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‘The doors will be open at 11am on April 26’: Publicans and hoteliers speak out on lifting of restrictions on Scottish hospitality

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Local business owners have been giving their reaction as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced bars, restaurants and cafes can begin reopening on April 26.

Hospitality in Scotland will be permitted to reopen from late next month as the country makes its first steps out of coronavirus lockdown.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced to the Scottish Parliament today that hospitality will be allowed to serve alcohol outdoors with a limited service likely to be permitted indoors, although without any alcoholic drinks allowed.

Ms Sturgeon said: “The hospitality sector will begin to reopen from April 26. From that date cafes, restaurants and bars will be able to serve people outdoors in groups of up to six from three households until 10pm, alcohol will be permitted and there will be no requirement for food to be served.

“We also hope that, although this in particular depends on continued suppression of the virus, that there will be limited indoor opening of hospitality from April 26, too, limited initially to the service of food and non-alcoholic drinks until 8pm and with groups of up to four people from no more than two households.

The Chester Hotel’s alfresco dining experience.

“Premises will need to retain guests’ contact details for three weeks after their visit.”

The first minister does not expect any further changes to be made after that period for three weeks until May 17 as she stressed a need for “careful monitoring”.

However, Ms Sturgeon stressed that, from May 17, she expects all areas in Level 3 to move to Level 2 with indoor hospitality returning to “greater normality”, but precise details will depend on how things have progressed in the intervening period.

The first minister added that there is also likely to be a requirement for people to book slots of, perhaps, two hours to visit premises selling alcohol.

First steps

Paul Beattie, owner of The Globe Inn in Aberdeen, is looking forward to welcoming customers back to his venue which has been closed since Christmas. However, he still has reservations about the restrictions on consuming alcohol indoors and the implications that may have for pubs without beer gardens.

Paul and Emma Beattie, owners of The Globe Inn.

He said: “It is a good step in the right direction. At least we have some sort of date to work towards now. No alcohol inside I still find very strange. I still don’t understand why someone can’t come in and have a pint with their lunch indoors. If it is policed properly inside I don’t understand why it is an issue.

“I think it will put a lot of pressure on the beer garden areas again as many people will be looking to go out for a drink, but the fact they have limited it to the small areas of beer gardens, then there’s only going to be some places that will open as pubs without beer gardens probably won’t.

“We’ll police how long people stay, like we did before, as we want our customers to not feel pressured. Unless the two-hour stay is a requirement, we’ll just police it ourselves and check in with our customers.”

Positivity

Pulling together his own road map out of lockdown, Paul will welcome some of his staff back off furlough in the coming weeks to get prepped for opening.

He added: “We’ve been doing bits and bobs while we’ve been closed so we’re ready to go again. We’re away to apply to get some extra seating out the front of the venue, so with a bit of luck we’ll get that passed. That will make a world of difference as we only have nine tables out the back. It is barely worth opening, but we will, as we want to get going.”

The Square Bar and Hotel and Pub in Kintore is owned by Steve MacDonald.

Publican Steve MacDonald of The Square Bar and Lounge in Kintore, Aberdeenshire, is also feeling positive about the welcome news, something he has been waiting to hear for weeks.

With his venue being closed since December 20 2020, Steve now has a confirmed date to prepare for reopening, and will be able to hire new staff after being forced to let employees go due to the ongoing additional costs for employers associated with furlough.

He added: “It was good to get a bit of good news finally. We have our beer garden out the back and got rid of our marquee out the front, but we’ll look to try and take something like that back – but we’ll need to check with planning.

“The Start-Up grants will make a big difference and will help us hit the ground running. It has been a tough couple of months but we’ve got something to look forward to. The doors will be open at 11am on April 26 in the morning as soon as we can.

“The only way is up so there’s hopefully no going back. Fingers crossed for all concerned. We’re going to start recruiting now. Unfortunately we had to let some staff go in December and January as we couldn’t keep up with the tax, pension and other costs associated with furlough. It was great to have the scheme but we sadly had to let some people go.

