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Lack of 'momentum' could see Scottish venues remain closed on Wednesday

13 July 2020 by

A lack of momentum across the hospitality and tourism sectors in Scotland, particularly in city centres, could see bar and restaurant operators remain closed on Wednesday, despite being given the official go-ahead to reopen.

Paul Waterson of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) told The Caterer that although operators initially had been "desperate" to reopen, when the opening date of 15 July was announced many have since decided to remain closed.

The shift follows a recent poll carried out by SLTA, which revealed that 62% of those asked did not plan to visit a hospitality venue as soon as restrictions were lifted.

Commenting on operators choosing to remain closed, Waterson said: "Some believe there is no momentum to the business yet. Secondly, some believe that with one-metre social distancing they're not viable at all. And thirdly, there is the group that will never open again under present owners as they've not been able to ride it out."

He anticipated that when the furlough scheme ended, the industry would be hit with more permanent closures and a wave of redundancies.

"What we've got to do over that shorter term, is make sure our places are as safe and comfortable as possible and adhere strictly to the rules. That will make people feel better about out coming in again."

Waterson believes that despite the staycation trend predicted for the summer, many operators have "written off" the season.

Last month a survey by the Scottish Beer & Pub Association (SBPA) of 300 pub landlords (approximately 7% of the total) found that nine out of 10 did not believe it would be financially viable to reopen if the two-metre distancing rule remained in place.

David Stein, who owns four bars in Scotland, including Cafebar 1807 in Linlithgow near Edinburgh, also carried out a survey which revealed 50% of its customers did not expect to return on 15 July, even with physical distancing in place. Consequently he had decided to wait until 1 August to reopen, saying he was "very despondent".

However, Stein said that last week's announcement of a VAT cut and the introduction of the dining-out vouchers for August, would give him "a fighting chance of breaking even with the 50% capacity".

Daniel Wylie, general manager Brewhemia, next to Waverley station in the heart of Edinburgh, told The Caterer that the city centre was still "remarkably quiet" with offices empty, hotels not trading and a lack of tourists.

Understandably, despite being "extremely keen to get open", they have taken the decision to stay closed and wait for demand to return.

He explained: "In terms of space, we're very lucky – we have a really big venue, lots of different areas which means we can do table service and put in social distancing measures, but unfortunately those only work if there are customers in it.

"Having space and covers is an advantage but it also means increased costs of reopening. Opening before there is demand could be a potential threat to the business."

Chief executive of the Scottish Beer & Pub Association (BPA), Emma McClarkin, acknowledged that there was "understandably" some nervousness. She said: "Consumer confidence will also be key, with operators understanding that customers need to feel safe and that is why the industry is placing mitigation measures at the forefront of any reopening.

"Every pub will have an individual risk assessment setting out how they will keep their customers safe and customers will be asked for their details to help support ‘Test and Protect'."

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