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Theatres affected by new restrictions on serving alcohol

Venues have had to adjust their policies in line with government guidance

Someone pouring a pint of either beer or cider. Or perhaps a shandy.

The way in which alcohol will be served in theatres will be radically changed for the next six months, with some venues moving exclusively to pre-orders or removing alcohol sales entirely.

Under new government guidance, only table service will be permitted in bars and restaurants in line with hospitality rules. The move is supposed to help prevent large groupings of individuals in and around establishments.

This will also affect performance spaces, many of whom see bar revenue as a vital source of income. Whereas before this week audiences were able to purchase drinks at a venue bar, this will no longer be permitted. Any alcohol purchases must be done by audiences sat in seats, either at a bar or inside an auditorium.

If a venue does not sell any alcoholic beverages at all, non-alcoholic beverages and snacks may still be sold at a kiosk, as long as audiences are instructed to eat or drink these only when seated.

To make things even more fun to get your head around, separate "kiosks" – inside larger venues that do serve alcohol at bars – may be able to sell non-alcoholic drinks and snacks, as long as, again, audiences are told not to eat them when out of their seats or away from their tables. Expect signs.

A variety of venues are adapting to these rules in different ways. At the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, alcohol will no longer be served for the remainder of the run of Jesus Christ Superstar (which ends tomorrow). In a statement, the venue said: "As we are unable to facilitate table service, in line with changes to government guidance, alcohol cannot be purchased at the venue. The bar is open for non-alcoholic drinks."

The National Theatre has revealed its plans for when performances begin again in October: "Our restaurants and bars are currently closed, in line with COVID-19 government guidelines. Pre-performance drinks and snacks will therefore only be available to pre-order. All food and drink will then be served at tables, to groups sitting separately in their household or bubbles, and with staff wearing face coverings.'

Southwark Playhouse, which is set to open The Last Five Years next week, will operate table service in its bar on non-show days. There will be a special system in place for when the musical starts its run – audiences will be asked when they arrive if they want an alcoholic beverage. If they do it will be brought to them at a table to then be taken into the auditorium. There will be a test event soon to check to see whether this method is effective.

The Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester will be 'only doing table service for drinks / food' for the whole run of its upcoming revival of Rent. The venue will have apps and tech to assist ordering, with apparently "enough seats in the bar for all audience members but also have the option of installing additional tables outside under cover."

The West End immersive production of The Great Gatsby, coming back next week, said: "we are adapting to the new regulations, and will be doing table service only for patrons, whether individuals or in household bubbles."

Nimax Theatres, who own six venues across London set to reopen from next month, have told WhatssOnStage: "The DCMS has at the moment confirmed that, although not specifically stated, the bar restrictions do apply to theatre. So we are looking at the optimum way we can operate our bar service to comply with the current regulations at each theatre." At The London Palladium's test event this summer, venue staff went between aisles and provided seat service for punters pre-performance and during the interval. Other London theatres may follow suit and provide a similar service, though this is unconfirmed.

The Culture Secretary stated earlier this week that theatres will be exempt from curfew rules, though alcohol cannot be sold after 10pm.

WhatsOnStage has also reached out to the Bridge Theatre to see what their policies will be.

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