"This is worse than the lockdown" - Scottish restaurateurs react to new restrictions

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Scotland restaurant closures Coronavirus restrictions Nicola Sturgeon Little Chartroom Ondine Hawksmoor Edinburgh

Related tags Scotland Coronavirus Restaurant lockdown Hawksmoor ukhospitality

Coronavirus restrictions set to be imposed on Scotland, which will see all restaurants in Glasgow and Edinburgh forced to close, have been met with anger and despair by industry voices.

Yesterday (7 October), First Minster Nicola Sturgeon announced that licensed hospitality businesses in central Scotland will be required to close for 16 days from Friday​ (9 October), with licensed premises across the rest of the country temporarily banned from selling alcohol indoors and subject to a 6pm curfew on indoor service.

The closures will apply to restaurants, pubs and bars in the five health board areas that cover the central belt, which include Greater Glasgow and Clyde; Lanarkshire; the Lothians; Ayrshire and Arran; and Forth Valley.

Commenting on the measures, UKHospitality executive director for Scotland Willie Macleod said: “This is a total catastrophe. Scottish hospitality is already on the brink and is unable to look ahead with any degree of confidence.

“Forced closures will spell the end for many, many venues which have no cash flow and will have exhausted their reserves. Severe restrictions to those businesses not forced to close will amount to a closure for many. It is likely to be the final straw for many that were only just hanging on. We are going to see businesses fold and many jobs lost." 

During her statement, Sturgeon also announced that the Scottish Government would be making available an additional £40m to support businesses that will be affected by these measures over the next two weeks.

However, how businesses are able to access that money is yet to be made clear, with the First Minister saying she would be taking a day or two' to consult with the hospitality industry on how best to distribute the funds.

The financial support, which is likely to equate to between £1,000 to £2,000 per business has been described by UKHospitality as 'insufficient to reverse the devastating impact felt by hospitality businesses over this vital trading period'.

The Little Chartroom's Roberta Hall-McCarron has described the new restrictions as 'daunting'

Daunting time for businesses

Restaurants that will be forced to close as a result of the restrictions include bijou Edinburgh bistro The Little Chartroom, which is currently ranked at Number 79 on the UK’s Top 100 Restaurants List.

"It’s quite a daunting time," says chef-patron Roberta Hall-McCarron told BigHospitality​.

"The support that was mentioned is really unclear and will leave a lot of businesses worried until more information is announced.

"I think this is even worse than the initial lockdown. Back then we had the full furlough scheme and decent Government support packages. I am not really surprised by the announcement as many other countries are testing this too.

"We will be keeping our delivery service going and offering everyone who has booked in with us over the next two weeks a takeaway meal. We will also be re-opening our pop-up, The Little Chartroom on the Prom this weekend. This will help us keep our staff and our heads above water."

Reacting to the restrictions on Twitter, chef Roy Brett, who operates Edinburgh-based seafood restaurant Ondine, wrote​: “There are no other words, [this] announcement is worse than we could have ever imagined.

"Whilst we appreciate it’s not a full lock down, it is a crushing blow for the hospitality sector that no one could have foreseen with a complete stranglehold on the central belt."

In her speech, Sturgeon insisted that the temporary lockdown of licensed premises was 'essential' in removing one of the key opportunities the virus has to jump from household to household.

Addressing MSPs, she said: “That risk can be increased in some hospitality premises if good ventilation is difficult, and if it is hard to control the movement of people. And the presence of alcohol can of course affect people’s willingness to physically distance.”

Mark Greenaway: new restrictions are "lunacy"

Hospitality not part of the problem

Many in the hospitality secTor have questioned the science behinds Sturgeon's decision. 

"I think putting more restrictions on an already crippled industry is just lunacy," says chef Mark Greenaway, who operates Edinburgh restaurant Grazing by Mark Greenaway.

"At some point in this pandemic people are going to have to show scientific facts that support all these decisions."

In a message to its customers, steakhouse group Hawksmoor, which operates eight restaurants across the UK including one in Edinburgh, said the data showed that hospitality was not part of the problem with regards to virus infections, in fact it believes the sector should be 'part of the solution'.

"Short of a national lockdown, which effectively makes socialising impossible, we are going to have to accept that some people are going to socialise. We think that rather than focusing policy-making on whether or when people should be socialising, politicians should focus on where.

"Restaurants are heavily regulated, they are regularly cleaned, well-trained staff are aware of the guidance and acting accordingly. We believe that they should be supported by politicians 

"Irrespective of your view of whether we are right (and we accept not everyone will agree), we hope that you see the value in continuing to support hospitality for its continued employment of young people, its role in bringing communities together, and because we all need places in our lives where we can spend time with the people we care about, forget our problems and just be happy."

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