the time Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said that a Cornish pasty could count as a meal, but only if it came with sides such as chips.

This all just sounds a bit ridiculous…
It is, and yet somehow in the context of these new restrictions, which also advise that customers cannot continue ordering alcoholic drinks after they’ve finished their meal, it feels par for the course. As has been the case often throughout this crisis, it’s the grey areas of the guidance that operators are having to utilise to buoy their trading levels - something that's much needed given that the Government appears to have all but abandoned the sector financially. For example, the restrictions state that while pubs and bars must serve substantial meals, the food itself does not have to have been made on-site, which has led to Jeremy Joseph, owner of G-A-Y Heaven in Charing Cross, announcing the club will open despite London’s Tier 2 status by serving meals purchased from a nearby McDonald’s.

Wow, I’m loving that. Presumably there are limits, though, on what pubs could get away with serving?
Oh absolutely. Customers are going to need to order more than a packet of crisps to get just one pint of larger. And while sandwiches should arguably count, there’s sadly no room to reignite the tradition of the Raines sandwich; a staple of New York State liquor tax law of 1896, in which some establishments served inedible sandwiches made of rubber as a way of skirting meal regulations imposed under the pre-prohibition drinking law. That said, it hasn’t stopped publicans using a bit of lateral thinking, like landlord Brett Mendoza of The Caxton Arms in Brighton, who is cheekily serving a pint called a ‘substantial meal’.

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