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‘It was just dire’: Tayside and Fife venues reveal challenges of New Year Covid restrictions

Bars faced a series of restrictions at New Year.
Bars faced a series of restrictions at New Year.

Bars and restaurants across Tayside and Fife have revealed the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on their businesses at New Year – as some lost thousands of pounds or even shut their doors to customers.

Nightclubs were unable to open and venues had to offer table service and ensure physical distancing – meaning most saw their traditional celebrations curbed.

It came as people were urged to stay at home for the bells and public Hogmanay parties were cancelled due to fears about the Omicron variant.

Fife – ‘New Year was non-existent’

George Stewart, who runs the Woodside Inn in Glenrothes, chose to shut for large parts of the festive period.

He said: “We decided it just wouldn’t be fair on our customers to expect them to purchase tickets for Christmas and Hogmanay only for the restrictions on the hospitality industry to be changed and for us to be forced to cancel.

“We closed on Christmas Eve and only opened until 10pm on New Year’s Eve.

“It’s pretty much hand to mouth for the foreseeable future.”

People were unable to get together in the same way as previous years. Image: Shutterstock.

Dallas Mackay, who owns The Duchess in Kirkcaldy, says more than 1,200 customers did not turn up for bookings over the festive period – at a loss of about £120,000.

She described the New Year period as “terrible”, claiming people are scared to go to hospitality venues.

It was a similar experience for Dean Melville, the co-owner of Kingdom Taverns, which has venues across Fife.

He says Christmas was nearly 50% down on expectations, adding: “New Year was basically non-existent, we were about 80% down.

“Things have been very, very difficult. It has been a very difficult time for everyone that’s involved in hospitality.

“With the restrictions, it is allowing us to stay open, but they are giving us the minimum amount of support, we’ve had a very basic grant to help us through.”

Angus – ‘It was just dire’

Wiliam Dorward runs the Market Bar with wife Sharon on Montrose High Street.

He told The Courier: “In the last three weeks, I’d say we were down about 10% in takings compared to normal years.

“We’re drink-led – our food is just soup and sandwiches at lunchtime – so the places that got hit were really the places doing food, they got all the cancellations.”

Also suffering from a lack of customers was the Stables Lounge in Brechin.

The Stables Lounge in Brechin.

Owner Alan Renilson says the venue had about 70 cancelled bookings during the festive season.

But he added: “It’s the footfall where we’ve seen a difference.

“A Thursday night before Hogmanay, everyone is off, Man United are playing and there’s six people in the pub. It was just dire.

“If that was four years ago you would have had 25 guys squashed in that bar.

“I see a very tough future. We have a generally older clientele, and they’re reluctant to come out to the pub the way they would before.

“For December and January, I’d hazard a guess that we’ll lose anything between £6,000 and £8,000, maybe £10,000, in takings and £3,000 in profit.”

Not many customers enjoyed a pint in a pub at New Year.

Nikki Ferguson, who runs Coast in Arbroath with partner Nevada Mitchell, says her business did not have a December “like we’re used to”.

She said: “We were open on Hogmanay but had to close the kitchen, we could only keep the bar open.

“We’re essentially a restaurant so keeping the bar open, we ended up closing early.

“Four years ago we would have been full. The bar this year was pretty much non-existent.”

Perth – ‘Hogmanay was very different’

Perth bars also reported having fewer customers at New Year as customers took heed of the “stay at home” advice.

Sandy Stirton, co-owner of The Twa Tams on Scott Street, says New Year was “a lot quieter” than previous years – when it has hosted a ticketed event.

He said: “We only had 60 people in the pub, which is far less than other years, so it was very different.

Sandy Stirton from The Twa Tams.

“Nonetheless, we still had a great evening and had music playing, it was really good.

“We are looking forward to there being fewer restrictions and when everyone can go out properly.”

Ashley Watson, general manager of Brewdog in Perth, said: “We only had small tables in, it was more families and regulars.

“People weren’t out for ‘a mad one’ like it usually is, it was totally different. It was really quiet.”

Dundee – ‘A lot of people went home for the bells’

The situation was not much better for some venues in Dundee.

Dale Murray, manager of Bird and Bear, says the pub opened on New Year’s Day to see if normal Saturday trade would arrive – but it was “terribly quiet”.

He continued: “New Year wasn’t anything magical – it was OK, but nothing special, especially considering what we would usually be like.

“We had a lot of bookings but you’re restricted to how many tables and chairs you have, and we had to ensure everything was spaced out more again, in line with the restrictions.

Custom was down at the Bird and Bear in Dundee.

“A lot of people just decided to go home for the bells, especially with the restrictions of three households and needing to be seated.”

He says custom “nosedived” after restrictions were announced by the Scottish Government ahead of the festive period.

But Tommy Fox, who owns the Barrelman pub in Dundee, says he was “delighted” to welcome more customers than expected.

He said: “We haven’t been hugely affected as we continued table service, even after it was taken away as a requirement.

The Barrelman in Dundee. Image: Google.

“We’re lucky that we’re quite a spacious venue so it was never really crowded at any stage.

“We had quite a few parties of nurses and care workers who had to postpone to January and February.

“But we’re seeing a growth every week, which is really positive considering everything that’s going on.

“There have been difficulties, but we’ve managed to get through it.”

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