What a week!
For those of us across the sector who benefited from the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, I think most would agree that it was a great boost, and it also gave us an opportunity to install some customer confidence. All that has now come to an end, with yet more regulatory guidance from the Scottish Government on gatherings of 6 people within 2 households. It has caused mass confusion because of the difference of the UK approach of simply gatherings of 6. It has certainly taken the wind out of our sails and had a massive effect on our trade as a whole. Business owners left with a massive downturn in business, and customers again left confused. So much for the usual Friday night curry and a pint down the local pub with your work colleagues, when you can now only bring one of them.
Last Friday evening saw many frantic restaurant owners phoning around pre-booked tables advising customers of the change, and gathering together the information needed to allow them to table a plan. The calls came in just as quick as the cancellations followed, and business owners were left wondering where this would all end. The overall picture on Monday morning on my calls was bleak, to say the least. On our latest poll, 46% told us business was down 10% to 20%, with a further 45% saying trade was down over 20%. The stark reality of how our trade now has to operate.
The return of our much loved and much-needed background music is still on hold. From our fine dining restaurants to the local bar where people socialise, music has always played a vital part of the atmosphere. It is clear to see that in the restaurant arena, people are leaning in towards each other to talk so the table next to them doesn’t hear the conversation, no privacy, and no ambience, and the feeling of being rushed is the feedback of our customers. The rattle of the coffee machine, the clatter of pans in the kitchen, and orders getting shouted out….. it’s amazing what a little background music does.
In our much-loved pubs we are seeing the opposite. Noise levels are getting higher, because our pubs have always been known for the social aspect of meeting friends, watching some sport or having fun. The fact that now with no music and TVs on mute, those of us who like a flutter on the horses are actually more excited, more intensely focussed on the screen and instead of listening to the commentator, we are trying to commentate ourselves and as the excitement rises towards the finish line in a big race, so does your level of voice, which by all accounts banning music was supposed to stop.
Today we are standing on the brink of the unknown, as the First Minister delivered her daily briefing with the words “Giving you advance notice”. The wider media coverage of a curfew being introduced has certainly heightened the tension, and it is now that we all must stick together in making sure that we do everything we can this weekend to make sure a curfew does not materialise in Scotland. For many in our sector, this would be the final nail in the coffin for them, and for our late night venues it would effectively close them down. Further to this we know that people will find a way to socialise, and all this will do is drive more people to house parties, and effectively means the displacement of risk.
As we now face the weekend ahead, I would like to call on everyone, business owners and customers, to do the right thing, stick to the guidelines, and help us to both keep everyone safe, and also to keep our businesses viable.
Have a lovely, and safe weekend.
The Townhead Hotel
Spokesman for the Scottish Hospitality Group