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‘It’s been a long time for us’: Scottish hospitality to reopen at Level 3 by end of April, but is it too late?

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The hospitality industry has been one of the hardest-hit during the pandemic and now the Scottish Government’s time frame sees first plans for its reopening take shape in two months’ time. But is it too late for businesses?

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addressed Parliament today, outlining her plans on when she hopes hospitality will be able to reopen in the coming months, having forced venues across the country to close indoors and outdoors since last year.

Following the data and not dates approach, the First Minister highlighted that the roadmap out of lockdown would prioritise getting more school children and secondary school pupils back in classrooms, with restrictions on hospitality staying in place until the end of April at the earliest. By then, the First Minister hopes the whole country will be put into Level 3 and will be able to reopen the economy.

In Level 3 restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars can open indoors and outdoors until 6pm for the consumption of food and non-alcoholic drinks, with no alcohol being allowed to be served. A maximum number of six people from two households only can meet up.

While more announcements will be made mid-March to firm out plans on reopening the economy come late April, many in the hospitality industry have been left feeling disappointed following today’s announcement.

Restrictions on click and collect will be adjusted on April 5, and three weeks later on April 26, the country will hopefully move to Level 3.

‘Level 3 is non viable for us’

In St Andrews, Julie Dalton, who runs The Adamson in the town, closed the business temporarily in November but has since been delivering her restaurant food and cocktails through the business’s The Adamson At Home venture.

She says that if the Level 3 that Nicola Sturgeon referred to in her announcement is the same as it was before Christmas, then The Adamson will not be able to operate.

She said: “In the original level system before Christmas, we operated really quite well in Level 2 and were quite buoyant, when it was outside drinking until 10pm but indoors closed at 6pm. We had a marquee set up outside in Level 2, so that was really very good for us and we were able to trade well.

Julie Dalton, managing director of The Adamson.

“Then we tried to trade in Level 3, by opening up again for a weekend in December, thinking it was near Christmas time so we would try it, but it was only 25% of our turnover because you weren’t allowed to drink inside or out and it was 6pm closing completely.

“So operating in Level 3 for us is very much non-viable because we did try it. We don’t think we are going to hear about hospitality for another few weeks, but it doesn’t look like we are going to get back to Level 2 until at least May.”

Though it looks unlikely that the exact restrictions in each level will be announced by the government for a while, Julie is hopeful that the support they’ve received continues until they can return.

Julie adds: “Business Gateway at Fife Council were able to support us with business grants last time, and so that’s how we were able to get the marquee.

“We’ve already applied to the council to allow us to bring that back as we originally only had the license until April. The indication at the moment is that outside dining extension will go ahead after April and that will be really beneficial for us.

The Adamson marquee.

“The government have been brilliant in furlough, and so has Fife Council with their support, and we’re very pro support and I think that’s very important. We’ve not made anyone redundant and we’ve been able to do that because of the government. As a small, family business, we wouldn’t have been able to do that without their support.

“We’ve been closed since November 16, when they moved Fife from level two to level three, other than that one weekend we tried in December. When we stopped trading in November, we took two weeks off and really thought about how we could operate in December under level three, tried that but we were having regulars saying to us, ‘why would we come out for a meal without a drink?’. They just couldn’t get their head around it.

“It’s great to see that progress is being made and we wait anxiously to see how things develop and we’ll open as soon as we can.”

‘Something we can aim for’

Another restaurant owner who is hopeful but also unable to open if Level 3 stays the same is Michelin-starred Billy Boyter who owns The Cellar in Anstruther in Fife’s East Neuk.

He said he had hoped the First Minister’s announcement would be similar to Boris Johnson’s and give a clearer indication of dates, but that he remains positive the restaurant will get a good summer.

He said: “We’d obviously seen Boris’ speech yesterday when he was giving exact dates and were maybe hoping for something similar, but at least now we have something we can work towards.

“I’m pleased we now have something we can aim for. We couldn’t operate in the original Level 3, just with the size of the restaurant and the fact there had to be reduced numbers and no alcohol. It just wasn’t feasible for us to open. So, we’ve been shut since mid November.

Billy Boyter at The Cellar.

“I’m really hoping that as we get through this and the government can make more plans, that the levels start to look like they won’t include a curfew and hopefully the no alcohol element is taken away. If that was the case then we could almost get back to some sort of normality in the restaurant then.

