The Stair Arms Hotel is situated in Pathhead, Midlothian and has been standing since 1831. It’s no surprise that the hotel is a cornerstone of our local community – everyone knows The Stair Arms Hotel, whether they know someone who worked here, or got married here, or even had a fab Christmas party…The community is at the heart of what we do, and we pride ourselves on the fact the community can really rely on the hotel! It was devastating to us that we had to cancel the curling club dinner this year, which is only the second time it has been cancelled in nearly 100 years!
We, the Ramsay Family, have run the hotel for the past 27 years and we love what we do. Being a part of an amazing community makes the job so special and closing the hotel for lockdown was incredibly difficult. When we knew lockdown was around the corner, we had no choice but to close, we asked our accountant to furlough all of our staff and said goodbye to our hotel.
As we sat at home on our first Easter weekend off in 27 years it really hit home that we were closed! Easter is one of our busiest weekends of the year and hosting an Easter Egg Hunt in the hotel gardens is one of our traditions. This year, in the run up to Easter we ran a social media ‘E-Easter Egg Hunt’ and edited pictures of eggs hidden all around pictures of our gardens. Our competition had over 1000 entries and people really enjoyed it. It’s little things like this that are really important to us – keeping the community involved all together.
On Easter Sunday we decided, as a family, that we wanted to find a way to provide our service whilst still complying with lockdown rules and regulations! Being a family run business made things much easier for us. Grant runs the kitchen and I, Amanda, run the front of house. We knew we could also enlist the help of our kids and because we all live together social distancing rules don’t apply.
We ran through lots of ideas and eventually whittled it down to either offering cold food deliveries, or a drive thru hot food service. My only knowledge of takeaway food came from working in a roll shop in Edinburgh as a teenager! However, we knew if we kept our standard of service and food to our typical excellent quality then we couldn’t go too far wrong.
Profit hasn’t really been at the forefront of our mind as providing a service to our community is so important to us and that’s what we were aiming to do with our drive thru! Innovation is key in any business, our hotel has always thrived and moved with the times, so we knew lockdown didn’t have to stop us – we just had to adapt!
We initially launched our drive thru service to open on Saturday and Sunday evenings offering a limited menu. However, the demand was so great and the support from our community so overwhelming, after one week we opened an additional Fish Shop Friday. Now we’re operating two different menus over the weekend but we have kept them short and simple so we never sacrifice quality. One of our biggest strengths and challenges has to be the fact that Grant, our chef and brother, is a perfectionist. He spends hours developing the perfect dishes to feature each week.
The weekend drive thru is what brings in the most profit. We are offering the meals at up to a 50% reduction to restaurant prices. Obviously,our overheads are lower with a takeaway service so we are able to offer food at a lower rate to normal. Nonetheless, this profit margin is still much smaller than it would be in the restaurant itself.
Social media has been hugely important to our drive thru. We’ve only advertise on our social media platforms and we have been able to keep our customers informed about new menus and deals each week. We also love to run competitions to keep things fun – we run a ‘like and share’ for a free meal every Friday and Saturday night and little things like that really help keep spirits up.
The part I love most about our new service is seeing all our regular customers and catching up – at social distance of course! It also feels amazing when an older person comes in and tells you it’s the first treat they have had in ages – people are so thankful that we’ve adapted to this lockdown instead of staying closed completely. It makes it all worthwhile.
We also always listen to our customers. People said they were really missing a good takeaway coffee and cake – so we opened our ‘bakeaway’ last week.
Our ‘bakeaway’ offers a selection of home baking, local ice cream and hot drinks to takeaway! It’s a much smaller venture than our drive thru but it’sanother way we’ve adapted to cater to people’s lockdown needs. Cake and coffee are a sure-fire way to put a smile on people’s faces!
The bakeaway is not really profit driven. The lower prices of cake and coffee mean there isn’t much room for profit but it is something we really enjoy. We love to make cakes and it’s actually really nice to see customers in this casual way.
We’re always looking to the future and looking forward to opening the doors to The Stair Arms once again even though we’re pretty au fait with our takeaway business now! Opening with social distancing measures in place will be difficult for us, as it will for most hotels and restaurants. However, we have a great outdoor space we’re hoping to utilise. We’re hoping to fill the decking with tables and invest in a covering and patio heaters – as Scotland’s climate doesn’t really lend itself to alfresco dining. This space will also be fantastic for upcoming weddings.
Our drive thru will stay open initially to provide for those who won’t be rushing back out, especially those who are older or suffer with medical issues. We know we will manage to operate both dining in and dining out services alongside one another now we’ve had some practise.
The take-away will hopefully enhance profits when we do open our doors. As we mentioned we will be operating at a significantly smaller capacity with social distancing measures in place. Obviously, we can aim to have outdoor seating to increase our number of covers but being in Scotland the weather is unpredictable! We hope that we will be able to implement a system that means take-away and restaurant food can be served alongside each other as this will certainly help bolster the profit gap we will see with the limited capacity. However, all this being said, we need to just wait and see what happens. Right now we can only make predictions and speculate! “
All in all, COVID-19 has been a difficult time for everyone and we feel so thankful we, as a family business, were able to innovate new ways to serve our community. We’ve had wonderful feedback from customers who have had their weeks brightened by something a little different for their dinner and this has made it all worthwhile! We think being fluid and open to innovation has really helped us through this crisis. Initially, we didn’t see how we could operate during lockdown but we’re proud to say we’ve changed our business and managed to adapt!