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Last drinks at 10pm: Finland unveils new rules for re-opening restaurants and bars

A closing time of 11pm is among a slew of criteria bars and restaurants will have to comply with from 1 June.

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Eateries in Finland closed their doors to sit-down customers on 4 April. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

Government has rolled out a series of new regulations relating to serving customers, seating and business hours for restaurants and bars planning to resume serving customers on their premises from 1 June.

Speaking during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru said that restaurants and bars will be able to host customers until 11pm, but must stop serving alcoholic beverages at 10pm.

Businesses will be allowed to open their doors from 6am, but alcohol service cannot begin before 9am. Restaurants and bars have been advised to halve their seating capacity, but this guideline will not apply to open spaces such as outdoor terraces.

Kiuru said that government will revisit the new rules periodically and that they could be relaxed further. She added that they will be in force until the end of October, but they could be dismantled earlier, if needed.

"During the week of Midsummer [the third week of June], we will consider what we can do during the next review period," Kiuru commented.

Pushback from hospitality sector

Responding to the requirement to halve customer seating, the hospitality association MaRa called for seating to be increased to 75 percent of full capacity. The organisation said in a statement on Tuesday that the government's proposal would not relieve the financial distress of businesses in the sector.

"The government's decision to cut customer seating by 50 percent means it will be very difficult to make operations profitable. In theory, restaurants will only have 50 percent of [total] revenue. Many expenses, such as rents and energy however, rise in full. It is not possible to cover nearly full costs with half the number of customer seats," MaRa chair Timo Lappi said in the statement.

"Given that the operating margin in normal circumstances is just one to four percent of revenue, it will be almost impossible to run a profitable operation with the restrictions. MaRa is proposing that maximum customer seating be increased to 75 percent," he continued, adding that it would be futile to recall furloughed staff with a smaller number of customers.

The new framework for bars and restaurants will take effect from 1 June when a broader regime of restrictions will be partially relaxed. They will not apply to staff canteens or to takeaway services.

The government's proposal also recommends that all customers have their own seats and that they should not be allowed serve themselves food or drink, apart from what is on their own tables. In practice, this rules out buffet settings in restaurants.

Customers dining in a group should not be seated close enough to each other to create a risk of spreading the virus, and this should not be done against their will. Furthermore, establishments will be required to prepare a written plan for implementing the new policies.

Regional authorities to ensure compliance

Regional administrative authorities will be responsible for ensuring compliance with the rules, and they will have the power to immediately close establishments for up to a month for non-compliance.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin said earlier on Tuesday that the new regulations will be applied nationally rather than being introduced incrementally across different parts of the country.

"Restaurants are the kinds of places where even a single case of the disease could allow it the virus to spread widely. The rules should affect the entire country because we cannot be unconcerned anywhere in Finland," she noted.

However she noted that the idea of a regional staggering of openings could be revisited if necessary. Meanwhile Finance Minister Katri Kulmuni said that current legislation did not allow for a phased approach.

"Unfortunately there is no such legislative framework and the government must also create one for next autumn in the event of another wave [of infections]," Kulmuni commented on Tuesday morning.

Government had been negotiating the terms and conditions of restaurant re-openings since last week, but struggled to find consensus on key issues.

Restaurants, bars and coffee shops had been closed for business since 4 April but have been allowed to sell meals for delivery and takeaway.

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