With new regulations now in force limiting the number of people who can gather at home and in venues, local restaurant owners explain what this means for their businesses.
For restaurants, bars and cafes across the north and north-east, further restrictions on the way they operate after months of closure and upheaval could hardly be welcome.
The new “Rule of Six” came into force on Monday, limiting social gatherings to six people from up to two households whether in our homes or socialising elsewhere. The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said the restrictions were necessary to try to stem the rising numbers of coronavirus cases.
England’s interpretation of the same rule allows for a maximum of six people but they can be from six different households. But in Scotland, under 12s are not counted under the rule, while they are south of the border.
“It’s just hammered the business” – Richard Nicoll, The Dutch Mill Hotel and the Atholl Hotel
Richard Nicoll, co-owner of Aberdeen’s The Dutch Mill Hotel and the Atholl Hotel, has seen a steep decline in the number of customers visiting the restaurants associated with his hotels. He says things haven’t been the same after Aberdeen’s local lockdown lifted on August 26.
Richard says: “The new rule has majorly affected us. We’ve had cancellation upon cancellation as all of our bookings were for three households, which was the maximum at the time. When the news broke that it was going to be down to two, we phoned all of our bookings to tell them of the new rules and they just cancelled their booking.
“It’s just hammered the business. We carried on this Eat Out to Help Out scheme through Monday-Wednesday through the whole of September, just off our own backs. I think after Aberdeen’s second lockdown there must’ve been a real panic throughout the city because the numbers of people eating out were nowhere near like they were after the first one.
“Now, this rule has just been an extra hammer blow, it’s unbelievable and I’ve been hearing some horror stories from pubs in the town.
“The two households part of the rule is having a huge impact. I think in England it’s still six people but you can have up to six households and that’s a very manageable number. Even the previous three households rule was good as we’d be getting groups of three guys coming out or three ladies coming out for lunch, or catch ups.
Now, this rule has just been an extra hammer blow, it’s unbelievable and I’ve been hearing some horror stories from some pubs in the town.
“The Monday after the ruling was made saw our trade halved, which is really sad. We just serve food from 12-9 and have a set menu for the whole day to make it easier for everyone, but I think the lunch trade has gone now, in comparison to what it was. This is very unusual for us. On a Sunday we’d usually have quite a thriving trade but now it’s just a ghost town.
“I have a friend in the trade who is only opening from a Wednesday to Saturday now because there are no customers and other people are just keeping their venues closed until things pick up again.
“The footfall of customers we get staying at the hotel has also dropped because we are using our front car park as the outside marquee area so we’ve lost our parking. I don’t think there’s a lot of people travelling through anyway.
“The two things that have given this industry a knock right now are the two households part of the rule and the background music ban. You can walk into a gym, a hairdresser or a shop and there’s music playing in the background, but not having it in restaurants ruins the atmosphere.”
“Nobody seems clear on the rules” – Krish Bhetuwal, 8848 restaurant
Krish Bhetuwal, owner of the city’s 8848 restaurant, which serves Nepalese and Indian cuisine, says that the new “Rule of Six” has added extra pressure and a “feeling of guilt” to restaurant owners, who are now having to ask customers personal questions to adhere to the rules.
Krish says: “I think this is one of the worst things that could happen after the second lockdown.
“On top of that, you feel really guilty as you have to check each and every customer as they come in and ask them lots of personal information, checking whether they’re from the same household or not and it’s really hard. You’ve also got to clean the restaurant a lot more than before, which can also be expensive, especially when you have already reduced the number of customers able to dine in due to social distancing.
“Now the expectation for the customer is very low. In Aberdeen, sometimes people will go out after work but now the social interaction here is literally nothing. For city centre businesses like us, this is one of the worst things we could expect, to be honest.
“Before the Rule of Six happened, people were coming out and saying, ‘ok, we’ll be careful but let’s go out and enjoy ourselves’. That was the situation but now it’s come back full circle and people just aren’t coming out because they know it will save them some money and they’re avoiding the crowds. The mindset is changing constantly but things aren’t moving forward, we’re just going round in circles.
Now the expectation for the customer is very low. In Aberdeen, sometimes people will go out after work but now the social interaction here is literally nothing. For city centre businesses like us, this is one of the worst things we could expect, to be honest.
Krish Bhetuwal, 8848
“We have a private room that large parties can book out and there were a couple of bookings for it this week that we had to cancel.
“One problem we’ve had is what the definition of a household is as people are going out to play golf together then would want to come in for lunch or dinner afterwards, but does that make them a household? Even if they are staying together in the same hotel, the same building, and they want to come to the same restaurant – do you categorise that as the same household? It’s very confusing, so in order to be on the safe side we’re having to cancel these kinds of bookings.
“It’s a serious situation but it’s a hard time for everybody.
“Nobody seems clear on the rules. Nobody is clear about the circumstances in terms of business, in terms of pubs, it feels a lot more careful than before but, in terms of clarity, I don’t think that is there.”
“There is no measure that is too great when it comes to the safety of our staff” – David Littlewood, Tor Na Coille
Chef proprietor of Tor Na Coille hotel in Banchory, and the Kildrummy Inn in Alford, David Littlewood’s businesses didn’t suffer directly from Aberdeen’s second lockdown, but he has found that customers are “less than friendly” to his staff when being told they can no longer have more than two households on their booking.
David says: “We’ve had to adjust our risk assessments and our staff training so that everyone’s aware of the new rules and what can be done. The biggest effect it’s had on us is from the fact that we had a number of big bookings in the diary already, which no longer comply.
“We had to then contact a lot of people to say that they unfortunately have to either reduce their numbers to meet the two households rule or cancel their reservation. Sadly, quite a lot of those customers weren’t particularly nice about it.
“We understand that it’s frustrating and that people are only just starting to have those freedoms again after the lockdown, seeing friends and family, and were quite looking forward to coming. Then to be phoned up and told you can no longer come – which I’m sure they understand it’s not us who set those rules and that it is the government – it’s possible they’re looking for someone to take out their frustrations on and the person on the other end of the phone gets the brunt of it.
“Ultimately for us, the safety and wellbeing of our guests and our staff and their families potentially, is more important to us than hearing the till ringing.
“Some people were less than friendly with our reception staff when they were making contact, which is a shame because it’s not their fault at the end of the day, they’re just following the rules, as we all are. We implemented it as per the first minister’s request with immediate effect.
Ultimately for us, the safety and wellbeing of our guests and our staff and their families potentially, is more important to us than hearing the till ringing.
“We’re very much trying to recover the business, get back on track and trying to recover some of the losses that we made during the period when we were closed but, at the end of the day, we can’t put the value of that over the value of people’s safety and wellbeing.
“People just have to accept that these rules are in place to keep us all safe and we all have a social responsibility to follow them. It’s not for the restaurants, hotels, or bars, to police people’s social lives and adherence to social distancing. People should be aware that these freedoms have been reduced in order to allow us to have other freedoms – if that means some people can finally go ahead and have their wedding, or attend the funeral of a loved one.
“Our staff haven’t received an increased wage despite the increased risk of working in the hospitality industry, so we have to make sure we are doing absolutely everything that we can to mitigate that risk. There is no measure that is too great when it comes to the safety of our staff.”