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Relief and reservations: Scottish hospitality figures weigh in on the use of face masks

Joe Martin, left, Andrew Hutcheon and Raj Hamid.
Joe Martin, left, Andrew Hutcheon and Raj Hamid.

Hospitality figures in the north and north-east have spoken out about their views regarding the inevitable end to the wearing of face coverings in food and drink establishments in Scotland.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today announced that all Covid legal restrictions are to come to an end next Monday, March 21 with one exception.

The exception being the requirement to wear face masks for a “further short period” in enclosed spaces, including in restaurants, cafes and bars.

This is despite revealing on Tuesday, February 22 that the country would follow in the footsteps of England in an effort to “return to a normal way of life”.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted all restrictions in England on Thursday, February 24, with the requirement to self-isolate dropped and free mass testing to end in April.

It is expected that the legal requirement to wear face masks in Scotland will be dropped in early April, before the Easter holidays, news that has been a long time coming to some in the hospitality sector.

However, others have said the wearing of face coverings has become “tradition” to them.

Masks to stay

Abdul ‘Raj’ Hamid is among the group that has no plans to stop wearing face coverings when the restrictions are lifted, despite there being no requirement to wear them.

The owner of Carron to Mumbai in Stonehaven, which opened its doors in the summer of 2018, said: “The past two years have been very challenging. We have complied with all regulations, which have incurred many extra costs.

“We have had to adapt our business and focus more on delivery. There have been weeks I have had to pay my staff out of my own pocket to ensure they had a job.

Raj Hamid outside Carron to Mumbai.

“We have really struggled with a reduction in customers while trying to employ our full team.

“Although we are looking forward to full normality and having more customers, I will not stop wearing a face covering.

“This is part of our precaution and has become a tradition in the team.”

While Raj, who has carried out many acts of kindness during the pandemic including dishing out free food to NHS staff and teaming up with a local taxi firm to deliver his dishes to towns and villages local to Stonehaven in lockdown, others offer a different opinion.

Ripping off the face covering

Andrew Hutcheon took on the management role at Kemnay’s Cafe83 in June 2020, before taking on the lease in December 2021 with his wife, Kerri.

The 33-year-old, who is now the director of the cafe, says he is “looking forward” to seeing the back of restrictions.

He added: “What seems to be a real Marmite situation with everyone, I’m on the side of relieved that we can start to move on and back to some form of normality.

Take our survey: Will you wear a mask when visiting your local pub or restaurant?

“My team, which has been a real solid unit since the outbreak helping us set up as a takeaway and delivery, yet getting right back to it once it was time to take our offering in-house again, all seem to be of the same thinking.

“Trying to have a laugh and chat with customers while wearing a mask can be challenging at times.”

Andrew, from Newmachar, referred to the past two years as a rollercoaster due to the uncertainty behind when his eatery was able to open, and when it had to close its doors.

“If anything, these two years have taught me how important being able to diversify and change your business really is,” he said.

Andrew Hutcheon.

“Personally, I think I will stop wearing my face mask.

“I am looking forward to a summer without having to worry about bringing your mask with you or being contacted by Track and Trace into isolation from a night out.

“As much as I am happy for it all to come to an end, I fully understand why some will want to continue wearing their masks. But for me, I want to get back to people being able to hear me clearly and see my face (even if they don’t want to see it).”

‘I’m excited to show my face again’

Joe Martin, general manager of Scotch & Rye in Inverness, is another figure that will be leaving his mask at home when the time comes.

He said: “The team and I are feeling extremely excited and relieved for restrictions to end.

“For so long there’s been ‘we’re nearly at the end of this,’ and now this appears to be true. We can’t wait to put a lot of this behind us and start doing what we do best, real hospitality.

“We can start to forget the stress of the past two years, and begin to push the business forward with a maskless smile on our faces.

Inside Inverness’ Scotch & Rye.

​”I’m excited to leave my mask at home and show my face again. The world is much better with a smile.

“I know one or two people have decided that they, for now, will continue to wear their masks in certain situations in order to help protect vulnerable loved ones. But they are more than happy to be around others who aren’t wearing masks.”

Scotch & Rye is among the portfolio of Scottish hospitality group Cru Holdings, others of which include Prime, Bar One, The Classroom, The Wee Bar, The White House and The Keg.

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