Restrictions on hospitality in Scotland extended by a week

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 21st October 2020

first minister of scotland nicola sturgeon has extended restrictions on bars, pubs and restaurants in the central belt for an additional week, pending the introduction of what she called "a strategic framework" to manage the spread of coronavirus.

Introduced on Friday 9th October, they were set to end on 25th October, but will now continue until the beginning of November, when a five-tier system will come into force - which will involve different levels of restrictions that can be applied nationally or regionally depending on the level of infection. 

Under the rules, all pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes in the central belt - Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Lothean and Forthe Valley - are closed. Hotels are still open but their restaurants can only cater to residents, and cannot sell alcohol.

Outside the central belt, hospitality businesses can serve people indoors from 6am to 6pm, with alcoholic drinks only allowed outdoors.

In response to the news, Liz Cameron of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said the hospitality sector in particular would be "absolutely devastated that restrictions now look to be in place indefinitely."

In her briefing, the first minister also set out details of how the new five-tier system will work, saying the middle three would be mostly the same as the three-tier system in use in England - with an extra tier at the bottom and at the top.

Financial support for businesses hit by enforced closures will be detailed on Friday, also expected to be mostly identical to what is offered elsewhere in the UK.

We spoke to professionals in the industry when the measures were introduced, asking them how the sector might cope with the new restrictions.

Central belt restaurants, bars and cafes

Helen Vass, pastry chef and lecturer at South Lanarkshire College said the measures represent "a massive loss of opportunity for income," especially given its coincidence with October half-term. 

"All these businesses are going to be losing out, and I feel terrible for them." 

As for the promises of mitigating funding offered to businesses - which the first minister promised would total £40 million - she said that not only would it be a case of how quickly and effectively it will be distributed, but what it will cover.

"Is it only going to be a small percentage of what they would have maybe earned this time last year? There may be help, but is it going to be enough? They've already lost out for so long and so many are just struggling to survive right now."

Gary Townsend, head chef at One Devonshire in Glasgow, is equally as confused by the new measures affecting central hospitality businesses.

“I didn’t expect her (Nicola Sturgeon) to close smaller businesses completely. 

“I don’t know where to begin. It’s like a kick in the teeth as they’ve only just managed to get back on their feet, especially small independent places, and now they are back to where they were again. This is only two weeks, potentially, but is it? Is it going to turn into three or four if it doesn’t work? 

“I think it is going to finish a lot of people off. Not good times unfortunately," he added.

Will the measures be effective?

Despite their severity, Helen is unconvinced that the rules will have a major effect on the infection rate. 

She said: "Most of the restaurants and hospitality settings that I've visited so far are really strict with their social distancing, they've had the track and trace in place." 

"Blaming hospitality just isn't right in my opinion," she added, especially given that it is one of the Scottish economy's main drivers. 

"At the same time, I understand that she has to take measures, it's just really complicated." 

Gary, as many in the industry, feels hospitality is being unfairly targeted by the restrictions. 

“If you keep pushing and pushing, no matter how big or how small you are or how much money you have – there’s only so much anyone can take. Everyone has a breaking point,” he said.

Most frightening of all, he added, is that "we’re barely into autumn. So is it going to get worse in the winter? If it does, who knows where we will be.

"I like to think my job is safe, but now in the back of my mind I'm thinking: 'Is it?’." 

With central hotels exempt, are their businesses safe?

Thankfully for Gary, One Devonshire is part of Hotel du Vin, and under the new rules will still be allowed to operate, selling food and non-alcoholic drinks only, just to residents. 

“It’s so confusing," he said. 

"We are quite fortunate as our occupancy has been at 80 percent," he added. 

"If it stays like that, not much will change for us. It may be busier in terms of food as everyone would come to eat. But in terms of alcohol, who wants to come to a restaurant if they can’t have a drink? I think you could lose bookings over that." 

“I don’t understand restaurants with no alcohol. In pubs, fair enough. We all know what it’s like when we have a drink and people do get a bit rowdy at times, but in a restaurant it’s a completely different atmosphere – you’re not going to be going and hugging everybody.

Helen agreed that the no-alcohol rule will deliver a significant blow to hospitality businesses, and said: "I don't know what she's trying to achieve with that." 

"Where do hospitality businesses make their most money? Profits are off alcohol, with food the margins are tight as it is and that's how they make their money. To think that they won't be able to get that mark-up and only be open from 6am till 6pm, some businesses are going to have to diversify and open for breakfast just so they can make some cash." 

"It's devastating for the industry." 

Outer-city establishments

Rory Lovie, head chef at Bridgeview Station, has remained on furlough until now. The restaurant is due to reopen on Monday 12th, and will be going ahead. 

He said: "Obviously we will be closed at 6pm, but to be honest, that suits us, as our breakfast and lunch trade is usually very good.

"It will be good to be back," he added.

The new measures may benefit Bridgeview, he said, "but other businesses in the fine dining sector will struggle to stay open, especially people that do tasting menus - and no alcohol sales is a bummer."

The measure allowing outdoor drinking is derisory, he said, as "it will probably encourage more house parties. 

"Us Scots love a drink though," he added, "so maybe there is logic behind it. God knows." 

Will tighter measures in the rest of the UK follow? 

While as a species we humans have a tendency for blind optimism, Gary is convinced that Scotland is a precursor to what will soon affect hospitality businesses elsewhere in the union.

“It seems to be if it happens up here, it rolls out down south - especially in terms of hospitality," he said.

“I think anyone working in hospitality now will be worried."

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 21st October 2020

Restrictions on hospitality in Scotland extended by a week