“There’s a bit of work to be done in the venue before we welcome customers back, but we have something to work to so we’re focusing on that.”

Hoteliers

And it isn’t just pubs, restaurants and bars that are welcoming the news of a date to work towards, hoteliers are also now able to plan to welcome members of the public to their premises again for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and can also reopen their hotel rooms.

Stephen Gow, general manager of The Chester Hotel.

Stephen Gow, The Chester Hotel‘s general manager, said: “The ability to open our rooms from April 26 is also positive news and we await further clarity on opening our inside areas for eating and drinking. We will definitely be opening up our marquees again and we have begun to get our booking system live so that diners can book tables soon.

“The major success for us in 2020 was our outdoor dining experience. We operated alfresco throughout the summer, with the exception of the localised Aberdeen lockdown period of three weeks, and the popularity of this took us by surprise. From July to the end of September we served more than 16,000 diners; with up to 400 on some days. The appetite for this was staggering and we operated two 25-metre long marquees across our car parks at the front of the hotel.

“We think that the enthusiasm for alfresco dining will remain for some considerable time and we’re investing further in ways to open up terraces where guest and eat. Even with the vaccination programme, we’re predicting that being outdoors with well-spaced seating will remain popular at least throughout 2021.”

Curveball

General manager of Meldrum House Country Hotel, Jordan Charles, has concerns around what the restrictions will look like come summer, and suggests more needs to be done to help businesses plan for the future.

He said: “Today’s announcement raises huge challenges for us as a business. Whilst we welcomed the road map and dates, allowing the business to plan for the future into summer, we now need to determine around the restrictions, what we offer and at what times.

“The announcement around weddings was a curveball. Raising numbers to 50 guests was really positive. However, with no alcohol permitted that gives us a real headache around couples who want to celebrate the biggest day of their lives but are not able to do it properly. That also has an impact on our business as I’m not sure couples will still go ahead on that basis.

Jordan Charles, general manager of Meldrum House.

“One good thing for us is that we refurbished Chain Lodge, our self-catering lodge at the end of the drive just in time for Christmas and sadly missed out on getting it to market. I think the staycation market will be huge this year and again, we’ve seen a massive number of enquiries for the lodge already. We will open this up as soon as we can to bookings.

“May 17 is a significant date where we will be able to do more normal trading. The business is eagerly looking forward to that and will ensure that we have the correct offering, measures and safety in place for people to enjoy in this stunning rural location.”

Meldrum House Country Hotel & Golf Course.

Struggle

Ian Watson, owner of the Cullen Bay Hotel, says he and his team have struggled with the temporary closure of the hotel and hopes the rules for residents and non-residents of hotels will become more streamline in the near future.

He added: “We’ve struggled with the closure of the hotel because we had over 5,000 people through our doors between July and December last year and we didn’t have one case of coronavirus or contacted by Track and Trace.

“However, we welcome the news today of re-opening in a few weeks which gives us time to prepare the hotel and gives us confidence to push forward and open up our booking systems.

“We’re disappointed that the rules for residents will be different to non-residents who can drink outside. But we hope that rule will change quickly as the vaccination continues to role out. We are not inflating our prices and we want to take this opportunity to showcase our hospitality and let people see what a Scottish hotel can do for a great holiday.  We would rather be full than have a hotel with ridiculous prices but half empty.

“We’ve moved 26 weddings already, some of them three or four times to try and accommodate them. So, news that 50 people can attend a wedding was very welcome and we know that some people, who got married last year at our hotel with only five guests, will now be able to go ahead with a party later in the year too.

“We’ve also been affected during lockdown personally by a family death.  A part of the funeral process is the teas which allows family and friends to come together and talk about the deceased sharing fond memories which gives comfort to the deceased’s family.”

