When eateries open their doors to customers this week things will look and feel a little different. Clare Johnston finds out how businesses in St Andrews have been gearing up for the brave new world.
For Scotland’s restaurateurs the past three months have felt like the longest of their lives.
First there was the enormity of closing down the business that supports both themselves and their staff; then there was a nail-biting wait to find out what came next.
As the virus raged across the country, it became more and more evident that there would be no easy solutions and no fast route to reopening.
When, on June 24, the first minister confirmed restaurants would be able to fully open to customers on July 15 there was finally a sense of purpose and focus again in the restaurant community.
The issue over the extent of distancing that would be required still lingered, and was resolved with the announcement from Nicola Sturgeon on July 2 that it would be reduced from two metres to one metre.
For many, this tipped the balance and made reopening viable, though there remain a significant number of restaurants in Scotland that will not reopen, or fear they’ll have to close. Those in the Scottish capital have been among the hardest hit with the usual throng of summer tourists gone and unlikely to return in the necessary numbers any time soon.
The great unknown is whether there will be enough Scots prepared to eat out on a sustained basis, even with the virus apparently contained for now.
The announcement on July 8 by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, that everyone in the UK would be given a 50% reduction on the cost of a meal out in August, capped at £10, came in recognition that there is nervousness among the public. In response, he is incentivising them to “eat out to help out”.
The discount scheme, paired with a reduction in VAT from 20 to 5%, for hospitality firms will help build the case for reopening among business owners.
For those taking the plunge, their approaches may differ – but the determination to survive and succeed is shared.
In the seaside town of St Andrews, popular with tourists from near and far, restaurants are putting the finishing touches on their reopening plans.
Julie Lewis is managing director of The Adamson bar and restaurant, which opened in the town’s South Street in 2012 and is well known for its seasonal menus and locally-sourced produce.
These trademarks will form the basis of an adapted business model which will see the restaurant reopen with a slightly reduced menu and seating, due to distancing regulations, and with an “Adamson at Home” option that takes the restaurant to your door.
It’s a model that many, though not all, Scottish restaurants are now adopting, believing that while covers will be reduced for the foreseeable future, the loss in revenue can potentially be off-set by deliveries and takeaways.
Julie explained: “It’s been incredibly challenging trying to understand the guidelines and the ins and outs of furlough. We’ve kept all our team on furlough so we’ve made sure we can support our workforce through this.
“We’ve been looking closely at the news to set the business up to survive. We want to come out of this the other side, financially and also safely. Everything changes so quickly so it’s trying to get it all right and make sure everyone is taken care of.
“We’ve got three parts to our business – the restaurant and cocktail bar and next door unit that was predominantly a lunch and brunch place and we’ve now turned that into a takeaway which opened on the 3rd of July.
“We’re doing an Adamson At Home option and we’ve also set up the Adamson Kit so you could enjoy our favourites, including a lobster and Chateaubriand kit. We prep it up for you and all you have to do is heat it up at home. There’s a cocktail kit and a picnic kit too.
“When lockdown happened, my son, who’s 10, said, ‘You’re just going to have to sell different things and make it work in a different way’. That resonated with me, so instead of sitting still in this period and being overwhelmed by the difficulties and waiting for the business to make itself better. I thought, ‘You’re right, Charlie, I have to think of a different way to get through this.’
“We can’t go back to the environment of ‘everybody’s just going to stand at a bar and order a cocktail’. So we have to think about how we get products to guests in a different manner. We’ve talked to customers through this period and listened to what they’re asking for.
“We’ve also bought products that we didn’t think we’d ever do, like plants and candles. We did cocktail videos on social media through the lockdown period. People would say when I saw them in the supermarket, ‘I loved that [cocktail] but I don’t have the shaker.’ So we’ll make up the cocktail and we sell it with a shaker and the things to make it with. We’re just diversifying into how we take our brands into people’s homes and welcome people into the restaurant safely.'”
With St Andrews being one of Scotland’s top tourist destinations, Julie is optimistic that they’ll get the numbers on reopening.
“St Andrews is a destination people will travel to this summer. They’ll feel confident going to the beach here so we’re hopeful.”
The restaurant has also created a post-Covid leaflet for diners to talk them through the measures in place, and through new technology, guests will be shown their seating plan before they arrive and can order via an app on their phone.
The decision to set everything out clearly for diners was based on the results of a survey of 700 customers which showed an encouraging 65% planned to spend the same time as before lockdown dining out when the restrictions are lifted, with a quarter happy to use hand sanitiser and contactless payments, but only 5% willing to wear a mask when not eating. A third wanted to see staff being temperature checked before starting their shift.
Just around the corner from The Adamson, on Logies Lane, is The Cottage Kitchen where owner Grant Poulton is equally upbeat.
When Grant opened the courtyard at the restaurant for outdoor business on July 6, he was pleasantly surprised when it came to looking at the takings at the end of the day.
The use of digital ordering for eating in, taking away and delivery means a similar number of meals can be served as before – but with greater efficiency.
He said: “We re-opened our courtyard with only 22 covers versus our normal 82. Through a mixture of new measures, but most notably the use of a new online ordering system called Good Eats, we were able to generate the same amount of income that we would expect if we were at full capacity.
“Customers order and pay through the app via a QR code. I can see a lot of businesses in Scotland having to do something similar and we thought we would jump in at the deep end and do it from the start. The company we’re using only launched a month ago and they said the uptake on the app down south has been huge and I think apps like this will become the norm.”
As with The Adamson, The Cottage Kitchen has also signed up to use the ecoeats app, set up by local students who deliver food using electric vehicle, e-bike or bicycle.
Grant said: “Using this app we can charge the same prices for delivery as we do for eating in because they are taking a low commission.
“My expectations around the takings on our first day of opening were much lower than what we actually did. It was a mixture of having outdoor space and 22 covers which was pretty much full all day. On a normal July day, with our 82 covers, we would have done a lot more, but in recent days we’ve taken what we would have done on a usual day off-season.
“The technology makes a huge difference. With those figures it’s given me confidence that we can survive this, if it continues like this and as long as there’s not a second spike.”
And though there is a lot of uncertainty around, and a few businesses locally expressing doubts about reopening, Grant believes The Cottage Kitchen can get back to normal levels of business before too long.
“The conversations I’ve had with other businesses shows there’s a lot of uncertainty and nervousness around. I can see a few small independently-owned businesses in St Andrews struggling to reopen. Come the 15th we can go to 54 covers in and out so we’ll be running at 65% capacity.
“I’m confident we can get [revenue] back to normal based on what’s happened so far. The technology is coming at the right time. It’s really going to take off and in six months time it will be the new norm to go into a restaurant and almost have no contact with staff until the food is brought to your table.”
Along on the shore, The Seafood Ristorante – named Scottish Restaurant of the Year by Catering in Scotland last year – plans to reopen on Thursday (16 July) with a new menu that will include its popular local ‘day-boat’ options.
Restaurant director, Stefano Pieraccini, said: “We’re continuing to follow the Scottish Government’s safe reopening guidance for the hospitality industry by reducing our outdoor seating capacity from 30 to 24 and our indoor seating capacity from 70 to 40 to maintain social distancing.
“Hand sanitisers will be available on arrival and on each table, plus face masks and protective gloves will be provided for all staff.
“Although we’ve made some necessary small changes to help people feel more at ease while eating out in public again, our core dining experience and values remain reassuringly unchanged.”