“It’s still just waiting to see how that all pans out over the coming weeks. I’d be really worried if we weren’t open by the summer, though. I think at the start of this year we were optimistic and hoping to be open for Easter, but obviously that’s not happened. If we can get back by the summer, that would be great, and we will hopefully have more people staying in Scotland than going away, so it will maybe be like the period we opened last summer as business was great. If we can get another summer like that and have it continue all the way through the year this time instead of another lockdown,  that would be great.”

‘It’s disappointing’

Meanwhile, Dundee was one of the first areas of Scotland to go into Level 3 restrictions as Coronavirus cases increased dramatically in the city last autumn. Though restaurants, bars and cafes in neighbouring counties, Perthshire, Fife and Angus were able to find ways to operate under Level 2, Dundee’s businesses had to close almost immediately and have remained so ever since.

One business affected in the city is Market Bar in the Seagate, which has been co-owned by George Finlay since 2016.

With the bar having been closed since the beginning of October, George is less optimistic than his Fife counterparts, and feels he won’t be able to open properly until the city is back under firm Level 1 restrictions, or none at all.

George said: “It’s disappointing not to get confirmed dates or clear sight as to when we can get back open again. Throughout all of this, we’ve understood how important lockdown is but even announcing an upcoming tier system isn’t as clear as what Boris announced yesterday.

“There was more light at the end of the tunnel from watching him and what England are going to do.

“For us, personally speaking, if we go back into the tier system we based it on the last time, for the business to be viable it won’t really work until we are back in level one. So if we do all go into level three on April 26, and it’s the same as it was before Christmas which was no alcohol and food only between noon and 5pm, we wouldn’t open at that stage. I think level two was alcohol with food and again, only so many hours in the day.

The Market Bar.

“If it changes before or by April 26 then great but there’s not really any hope. The amount of support we’ve had between the furlough and government grants has been great and it’s the only thing keeping a lot of businesses alive, but that will be a problem if that support ends in April.

“We’ve been closed since October 9th. We don’t have a beer garden, so weren’t able to stay open when those were ok to eat and drink in. So, it’s been a long time for us.

“It does look like we will be able to be open for the summer, at least, whereas there may have been some doubt about that, so there is a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.”

‘Counter-productive to a healthy reopening’

Ruth Robinson, owner of The Dory Bistro & Gallery in Pittenweem is also disappointed with the news and agrees with other industry figureheads that the reopening plans will prove challenging once again for hospitality.

She said: “Nick Nairn outlined well the issues for reopening hospitality, and particularly restaurants, on BBC Radio Scotland this morning.

“Reopening in a phased way with curfews and no alcohol sales will prove extremely challenging for business as trade ramps up from nothing. Continuing with the Level system suggests that curfews and alcohol prohibition may continue into May/June, while the rest of the UK opens hospitality without curfews and with alcohol sales. Nick Nairn suggested that restaurants should be treated differently from pubs and an inspectorate that signs off restaurants on Covid-19 compliance could be a way forward.

“Most restaurants already have high and monitored standards of cleanliness and understanding of the measures required to keep the public and staff safe.

Nick Nairn.

“There was a distinct lack of guidance on travel. Many businesses in Fife rely on the trade from tourism and second-home owners. We need some clarity on when travel bans will be relaxed and when incoming tourism can re-start.”

“Restaurants operate on booking systems. To be able to take bookings, we need more guidance as early as possible on what rules will apply when we reopen seated dining. Otherwise, it is very difficult to take bookings and this is counter-productive to a healthy reopening.”

‘At home boxes have been a lifeline’

Amy and Jack Elles, co-owners of The Harbour Cafe, Elie in Fife’s East Neuk, are positive that they will be able to open again soon.

They said: “In line with English restaurants, we are hoping to re-open our bookings from March 15, for the end of April, although we will have to see what the coming weeks bring.

Amy of Elie Harbour Cafe.

“Elie is a holiday destination and opening the Cafe during Tier 3 and 4 restrictions was simply not viable for us.

“With our seafood shack right on the beach, we really need travel restrictions for Edinburgh and Glasgow residents to have been lifted before we are able to re-open and welcome visitors.”

“The Harbour Cafe at Home boxes have been a lifeline and we will continue to offer these indefinitely as the foodscape has really changed in the past year.’

Online reaction

Managing director of Balbirnie House, Nicholas Russell, Tweeted that he and his team are now working towards a reopening date of Monday April 26 following the First Minister’s announcement.

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