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‘A great buzz about the town’: Hospitality bosses gear up for first busy weekend since restrictions were eased

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The bleak weather outlook for this bank holiday weekend will not dampen plans for many across the north and north-east – with some establishments completely booked for all four days.

Friday marks the starts of the first weekend of hospitality restrictions easing after four long months of lockdown.

It is the most significant easing of lockdown rules this year, with people able to enjoy more freedoms than before.

With that, many hoteliers and publicans have been getting ready to offer up a semblance of the new normal.

Garry Russell, general manager at The Craftsman on Guild Street, said: “The bookings are fantastic, it’s looking great.

“There’s a great buzz about the town again and that’s nice to see.

“Tomorrow we’re expecting about 200 people from the two hours’ bookings.

“It will be a bit different this year, with restrictions in place, but it’s brilliant to see the smiles on people’s faces again.”

Garry Russell owner of The Craftsman

Before guests enter The Craftsman, their temperatures will be checked and they will be asked to fill out the details for Track and Trace – as is required by the Scottish Government.

Allan Campbell, owner of The Square Bar and Lounge in Kintore, said he’s feeling “grateful” and “delighted” at the opportunity to reopen.

He added: “Our bookings had a slow start because the weather has not been on our side.

“There’s also the guideline that people can’t have alcohol with their meal if they sit inside.

“Even though we had a slow start, from now until Sunday evening we’re fully booked.

“Monday is also looking very busy.”

Mr Campbell said the slow start was a silver lining, allowing the staff to work out any teething problems ahead of the busy weekend.

Because of the social distancing restrictions and space, The Square Bar and Lounge will be operating four people from four households instead of the rule of six.

He added: “It’s been extremely positive and welcoming.

“It’s great to have that interaction. To come in and engage with the place again after so many months during lockdown.

“The staff are also so happy to be back and we’re just delighted and grateful.”

St Machar Bar has opened its new beer garden and announced it is already “pretty packed” for the next few evenings.

Ain't it pretty?New beer garden is open! To book give the bar a call or pop in but as a heads up the next few evenings…

Posted by St Machar Bar on Thursday, 29 April 2021

Revolucion de Cuba, found on Belmont Street, has received 400 bookings on Sunday.

General manager Russell Davidson said it’s been “brilliant” seeing people return to the venue this past week.

He added: “We are fully booked all weekend and it’s fantastic to see that people have the confidence that they will be in a safe environment here.

“We’ve been wishing for this moment for a long time now.”

‘Bittersweet’ return

Scott Murray of Cru Holdings, who have only been able to reopen Scotch and Rye and Prime in Inverness, said he was looking forward to welcoming customers back, but the whole reopening process is “kind of bittersweet”.

Mr Murray said: “We didn’t get into this to not serve customers. Having customers through the door will feel, as we are all saying, almost like the first week back at school from the holidays; relearning things, you have got the butterflies in your stomach, and it is all actually a bit nervous like a first date, which is good.

“It is good that everyone is feeling that way as it does show that we care as a business and as an industry.

“I think if we were feeling a bit nonchalant, it would not necessarily be the healthiest thing.

“It is obviously great to be open again and serving again – doing what we do – but at the same time, the restrictions are still quite heavy with no alcohol inside and with limited option for seating outside – that is the sting in the tail I suppose.”

Scott Murray

Mr Murray has said that the restrictions currently in place for the hospitality sector have resulted in operations running at half their usual capacity.

He added: “We are definitely taking a hit, hugely. We are down to probably just under 50% of what we could do without restrictions.

“A restaurant is never ever built to operate at 50% and be profitable.

“As much as we are open, we are still going to be losing money – just not as much money as we were before.

“It will be a good weekend, but as good as it is, we need a seven day trade to make it work and that is what we need to try and focus on and build, and that is what we are going to struggle to build with restrictions the way they are.

“Either have a numbers limit or have a socially distanced limit – I don’t see the point in having both because they are kind of doing each others job, and relax the sale of alcohol indoors.

“It is absolutely ridiculous to believe that somebody who is sitting outside is going to behave any differently than somebody who is sitting inside – it’s just absolute nonsense.

“8pm inside as opposed to 10pm outside, again, limiting to two hours per table makes no difference to when you are shutting at night.

“My feeling is it is having restrictions for the sake of having restrictions. I think they are trying to make a point.”

The guidelines

All hospitality businesses such as pubs, restaurants, and cafes can open for sit-ins until 8pm.

However, alcohol cannot be served inside.

Takeaways can also now allowed customers in their premises to collect food.

Up to six people from two households can socialise indoors in a public place.

This changes to up to six people from unlimited households outdoors in a public place.

In beer gardens, local licencing laws will apply for when they have to close.

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