Fringe benefits for city venues

Transport disruption negates biggest ever festival’s perks

Licensees bemoaned festival street closures

By Jonathan Watt

STREET closures, a growing number of pop-up food and drink vendors and spates of bad weather ensured the 2019 Edinburgh Festival was a mixed bag for operators in the capital.

This year’s festival was the biggest yet according to organisers, who said ticket sales for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which ran from August 2 to 26, had broken the three million barrier for the first time in the event’s 72-year history.

However the potential for licensed businesses in the capital was stymied by a number of factors, operators told SLTN.

Adam Neil, manager of The Jolly Judge, just off the Lawnmarket section of the Royal Mile, said: “In years gone by we would have got more trade from the Fringe crowd but with the increase in pop-up bars and the big [festival] venues creating their own Fringe bubbles we have got much less of that trade.

“We have also been affected by the summer street closures this year. Pedestrianisation of streets is something that we are in favour of but not when it significantly disrupts our deliveries for what only seems to be creating extra space for street performers. Consultation of local businesses would be appreciated for next year.”

Despite seeing a 10% uplift in sales from last year, Eric Drought, GM of The Three Sisters on Cowgate, also criticised the way street closures were handled, stating that visitors may have been given the impression the Cowgate area was not part of the festival by “massive barriers” erected too close to the street.

Drought and his team combated this with a poster campaign to let passersby know the venue was open for business.

He said: “We were only given notice at the start of July so had to change all of our delivery times; a bit more notice would have been great.”

Revenues were slightly down at Le Di-Vin wine bar and restaurant La P’tite Folie in the west end, according to sommelier Luke Richardson.

“We had fewer people but the spend per head was better than last year,” he said. “The changeable weather didn’t help. The road closures affected everybody this year as they closed Victoria Street and this impacted all public transport in the city.”

Erica Moore, owner of the Eteaket Tea Room on Frederick Street in the new town, reported a successful festival with footfall up but spend per head slightly lower, saying customers were “more cautious about extras like a glass of wine with lunch”.

Moore suggested more buses should be put on next year to cope with the swelling number of visitors as well as “trying to ensure there aren’t roadworks on every corner when there is such an increase in traffic in the city”.

In the old town, it was a commanding debut festival performance for Vittoria Group’s fish and chip restaurant Bertie’s, which opened in January. It reported serving over 17,000 portions of fish and chips and welcoming over 25,000 diners during the Fringe.