Scottish hospitality reopens to busy bookings and 'baffling' restrictions

26 April 2021 by
Scottish hospitality reopens to busy bookings and 'baffling' restrictions

Scottish hospitality has reopened to dine-in guests the first time since December, but businesses owners are struggling to get to grips with "baffling" restrictions.

From 26 April customers can sit with up to six people from two households indoors, but venues cannot serve them alcohol and must close at 8pm. Cafés, restaurants, and bars may serve alcohol outside subject to local licensing restrictions.

However, there has been confusion over requirements for guests to stay one metre apart from those not in their household, even when seated at the same table. The one-metre rule was in place last year, but many businesses took this to mean a gap between different tables.

Nadia Di Giorgio, co-owner of Di Giorgio's café in Edinburgh, told The Caterer she had decided not to reopen as restrictions would limit the normally 30-cover café to around eight people.

Speaking last week, she said: "Last year it was unclear if it was a one-metre distance between tables or individual guests. We all had to do what we thought was right. It's still not clear what the implications are for not following the guidance. It's baffling."

Murray Lamont, owner of the 30-bedroom Mackays hotel in Wick, Caithness, said it was a challenge to explain the rules around alcohol to guests.

The Lamont family of Mackays hotel
The Lamont family of Mackays hotel

"We have a wedding taking place who will be permitted to have alcohol with their meal, but the diners in other parts of the hotel will only have the option of soft drinks," he said. "It is difficult to explain the difference in regulations to locals and visitors alike."

He added that despite the "severe restrictions" the industry was going in the "right direction".

Lamont said: "Staycation is a saviour. The relaxation of traveling restrictions means we can welcome visitors from all over the UK, which is excellent, but they won't be able to enjoy a local whisky or gin unless they sit outside –remembering this is April in Caithness."

The Signature Group, which operates 21 bars, restaurants and hotels across Scotland, is only opening four of its sites that have enough outdoor space from today (26 April). A further three will reopen later this week.

Director Nic Wood said he owed a "debt of gratitude" to his staff, adding: "The rebuilding of our sector begins now."

James Thomson, owner of the Prestonfield hotel (pictured above) and the Witchery by the Castle restaurant with rooms in Edinburgh, has had to bring extra staff back off furlough to meet demand after bookings ‘skyrocketed'.

Both the Three Chimneys on the Isle of Skye and the Pierhouse hotel and Seafood restaurant at Port Appin have also seen a strong level of bookings.

"It is also so lovely to see all our local suppliers arriving with their freshly caught catches and produce and smiles on their faces," said owner Gordon Campbell Gray. "It has been an equally stressful time for them too and we are all hopeful that we are now truly safely back in business."

Gordon Campbell Gray
Gordon Campbell Gray

However, Lamont added that there would inevitably be difficulties for some suppliers: "[They] will have to guess how busy everyone will be, and it is inevitable that we will experience some shortages until they are back on an even keel."

The next easing of Scotland's lockdown restrictions is expected to take place on 17 May, when pubs and restaurants will be allowed to open and sell alcohol indoors until 10.30pm.

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