Trade gears up to reopen

Operators and staff preparing to open indoors to customers tomorrow after almost four months of closure

Restaurateur Stefano Pieraccini owns Edinburgh venues The Broughton and the West Room and fine dining restaurant The Seafood Ristorante in St Andrews

BAR, restaurant and hotel operators and staff across Scotland are gearing up to open indoors to customers tomorrow (Wednesday July 15) after almost four months of closure.

A range of safety measures and new operating practices have been put in place in venues the length and breadth of the country as the trade prepares to reopen its doors for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown was implemented on March 23.

Bars, restaurants and hotels’ indoor space can be reopened from tomorrow, with operators able to stick with the two-metre distancing or implement a one-metre rule indoors and outdoors providing certain mitigating measures are in place.

Plans are in place in Inverness to reopen the Cru Holdings’ estate, according to managing director Scott Murray, who said three of the group’s indoor venues – The Classroom in Nairn, Prime Steak & Seafood restaurant and Dows Bar and Bistro in Inverness – will open tomorrow, with the rest of the estate to be reviewed as government guidance progresses.

The group – which created a customer and staff safety video –  has implemented measures such as table-service only, an “informal” two-metre social distancing rule for the more spacious venues and entry and exit signage in each premises; customers will also be asked to scan a QR code and provide personal details on entry to assist with the NHS Test and Protect scheme.

Scott Murray
Scott Murray managing director of Cru Holdings

Speaking about the group’s video, Murray said: We just felt that customer confidence as a whole is not where we really need it to be, so by communicating in this way, it demonstrates that ‘real’ people are going back to work, and really care about serving their customers again – some of whom will have become regular features in their weekly lives.

“We are implementing an informal two-metre distancing – the areas have been set to allow two metres comfortably – however we do believe the customers deserve choice, so we will only be strict on the 1m distance.  This had reduced the number of covers we can accommodate, however we have found that our traditionally quiet times are now booked up, so hopefully it will balance out.

“We are operating three tranches of staff at the moment: tranche A being predominantly management, and they are back at work; tranche B are on call and ready to return when business levels allow; and tranche C – which are our colleagues who wouldn’t feel safe returning to work just now [for reasons] such as shielding – they will be among the last to return.”

In Edinburgh, bars group Big Red Teapot will be reopening The Blackbird tomorrow (the venue’s beer garden opened last week), with sister venues Hamilton’s and The Voyage of Buck opening on Friday July 17 and July 29, respectively. Broughton Street venue Treacle will follow at a later date.

The Voyage of Buck in Edinburgh is set to reopen on July 29

Director Colin Church said the venues will be operating with a two-metre social distance initially, reinforced by signage, with capacities in each venue reduced slightly to enable more space between tables. Customers are keen to return to the venue, said Colin, with The Blackbird fully-booked all day Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week.

“It’s so exciting to get open again,” he said. “We’re excited and the staff are excited. We love the interaction of it all and we love the team spirit that we’ve got. Our company isn’t just The Blackbird, Hamilton’s, Voyage and Treacle, it’s Big Red Teapot. And the staff all know each other and help each other out. It’s good to get the gang back together.”

In the city’s Corstorphine area neighbourhood pub Winstons is offering tables for two-hour slots and introduced a raft of measures to ensure staff and customers are safe.

In addition to faces masks for staff and hand sanitiser for customers, touch points will be cleaned every 20 minutes and toilets every half hour, with the bar split into different work areas to limit contact between staff.

The bar and gantry at Winstons

Manager Iain Hewitt said it’s important the pub is seen to be a safe space for its regulars.

“If we’re as strict as we can be the worst thing that happens is someone can’t get in because we’re observing social distancing properly,” he told SLTN.

“But if someone comes in, goes away and says ‘Winstons isn’t cleaning properly’ then the whole of Corstorphine knows about that and we struggle to recover in the long-term. So it’s short-term loss for medium-term [gain].”

The Golf Tavern in Haddington

East Lothian operator John McIntosh, who, together with wife Lynn, owns The Golf Tavern in Haddington and the Tweeddale Arms Hotel in Gifford, opened the outdoor areas at the Tweeddale Arms on Monday July 6 and plans to trade with one metre physical distancing when he opens indoors tomorrow. He has invested in signage to highlight this to customers as well as implementing a one-way system and hand sanitiser stations throughout the premises; staff will be wearing protective visors. The lounge bar, which can usually accommodate 50 covers, will be able to cater for 30 at one metre while the small public bar will only have space for a maximum of 22 customers seated; and four of the hotel’s 13 rooms are booked for Wednesday. A ‘cut down’ menu will be available.

