12 December 2005

The Hidden Dangers of Late Night Eating

I've already ranted and raved about London's provincial attitude toward late night pubs, and mentioned in passing that even booze-free restaurants need a special licence to serve food after 11 pm, a licence which, it seems, is very difficult to get.

There used to be an all-night place at Tottenham Court, serving chips, kebabs, and similar healthy fare to the drunks coming out of the nearby Astoria and several other local clubs. It was shut down by a fire for a couple years, but recently re-opened. However, they're now forced to shut at 11 pm, which of course is about the time their best customers start arriving. They're asking people to sign petitions to Westminster Council to renew their late night licence, but it doesn't look hopeful.

Nearby are a few other fast food places that are allowed to stay open past 11, but - and it's a big BUT - from 11 pm they're forced to be takeaway only. Their seating areas are roped off and sit idle, while customers have to take their food and stand around eating on street corners in the lovely December weather.

Now perhaps I am missing something, but what is the intended social good of this policy? Did some demented councillor actually reason that harm would come from allowing people to sit down indoors and eat a meal at midnight? Or that the ambience of London's streets would be more pleasant if everyone had to stand around eating in the middle of the pavement while simultaneously trying to keep from getting rained on or carried off by a vicious gust of wind?

I can at least see the thinking - though I disagree with it - behind attempts to limit drinking hours as a way of combating yobbish and unpleasant behaviour. But if you don't want people drinking, why not offer them the alternative of late night restaurants and caf├ęs? I can only presume that the mentality behind this is somewhat akin to that of the 19th century lord who opposed the building of a national railway system on the grounds that it would only "encourage the labouring classes to travel about needlessly."

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