North-east restaurateurs and pub landlords breathed a sigh of relief as customers filed back into their premises for the first time in months yesterday.
More than 115 days since the Scottish Government decreed pubs, restaurants and cafes should close as the nation hurtled towards lockdown, delighted staff were able to take up work once more.
Many establishments rushed to welcome thirsty regulars back as quickly as possible but others around Aberdeen city centre remained closed yesterday – seemingly taking their time to ensure new safety measures are in place before unlocking their doors.
A number of cafes, bars and restaurants have already enjoyed a limited return to trading, as the government allowed outdoor service to begin last Monday.
Those now reopening indoors have increased safety measures, including enforcing the use of face coverings indoors, introducing hand sanitising stations and taking the names and contact details of visitors for the NHS track and trace service.
But for many, especially those with smaller premises, the difference between opening and closing yesterday was the introduction of a reduced three-foot distancing rule for the hospitality industry.
Owner of the Ship Inn in Stonehaven, Simon Cruickshank, said it “wasn’t even worth thinking about opening” until the Scottish Government made that change.
He said: “It also wasn’t worth opening outside until we could open inside too, so this is our first day since March.
“The last four months have obviously been a big problem but we will have to try and make the best of the rest of the year now.
“We will do our best to keep everyone safe and sound, and give them an enjoyable experience.
“It’s been a good idea to open midweek rather than what they did in England with opening at the weekend, which was crazy.”
The waterfront inn has reduced its capacity in order to keep customers safe but is hoping to recoup some of its losses by introducing a takeaway menu.
It is one of many restaurants enjoying strong support from consumers having taken bookings already, as has Aberdeen’s Braided Fig.
Lucy Castle, who owns the Summer Street restaurant with husband Steven, said they had already taken bookings right through next month.
“It’s a huge relief to get the doors open,” she said.
“It’s been quite quiet this afternoon but that has allowed us to get into the way of things with everything, like the visors we are all wearing, being so new.
“It’s really positive to see people get behind the independent, locally owned businesses and we have bookings right through the weekend and into August.”
The premises is covered in signs and posters alerting visitors that they are in a three-foot distancing zone, with signs indicating which tables are clean, anti-bacterial soap at the door and bare tables – as cutlery and dressings are stowed away to minimise chances of spreading the virus.
Due to a lack of space in the kitchen, staff will remain furloughed part-time as only two can be on shift at once.
Sharing her relief was The Globe Inn owner Paul Beattie who said he was “just glad to be back in business” after using the enforced closure to refurbish the bar and hotel.
He added: “Staff are delighted to be back at work and we are starting to get a lot of bookings for table and the hotel rooms as well.
“We have a lot of elderly clientele who come in every day.
“We have been keeping in touch throughout this and many of them were in first thing this morning to say hi and have a beer.”
While a handful of customers returned for the novelty of a swift lunchtime pint, regulars returned in number elsewhere.
By far the busiest pub in the city centre yesterday afternoon was the Kirkgate Bar, which had already been trading outside for the past week.
But the usually crammed pub was still roomy by normal standards, with around 15 people spaced out around the narrow room.
Owner Colin Cameron, who also runs the Masada Bar and Bridge Bar, said the past nine days, serving four outdoor tables at a loss, had been a great warm-up.
He said: “The great thing about trading last week is it allowed our staff to get in the way of it: the hand sanitiser, the track and trace and everything else we have to do.
“Going down to the three-foot distancing is a big help as it allows us to get around 20 in each of the three bars.
“Trading is only viable from now if we can maintain a full house – or a new full house with the measures.
“After 16 weeks off, all our staff are delighted to be open again and as long as customers can see it’s safe and take heed of the guidance we will be OK.”
Yesterday First Minister Nicola Sturgeon issued a plea for people to keep following the government guidance, warning any straying could result in her shutting premises down again in just a few weeks’ time.
Ms Sturgeon said: “I really don’t want to have to do that but, let me be clear, I will not hesitate if I am advised that is required to save lives.
“It’s not a big bad government saying to people to do or not do things for the sake of it, this is in all of our interests.”