Restaurants and coronavirus

Regional State Administrative Agencies' guidelines support restaurants in the implementation of the current restrictions.

Guidelines for restaurants

According to the Parliament's decision, the Communicable Diseases Act (1227/2016) has been amended by temporarily adding section 58 (a) on restricting the operations of restaurants to prevent the spread of an infectious disease and section 58 (b) on the supervision of restaurants and following the requirements of the restrictions.

The temporary amendment to the Communicable Diseases Act  (400/2020) and the Decree issued under it (401/2020) enabled the opening of restaurants as of 1/6/2020 by issuing requirements for catering operations concerning hygiene and other measures, as well as restrictions on occupancy, opening hours, and the serving of alcohol.

As exceptional conditions no longer prevailed after 16/6/2020, and as the first wave of the epidemic ended in late June and early July, restrictions on catering operations were eased and lifted by Government Decree 477/2020. Restrictions were issued in Government Decrees 648/2020, 675/2020 and 686/2020, of which restrictions on catering operations in the last two had to be re-introduced when the epidemic situation took a turn for the worse.

As the temporary stipulations of the Communicable Diseases Act that took effect at the beginning of June are in force only through 31/10/2020, the Government submitted a proposal to Parliament that corresponds with existing regulations for legislation for a temporary amendment of the Communicable diseases Act (HE 139/2020 vp). Parliament approved the proposal with changes (EV 110/2020 vp) and the regulations for new restrictions on catering activities under the Communicable Diseases Act take effect on 1/11/2020.

The temporary amendment to the Communicable Diseases Act, section 58 (a), continues to impose requirements on catering businesses concerning hygiene and guidance, general requirements for distance between customer seats, and obligations for planning activities (727/2020). Government Decrees (728/2020) and (750/2020) include more detailed stipulations concerning these requirements and on obligations related to the presence of customers in the restaurants and the placement of customer seats. The Government Decree limits the number of customer seats, opening hours, and hours for serving alcoholic beverages, because it was deemed necessary for the prevention of the spread of a dangerous communicable disease.

In evaluating the necessity for restrictions, the types of restaurants that the restrictions would apply to needs to be examined, in addition to the information on the epidemic at the regional level. In Section 58 (a), Paragraph 2 of the Communicable Diseases Act, restaurants are divided according to the nature of their food serving activities based on if they primarily have alcoholic beverages available for consumption on the premises.

The Social Affairs and Health Committee has defended the division, noting that up to half of the number of customer seats can, in the view of the committee, be restricted in restaurants that are primarily perceived to be night clubs, licensed bars, or pubs. Restaurants with the least restrictions on customer seats, 25 percent of capacity, would include businesses considered to be food restaurants, pizzerias, hamburger restaurants, cafés, or lunch restaurants, for example. 

The features set as criteria for regulation of restrictions on numbers of customers set in the law are also used in the evaluation of the need for other restrictions – especially concerning opening hours and hours for serving alcohol. The reason for this is that other criteria for taking significant characteristics of the restaurant into consideration do not yet exist.

These guidelines are intended for restaurant entrepreneurs and staff and for the purpose of implementing official supervision, and they describe the restrictions specified in the Communicable Diseases Act and the Decree issued under it for the restaurant business starting 23/12/2020.  The restrictions provided apply to the restaurant business referred to in the Act on accommodation and restaurant operations. A restaurant refers to premises where catering services are carried out. These premises will be subsequently referred to as restaurants.

Purpose of the guidelines

The purpose of the guidelines is to support restaurants in the implementation of the current restrictions so that they can be implemented efficiently and consistently throughout the whole country. By carefully following these guidelines, the number of coronavirus infections and the number of people exposed to the virus can be reduced. 

The Communicable Diseases Act, and the Decree issued by the Finnish Government based on the Act, contains temporary provisions on the necessary restrictions concerning the opening and serving hours of restaurants and the number and use of customer seats indoors and outdoors in order to prevent the spread of the infectious disease. Restaurants are required to comply with special hygiene requirements and to maintain a sufficient distance between customers.

The restrictions apply to marine vessels to the extent that they are governed by Finnish law. The legislation applicable to vessels in international maritime traffic is primarily determined by the state of registration of the vessel, i.e. the flag state.

