Nic Wood

Could we start 2020 again please?

Signature closed the doors of its 22 venues on 20th March at 9pm following the Prime Minister’s statement on social distancing measures of that same evening “we are telling – telling – cafes pubs and restaurants to close tonight, as soon as they reasonably can, and not open tomorrow.” Our workforce of 700+ employees are our priority and have been supported since the closure by the CJRS for which we are hugely grateful. Signature’s venues are family friendly and focussed on providing the customer with an exceptional hospitality experience. We operate businesses that promote social interaction and communication and human wellbeing. Take away is not something we have ever considered but we are now! We have transformed McLarens on the Corner in Edinburgh’s Bruntsfield area into McLarens Market, a take away hub and are pleased with the results so far. Delivery isn’t an option right now and we can’t justify the commission to some of the 3rd party delivery partners – the margins just aren’t there.

Our venues are mostly food led, dining bars and restaurants and we are a responsible hospitality group in a relatively strong financial position. However, re-opening on June 19th with outside seating only is looking unlikely with unsustainable levels of overheads and when Phase 2 or 3 is implemented, we cannot operate with a less than 50% capacity. We need ongoing UK and Scot Government economic support; an extension of the furlough scheme with increased flexibility to protect the workforce and prevent mass redundancies.

We fear for our industry –  all operators (ourselves included), our peers, competitors, friends and foes; those with landlords and rental contracts; highly geared but successful operators, those with a more wet led business model and those with no outdoor space.

Since the closure, we have been working (bloody hard!) to identify how we can safely and legally open our venues and respect social distancing once the lockdown restrictions are lifted. We need to adapt quickly and find new ways of working to continue to operate.


  • Social distancing may remain until we have a vaccine, cure or the R number can always be maintained below 1. This virus will have the power to be deadly even with a low R number.
  • But we must be able to return to some sort of operation with enough flexibility to make this profitable therefore protecting jobs, protecting business, preventing mass business failure and encouraging ongoing investment within the sector and the wider business community.
  • Overtourism is a word we ought not hear again for a decade and the proposed tourism tax must be side lined for now.
  • Venues with outside areas will reassure customers and sitting in the open air will be preferable.
    • The trade will need local city councils to support the sector by not charging exorbitant fees for tables and chairs permits.
    • Other regimes will need to be relaxed – such as planning, advertising and roads consent.
    • The Scottish weather will be a huge factor but if it’s kind; this will allow more space, more covers for eating and drinking and a degree of flexibility and in turn the commercials just might stack up even for a few months.
    • Premises will need to make further investment in the infrastructure per venue to establish social distancing measures within the premises as we move through the phases. The list of these measures could be extensive and as an industry we need to work together in establishing these for the safety of our staff and our customers.
  • We must always be allowed to open with 50% capacity (no less!) permitted in the building whilst practicing social distancing.
  • It is within our gift to control the operation in our venues and ensure a safe environment for eating and drinking. Intoxicated persons will not be served or permitted access– they were not before, and they won’t be now.
  • WHO 1m recommendation? New Zealand 1m. Why is UK Gov 2m? We need certainty of the “social distance” calculation.

A few weeks ago we undertook a survey of our customers and staff to garner an understanding of how the trade was feeling. 4000 respondents and the key messages were:

  • There is low consumer confidence and a nervous culture created by the virus, media and messaging. The Scot Gov’s message will need to evolve when the time is right to reduce the anxiety and individual translation of the guidelines.
  • 50% of people will decrease their visit frequency to hospitality post Covid.
  • Consumers have transitioned to an on-line life
  • There will be a 20% reduction in demand for food led visits and a 25% reduction in demand for wet led visits
  • 25% wish for take away and deliveries to replace restaurants and bars
  • Food Quality and Cleanliness were  the top 2 reasons for dining out with price dropping to number 5 – so keep standards high with no need for offers and discounts – the supermarkets have all but stopped those.
  • Customers are expecting additional hygiene measures in place and 2m spacing  – but we know that won’t work in all venues and some won’t be able to operate with these spacing restrictions. The introduction of a Scot Gov approved “Code of  Conduct” which we as operators sign and implement in our businesses to respect Covid 19 and do what we can to prevent the spread and maintain the lower “R” number could be introduced with haste and would offer customers a “kite mark” of reassurance.


Pre-Covid, the hospitality sector in Scotland was under pressure and Covid 19 makes survival of our, and the majority of similar businesses, an even greater challenge. We need a united front to ensure our collective voice is heard, to inform the SG that there are tens of thousands of jobs at stake and that we aren’t putting profit before people – we just want our businesses to survive.


Category: Coronavirus, Editors' Picks, Interviews
Tags: COVID-19, Nic Wood, signature pubs