Fortunes differ on the east coast but customers are keen
REOPENING in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown has been two different stories for restaurateur and operator Stefano Pieraccini.
Pieraccini, who owns The West Room and The Broughton in Edinburgh and Seafood Ristorante in St Andrews, said he has been “pleasantly surprised” by bookings at the St Andrews venue, while the market in Edinburgh has been “badly affected” by the pandemic.
Although he is optimistic that the market in Edinburgh will rally, with venues benefiting from staycations, the lack of the city’s normal tourism season has had a marked impact on the local economy.
“In terms of what the city’s like in Edinburgh… it’s been badly affected,” said Pieraccini.
“I spoke to one of [my suppliers] and he agreed that it’s been badly affected by this.
“Because of [how tourism-reliant] the city is, it’s having a knock-on effect and a lot of businesses aren’t even entertaining opening yet.
“At the same time I have to open, I want to open, I want to get people back to work, to try and get people coming back out.
“I’m confident I can make it work and the business is viable enough. It’s just trying to get your head round everything: the table spacing, sanitising everything after you touch it.”
Like operators across Scotland, Pieraccini has had to introduce a number of new operational procedures in his venues in order to satisfy safety requirements around COVID-19, with measures including reduced capacity to space out tables, separate workstations for chefs and face masks for front of house staff. Surfaces front and back of house are cleaned regularly and staff sanitise their hands every few minutes.
All three venues have downstairs toilets and so Pieraccini has printed posters asking customers at the top of the stairway to give way to those climbing the stairs in order to maintain social distancing.
“It’s crazy times we live in, but if you don’t adapt you’ll just get left behind,” he said.
“Operationally it’s been very interesting, just trying to get used to everything. It’s been a real mixed bag in terms of wearing face masks for service. It’s been pretty difficult for the staff. But at the end of the day it just has to be done for the time being. We’re getting on with it.”
And despite the challenges of operating in the current climate, Pieraccini said the response from customers has been “brilliant”.
“I think customers are just happy to come out,” he said.
“We ask every customer at the end of the meal how they have felt about the surroundings. Have they felt comfortable? Have they felt the restaurant was too busy? Have they felt the tables were spaced out enough?
“And every one of them has said it has been amazing. It feels like a bit of normality.
“We’re trying to encourage people to come in, have an experience, and forget what’s going on in the outside world.
“It’s difficult while serving them with face masks but if you can do that with good service and good food and a bit of personality it makes people a lot happier.
“A lot of people have come to St Andrews as their first trip out. They’ve been in lockdown for four months and are coming out to treat themselves.
“I’ve been very humbled by the amount of people that have taken a leap of faith to come to my restaurant, to come and be served by my team and eat our food.
“The support that we’ve had from our customers across the board has been brilliant.”