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How Scottish hospitality is moving with the times

As Scotland faces up to new lockdown restrictions, creative hospitality businesses are innovating their way through the crisis, dreaming up offerings and services that offer an enticing alternative to the traditional night out.

Last updated: 20 Nov 2020 5 min read

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The Balmoral in Edinburgh is one of the hotels that has come up with alternative nights in. © Shutterstock

When it comes to a night out in Edinburgh, guests staying at The Balmoral Hotel would normally be spoiled for choice. Turn left out the front door and head for cocktails on the swanky bars in the New Town’s George Street, or swing right and cross North Bridge into the Old Town for a pint and dram in its quirky pubs.

While first October’s hospitality lockdown and then November’s new tier-four restrictions have severely limited visitors’ options – especially during the evening – The Balmoral has swung into action and created The Curfew Club, a selection of activities that its guests can enjoy in their rooms. Options range from cocktail classes and whisky tastings through to movie nights with accompanying room service menus.

“Edinburgh’s best night out is now a night in,” quips Stephen Walker, The Balmoral’s sales director. “It’s a platform that we can develop and change easily to be appropriate to the times we find ourselves in.

“So far, it has been a huge success, particularly our cocktail creations and movie nights. This is absolutely something we will be continuing.”

“With access to restaurant-quality chefs, we’ll be delivering ready-to-plate dishes, with menus to be enjoyed by all, a wine club for you to host your own tastings every month, the perfect Sunday roast and so much more” Nico Simeone, chef, Six by Nico

Many premises were able to carry on serving during October’s circuit breaker, but the latest tier-four restrictions imposed on 11 local authorities now mean its takeaway only for three weeks. The Little Chartroom, a bistro on the city’s bustling Leith Walk, has already switched to home deliveries on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and it has The Little Chartroom On The Prom, a pop-up cabin on the promenade at Portobello, Edinburgh’s beach.

“The pop-up was such a success that we have just signed a two-year lease on the unit,” reveals Roberta Hall-McCarron, chef and co-owner of The Little Chartroom, and a finalist in the BBC’s Great British Menu television series. “We saw a big increase in the number of people eating with us at The Little Chartroom On The Prom during the circuit breaker – this, alongside the half-term week, really helped our business and the poor weather hasn’t affected us as much as it normally would.”

A change of tack

Some hospitality businesses still haven’t been able to reopen since March’s initial national lockdown. Nightclubs, arts venues, and many events spaces have remained shut throughout the pandemic.

Those restrictions have had a knock-on effect throughout the supply chain, including for catering companies. Edinburgh-based Hickory – which normally manages venues including Cairns Farm Estate, Eskmills, and Oxenfoord Castle, as well as providing food at events such as the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Royal Highland Show, and the Scottish Open – responded by launching its own home delivery service.

The deliveries began in June, with Hickory ramping up its choices during October’s circuit breaker. The company has focused on themes for each weekend’s menu, ranging from Oktoberfest to Halloween and Guy Fawkes night.

“It’s been a huge hit,” says deputy managing director Stephanie Stubbs. “If the restrictions on eating out continue, we’re planning to carry on and reveal more menus.”

The firm has been delivering across Edinburgh, with optional extras including wines and beers. The next menu to be unveiled is its Christmas Day package.

Collaboration can be key

Chef Nico Simeone is also planning for the longer term as restrictions tighten. He’s created Home-X, a website through which customers can not only order home deliveries from his Six by Nico restaurant chain – extending services he provided during the initial spring lockdown – but also buy packs and experiences from other brands, including Stem Wine Club, The Cheese Club, and vegan specialist 24 Carrot.

“Home-X is more than just a box,” says Simeone. “With access to restaurant-quality chefs, we’ll be delivering ready-to-plate dishes, with menus to be enjoyed by all, a wine club for you to host your own tastings every month, the perfect Sunday roast and so much more.”

During the spring lockdown, Andy Gemmell, a drinks consultant and owner of The Gate pub opposite the iconic Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow’s East End, introduced his Create My Cocktail delivery service. He’d seen other bars were already delivering drinks, so he wanted to create something different – his customers answer a series of questions on his website about their favourite flavours and his then bartenders mix a bespoke cocktail to be delivered.

He kept the service running even during the brief few weeks when his bar was able to reopen and he is now collaborating with fellow hospitality businesses. His latest venture is The Cocktail Collab series, through which he will partner with takeaways to offer bespoke drinks matched to their dishes.

“Over the past few weeks, we have seen an uplift in sales, but not as much as during the full lockdown,” Gemmell explains. “I think this is natural as people are not sure what is happening, and – with the new hospitality restrictions – sales are starting to increase.

“I am not going to lie: it has been an emotional rollercoaster trying to look at new ways to make the business succeed, but it’s what we have to do – I love the hospitality industry and the people that work in it. The public will always want great service and offering and, when we eventually open back up, we will be waiting to give them that.”

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