Personnel restaurants and takeaway sales of food

The restrictions on opening hours, the number of customer seats, the placement of customers and maintaining a sufficient distance between customers do not apply to personnel restaurants or selling food or beverages for consumption elsewhere. However, other requirements of the Communicable Diseases Act and the Decree issued under it must be followed.

A personnel restaurant refers to serving food or beverages for the personnel of a community, foundation or institution or an otherwise restricted group of people. These include the personnel restaurants of retirement homes, hospitals, garrisons, prisons, day-care centres, schools and industrial facilities. Takeaway sales refer to selling food or beverages for the purpose of consuming it elsewhere.

Fuel filling stations, water, and aircraft

*Restrictions on opening hours do not apply to restaurant businesses operating on water vessels, and aircraft operating between Finland and foreign countries or operating in a foreign country, or to restaurants operating in conjunction with fuel filling stations.

Definition of an alcoholic beverage

The definition of an alcoholic beverage is laid down in section 3, subsection 1(2) of the Alcohol Act (1102/2017), which states that an alcoholic beverage means a substance containing alcohol intended for drinking which contains a maximum of 80% ethyl alcohol by volume. Section 3, subsection 1(1) of the Alcohol Act states that an alcoholic substance or product contains more than 1.2% ethyl alcohol by volume.

Validity and supervision

The obligations and restrictions laid down in and under section 58 (a) of the Communicable Diseases Act apply to all regions, including the Åland Islands, until 28/02/2021. The Government has a legal obligation to monitor the validity of the conditions for restrictions. Based on the epidemic situation and experiences gained, restrictions on the opening hours of shops and other facilities have gradually been alleviated.

Restaurants have a primary and self-supervising responsibility to comply with the restrictions and objectives set out in the legislation. One of the objectives of the temporary restrictions is to develop operating models based on independent measures and plans in restaurant operations to prevent the spread of the infectious disease in restaurants when the restrictions are gradually alleviated.

The main responsibility for combating infectious diseases lies at the local level, i.e. municipalities. Thus, municipal authorities bear the main responsibility for the guidance and advice of local facilities, including the adjustments required by the new changes on organising restaurant operations required by the Communicable Diseases Act. The role of the Regional State Administrative Agency is mainly to monitor and intervene in detected shortcomings and, on the other hand, to help local authorities interpret the new legislation. The official supervision of the obligations imposed on restaurants will be implemented in accordance with the powers granted to the Regional State Administrative Agency in the Communicable Diseases Act, in cooperation with other authorities. The guidelines have been collected on the Regional State Administrative Agencies' website avi.fi.

The Regional State Administrative Agencies take the principle of proportionality into account in their supervision and do not take measures that are broader than the intended objective. The objective is to ensure the lawfulness of operations and the safety of customers in terms of preventing the spread of the infectious disease by means of guidelines and regulations.

Do not enter a restaurant when you have symptoms

The restaurant must inform its customers in a clearly visible way that a person with symptoms matching coronavirus infection may not enter the restaurant. Coronavirus causes a respiratory tract infection: symptoms include coughing, throat pain, fever, shortness of breath, muscle pain, stomach problems and headache.

Hand hygiene for restaurant customers

Customers must be able to wash or disinfect their hands when entering the restaurant. Customers are reminded of hand washing with signs that guide customers to a hand washing station or indicate the possibility for customers to sanitise their hands. The hand washing station must be equipped with warm running water, liquid soap and a way to dry hands (e.g. hand paper towels, cloth towel dispenser) and a waste container for hand towels. The cleanliness of washrooms and the hand washing station must be ensured sufficiently frequently. Customers are instructed on correct hand washing technique.

Hand washing instructions

  • Wet your hands with a lot of water
  • Apply soap and rub your hands palm to palm
  • Rub the backs of your hands, your thumbs and between your fingers
  • Rub your hands together with your fingers interlaced
  • Rinse your hands with a lot of water
  • Dry your hands carefully with a paper towel
  • Use a paper towel to turn off the tap

Illustrated instructions

Using hand sanitiser

  • Take about a tablespoon of sanitiser in your hand
  • Carefully rub your fingertips, thumbs and between your fingers
  • Finally, rub the sanitiser on your palms and the backs of your hands
  • Rub until your hands are dry

Sanitisers with an alcohol content of at least 70% are recommended. If another active substance than alcohol is used, it must be approved by the chemical authority.

Avoid crowding the hand washing station.

