Scotland’s hospitality sector warned of an impending disaster for hundreds of pubs and restaurants on Wednesday night, but the pandemic and lockdown rules have already forced the closure of some of the country’s best-known venues.
Joanna Blythman, the food writer and one of the country’s best known restaurant critics, has described the ongoing shutdown as “more of a ball breaker than a circuit breaker” and branded the extension of restrictions “monstrously unjust”.
Edinburgh is well known for its fine dining scene - the city has four Michelin starred restaurants but it is feeling the pain of repeated lockdowns.
The first wave of Covid restrictions finished off some popular spots including The Tower, above the National Museum of Scotland, known for its views of the city, and Henderson’s, one of the longest running vegetarian restaurants in the UK which had been purveying quiche and salad for 60 years.
Other victims include Le Roi Fou, which announced it would be shutting permanently last month, and Castle Terrace, opened by Michelin star restaurateur Tom Kitchin a decade ago.
The most recent lockdown is now taking out some more of the capital’s best-loved eateries. These include Spoon, the quirky cafe-restaurant where JK Rowling wrote “huge chunks” of the first Harry Potter.
At that time, it was known as Nicolson’s and Rowling has written about lugging a buggy up the stairs to the first floor space with partially stained-glass windows opposite Edinburgh University’s Old Quad.
There she would sit and drink espresso - the cheapest thing on the menu - and write. Her favourite table was in the corner, looking out over the heads of people passing along two streets.
A statement from Spoon said: “As for many businesses, this year has been utterly crap for us… We have persevered against an incredible loss of business as well as having received no furlough or rent reductions. With the new restrictions, we have been put in a helpless position. It breaks our heart to say goodbye.”
Many other restaurateurs, so far clinging on, are voicing distress and concern about whether they will be able to weather the storm for much longer.
“I had staff in tears, just broken” Roy Brett, of Michelin guide Seafood restaurant Ondine, said.
In Glasgow, Seamus Macinnes of Glasgow’s famous Cafe Gandolfi said the situation was “extremely tough". He added: "We are just trying to stay afloat. We can’t afford to make any mistakes.”
He compared the Scottish lockdown to France, where even in the hardest hit areas restaurants can stay open until 9pm.
“I think that is sensible,” he said. “A restaurant is not a bar. People are seated on opposite sides of a table. They are served by staff wearing masks. They don’t move around and interact the way people do in pubs and bars.”
The Scottish Licensed Trade Association has warned that as many as two thirds of venues may never reopen, and that the extension of the restrictions, announced yesterday, would cause “irreparable damage.”
Paul Waterson, the organisation’s spokesman, said: "Yet again there has been no consultation with the industry and as we said earlier this month, we believe these measures to be cataclysmic for hospitality operators.
“Hundreds of businesses are facing permanent closure and with that thousands of jobs will be lost. Our industry is in serious trouble and it is only going to get worse.
"The £40 million financial support package is nowhere near enough to save jobs and prevent operators from going under.”