The ‘table service only’ rule only applies to licensed operators, the government has clarified.

Customers buying food and drink from coffee shops and fast food outlets will still be able to order and be served at the counter.

The clarification follows confusion after cabinet minister Dominic Raab suggested operators such as Pret or McDonald’s would have to introduce full table service.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on whether customers could queue for food and then sit down, Raab said: “My understanding is that you need to be able to order from the tables.”

In fact, only licensed venues are obliged to offer table service only, with most food to go, fast food and coffee shops exempt from the rule.

Customers will need to wear masks while queuing up, and the queue should be socially distanced.

The law says food or drink can be ordered at the counter or a touch screen, for it to be served at the counter or at a table.

A spokesman for No10 said: “The requirement for table service applies to licensed premises, meaning that in these venues food and drink must be ordered and served at a table.

“Non-licensed outlets or many fast food outlets with eat-in areas will therefore not be required to provide table service. However, customers who choose to eat in will need to do so seated at a table.”

Licensed premises can be fined £1,000 if they fail to ensure the rules are followed, which to as much as £10,000 for repeat offenders.

The onus of responsibility to uphold the law is on operators rather than customers.

Drive-thrus do not need to close after 10pm and can remain open for their usual hours.

Takeaway outlets must shut at 10pm, but can continue to make home deliveries after 10pm.