Coughing instructions

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a disposable tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  • If you don't have a handkerchief, cough or sneeze onto the upper part of the arm of your sweater, not into your hands.
  • Immediately put the used handkerchief in the rubbish bin.

Reminder to maintain a safe distance to other customers

Customers must be provided with instructions on maintaining a safe distance to others and on other measures to prevent the spread of the infectious disease in the restaurant.

Cleaning premises and washing cutlery and dishes

Maintaining the hygiene of facilities, surfaces and different equipment is important to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. All customer contact surfaces (e.g. door handles, handrails, chairs, high chairs and table surfaces, payment terminals and washrooms) should be cleaned carefully and as often as possible. Dishes and cutlery must be thoroughly cleaned so that infectious diseases cannot spread through them. In customer facilities, the frequency of cleaning must be increased, especially with regard to various buttons.

For more information on enhanced cleaning in customer spaces, see the website of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

Serving hours

  • In restaurants in the regions of North Ostrobothnia, Central Ostrobothnia, South Ostrobothnia, North Savonia, Lapland or Kainuu the serving of alcoholic beverages must end no later than 22:00 and the business may remain open for food customers from midnight to 23:00. 

Opening hours

  • In the regions of North Ostrobothnia, Central Ostrobothnia, South Ostrobothnia, North Savonia, Lapland or Kainuu, all restaurants will be allowed to be open between 5.00 and 23.00.

A significant proportion of social contacts in restaurants is related to the consumption of alcohol. Night-time alcohol consumption in Finland typically involves drunkenness both in homes and restaurants. Intoxication reduces inhibitions and weakens judgment, which can lead to neglect of precautions such as safe distances and hand hygiene.

According to current information, speaking loudly, yelling and singing spread the coronavirus more effectively than speaking quietly. This must be taken into account in restaurant operations and the volume of the music played. Loud music also requires a higher volume of conversation. In these situations, the risk of infection may be high, even if maintaining a distance of several metres to a person carrying the virus.

The purpose of the restrictions on the opening and serving hours of restaurants is to limit customers' time and means of exposure both indoors and outdoors when alcoholic beverages are most commonly consumed in restaurants and when restaurant customers may be intoxicated.

In Central Finland, Kainuu, Kanta-Häme, Kymenlaakso, North Savo, North Karelia, Pirkanmaa, Päijät-Häme, Satakunta, Southwest Finland, Uusimaa

  • Restaurants may serve alcoholic beverages until midnight and be open to customers between 5 am and 1 am.

Other provinces

  • No restrictions on opening hours or service hours.

*Serving alcohol may begin at 7 am if the restaurant has a permit for it. Otherwise, serving alcohol can start at 9 am in accordance with the Alcohol Act.

Restrictions from 31 July 2021

  • Central Finland, Kainuu, Kanta-Häme, Kymenlaakso, North Savo, North Karelia, Pirkanmaa, Päijät-Häme, Satakunta, Southwest Finland, Uusimaa
    • Restaurants that primarily serve alcoholic beverages may have in use half the normal number of customer seats in indoor premises. In other restaurants, 75 per cent of customer seats may be in use in indoor premises.
  • Other provinces
    • No restrictions on the number of customer seats.

Seating and moving inside the restaurant from 24 June 2021

  • All provinces
    • All restaurant customers must have their own seat at a table or a similar surface inside.

If the restaurant has an alcohol serving licence, the number of customer seats is specified by section in the permit. The sections of licensed premises and the number of customer seats have been published in open data.

If a restaurant does not have a licence to serve alcohol, the number of customers is determined in the building plan. If necessary, you can request the building plan from municipal building supervision.

Indoor spaces are spaces with a floor, roof and walls, or where a single level surface can be added to create a closed space. A restaurant terrace may not have more than two walls in addition to the roof. If a terrace has three walls and a roof, it is considered an indoor space and subject to indoor restrictions of the number of customers and persons. The material of the walls or roof is irrelevant in this respect. Surfaces that can be opened, such as glass panes and marquees, also constitute a wall or level surface. The definition is in line with the definition of interior spaces in the Tobacco Act. As a rule of thumb, if smoking is allowed somewhere, it is considered an outdoor space.

The limitation on the number of customers does not apply to staying in a space short-term, for example when leaving a terrace to go indoors to get food or drinks, going to the washroom, or another similar reason.

