Cafe owners in Aberdeen have spoken out about why they believe office staff ridding themselves of the home working regime is essential to boosting the local economy.
As restrictions ease, many businesses across the city are continuing to ask their employees to work from home where possible or on a part-time basis.
It provides staff with much more flexibility and saves them from potentially hazardous working environments as coronavirus cases continue to rise, despite the vaccine being rolled out across various age ranges.
But while these working models carry benefits, they continue to have a detrimental impact on cafes and takeaways in the city centre that once relied heavily on manic lunchtime shifts.
Segundo Castillo, founder and owner of street food business Latinway, says that office workers accumulated for 35-40% of his daily sales, pre-coronavirus.
Becoming dependent on delivery
The venue, which serves up Argentinian, Mexican, Colombian and Venezuelan cuisine, closed its doors for the first month of lockdown, in April 2020, and reopened at the beginning of May.
With customers unable to visit his takeaway on Belmont Street due to safety guidelines, Segundo, 48, was forced to rely entirely on online orders made through food delivery platforms Deliveroo, Uber Eats and JustEat.
“At first it was quite difficult because Latinway had agreements with different firms in the city centre where we offer all its employees a special discount,” he said.
“But due to the closure of the vast majority of stores and offices, we had to start depending on online sales alone.
“These platforms – Deliveroo, Uber Eats and JustEat – charge high rates, too, so it hasn’t been easy.
“Before the pandemic, a large percentage of our sales came not only from people working in the offices around the city centre but also many of the businesses that are, unfortunately, now closed.
“We genuinely miss a lot of people that haven’t returned yet. We do not know if they will ever come back or continue working from home as we understand that many companies have stopped operating.”
Forced online ‘It has been an economic storm’
While Segundo was already part of multiple delivery platforms before Covid struck, Boris Borisov, a managing director at Cafe 100 on Holburn Street, only started selling his menu items through Deliveroo during the pandemic.
Boris said: “Being on the delivery platform has helped us get more sales from office workers who have been operating from home, and they generate a fair bit more than takeaway or sit-in, to be honest.”
Segundo and Boris have noticed a slight rise in the number of people visiting their eateries during lunch hours, however, they said office workers are not among them.
“We have seen the return of workers from medium and large brands but not those that work in offices,” Segundo continued.
“Obviously, the return to 100% of the activity of the offices would increase the volume of our sales, but to be honest, it is a panorama that we still envision a long way off.
“It has been an economic storm but thanks to our customers many businesses like Latinway have survived, although it has swept away many important brands in Aberdeen.”
And Boris says orders tend to spike at the end of the usual working week, seeing more orders placed for delivery than any other days.
Boris added: “We have not seen the return of many office workers, but we have seen a big boost in big delivery orders (clearly for offices), which tend to spike on Thursdays and Fridays.
“Regardless of this, we pride ourselves on our freshly cooked to order breakfasts and our staff are always happy to welcome people, whether they come for a filling breakfast, quick roll or just a cup of coffee.
“We love seeing people’s faces and have missed it so much during Covid. Let’s all push to bring back the spirit of Aberdeen’s city centre together.”
A city with daytime buzz
Books and Beans, which is situated just yards away from Latinway on Belmont Street, had a healthy lunch trade from office staff before March last year.
Owner John Wigglesworth says their return “will boost business activity”.
“Most office workers remain home working or doing a hybrid,” John added.
“However, the return of retail has seen more people and retail and hospitality workers in the city centre again.
“If retail, hospitality and schools are operating safely in the city centre it is important that businesses show their confidence as well.
“It is great to see a number of them planning to move into the city centre. This, along with pedestrianisation, are the key levers needed to build the city centre daytime atmosphere and economy.”
He said: “The more businesses and people encouraged to be in the city centre will benefit everyone. It has to come hand-in-hand with changing the system of rates to encourage new starts in the city centre.
“There are many great businesses that have worked through Covid and supported the whole community and vice versa. They deserve your support.
“There is a great daytime buzz in the centre with outdoor areas for all weathers and the pedestrian areas in Belmont Street and other quarters delivering a cool daytime cafe culture.”