Disappointed

In Inverness, Don Lawson, who runs popular Irish bar and Johnny Foxes & The Den, previously voiced his concerns about the lack of commitment to some of the first minister’s recent updates.

While he is relieved there is now a date in sight, he is still brutally disappointed in the outcome from today’s update and is concerned for other publicans, too.

Don Lawson, owner of Johnny Foxes.

He added: “My initial feeling is disappointment again! There was some welcome clarity on indicative dates, but the dark cloud is the inclusion of a 10pm curfew on outdoor alcohol sales from April 26 and no alcohol sales inside until the May 17. But, still a curfew. Her ultra-cautious theme throughout this lockdown seems to be adding further restriction as she eases older ones.

“Unfortunately some pubs will not able to open until May 17 as it’s just not viable to do so beforehand. She has not taken any of the recommendations by the trade bodies into consideration. I agree with data before dates, but, she is only listening to scientists which is part of the overall disappointment.

“I have been closed since Christmas Eve and all of the staff are on furlough. I will only be taking approximately a half dozen off furlough for the end of April. I guess more disappointment is also the support package for licensed premises in April.

“Also, there is still no sight of a date for my nightclub, The Den, which has been excluded from hospitality. The curfew is a big issue and there’s no need for it and no scientific evidence to have it. No reasonable explanation will be given for it either which just confirms my disappointment.”

Johnny Foxes outdoor area.

Level system

Murray Lamont, owner of Mackays Hotel in Wick, is delighted he can now get a plan in place, and is relieved that support is in place for business’ too.

He said: “This is the news we have been waiting to hear and thank the First Minister for listening to us. Hospitality and tourism are the foundation of the northern economy and probably the worst affected industry by Covid-19.

“The industry understands and respects the need to be responsible and adhere to rules for everybody’s safety and wellbeing. The dates given of reducing the mainland from Level 4 to Level 3 is a great start as is the lifting of travel restrictions. We need to know the detail of the modified levels so as we know how exactly hospitality will operate.

“The hospitality industry is desperately eager to demonstrate the warm Highland welcome visitors are used to. We must be able to provide the best the Highlands has to offer in food and drink offerings.

“We can now have a clear plan, so as we structure the opening of our business, at the moment many wholesalers and suppliers in the supply chain have furloughed their staff and need time to get people back in place. The simple things like bread milk cheese and cream, supplies have been cut due to lack of demand from hotels. Breweries will need at least four weeks to get supplies back on track and beer into our cellars.

“Many well-established businesses are on the edge and some business owners are facing collapse. The announcement of further help with 100 per cent rates relief for the year with restart grants will help greatly and reduce the risk ahead. People now have the opportunity to book trips around the North Coast 500 with confidence knowing that attractions can open and Hospitality business’ will look after them.”

Industry bodies

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) added: “The first minister’s announcement of an indicative timeline for the phased reopening of our tourism and hospitality sector will be massively welcomed by the sector today; it is the most positive news we have received in a long time. 

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the STA.

“Today’s announcement will offer some very much needed light at the end of what has been the darkest tunnel for our industry. 

One of the biggest challenges for tourism businesses has been the restrictions around travel throughout the country which will be removed as of April 26 allowing all tourist accommodation, cafes and restaurants the opportunity to open, 50 guests to attend weddings and our tourist attractions and adventure operators to start operating again.

The sector has been closed for the majority of the past year; every aspect of the route map announced this afternoon offers us a more solid pathway for securing and protecting jobs and the ability to plan for reopening in accordance with government guidelines, building consumer confidence that when visitors choose to return, it will be safe to do so.

“It’s absolutely critical that continued tailored financial support, by way of grants is made available to those who won’t be in a position to open and trade viably until we move into the much lower tiers; the up-front restart will be very welcomed to assist with that outlay.

“We of course acknowledge that these dates are provisional and we are committed to working in a safe and professional manner to minimise risk and ensure that our tourism industry can play a key part in the rebuild and recovery of Scotland’s economy.”


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