Location of customer seats in a restaurant and avoiding crowding

There must be sufficient room for customers, and the customer seats must be placed at a sufficient distance from each other. As a starting point, a sufficient distance should be at least 1 to 2 metres, which is the recommended distance between persons at public events according to the guidelines of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

Restaurants must take into account that they are obliged to maintain a sufficient distance between customers as well as between customers and staff at all times while the restaurant is open.

Restaurants must organise the structures and furniture of their indoor and outdoor facilities and determine customer service practices to ensure that customers are not exposed to the infectious disease. For example, regarding structures and furniture, one option is placing screens or plexiglass between tables and, regarding service practices, restaurants can avoid crowding with measures such as table service or assigning queue numbers for picking up food and beverages at a service counter.

Restaurants must ensure in particular that there is no unnecessary crowding in its premises and that the arrival of customers in the restaurant is carried out so that a sufficient distance between customers and groups is maintained. For example, for a terrace, it is a good idea to consider in advance how to prevent a crowd if it starts to rain heavily and there is already the maximum number of customers indoors.

On defining types of restaurants

Restrictions applying to restaurants depend on the kind of activity that they have. A determination of what group the restaurant belongs to is made by the restaurant business itself.

A restaurant primarily serving alcoholic beverages

This group includes, for example, night clubs, licensed bars, and pubs.

The main operations of a restaurant are evaluated primarily based on its character. A decisive factor is if the customers gather in the restaurant primarily to eat meals at a table in their own groups or if the main activity of the restaurant involves the sale of alcoholic beverages. Simply keeping a small amount of food on sale does not turn the restaurant's activity into that of a food restaurant. The designation of the restaurant is not significant in itself with respect to the definition of the activity.

The activity of some restaurants might be that of a food restaurant during the day and primarily involve serving alcoholic beverages in the evening. The activity of a restaurant may also vary according to the day of the week or the season. In such cases, the restaurants are subject, at each specific time, to the restrictions that apply to their activity at the time in question.

Restaurants other than those that primarily serve alcoholic beverages

Restaurants in this group can be, for example, food restaurants, pizzerias or hamburger restaurants, cafes, or lunch restaurants.  

Also included in the group are locations whose main business activity is something other than catering. Such locations may be, for example, pool halls and bowling alleys that are licensed to serve alcoholic beverages.

The plan referred to in section 58 (a) paragraph 5 of the Communicable Diseases Act must include:

  1. a description of the policies adopted by the place of business in order to comply with the aforementioned general obligations; 
  2. a description of the indoors and outdoors premises of the restaurant, and a description of the measures and instructions given to staff for implementing the other obligations laid down in section 58 (a) of the Communicable Diseases Act and supervising their implementation indoors and outdoors at the restaurant.
  3. information on the person responsible for the implementation of the plan.  

Information on the person responsible for the plan must be provided to customers on request.

The plan is considered to be visible to customers if its summary is visible to customers when they enter the restaurant and it states that customers have the right to see the plan on request. The plan may be combined with self-supervision plans referred to in the Alcohol Act, the Food Act (23/2006) and the Tobacco Act (549/2016).

Customers must follow restaurant policies and instructions given by staff. If a customer does not comply, the restaurant staff have the right to remove the customer from the premises under the Act on accommodation and restaurant operations (308/2006, section 5).

Section 58 (a) of the Communicable Diseases Act lays down the necessary restrictions on the operation of restaurants in order to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. In addition, restaurants are required to comply with special hygiene requirements and to maintain a sufficient distance between customers. Each restaurant must draw up a plan on how it will fulfil these statutory obligations and restrictions. One central objective of the temporary restrictions is to develop operating models based on independent measures and plans in restaurant operations to prevent the spread of the infectious disease in restaurants when the restrictions are gradually alleviated. 

The Regional State Administrative Agency, in whose jurisdiction the restaurant is located, supervises compliance with the obligations and restrictions laid down in section 58 (a). In addition to the Regional State Administrative Agencies, food control experts from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Finnish Food Authority and municipalities as well as alcohol control experts from Valvira have prepared for supervision and guidance.  The main responsibility for combating infectious diseases lies at the local level, i.e. municipalities. Thus, municipal authorities bear the main responsibility for the guidance and advice of local facilities, including the adjustments required by the new changes on organising restaurant operations required by the Communicable Diseases Act. The role of the Regional State Administrative Agency is mainly to monitor and intervene in detected shortcomings and, on the other hand, to help local authorities interpret the new legislation. 

