While the new tiers mean an easing of restrictions for hospitality businesses, those in the north-east still face significant curbs on alcohol sales and opening hours.
The first minister Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire will move to Level 2 under the new five-tier system for Scotland, with the Highlands, Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and Moray moving to Level 1.
Level 2 status (the third highest of the five tiers) will be similar to the current arrangements with time restrictions on hospitality still applying – but alcohol will be permitted to be sold indoors with a main meal until 8pm. Outdoors the curfew would be extended to 10.30pm.
But with the central belt and Dundee moving to Level 3 status, under which there will be a ban on non-essential travel, there are fears of cancellations among hotel and B&B operators. Marc Crothall of the Scottish Tourism alliance voiced his sector’s concerns.
He said: “Our industry has been bracing itself for today’s announcement around the tightening of levels of restrictions which will come into force on Monday and the expected wave of cancellations throughout Scotland’s hospitality and tourism sectors which will happen as a result.
“As an industry, we have always understood the need to balance public health and the economy, however we are now at a point where many hundreds of businesses simply do not have the income or funding support to remain solvent. Businesses in Tier 2 areas had hoped for an upturn in business following the slight ease of restrictions as the majority of custom in Tier 2 would have been likely to come from the Central Belt area, however due to the new travel restrictions, this will not be possible.
“It is absolutely critical now that all tourism and hospitality businesses impacted by these restrictions in whatever tier they are in have immediate access to a strengthened package of support from the Scottish Government to enable them to meet their overheads and retain what staff they had hoped to keep on their payroll over the coming weeks and beyond to avoid permanent closure and a significant wave of redundancies.”
The north-east – Level 2
But the relative easing of restrictions to allow the sale of alcohol with a main meal indoors, has brought relief for some, including. Paul Mair, owner of high-end fine dining eatery Cafe Boheme in Aberdeen’s city centre.
He said: “It is a step in the right direction. It means I can have all my staff in place. We’ve retained all of our staff and I hope it moves to 10pm as soon as possible really.
“My job is to make sure all of my staff are safe and they will make sure my customers are safe. When the restrictions were at 6pm, I gave the staff two options: to go on furlough or for us or to come up with a concept to keep us open. My chefs came up with the idea of launching French afternoon teas and that’s now something we’ll use going forward. It has forced us to make decisions and now there’s a little bit more breathing room for the staff. We can now do the stuff we really enjoy doing like tasting menus and our a la carte offering.”
Paul and his team are are also excited about being able to reintroduce some of their other menus as a result of being on Level 2.
“My business is a high-end fine dining restaurant and we do tasting menus and there was no chance I was going to be asking customers to come and spend money on a tasting menu with no music or not to be able to have some wine.
“As of Monday we’ll have our tasting menus, a la carte menu and afternoon tea available. We’ll also have our Aberdeen Restaurant Week offering available too which I’m really proud to be a part of. We’re closed on Monday but as of Tuesday our new menu launches, my sommelier can sell some wine and my chefs get to do all the things they love.”
George Mackenzie, general manager for S&G Aberdeen Limited which is responsible for city venues including Cheerz Bar, Bardots, Cotton Club and The Lounge Aberdeen, isn’t so happy about the new tier restrictions coming into play as he feels at a disadvantage in comparison to others.
He said: “I just feel a lot of the work done by the Scottish hospitality groups over the past few weeks has been ignored. From my point of view, we have a lot of regulars who will pop into the bar for one drink and then go home, they aren’t at any more risk than having a pint at a venue and then having a meal. This food stipulation really messes things up as none of our venues really do food.
“Everything is really last minute and the government doesn’t really go into much detail. It says you can have alcohol with a main meal, but what constitutes a main meal? Can I do toasties with chips? They don’t even tell you how many drinks you can have. Ultimately I want to get the venue open because the longer we leave it the harder it will be.
“With the new Jobs Support Scheme we can’t really give staff 20% [of pay] because we aren’t really open. It’s completely silly. Everything is so last minute and we were only really told about the scheme last week. If we don’t get it then we’ll have to go back into redundancy consultancy but I’m just annoyed with the whole process as there’s no advance thought and it doesn’t go into detail or specifics.”
We are sorry that this will be unwelcome news to some of our regular customers and understand the overall goal of protecting public health.
We hope we can provide a further update soon on when we may be able to re-open.
Steve & George
— CHEERZ ABERDEEN (@CHEERZBAR) October 27, 2020
Having invested heavily renovating the nightclub and bar Cheerz, George is at a loss in understanding what the future holds.
He added: “We invested a lot of money into making our venues really safe. It’s also very unfair as there’s a lot of places thriving right now as they have outdoor space or serve food. Their sales are probably the best they’ve been because the smaller independents maybe don’t have that and can’t open.
“I campaigned for music to be brought back into venues months ago and they are only just looking at it now. The other day they just announced grants for nightclubs but they have also said if you repurpose the nightclub to run as a bar then you won’t get the grant. We’re just trying to keep our staff in jobs.
“Police are also arresting people who have been holding house parties and if they had been in bars they would be in this controlled environment. There’s also no mention of nightclubs in the new tier set up so it is just assumed that they will only reopen once a vaccine is found and that could be years.
“We just spent a massive amount of money getting the bar and nightclub of Cheerz renovated and it is pretty much a new nightclub ready to go. The amount of money we have lost is probably around £100K.
