We shut down when we were told to and it was surreal. Then we went into scenario planning and I’ve run out of the number of scenarios we actually went through about what was going to happen to the trade and we wrote a lot of papers on how we saw the future, how we saw capacity, how we saw social distancing, some of our hopes and fears for the future etc. We worked with our fabulous licensing lawyers at TLT (Caroline Loudon in particular) and together we worked very hard to make sure our voices were heard by the right people influencing and making decisions, like the Scottish Beer and Pub Association. This culminated in securing a visit from the first minister. We were on a call with her and she said that when the time was right she would be very willing to visit a beer garden, and with that give a seal of approval that hospitality done in the right way and with the right mitigating measures was a safe place to be. We managed to get her to come to Cold Town House in Edinburgh where she spent an hour on the roof terrace chatting to Nic Wood and the GM about the measures we were putting in place to ensure the safety of teams and our customers. This was such a high point after all the effort we had gone to during lockdown to really communicate that once the time was right, hospitality could be safe once again.
We also implemented a training programme and got as many of our staff as we could busy with this. It was also fascinating to hear from our staff about what they did during lockdown, like jewellery, graphic design and sales and marketing courses – some became Uber Eats drivers and some of our chefs volunteered for fruit picking. It was so heartwarming that very few took the ‘Netflix option’ with so many of them instead choosing to remain active. We also engaged with the team online with quizzes etc.
In terms of safety measures now in place, we have sanitiser stations on arrival and the staff sanitise their hands all the time and we have additional staff on to clean all the time. When customers and staff arrive they get their temperatures taken and the staff must bring their uniform in a bag and then change into it at work. We are doing track and trace during bookings (which we say are advisable but not essential), and we are working with Stampede for walk-ins so they can scan a QR code (a machine-readable barcode) and then we log customers’ details for four weeks. We log our menus on a QR code too. We’re not going down the app order and pay route. We still want a degree of interaction with customers which allows for upselling and for talking about specials. If it’s all done on an app it’s quite sterile. We are doing disposable menus for those that don’t want to use a QR code but hey, if my mother can manage a QR code then believe me, anyone can.
There’s no vertical or seated-at-the-bar drinking, and that’s something we would love to get back because nothing looks more welcoming than customers sat at the bar reading a paper or on laptop etc. I really miss this on a personal level.
We also have more ventilation in the venues and social distancing in the kitchen and all staff are in PPE and staff can choose between a visor and a mask and we feel that customers like to see the mouth of the person they are talking to.
We’ve invested in perspex screens too, which look great in some of our venues, like in Cold Town House and in Kyloe, where they really add to the intimate ambience.
We are pleased with the first week or so of trading and we are not planning to rush this and we are going to take a cautious approach to reopening the sites. Edinburgh city centre is definitely quieter whereas Glasgow and Aberdeen seem more vibrant and there are more people about. George Street and Princes Street are really really tough trading conditions and it’s really bizarre walking around these streets seeing them so quiet. Footfall figures for St Andrew’s Square and Princes Street have gone from 5 million in July 2019 to less than 5,000 (the graph doesn’t go below this number).
We opened the inside of McLaren’s and Cold Town House and Kyloe in Edinburgh, The Saint St Andrews, The Meadowpark in Bridge of Allan and Church on the Hill in Glasgow. We were fully booked in the first week of trading but at reduced capacity. We got great feedback from staff and our suppliers were delighted we were back too and we are continuing to shop local and shop small.
Labour costs are through the roof and this is something we are aware of but we are a hospitality business and we must provide a safe, friendly and well run environment for our customers where they can have fun, enjoy some banter and where they don’t have to do the washing up.
Suburb venues are doing well, like Church on the Hill, as is Kyloe because it’s a destination venue.
I’m optimistic about the venues we’ve got open but we need more government support. We need offices to bring staff back. We need people encouraged back to city centres in general, like reduced parking charges. The messaging needs to change, and people need to know that safe hospitality is good so please go and use it. All in all I am optimistic but I could do with a wee bit of help.