England’s lockdown came to an end on 2 December and was replaced with a new tiered system of coronavirus restrictions.
The new rules mean that more than 32 million people will be placed in tier 2 — allowing pubs and restaurants to sell alcohol inside their premises, but only if a “substantial meal” is purchased by customers.
The lockdown regulations have reignited a debate about what exactly constitutes a “substantial meal”. Is it as simple a buying a few bags of crisps? A pasty? Or a more filling meal, such as fish and chips?
Some publicans are scrambling to put together a food offering to lure customers back in a key month of trade, while people on social media once again debated what a substantial meal actually consists of and how it could prevent Covid-19 infections.
The online bafflement is not cleared up by government guidance, which is frustratingly vague on what sort of meal you need to order.
However, the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, previously broached the topic in October and ruled out a packet of crisps. He said that a cornish pasty could be considered a “normal meal” if it was ordered with a side salad and chips.
Mr Jenrick clarified on LBC in October: “It would be like a main course, rather than, say, a packet of crisps or a plate of chips.”
As England prepared to re-enter the tier system following the second lockdown, the pasty gave way to Scotch eggs as a flashpoint in the debate around what constitutes a substantial meal.
Environment secretary George Eustice suggested the sausage and egg combination “probably would count as a substantial meal if there were table service”.
However, by the next morning Michael Gove told ITV’s Good Morning Britain the breadcrumb-coated egg was “probably a starter”.
He went on to tell LBC “a couple of scotch eggs is a starter, as far as I’m concerned”.
However, by the next morning Michael Gove told ITV’s Good Morning Britain the breadcrumb-coated egg was “probably a starter”.He went on to tell LBC “a couple of scotch eggs is a starter, as far as I’m concerned”.
He added: “I myself would definitely scoff a couple of Scotch eggs if I had the chance, but I do recognise that it is a substantial meal.”
The health minister, Matt Hancock, continued the debate on Wednesday, arguing a substantial meal is a “well-established concept in hospitality”.
Mr Hancock told Sky News: “A substantial meal is a well-established concept in hospitality. Of course, a Scotch egg that is served as a substantial meal – that is a substantial meal.
“What we need to do is not try to push the boundaries, we all need to take responsibility for our own actions.”
He added: “The rules are the two different types of hospitality – those that obviously serve meals and those that don’t.
“So, a starter can be a substantial meal, you can have a Scotch egg as a starter.”
He added: “The rules are the two different types of hospitality – those that obviously serve meals and those that don’t.So, a starter can be a substantial meal, you can have a Scotch egg as a starter.”
Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg also raised the scotch egg in parliament as the once-humble pork product grew increasingly notorious.
“We better finish on Scotch eggs because I know it is a matter of great interest,” he told MPs.
“I’ve been looking up the elephant bird. Did you know the elephant bird’s egg – it is now extinct – could weigh up to 22lbs, which is quite a big egg. And if you turned that into a Scotch egg, I think that would unquestionably be a substantial meal.
“If, on the other hand, you were to take a quail egg and make that into a Scotch egg, I think that would be a mere snack.
“And, in between, the great British people will make their mind up along with publicans up and down the country as to whether it is a snack or a substantial meal.”
The Local Government Association (LGA) has said the rule is “open to interpretation”.
It added: “It would be difficult to argue that a single sausage roll or a snack pork pie constitutes a main meal, whereas if it was served plated with accompaniments such as vegetables, salad, potatoes it could be considered substantial.”
The guidance also does not state how many alcoholic drinks you are allowed to order with your food.
However the term ends up being defined, the PM’s spokesman did say how long people could stay in the pub after purchasing a meal.
They said: “We’ve been clear that, in tier 2 I believe, that you need to have a substantial meal if ordering any alcohol and it remains the case that the guidance says that once the meal is finished, it is at that point.”