What can pubs serve as a ‘substantial meal’?

What can pubs serve as a 'substantial meal'?
A scotch egg (photo: iStock)
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When the new tiered restrictions come into force this week, many pubs and bars around the country will be wondering if they can keep their doors open.

While Tier 3 venues have effectively been forced to close, pubs in Tier 2 (which covers around 50 per cent of England) have been told they can only serve alcohol to customers alongside a ‘substantial meal’.

But what counts as substantial? Environment minister George Eustice attempted to clarify this on LBC radio this morning, when he suggested that a scotch egg would probably count, as long as it was brought over on a plate. 

But Mr Steerpike has noticed that ministers seemed to be a little confused when it comes to the guidance. With that in mind, here is Mr S’s guide to what the rules seem to be so far:

Scotch eggs

According to the environment minister, scotch eggs count as a substantial meal. Eustice told LBC this morning that: 'I think a Scotch egg would probably count as a substantial meal if there were table service.' But, considering the Prime Minister’s spokesman has said that diners must leave a venue once they’ve finished their grub, Mr S imagines that a scotch egg will not keep anyone entertained for long. A more substantial item should probably be kept on the table.


Most people would imagine that if a scotch egg is allowed, a Cornish pasty would also be covered by the rules. But Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick confirmed in October that any pasty would also have to be served ‘with a side, like chips or salad.’

The suggestion led one Tory MP in Dorset to ask ‘Who, in the name of all that is Holy, has a side salad with a pasty?’ A fair question, it seems to Mr S.

Crisps and chips

In the same interview, Jenrick had bad news for lovers of salt and vinegar. According to the Housing Secretary, neither crisps nor plates of chips served in pubs would be enough to count as ‘substantial’.

Mr S is afraid to say that no ruling was made on curry sauce or mushy peas…


Ministers have so far been silent on whether the great British sandwich will be enough to keep Tier 2 pubs open. Helpfully, the Law Gazette has suggested that there may be legal precedent.

According to the Law Society, judges in the 1965 case of Timmis v Millman found that when two men were drinking in a hotel bar outside of legal hours (but within the supper time extension) their sandwiches ‘were so substantial, and assisted by the pickles and beetroot so as to justify that it was a table meal and not a mere snack from the bar’.

And in the 1955 case of Solomon v Green sandwiches alongside sausages on sticks were also found to constitute a meal.

Big slices of pizza

A bar in Manchester was the first to test the legal limits earlier this year, when the ‘substantial meal’ criteria was being applied in Tier 3 areas.

Common bar in the Northern Quarter said they were told by the police that their 22-inch slice of pizza did not count as substantial, and so they would have to stop selling them to drinkers. After an appeal to the press though, the bar was eventually told that their slice was covered:

The lesson appears to be: pizza slices are fine, but 22-inches is around the acceptable baseline.

Sausage rolls and pork pies

The Local Government Association have valiantly been attempting to explain to pubs what counts as substantial in recent weeks. After examining the legislation, they’ve concluded that both sausage rolls and pork pies, like Cornish pasties, need to be served alongside vegetables or a salad to count:

‘It would be difficult to argue that a single sausage roll or a snack pork pie constitutes a main meal, whereas if it was served plated with accompaniments such as vegetables, salad, potatoes it could be considered substantial.’

Mr Steerpike is unclear whether they will update their guidance in light of the scotch egg ruling from Eustice. Nor where all this leaves tapas plates, pies, kebabs or hot dogs. Perhaps pubs will have to wait for the latest ministerial intervention. Or more likely, be left to work it out for themselves...