Coffee shops, fast food outlets and other hospitality venues without an alcohol licence will be exempt from new mandatory table service rules, ministers have confirmed following widespread confusion.
Outlets which do not serve alcohol are to be spared from the new restrictions, which will require all pubs and licensed restaurants to take orders and deliver food and drink to the table from Thursday onwards.
The clarification follows bafflement when Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab suggested on Wednesday morning that all hospitality outlets could be subject to the restrictions.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: "In all of the restaurants and hospitality you can go in and order from the tables - what you can't do without a mask is just sit around and mill around.
"My understanding is that you need to be able to order from the tables. But of course the guidance will be very clear."
Bosses are increasingly anxious about the new guidelines, with many warning they are still waiting for clarity just hours before the rules are set to be enforced by fines of up to £10,000.
All hospitality outlets must close at 10pm from Thursday, while staff in restaurants and pubs will be required to wear a face covering.
Customers will also be asked to wear a mask, apart from when they are sitting at their table.
Ralph Findlay, chief executive of pub chain Marston’s, said it is still unclear how operators should interpret the rules for pub gardens and whether customers will be allowed to pay for orders at the bar.
He said: “To be honest it’s infuriating.
“It would have been incredibly helpful to have had a discussion with government before these guidelines came out so we knew what we were talking about and they knew what they were talking about.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is under pressure to announce a package of financial support for the hospitality sector after industry chiefs warned that the latest restrictions could lead to thousands of job losses.
Julian Metcalfe, the founder of Pret a Manger and boss of Itsu, warned that six months of further coronavirus restrictions would be “devastating” for the hospitality industry.
Rishi Sunak is set to unveil plans in the Commons on Thursday on how the Treasury will protect jobs over the coming months.
Ten pin bowling operator Ten Entertainment called on the Chancellor to extend a temporary VAT cut to leisure firms such as bowling alleys.
Graham Blackwell, chief executive of Ten, said: "That could seriously offset the loss of income especially for some of the smaller operators.”