Test and trace is seen as a critical line of defence by government, and operators must continue to demonstrate their willingness to comply, UK Hospitality CEO Kate Nicholls has said.

Speaking at MCA’s The Conversation, Nicholls warned attendees that with schools set to reopen next month, pubs and restaurants will inevitably be under scrutiny and therefore will need to be “as tough as ever” on test and trace.

When it comes to managing the rate of infection, “pubs, bars and restaurants are always seen as the area of the economy that will be first to be closed,” she said.

“So, the more we can do to make sure that we are on top of test and trace, that we are taking those details, and that we’ve got high levels of compliance, the better it is in terms of our friends in government defending us.”

And its not just government officials that the industry will need to convince, as a “large number” of consumers have been unaware, and therefore critical, of operators’ compliance so far.

Despite UK Hospitality research finding that two thirds of customer details are being captured via online or telephone bookings, “customers are forgetting they’ve already given us our data,” Nicholls explained.

“So, we just need to be giving some signals and make sure that we are telling them that we’ve got test and trace covered, and that we’ve already dealt with that requirement.”

Although government are in the process of developing their own nationwide tracking app – which will grant operators their own barcode, and centrally collect and store the relevant data – Nicholls said that for the time being, it is in the best interest of operators to comply as best they can in order to prevent closure and the risk of extended local lockdowns.

With an effective test and trace system in place, the government will be able to downsize so-called ‘local’ lockdowns, which Nicholls referred to as “regional lockdowns”, into more targeted restrictions on localities and individuals.

“The regional lockdown becomes a local lockdown, becomes a local restriction, and actually becomes an individual restriction on your freedom,” she said.

“And if you tie it in with saliva testing and blood testing on the spot, it means that we can drive down the rates of infection further and drive down on the disruption to our businesses.

“If we’re going to try and get social distancing relaxed or further parts of the hospitality sector open, we are going to have to be really on top of test and trace.”

In tandem with test and trace, a slightly more difficult element for operators to enforce is the two-household rule, but Nicholls said that as with the broader tracing initiative, “it is about making sure that we’re explicit and our teams are explicit at keeping that in check.”

Addressing how pubs and restaurants implement the restriction, she suggested flagging larger groups at booking, and making sure staff check the number of households upon arrival.

“That will help us in the longer term to be able to push back against this, and to be able to demonstrate that the vectors of transmission in these areas are not within hospitality venues and that we’re abiding by the rules and we understand the rules,” she said.

But there is a limit to how far operators can go in enforcing the two-household rule, said Flight Club co-founder Steve Moore.

Because of the measure, and the business’ reinforcement of it, Moore revealed that Flight Club’s average group numbers have gone down from nine to approximately five or four, but “there’s only so much you can do” to ensure consumers are from a maximum of two households, he said.

“We make it really clear on the booking that in Greater Manchester it’s one household, and elsewhere it’s two, and it’s reinforced and reinforced.

“But it can be quite literally impossible to check if they’re in the same household. You can check their ID, but they could be house sharing or university friends.

“So, you just have to keep reinforcing and keep asking the question, and you hope everybody does the right thing.”

One way operators could ensure they are using test and trace and complying by the rules as effectively as possible, is to utilise government bodies as a resource and advice service, added Gusto managing director Matt Snell.

Having had to deal with confirmed cases in two of Gusto’s Greater Manchester restaurants, Snell said that reaching out to Environmental Health and Public Health England served as a valuable tool to keep the sites up and running.

“What I’d say to all operators, is don’t be afraid to reach out to the different bodies, whether it’s the EHO or Public Health England,” he said. “We had to do conference calls and all sorts, but they’ve been very supportive and really complimentary of the measures that we’ve put in place to stop outbreaks.

“People should use that as a resource rather than something that is often punitive. They were really helpful for us.”