For independent cafes, restaurants and takeaways, life post-lockdown is likely going to look very different.
The hospitality industry has taken a significant economic hit in recent weeks; many eateries closed their doors to the public not knowing if they would get a chance to serve their loyal customers once more.
But there are those, across the country, who have been focusing their efforts on navigating a new ‘normal’. For some it has meant shifting their business to an online model, for others it has meant installing Perspex screens in-store.
Yet one thing is certain for all of them – life will never be the same again.
We spoke to three local businesses about the true impact of coronavirus.
WeeCOOK Kitchen, Carnoustie
Hayley Wilkes, owner of the WeeCOOK Kitchen in Carnoustie, has focused her efforts on trying to stay ahead of the game so that the business can continue to flourish in the months and years to come.
“We’ve tried to stay ahead of the game in terms of anticipating what might happen,” she said.
“To be honest that was probably the hardest part in the run-up to the lockdown, not knowing day by day what was going to happen.
“In the first few days, it almost felt like we were changing the business every day to keep up with the constantly shifting guidelines.
“We’ve worked our damnedest to provide a service for the community, not only here for the caravan park – whose residents are mostly vulnerable and elderly – but for the entire community.
“But we also had to make sure we were keeping the staff safe. A lot of people were saying, ‘you should close, it’s the safe thing to do,’ but I said, ‘no, we’re going to stick to guidelines’.
“It has been a quick change. We had staff training which was for the opening up of the season and then, within 10 days, it essentially became survival training.
“The staff have been absolutely fantastic. I’ve got three apprentices who are doing the Skills Development Scotland scheme with Dundee and Angus College and I believe they’re some of the only apprentices in the country who are continuing their apprenticeship.”
Despite having to rapidly adapt to the changing circumstances, WeeCOOK Kitchen has managed to retain every member of staff.
“I had just taken many of them on, with some of them only having worked three shifts. I didn’t want to lose them, it broke my heart,” Hayley said.
“I thought, what can we do to keep this business going? Being so small, with the kind of customer base that we have built, we were in the perfect position to adapt, to improvise and to try and get through it – and not only survive but try and have some kind of remnants of a business at the end of it.
“If it meant that we had to completely change the way we worked then we would do that.
“Already there are things that we’re doing differently that we hope, once it opens up again, we can adapt. The way that we’re doing business now, we can almost forecast what we’re going to get.
“But we miss the restaurant; we miss the customers and the interaction and that whole hospitality thing. We’ve been trying to bring it to the customers instead.”
After closing their doors back in March, the team quickly introduced a delivery service, which has been a resounding success.
Hayley said: “We’ve never done delivery before, ever. It’s a whole new concept to us and a whole new route to customers.
“We’ve actually extended and grown our business outwith our local community now. We started by going to the towns and areas where we knew we had a small client base but now we are going further afield. We’re planning to go to Glasgow next week and St Andrews at some point.
Assistant manager, Emelye Macqueen, added: “One evening I decided to put it on local Facebook pages and the response was amazing.
“The reach went from 2,000 to 54,000 in the space of 20 days which is quite an achievement.”
So what does the future look like for the hospitality industry? Will life ever revert to what it was before?
“I don’t think life can go back to how it was,” Hayley said.
“It’s already an industry that has been working on such fine margins. For years and years it has always been about cost.
“You can’t compete with the big boys and, for a little indie business like ours, it’s difficult.
“I hope [when all this is over] that people don’t just get overexcited and go rushing back to the big chains. I hope they remember the small businesses who have kept them going.”
Scran Fitness Food, Dundee
The team at Scran Fitness Food, which has been trading for three years, have had to get creative with what they’re offering customers.
When Jason Myles first started the company, which now has a production facility at West Pitkerro Industrial Estate and a shop on the Nethergate, his focus was on creating and distributing healthy meal plans.
Now, amid the unprecedented coronavirus crisis, he’s introduced home favourites – which they’ve dubbed Scrations – to the menu. These include dishes such as macaroni cheese and steak pie.
He said: “The main part of our business is the healthy side of things so it can be quite off-putting for some, especially elderly people.
“We’ve had a lot of people messaging us, even before all this happened, asking us about it.
“It has been really popular, even amongst those customers who usually order the healthier stuff so its gone down really well and is definitely something that we’re planning to continue.
“We threw it out there, just to see what sort of response we’d get, but obviously we’ve been busier than we expected.
“We’ve lost the revenue from the shop which is obviously a big hit and we could still open but all the offices in the city centre where our usual trade comes from have closed.
“So we’ve taken the decision to keep that closed and work out of the unit for now, focusing on the meal delivery service.
“We’ve been probably busier than we would normally be in the healthy side of things but, instead of laying off the guys that were working at the shop, we thought we’d bring them up to the unit and try and get a bit busier so we can keep everyone employed and not have to furlough anyone.
“We thought it would be wise to do things that are more appealing to everyone. On Saturdays we’ve been doing something called cheat meals. It’s hot food deliveries from the unit and it’s all your indulgent foods, like burgers and wraps.
“We introduced that because we noticed that a lot of the takeaways in Dundee shut so the ones that remained open were getting overrun with hundreds of orders so there were three-hour waiting times.
“We thought that if there was demand for it then we might as well do it. We’ve done that for three weeks now and it has been really successful.
“You could just stop and let it [coronavirus] get the better of you but we thought, as long as we keep busy and we keep introducing new things, it’s always going to be popular and everyone needs to eat.”
The Post House Coffee Co, Invergowrie
The Post House Coffee Co in Invergowrie, which first opened its doors in November 2016, has swiftly adopted new practices to ensure the business is able to continue providing for its loyal customers.
Craig Mckenzie, the cafe’s owner, said: “When it was clear coronavirus had reached our shores we took proactive steps like installing hand sanitiser gel for customers and staff and removing some of our tables from the restaurant to give everyone a little more space between themselves and other diners.
“Once the severity of the pandemic became clearer we experienced an immediate drop in revenues of 70%. Cafes were then told to close. We were all absolutely devastated and of course did so – but just for a short period of 10 days whilst we got our heads around everything.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic we have gone from less than 10% of sales being takeout to now solely operating a click and collect or doorstep delivery service.
“We no longer allow customers inside the cafe at all so it was a challenge to work out how to still provide a good service to our valued customers whilst ensuring social distance measures were respected.”
For Craig, one of the biggest challenges they faced was the process of furloughing staff.
“Retaining our fantastic team and getting the doors safely open again so we had some income was our main priority,” he said.
“The process of furloughing some of our staff and bringing the remainder into work was a challenge in itself.”
And whilst it has been difficult, there have been some undeniable positives that Craig hopes will continue once normality resumes.
He said: “We have always offered an afternoon tea service but with lockdown, and our new takeout and delivery service, we decided to adapt to make it suitable to enjoy at home and the response has been unbelievable.
“We have had people ordering separate platters to share afternoon tea over the garden fence with neighbours, friends sending them on anniversaries and entire families ordering it to be delivered to different households at the same time to share over Zoom video calls.
“We have noticed that everyone seems to be a little more appreciative of each other. We all get caught up in our own lives and, if anything, lockdown has given us all time to appreciate others around us. Customers are sending us well wishes with thanks for providing a service during lockdown.
“I’m not sure we will be getting back to anything like it was before lockdown anytime soon. When restrictions are eventually lifted, I think a lot of the practices introduced and social distancing measures will remain.
“I think customers will always want to have a little more space than they did previously, hand sanitiser for customer use will be expected in the cafes and those customers who have become accustomed to having brunch delivered on a lazy Sunday morning will still want it delivered post-lockdown.”