Key points of supervision include sufficient distances between customers and the placement of seats by a table or similar surface, and the requirements related to hygiene and the plan referred to in section 58 of the Communicable Diseases Act.

In addition to their own food safety inspections, municipal food control services may also observe the operations of a restaurant and advise and instruct business owners on the operations referred to in section 58 (a) of the Communicable Diseases Act and, if necessary, report any shortcomings to the Regional State Administrative Agency.

If shortcomings or flaws are found in the compliance with obligations or restrictions, the Regional State Administrative Agency may issue the restaurant with an order to correct them. The order must include a time limit for taking the necessary measures. If the shortcomings have not been rectified within the given time or if obligations have been substantially violated, the Regional State Administrative Agency may order the restaurant to cease any service operations immediately and to be closed to customers for a maximum of one month. The decisions of the Regional State Administrative Agency can be implemented immediately despite any appeals.

The purpose of the supervision required by the regulation is that authorities can react efficiently and without delay with precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the infectious disease. The targets of supervision are selected on the grounds of assessed risk, based on reports from other authorities and citizens and the agency's observations.

If necessary, police must provide executive assistance at the request of the Regional State Administrative Agency in order to implement supervision and the closing of a restaurant.

For questions related to the operation of restaurants, you can:

Plan to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease among customers

  • The guidelines have been updated on to comply with the Decree issued by the Finnish Government on 1 July 2021.
  • Valid until 15 September 2021.

These instructions have been drawn up in accordance with the Government Decree on temporarily restricting the operations of restaurants to prevent the spread of an infectious disease, issued under section 58 (a) of the Communicable Diseases Act.
These instructions do not replace a restaurant's other self-supervision plans. These premises will be subsequently referred to as restaurants.

The business owner of a restaurant is obligated to draw up a plan to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease among customers.

Restaurants must clearly inform their customers that no-one may enter the premises with symptoms matching coronavirus infection, such as coughing, throat pain, fever or shortness of breath.

The restaurant must ensure that:

  1. the customers have a clearly visible possibility to wash or disinfect their hands when arriving at the restaurant;
  2. any furniture, dishes, cutlery and other customer contact surfaces and objects are kept clean so that they do not create a risk of spreading the infectious disease;
  3. the customers have clearly visible instructions for cleaning their hands, for maintaining a safe distance to others, and other instructions for preventing the spreading of the infectious disease within the premises.

Restaurants must organise the structures and furniture of their indoor and outdoor facilities and determine customer service practices to ensure that customers are not exposed to the infectious disease.

Restaurants must ensure in particular that there is no unnecessary crowding in its premises and that the arrival of customers in the restaurant is carried out so that a sufficient distance between customers and groups is maintained.

Customers are taken in at any one time so that there is enough room in the customer premises (both indoors and outdoors).

The prevention of crowding must be taken into account (e.g. bar counters and washroom queues).

Plan content requirements:

  •  A description of the policies adopted by the restaurant in order to comply with the general obligations.
  •  A description of the indoors and outdoors premises of the restaurant and a description of the measures and instructions given to staff for implementing the other obligations laid down in section 58 (a) of the Communicable Diseases Act and supervising their implementation indoors and outdoors at the restaurant.
  • Information on the person responsible for the implementation of the plan in the restaurant.

Information on the person responsible for the plan must be provided to customers on request.

NOTE: The person's name is not added to the plan visible to customers; the name is provided to customers only upon request.

The plan is considered to be visible to customers if its summary is visible to customers when they enter the restaurant and it states that customers have the right to see the plan upon request. The plan may be combined with self-supervision plans referred to in the Alcohol Act, the Food Act (23/2006) and the Tobacco Act (549/2016).

Customers must follow restaurant policies and instructions given by staff. If a customer does not comply, the restaurant staff have the right to remove the customer from the premises under the Act on accommodation and restaurant operations (308/2006, section 5).

The Regional State Administrative Agency supervises the compliance with requirements and restrictions. If shortcomings or flaws are found in the compliance with obligations or restrictions, the Regional State Administrative Agency may issue the restaurant with an order to correct them. The order must include a time limit for taking the necessary measures. If the shortcomings have not been rectified within the given time or if obligations have been substantially violated, the Regional State Administrative Agency may order the restaurant to cease any service operations immediately and to be closed to customers for a maximum of one month.