“The bonhomie, the warmth, the atmosphere of our pubs; it's dead, it's gone,” says John Tindal, landlord at Teuchters Landing, a pub in Leith, who believes that the various restrictions placed on the hospitality sector since the pandemic hit have changed the business of drinking and having fun beyond recognition.
The latest restrictions, announced yesterday by first minister Nicola Sturgeon, will be a hammer blow to Tindal and businesses like his.
The new rules ban all licensed premises, including pubs and restaurants from opening from 6pm on Friday 9 October until Sunday 25 October across the Central belt of Scotland: Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Forth Valley, Lothian and Ayrshire and Arran health board areas.
Pubs and restaurants will be able to open in other parts of Scotland but any alcohol must only be served outdoors.
Tindal’s pub managed to limp through lockdown thanks, in part, to a huge beer garden. Still, the impact on them has been huge. “It was just horrendous to look out of the window and know that you're basically losing thousands upon thousands of pounds of revenue,” says Tindal who worked hard to make his pub a Covid-secure environment, in accordance with government guidelines.
So the announcement of the new restrictions "beggars belief,” he says. “You couldn't be in a safer environment than our establishment. You have to sign in, you have to sanitise before you come in, and there are sanitising stations absolutely everywhere. It's very safe.”
Other pubs have been similarly knocked for six by the new pub rules. “We spent money on printing signs, we spent money on joiners coming in and creating partitions between tables, and now all of that has just been thrown out of the window,” says Jehad Hatu, landlord of the Grunting Growler pub in Glasgow whose hopes of recouping those costs by re-opening have faded. "So many bars and restaurants have spent so much money on creating a 1m socially distanced atmosphere, and now we're just having to throw out all that money we spent."
The short notice given by the government has meant additional losses, he says. “We haven't had the opportunity to protect the basics. It wasn't like we were given a two week notice where you know how much stock you’ll need and pay your suppliers. That’s been really frustrating.”
For some pubs who managed to stay afloat throughout lockdown, the pressure of the new restrictions will mean inevitable job losses.
Nic Wood, owner of Scotland’s leading independent bar and restaurant operator, the Signature Group, says that for the first time in the group’s 17-year history he thinks lay-offs and redundancies will be unavoidable. He lays the blame for this squarely at the feet of the first minister.
“Nicola Sturgeon has talked so venomously against people going to hospitality venues even when they were open," says Wood. "I feel like any confidence we were building up in the consumer to return to our industry has been absolutely wiped this week.”
He points to a recent survey conducted by the Scottish Hospitality Group which suggests that the industry, despite having had 1.5 million people through its doors since the start of July, has been responsible for just 17 cases. “I do feel like we're paying a very, very harsh penalty here for what doesn't seem to be any evidential reason,” he adds.
“We've spent a lot of time trying to talk to the government about what we could do to make our business safer in their eyes, but I feel like we've been paid lip service, if I'm being honest. It feels like we've been a bit of a scapegoat.”
John Tindal agrees, finding the disregard he feels that the government are showing towards the hospitality sector galling.
“When you think of Scotland you think of pubs, it's our national identity. From top to bottom it's just crippling a whole sector. Nicola Sturgeon is basically going to bankrupt the whole industry.”