“After the first lockdown we lost around £30K in stock and we’re away to go and do the same as I can’t open to sell the stock I have. It’s more loss that wasn’t necessary.”
Stuart McPhee, director of Siberia Bar & Hotel and spokesperson for Aberdeen Hospitality Together posted his thoughts on Twitter arguing that the plan “lacks conviction” and questioning whether the measures to contain the virus were actually working.
He also posed the question of what substitutes a main meal, something which many venues will be asking, too.
Initial response is that tier 3 is as good as closure. The restrictions itself show that the curfew is void given they have magicked an extra half an hour into play somehow. What constitutes a substantial meal?
— Stuart McPhee 🏴 (@stuartmcphee19) October 27, 2020
But what is being put in place has to make a difference and not skirt round the edges. It lacks conviction and it plays to the virus by not going far enough and against the economy with punitive restrictions.
Are restrictions actually making a difference?
— Stuart McPhee 🏴 (@stuartmcphee19) October 27, 2020
The Highlands – Level 1
In the Highlands things are looking a little more positive with Level 1 allowing businesses to serve alcohol and extend their opening hours until 10.30pm.
David Gladwin, founder and managing director of the Black Isle Brewery which operates bars in both Inverness and Fort William, says the tiered approach is a “positive step in the right direction” which will see venues operate closer to their usual timings.
He said: “Listening to the news it is slightly alarming hearing that Germany and France are locking down, I just hope we don’t have to go down that route, but it is so important now that we keep businesses going. People’s livelihoods are at risk and we need to keep people in work.
“Every step to get back to operating normal hours is a positive one. This tiering system is a good one and as long as everyone adheres to it, then we shouldn’t be penalised if one or two places are not necessarily doing that. It’s important in the Highlands that we can still operate.
“It is soon going to be November and it is cold. It doesn’t matter how many heaters you have, you can’t heat the atmosphere so it is great to be getting people back inside and enjoying food and drink in our socially-distanced establishments.”
Stocking many of their own beers, David is also delighted the beer firm’s loyal following will now be able to enjoy the wares of his team’s labours in his own venues again, instead of at home.
He added: “We’re a popular brewery and have a loyal following locally and further afield. I’m really appreciative of those who do come out to the bars in Inverness and Fort William as they always have a good time. It is great they will finally be able to enjoy a drink inside soon.
“We can’t eliminate every single risk to our lives and we have to be able to adapt to this new way of working and manage it in a controlled environment. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue doing so for the future. Covid-19 will always be there in some shape or form and we just need to control it and I think a lot of hospitality firms in Inverness and the Highlands are really working hard to do just that. ”
Last minute information…
The Scottish Hospitality Group, which engages with government to help protect health, jobs, and businesses in the sector, has been sharing information about the ongoing restrictions.
Formed by some of Scotland’s leading restaurant, pub and hotel operators, the group members have around 6,000 employees between them.
In a statement on Twitter the group criticised the Scottish Government for its sharing of “last minute information” for businesses to be prepped and ready to implement any changes by Monday when the new tier system begins.
So it now begs the question:
Do businesses order stock for opening Monday, or who is open, who is closed, who may be open…..as per usual….last minute information on Thursday which will be too late for many to make decisions. #SHG #Talktous #saveourjobs pic.twitter.com/Z6JcztVdCK
— Scottish Hospitality Group #Hospitality (@ScottishGroup) October 27, 2020
And industry body UK Hospitality was also quick to criticise the five-level system being brought into place in Scotland and posed questions regarding financial support.
The 5-level system in Scotland doesn’t appear to do hospitality any good. There're small reasons to be positive but continual restrictions, lack of time to adjust & uncertainty over support is a worry. It's vital businesses know that adequate financial support will be available.
— UKHospitality (@UKHofficial) October 27, 2020
“Confusion and distress”
Paul Waterson, spokesman for the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said the new tiers were already causing “confusion and distress”.
He said: “The situation couldn’t get any worse and we are fielding calls from members who simply can’t take any more of this. They are deeply worried about the future and this will lead to further confusion and distress.
“It will cause utter devastation and sleepless nights for industry owners, operators and staff who will spend this weekend wondering if their businesses are going to be viable, if they are going to still have jobs and, indeed, if they will even still have a business.
“We are relieved that no local authority has been put into Level 4 restrictions but be very clear: even those in Level 1 do not escape hardship as many businesses have not been able to open because it is just not viable. The future is equally grim for nightclubs and other late-night venues across the country.
“Like everyone else we want our staff, families, friends, neighbours and colleagues to be safe. But there must be nuance and realistic limits, not misguided restrictions like these which are extremely unbalanced and do not appear to be borne out of any evidence that we have seen.”
Mr Waterson also questioned how a “main meal” would be defined under Level 2 restrictions, alongside which alcohol can be served. And he said the trade body estimates two-thirds of hospitality jobs could now go.
“Licensed premises can only serve alcohol indoors with a main meal – and then only until 8pm. What is a ‘main meal’? We had a similar debate over what is and isn’t a café – again we are being provided with ambiguous detail which will cause confusion.”
“We estimate that two-thirds of hospitality businesses could be mothballed or go under. Over 50% of jobs in the pub and bar sector could also be lost which will have a particularly deep impact on the employment of young people as over 40% of staff employed are under the age of 25.
“The time has come for proper, grown-up dialogue and we appeal to the First Minister and the Scottish Government to listen to us and help save our industry – it’s that serious.”
The Scottish Government has been approached for comment.