Around the world, lockdown restrictions are being gradually lifted, and the desire shared by many to return to ‘normal’ means that any possible loopholes in the word of the rules are susceptible to being exploited, often going against what one might call ‘the spirit of the rules’. One key example where the population have nimbly bent themselves around lockdown restrictions can be seen in the sunny town and city centres of western Europe, particularly the UK.

As the rules were modified to allow businesses a chance to take in some revenue from the restless public, non-essential outlets such as pubs, bars, and cafes were granted the option of providing take-away services. At the same time, social distancing rules went from only being allowed out for one hour of exercise to being allowed out all day in household groups. Within a matter of days, public roads and town squares became unofficial beer gardens with no rules broken, but, how did this happen?

Well, the bars aren’t breaking any rules as they are simply providing a take-away service; no one is actually permitted on their premises. Neither are the public breaking the rules, as they supposedly arrived in small household groups, and bear no responsibility for all the other ‘households’ that happened to be there at the same time. In this situation, the loopholes in restriction were fully explored and exploited in a matter of days, resulting in a public street turning into a beer garden, with no party bearing responsibility for what is undeniably a massive social gathering.

Similarly, if a cafe or tea shop just happens to be located near a public space with places to sit (or space for the public to bring chairs) – as long as the invisible line is never crossed, food is served on cardboard, and the customers collect their tea and cake from a window – alfresco dining can take place.

Business should be aware that any efforts they are permitted to make to reach out to the public will be greeted enthusiastically. Indeed, some members of the public are willing to meet business more than half way if it provides something vaguely similar to the things everyone is missing. It would be naive to think that neither party was aware of what was happening, or that the offer will be as good as the real thing, but if it’s the closest thing to normal they have experienced in months, consumers will no doubt engage with unspoken arrangements such as these rather than sitting at home one more day.

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