After the first minister confirms the two regions will face tighter restrictions aimed at controlling the spread of coronavirus, we look at what it means for hospitality businesses and their customers.
Pubs, restaurants and hotels in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire will have to stop selling alcohol indoors and outdoors and close at 6pm under new Level 3 restrictions announced today by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Moving from Level 2 to Level 3 (the second highest out of five levels numbered 0-4) means, from Friday, alcohol can no longer be sold at all in hospitality settings in the two regions, though takeaways for both alcohol and food will be allowed to continue.
With non-essential travel in or out of Level 3 areas banned, hotels and B&Bs will also be affected with guests mainly limited to locals and those travelling for essential work purposes.
When it comes to socialising, the current measures remain in place – so no indoor mixing in homes beyond those already living in a household, and only up to six people from two households are permitted to meet outside.
What does this mean for local hospitality businesses?
The Chester Hotel – Aberdeen
Stephen Gow, general manager of The Chester Hotel in Aberdeen says “it is heart breaking” to see the city move into Tier 3 and the restrictions tighten on the hospitality sector once again.
The Queen’s Road venue recently launched and invested in its Alpine Glühwein Chalet which has proved very popular with guests since opening a few weeks ago.
Oompah alert! Our Alpine Glühwein Chalet took shape earlier this week – we’re fully open now 7 days from noon to 10pm with our open grill serving bratwurst and steak sandwiches, mulled cider and warming glühwein, crepes, warm brownies and our ‘naughty and nice’ hot chocolate menu #tistheseasontochester
Posted by The Chester Hotel on Monday, November 30, 2020
He said: “Moving into Tier 3 at this time is particularly difficult for our team and our business. It’s been a tough year for everyone and the hospitality sector has been particularly badly hit. It’s been a year of constant reinvention all against a backdrop of keeping our staff and our guests safe.
“At this time of year we’d have a full hotel with lunches, dinners, Christmas parties and groups of families and friends in our bars. But this year all of that is prohibited.
“In an effort to give our guests a novel Christmas experience with lots of atmosphere we’ve invested heavily in the construction of an Alpine Glühwein Chalet with an open grill and the extensive ventilation system this requires. We’ve made gallons of Glühwein and mulled cider to our own recipe and ordered in hundreds of bratwurst sausages. We’ve commissioned a Queen’s Road design for our Christmas mugs and bought in authentic beer steins.
“It’s already been hugely successful with over 1,000 bratwurst sausages sold over four days when we first opened and a massively positive social media reception.
“With Tier 3, we will have to consider closing everything except one outdoor marquee which we can only operate without selling alcohol, closing at 6pm each day.
“This will involve changing our website again, our food and drink menus again, our staff rotas again and considering what to do with a stock of perishable goods again.
“It’s heartbreaking… again.”
Kirk View Cafe – Aberdeen
Rob Milne, owner of Kirk View Cafe & Bistro on Union Terrace in Aberdeen is also disheartened by the news, knowing his week will now consist of rearranging reservations, calling guests to confirm bookings, and taking cancellation calls.
“I’m expecting the cancellations to come in as people want to come out and have a prosecco with their afternoon tea or lunch, so I’m prepared for that. The 6pm restriction also blows out dinner service so I’ll need to call all of the guests booked in to rearrange with them.
“It is a nightmare. If we’re mentally prepared for it, well, it doesn’t really soften the blow, but it is what it is.”
Looking to the weeks ahead, Rob thinks as well as offering lunch, another way for the business to continue to operate will be to reintroduce its takeaway service it was forced to launch during lockdown when restaurants could not open.
Kirk View Cafe & Bistro is also offering a Christmas dinner service to be enjoyed at home to be able to offer some sort of Christmas to their customers.
“It is probably something we will have to reintroduce. We don’t really operate as a takeaway, but we’ll do what we can. It’s not going to keep us going, but it is something we will have to do. We can’t just sit back and let the food in our kitchen go to waste. We’ll maybe run a deal or something to get our food out.
“It’s around a week and a half to Christmas so that’s our Christmas season done and dusted now as a result. I know majority of the bookings we have booked in would be looking to have an alcoholic beverage with their meal, but we won’t be able to offer that.
“We’re just looking for the light at the end of the tunnel looking to next year, but this time next year it will be hard to look at which smaller independent businesses will still be here. We’re not backed by the big banks or anything, I’m a normal guy who has luckily managed to open a business, and having opened it three or fours years ago, it is just so different. Our Christmas dinners at home is what we’ll be focusing on for now…”
Eat on the Green – Udny Green, Aberdeenshire
Craig Wilson, head chef and proprietor of Eat on the Green in Udny Green, Aberdeenshire, is also disappointed with today’s news having already placed an order with his suppliers.
