Julie Lewis of The Adamson bar and restaurant has seen business levels return to near normal in the past few days, despite new coronavirus restrictions, after customers turned out in rain or shine.
As Julie Lewis watched the first minister set out the new regulations for hospitality businesses, which would see her having to stop selling alcohol and close her bar and restaurant indoors from 6pm, she wondered what the next two weeks would bring.
Her source of hope was that, having foreseen that winter was likely to lead to greater safety concerns around the spread of coronavirus, she had applied to Fife Council to extend The Adamson’s outdoor space – and had only just received the go-ahead.
It proved to be hugely fortuitous timing because it meant that Julie, who is managing director of the popular St Andrews eatery, and her team had a shot at moving a large part of their business outdoors – but they only had two days to pull it off.
She explained: “On Wednesday last week when I listened to the words coming from Nicola Sturgeon on the TV she was saying it was about wellbeing, still meeting people if you can but be safe and don’t go in people’s houses. For me in a student town, a tourism town and a town for locals, there are still people who want to meet and want to see each other and it’s important for them to be able to do that.
“So we just went for it. Scott Dougall has an events and catering business. I phoned him and said, ‘Let’s do this’. He turned the [marquee] set-up around in under 24 hours. We promoted it on social so on Friday night people were coming along to see what we were doing. They were interested.
“The marquee had sprung up on Thursday. We’d had the car parking spaces and had applied to use it two months ago. I thought that outside, it’s so poignant at the moment because of safety, so we had planned to use the area anyway from November 1st and the council had signed it off on the Wednesday afternoon so I said, ‘let’s go for it’.”
And while trade dipped a little indoors on the Saturday, by Sunday business was back in full swing – with the 48 seats outdoors put to good use.
Julie said: “We lost out on the Saturday because people didn’t quite know what to do and were still getting used to it. The Saturday the week before I’d been in the bar serving at 4pm and it was jumping and every table was full. Then last weekend it was three families having their dinner and there was nothing much happening. Nothing like it would normally be.
“But then on Saturday night outside it was great. There were people from all over the place. On Sunday we did the same sales as we do normally.
“The restaurant is now busy towards 3pm in the afternoon so everyone is going out for a later lunch. We do last orders [for indoor dining] in the kitchen at four, so you’ve got an hour and a half to have one or two courses and, if they want, they can take a third away with them.
“In the outside area on Tuesday, we took our normal spend.”
But while working outdoors in all weathers took a bit of getting used to for the staff, Julie says the customers have been happy to sit out under the marquee and parasols.
“It’s been quite a test for the team getting used to the restaurant being outside for four hours. So they have their outdoor kit, they’re wearing fleeces and we partnered with Veuve Clicquot so they gave us jackets.
“Even if it’s raining people are still coming out and they go under the parasols and we’ve also got a marquee which has got six tables socially distanced. With the other six tables, which are normally of two, if it’s raining we put them together as three tables of four under the parasols.
“We’ve suggested people bring their own blankets, hats and gloves, we have heaters, and we’ll do little snippets on social to remind people. We can fill hot water bottles for people. It’s a new way and people are getting used to how the future might look for a little bit, if you want to have a drink this might be how it’s going to be.”
Having shared their new outdoor set-up on social media, the posts caught the attention of the team at Business Gateway resulting in some additional financial support to help cover cost.
Julie explained: “Over the weekend Business Gateway were so interested in what we were doing on social, one of my contacts in Fife [local] government got in touch and said, ‘Would you like a Business Gateway support grant?’ So we ended up getting a grant which will help us keep the business open over this period.”
For both staff and customers, having somewhere to go in the evenings other than their own homes has been a boost, says Julie.
“This girl came up to me on Friday night and said, ‘Can I just say thank you?’ She was sitting on her own, but she said, ‘Thanks for doing this because I’ve got somewhere I can come and have a drink and feel I’ve done something tonight instead of just being stuck in my room.
“Two of my servers who are coming up to two years of their student life, said, ‘We thought you were going to be closing, and we were worried because it’s good for us emotionally and mentally to get to work so we can take the pressure of our uni studies off us. We were over-staffed on the Friday not knowing what was going to happen so we let the staff go for the night and they said, ‘We’re going to stay and see what happens’, and the two of them sat and had a nice evening together.
“We’ve joined Eco Eats in St Andrews for this weekend so people can get deliveries to their house or take it away, so we’ll see how that goes.
“Other businesses and the whole community have been so supportive of what we’re doing, but it’s a real challenge for businesses who haven’t got this outdoor space. I’ve had a few enquire about how we’ve done it and I’ve just encouraged them to get in touch with the council and apply for spaces if they want to. It’s about saving businesses. If St Andrews fell on its knees, people would miss this if food and drink wasn’t available; it’s so important we try to keep it alive.”