“I am looking forward to getting back open again,” John told SLTN.

“It’s been a long time to be closed. The beer garden has been good but we’re obviously dependent on the Scottish weather so it will be good to be able to open indoors.

“We’ve got all the measures in place and a system from when people enter the premises and give their details right through to contactless payment when they leave. We will probably fine tune things as we go because it’s all new for everyone but it will be good to be open again.”

The Ship Inn in Elie is fully booked for lunch and dinner on its first day of reopening

Graham Bucknall, owner of The TBC Pub Company, which operates The Ship Inn in Elie and The Bridge Inn in Ratho, will be opening both venues tomorrow.

He said the company developed its own app during the lockdown period and since reopening its outdoor areas last week 40% of its turnover has been through the app.

“We’re fully booked for lunch and dinner at Elie tomorrow,” said Graham.

“We’ve changed the menu, it’s probably two-thirds the size of the usual menu.

“At the Bridge Inn we’ve got a big outdoor space and that’s been great. We’re reopening the rooms there on August 1. I think airport hotels (it’s near Edinburgh airport) will take a wee while longer till the demand comes back.

“All in all we’re in good shape and looking forward to opening again.”

Fine dining restaurant Brian Maule at Chardon d’Or is set to open on Thursday

Chef Brian Maule is set to reopen his fine dining restaurant Brian Maule at Chardon d’Or, on Glasgow’s West Regent Street, on Thursday evening, initially trading for dinner on Thursdays and lunch and dinner on Fridays and Saturdays.

The restaurant can accommodate 60 covers with one-metre physical distancing, down a third on its usual capacity; private dining spaces on the lower ground floor won’t be used initially but could be utilised as additional restaurant space going forward.

When SLTN spoke to Brian he was in the process of finalising menus for Thursday’s reopening, which he said will be slightly simplified compared to usual; he has also streamlined the wine list.

“There’s been a great response so far,” he said. “I think we’ll stick to Thursday, Friday, Saturday for the next few weeks and take it from there.

“We’ve got signage at the door stating it’s a one-metre zone and we’ve had to put floor markers down to operate a one-way system. We’ve got guidance for the staff and we’re making it clear to customers that we’re following government guidelines.

“We’ll probably make a few tweaks to what we’re doing once we get up and running. It will be good. I think everyone is looking forward to getting back.”

Restaurateur Stefano Pieraccini, who owns Edinburgh venues The Broughton and the West Room and fine dining restaurant The Seafood Ristorante in St Andrews, also reckons there will be a period of adjustment. His Edinburgh venues are opening tomorrow with the St Andrews restaurant reopening on Friday.

The Seafood Ristorante in St Andrews will reopen on Friday

Pieraccini assembled an 18-page ‘standard operating procedures’ document for his staff to help them adapt to the new social distancing and hygiene procedures, which include clearly marked zones in the kitchen for each member of the team to work in and regular cleaning of service areas. Staff have each been given three washable, branded masks to wear during their shifts.

While bookings for the first three weeks have been strong, Pieraccini said there had to be an acknowledgement that the St Andrews restaurant will be catering to a different market this summer than it usually does. Subsequently the menu has been reduced and reworked

in order to balance high quality fresh seafood dishes with the lower disposable income expected of the staycation market.

“The first two weeks of opening are going to be the most difficult, operationally,” he said.

“But the first two weeks, financially, will probably be the best because it’s going to be a bit of a novelty being back out. People will want to treat themselves. On the flipside customers will have to understand that we are in this together and we might not be at the 100% level we usually achieve.

“That’s hard for me to take because I care a lot about the service and it’s important that it’s consistent across all the venues.

“Generally, I feel that those customers coming in will be that wee bit more understanding. I could be totally wrong, but that’s my view on just now.”

Vittoria on Leith Walk will open to the public tomorrow

And restaurateur family the Crollas, owners of the Vittoria Group in Edinburgh, will be reopening the eight-strong estate between tomorrow and the end of July.

The group’s three Leith Walk restaurants – Taste of Italy, La Favorita and Vittoria on the Walk – will open their doors tomorrow.

Leandro Crolla said: “It has been an uncertain few months for the Scottish hospitality sector but during these trying and challenging times we have been encouraged by the incredible support of our customers. Like many businesses we are adapting and learning every day but count ourselves lucky to have restaurants where social distancing is relatively easy.

“Our staff have been outstanding and pulled together to make sure the restaurants are ready to welcome customers back safely. We are all excited to get back to business and once again serve authentic Italian cuisine to our customers.”