The ‘very high’ alert level, which is the highest tier, means all pubs and bars must close unless they serve food.
So Andy MacDonald, landlord of the Ships and Giggles pub in Preston, came up with a novel idea after Lancashire was plunged into the strictest lockdown last weekend.
The 36-year-old said: ‘You can pay what you want if it’s more than a penny.
‘If you have been affected financially, pay a penny, if you haven’t, pay a little more.
‘And our meals are now improved, and by this weekend, we will have an even larger amount of food available.
‘We will also hold your table for two hours in order to control anyone that wants to consume alcohol.’
He was originally giving away food for free, until council bosses intervened and said people had to buy the food.
Andy originally posted his free meal on social media last week, writing: ‘There aren’t any catches. I just can’t be arsed listening to Government anymore. I’ve got nothing to lose now.
‘Please do us the honour of continuing to support Ships and Giggles, buy drinks, and keep Ships afloat and staff in jobs.’
But Preston City Council’s website states that meals ‘must be purchased by the customer at the premises’ and when purchasing the meal the customer may also purchase alcohol.
In a post on social media, a council spokesperson said: ‘There are firm restrictions that have been put into place, relating to pubs, bars and restaurants, such as: “Alcohol can only be served as part of a main meal”, “the meal must be purchased by the customer”.’
Andy said he received a phone call from the council’s environmental health team on Tuesday.
He explained: ‘The first thing he said was “you are providing free food so people can purchase alcohol”.
‘I asked him to repeat it and made it clear how wrong he was.
‘I, like many others, have suffered extremely mentally, but this week I’ve been happy with a massive sense of achievement and satisfaction. I’m not trying to offend anyone and I’m not doing anything for the wrong reasons.
‘For the past few years I’ve had a great relationship with the council and licensing, and I really hope that they will work with me in order to help me remain open, and keep all my team in jobs, and help the public enjoy socialising in the safest way possible.’
So instead the landlord decided he’d launch the penny per meal scheme – or more if customers can afford it – so people are technically paying for their food.
His menu includes a combination chicken platter – which consists of fire wings, battered wings, double-jointed wings, drumsticks, chips, onion rings and garnish – and a mix and match platter which is a selection of meats with chips, onion rings and a garnish.
All meals cost just 1p and he also recommends paying £2 for dips – ketchup, mayonnaise, barbecue, garlic butter and hot sauce – as tips for staff members.
Andy also plans a burger night on Sunday.
He said Government guidance is ‘muddled’, claiming it had ‘lost the plot’ and may cost him and his staff their jobs.
‘When we put the free meals on, so many people told us how grateful they were because people are struggling during this pandemic,’ Andy added.
‘So many have expressed how thankful they were and we were happy to do it as we understand, we are trying to survive too.
‘But when we were told that we couldn’t do that it was a breaking point for me.
‘I’m providing a free meal for people who don’t have much – and we’ve been told we can’t do that. It’s an absolute disgrace.
‘We have done so much to ensure we can operate during Covid, and now we’re told we need to shut again. It’s ridiculous.
‘We are fighting to stay alive, we are fighting for our customers, and for our staff who all deserve better.’
The council told MailOnline it would not comment on specific premises.
Councillor Peter Moss, deputy leader and cabinet member for planning and regulation, said: ‘We understand and are mindful that the changes to the hospitality industry as part of the tier 3 restrictions are challenging for many businesses.
‘While we can appreciate the difficulty this is causing and innovative solutions are being developed, we all have to work within the regulations set by Government.
‘According to the current guidelines, a reasonable amount of alcohol may be purchased to accompany a meal – one that may be expected to be served at a table, as a purchased main meal.
‘The restrictions prevent excessive amounts of alcohol to be purchased and consumed with that meal, or long after the food has been eaten.
‘We are currently updating our website with the full criteria, as outlined by Government.
‘Our environmental health team, working with Lancashire Constabulary, visit premises throughout Preston at regular intervals checking compliance with Covid safety standards.
We will continue this work to ensure regulatory standards are met. ‘We would much rather support and work with businesses but, where necessary, we will not hesitate to take a robust approach.’
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