Operating his restaurant and the Eat From the Green collection service at the moment, Craig says the knock-on effect from moving into different tiers may be something some businesses can’t come back from.
He said: “The reality is that the food for service is being delivered, as we’ve had to place orders in advance already. The knock on effect this has is such a huge blow to restaurants. You’re thinking about the week ahead, the food you need, staff, customers. Then you have to turn around and say to them, ‘you can’t come and drink, could you come at lunchtime instead as we’ll need to have the restaurant empty by 6pm?’. No one really wants to hear that.
“I’m not going against how serious this whole thing is, but we really do need consistency. When we lockdown and unlock, there needs to be consistency and fairness. We’re all under the same umbrella in hospitality, some have taken in more people with more risk, while we haven’t done that, we’ve played it safe to keep our staff and customers safe.
“We are fighting for our industry’s future and we’re trying to put on a brave face. While people are sympathetic, sympathy doesn’t pay the bills. Your corporation tax, VAT, none of this stops.”
With restaurants having to close earlier now and less people out visiting hospitality venues with friends and family, he hopes the council will plan ahead to ensure guests who do want to come to support the restaurant or the takeaway service can do so safely during the winter months.
“Our main lifeline is our Eat From the Green takeaway service, if that was gone… What I really hope is that the council ensure all of the roads are gritted and maintained so people can travel safely to our lifeline. If we are a forgotten when it comes to the winter that really is cutting everything off,” said Craig.
“There needs to be a plan to rebuild the industry. It’s not just a case of switching the lights back on again. We will keep fighting and trying our best, but I think this latest tier change is going to be really catastrophic. Please don’t give up, but we do need to hear the voice of understanding and support. This is our harvest period and January is always a quiet and dire month and one which lots of people in the industry lose money rather than make.”
Trade bodies push for tiers reform
Meanwhile Scottish hospitality trade bodies are calling for the Scottish Government to adopt changes to their restrictions policy following the results of an economic impact study, commissioned by Diageo, which suggested that adjusting opening times by around two and a half hours and allowing alcohol to be served under strictly controlled conditions would increase hospitality business turnover from £419m to £1.1bn.
The same report by consultancy BiGGAR Economics said extending the hours in this way would increase the number of jobs supported from the current 28,300 to 60,800, securing the viability of 1,816 businesses.
The Scottish Beer & Pub Association (SBPA), Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) and UKHospitality-Scotland (UKH-Scotland) have all called for action on the findings.
Emma McClarkin, CEO of the Scottish Beer & Pub Association, said: “Public health remains the paramount concern and hospitality businesses have proven they can operate safely with comprehensive COVID-19 measures in place. This economic impact study shows that relatively minor changes to opening hours and allowing businesses to serve alcohol responsibly, would transform the commercial viability of the sector.”
Wille MacLeod, director of UKHospitality-Scotland, added: “The restrictions, as currently in place, have a disproportionate impact on the hospitality sector and is costing the Scottish economy millions of pounds. A relaxation, as has been suggested by the industry, would give our sector a transformative boost and help support business in the crucial recovery period.”
Key trading period
The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) has expressed disappointment that Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and East Lothian will move up to tier three from Friday, joining the 18 local authorities currently remaining at that level.
“We are bitterly disappointed as we had remained hopeful that any relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions in relation to the licensed hospitality trade at this time would have given businesses a fighting chance to trade more viably in the last week before Christmas,” said Colin Wilkinson, SLTA managing director.
“Even a further relaxation of the rules, allowing pubs and restaurants to trade later in all tiers and allowing alcohol with a main meal and giving the opportunity of two sittings in the evening, would have helped these businesses enormously during a key trading period.
“The wider issue, however, has been the uncertainty of it as has been the norm for several months – it’s hugely unfair on businesses to expect them to switch on and off like a tap.
“It’s not just a case of opening the doors – premises have to order supplies and organise staff rotas. Many have already taken the decision to remain closed until 2021 because of this uncertainty.”
Wilkinson warned again that many of Scotland’s pubs, bars and restaurants still face the threat of permanent closure and the risk of job losses still hangs over the heads of those employed in “an industry in crisis”, even with the current furlough scheme which is in place.
He said: “Last week, we said that while our industry will continue to do all that it can to suppress the virus, it needs financial aid at realistic levels if the sector and the staff it employs are to be here after spring 2021 and be part Scotland’s economic recovery.
“We remain committed to continuing to work with the Scottish Government to find solutions to enable our sector to keep trading.”