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Restaurant offers diners a table despite the lockdown

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The Raj in Old Milton Green parade, New Milton
The Raj in Old Milton Green parade, New Milton

A RESTAURANT has sparked anger for flouting lockdown rules by remaining open to occasional diners during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Raj, in Old Milton Green parade in New Milton, has been allowing some people who live together locally, and who are not showing symptoms of Covid-19, to sit in and have a meal.

The Prime Minister ordered all restaurants, cafes and pubs to shut the day after his lockdown announcement on 23rd March, saying they were allowed only to offer takeaway or delivery services.

But the Raj has apparently ignored that instruction. Readers contacted the A&T concerned about a message on its website and by the restaurant door offering a delivery service if “you do not feel confident to dine with us at the restaurant”.

A man who identified himself as the manager told an A&T reporter who posed as a diner this week: “I have been here 20 years, my customers are like friends to me.

“If they are healthy, and as long as they live together, we let them in.”

Asked if a table could be booked for yesterday (Thursday), he said: “Yes, that will be fine, okay no problem. Is it a special treat?

“As long as you are living together, you know each other and are both okay, both of you.”

The manager asked if they lived in the area and had not left it for the last few weeks. When that was confirmed, he said: “That’s fine.”

Asked again if they would be dining in the restaurant, he repeated: “Yes, that’s right. Don’t worry, that’s okay.”

He also said tables were set apart for social distancing, adding: “We don’t get many customers in, anyway.”

Government ministers have said it is likely that the hospitality sector, including restaurants, will be among the last businesses to reopen once restrictions start to be lifted.

The Raj’s stance has angered local residents, with one woman posting on social media: “This is wrong, he can’t keep you safe. He is not above the law. Yes, by all means do takeaways but close the restaurant – it’s the law.

Confronted by the A&T that he had been allowing people to sit in the restaurant, the manager said it was not true, claiming: “Oh no, only takeaway and delivery.”

He said the message on its website and in the window about the measures the restaurant was taking regarding the pandemic had been put up before the lockdown.

Presented with evidence of the restaurant’s promises, he said: “There are a lot of rubbish people, there are a lot of bad people in this world, someone messing about.”

The Raj’s website added: “As you are all aware we are currently in the middle of a serious Covid-19 pandemic. The Raj would like to reassure that customer and staff health and safety is our top priority.”

It announced “business will continue” before detailing safety measures including increasing space between tables to three metres and regularly disinfecting tables, chairs and floors.

New Forest District Council, as the local licensing authority, is responsible for enforcing lockdown rules with eateries. Joanne McClay, NFDC service manager environmental and regulation, said the authority was investigating.

"An officer has visited the premises and spoken to the owner of the business. There were no diners eating in the restaurant at the time of the visit and a takeaway service was being run," she said.

"We have informed the owner that customers are not allowed to eat or drink on the premises. We will be closely monitoring the situation and will take appropriate action should the owner not comply with the current legislation."

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