Business owners across the north and north-east have been counting the cost of coronavirus and lockdown for some time.
But the realisation matters may not return to normal for many months, amid renewed restrictions and the recommendations that work from home continue has taken a brutal toll on morale.
The owners of businesses in Inverness, who have described plunging incomes and staff on reduced hours or still unable to return to work as their lunch trade has disappeared.
Local councillors have called for further action to support the trade but also questioned why restrictions are hitting so hard a city that has coped well with the pandemic to date.
Lorraine and Richard Comfort own Comfort Foods on Church Street and the popular Castle Restaurant.
Since reopening for businesses following lockdown, the couple have seen many customers return.
But they say a reduction in the workforce in the heart of the city centre has had a significant impact on their day-to-day takings.
I don’t have a problem with the restrictions. I think they are a good thing as obviously we have got to get rid of the problem, but I would be difficult if they introduced even more.”
Mr Comfort said: “In September, we would expect to see 10 office workers come in every day and have a cup of soup and a sandwich for takeaway.
“Then maybe another 20, 30 or 40 people would come in just or soup.
“But all that trade has gone because the office workers are simply not there.
“I don’t have a problem with the restrictions. I think they are a good thing as obviously we have got to get rid of the problem, but I would be difficult if they introduced even more.”
The couple says the impact of coronavirus on the tourist trade has also contributed to a drop in trade.
The Castle Street business first opened to customers in 1959 and has enjoyed great popularity, but last year was sold, closed and earmarked for a new life as a fish and chip shop until reopening under new management, but with the same name and signature dishes.
Mr Comfort said the businesses has suffered a similar fate to their Church Street restaurant.
“The Castle Restaurant was quite busy today but it’s up and down,” he said.
“It’s not nearly doing what it used to do and the staff are not doing as many hours.
“It’s more like everyone is on winter hours, but it’s still plugging away.”
At The Grumpy Chef on Chapel Street, owners Richard and Hana Stewart are also concerned for the future.
Having closed to trade back in March they harboured hopes of a strong close to the year, only to see those dashed as government ministers imposed new restrictions in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus.
When it’s quiet and you haven’t had a lot of customers in the door, you get times where you think this isn’t worth it; let’s just close the door and call it quits. But you just have to keep on going.”
The Grumpy Chef
With individuals encouraged to work from home where possible for the foreseeable future, they say the businesses has been pushed back to square one.
Mr Stewart said June and July had been fairly traumatic for the business, only for the Eat out to Help Out initiative to be “fantastic”.
He said September had started well, but since tailed-off.
“We were hoping that as the lockdown eased then we could begin to go back to normal but that just hasn’t happened,” he said.
Mr Stewart estimates trade has almost halved compared to this time last year, leaving morale at an all-time low.
“With the restrictions that have just come into play I’m now a lot more apprehensive because I fear this is just the first step towards even greater restrictions.
“I’m trying to really keep a tight rein on the orders and the business. To stay on top of how many hours or members of staff each get.
“The biggest challenge has been trying to stay positive.
“When it’s quiet and you haven’t had a lot of customers in the door, you get times where you think this isn’t worth it; let’s just close the door and call it quits. But you just have to keep on going.”
Mr Stewart added that local businesses had been keeping in close contact wto offer what support they can to each other.
“On the days that I am quiet, I’m hoping they are busy and vice versa. At the end of the day, for me, it’s not about rivalry or competition but trying to keep the local businesses alive.”
In the Highlands we’ve been playing by the rules from day one. What’s going to happen next?”
Councillor Bet McAllister
Inverness central councillor Bet McAllister has suggested there be more localised restrictions to prevent the Highlands feeling the impact of problems in other areas, such as the central belt.
She said the renewed restrictions had been “a shot out of the blue, when Inverness restaurants had been doing extremely well at coping with the pandemic”.
“They were on the ball, deep cleaning, testing people, adhering to the rules, and with staff wearing facemasks.
“Considering we don’t have a lot of people with the virus up here, not like the central belt, my thought is they should be doing the restrictions by area, not the whole of Scotland.
“I fear for businesses which are really struggling. Furlough is ending and people are going to get paid off, and we could be like this until 2021.
“In the Highlands we’ve been playing by the rules from day one. What’s going to happen next?”
Inverness West councillor Alex Graham, meanwhile, said he feared businesses will have little opportunity to make back the income they have lost since April.
“The Christmas party season will be affected and it looks like it will be next spring before we might return to any sort of normality.
“Perhaps the government should consider converting those business loans into grants.
“The chancellor could always become Santa and bring back the Eat Out to Help Out scheme for Christmas too.”
‘Office workers are the lifeblood of our shop’
In Aberdeen, hospitality businesses are trying to remain positive despite the fresh challenges of coronavirus.
Although shops, cafes and restaurants have been allowed to remain open following the latest review of lockdown measures, owners have admitted they are still facing an uphill battle to survive.
In particular, the Scottish Government’s advice to work at home is worrying owners of sandwich shop Upperkrust Aberdeen.
We’ve had some difficult times but that won’t stop us from staying open, it makes your heart swell when a customer has gone out of their way just to stop by. We’re all so grateful for the support we have had.”
Joint owner Jackie Wilson said: “Office workers are really the lifeblood of our shop and have been for the past 14 years.
“Coronavirus has been really hard on us as a business and realistically every penny we make goes on bills to keep us open.
“We’ve had some difficult times but that won’t stop us from staying open, it makes your heart swell when a customer has gone out of their way just to stop by. We’re all so grateful for the support we have had.
“We had a girl in the other day who was on her first day back to the office who was so excited to collect her regular order, people need that I think, a sense of normality.”
While the hospitality industry across the UK has been hit hard, food and drink businesses believe that more than just money was the casualty of the localised lockdown last month.
John Wigglesworth, owner of Books and Beans, said: “I believe there needs to be a culture of being considerate and safe rather than fear, instilled by the government – and I think unfortunately the latter is what has been promoted with all the rule changes.
“Businesses have had to get into a different rhythm, we have all invested in making spaces as safe as possible, think that consumer confidence really took a blow due to the second lockdown.”
Figures published last week showed that footfall plunged by more than half during the city’s second lockdown.
However Mrs Wilson is optimistic that things will get better, and said: “Me and the girls go home more tired now than we ever did before, but we all still love this business and know that people in the city do as much as us – it has been difficult but you have to make things work and we will survive.”
A 10pm curfew has also been imposed on all hospitality businesses, except takeaways which deliver.