The new rules in Scotland are catastrophic. It’s a very, very grim scenario for hospitality businesses, a lot of whom came through the original lockdown by the skin of their teeth. This could be the final nail in the coffin.
The initial lockdown was an emotional rollercoaster – the highs, the lows, the anxiety and stress, thinking you’ve lost everything and then being saved by the furlough. But even with the furlough it was a very dark time. We lost about 100 staff and our restaurant the Castle Terrace and our other restaurant, Southside Scran, has been temporarily mothballed.
Until yesterday’s news we were making progress and starting to employ people again; we were on the up. We reopened on July 15 and staggered the opening of the restaurants, though the process was very painful. It was daunting because of the measures we had to put in place and the mental strength of coming through five months of lockdown, accumulating so much debt, and wondering if people would show up.
But they did; it was instantaneous. First we opened our hotel, The Bonnie Badger, and people came, felt safe and secure, and the support was overwhelming. Gradually we reopened the other two businesses, embraced all the guidelines, and people really appreciated that.
I was dubious about Eat Out To Help Out to begin with, I didn’t think it would make such a difference, but I was so wrong – it was phenomenal. That helped us get back on our feet, but also we were able to pass some of that support onto our suppliers – the fishermen, butchers, vegetable growers, they were all hurting and needed our support.
To be honest I wasn’t expecting the latest restrictions to be so harsh. Having to completely shut for 16 days, as we do in the central belt, is hard to comprehend. At first it was emotional, then that turned to anger: ‘why are they picking on us?’
We’ve had to phone all our reserved tables and ask them to rebook. At The Kitchin there are lots of special occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, weddings. Guests have been very understanding, but even so, the new measures mean we’re backpedalling after making progress over the past month. We haven’t had any tourists all year, but were surviving because of staycations. We were hoping for the English holiday arrivals over the October break to get some revenue in, but now that’s gone.
I understand that it’s a very challenging time for the Government, I totally sympathise. We need to protect the NHS and save lives. But, and I can only speak for my restaurants, the absolute lengths we’ve gone to in order to make it safe – extra cleaning, track and trace, temperature checks at doors, fewer covers – we’ve done everything. People are writing to us saying they feel safer here than in supermarkets.
Now we desperately need additional support. The VAT cuts, rates relief, furlough – we appreciate that, but we need more. In a country like Scotland, without tourism many businesses won’t survive.
I think hospitality has been unfairly treated. They keep throwing fireballs at us and we keep reacting, evolving, and reinventing – we did it after lockdown, and again after the curfew. Hospitality has taken the brunt of this, and if they’re going to close us they need to support us, otherwise this industry doesn’t survive.
Tom Kitchin is the owner of The Kitchin in Leith, Southside Scran in Edinburgh and The Bonnie Badger in East Lothian