Julia Bryce hears from local businesses in the north-east about whether diners are still happy to eat out during the festivities with Level 3 restrictions now in place.
Dining out on Christmas Day has become more and more popular in recent years as people decide to let someone else do the work and relax.
Visiting a hotel or restaurant allows you to enjoy your meal without worrying about whether things will be ready on time or potentially having a dinner disaster on your hands.
However, with Tier 3/Level 3 restrictions in place in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire due to the coronavirus pandemic, the experience is going to be a very different one this year – for diners, hoteliers and restaurateurs.
Under Level 3 of the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 safety measures alcohol is not permitted to be sold at all in hospitality settings even when dining.
Indoor mixing rules have been relaxed slightly over Christmas (from December 23 to 27) allowing people to form “bubbles”, although the official advice is to try to mix only with your own household amid a rise in infection rates.
And while you can still enjoy hospitality, you must abide by the rules in place for hospitality which currently allow for two households of up to six people to visit them.
Keeping an eye on “bubbles” in their premises will put a great deal of responsibility on hospitality businesses, while not being able to serve any alcohol, the fizzy stuff in particular, is a definite downside for parties eating out.
So how do restaurants and hotels intend to rise to yet another challenge?
Christmas Day lunch instead of dinner
At Malmaison in Aberdeen on Queen’s Road, the boutique hotel hasn’t experienced as many cancellations for its Christmas Day lunch as it had expected. However, sadly it has been hit with a flurry of cancelled dinner reservations across the next two weeks.
Ewa Rankin, sales manager at Malmaison Aberdeen, said: “Tier 3 hasn’t affected our Christmas booking that much as we are only offering Christmas Day lunch and we had always planned to be finishing by 6pm.
“Guests can still have alcohol in their room as part of room service, so for anyone who has booked the Christmas Day package with alcohol they are welcome to enjoy it in their rooms after. For those who aren’t staying, we will of course swap alcoholic wine for non-alcoholic wine and make sure they are supplemented for this. We also have a range of mocktails, a few non-alcoholic beers and a range of soft drinks. The only place anyone can enjoy a drink in the hotel is in their rooms.
“We have a fully booked Christmas Day and did have a few cancellations, but much less than we expected. We had two busy weekends lined up from this weekend, but with Tier 3 coming into play today at 6pm, we’ve lost a lot of dinner bookings.”
But Ewa says it is now about ensuring customers honour their bookings and turn up for reservations which she believes may be challenging for hospitality going forward.
She added: “Our bookings are still looking quite strong, but it is so important for people to honour their reservations to support hospitality. Hardly anyone in the business can afford to just depend on walk-ins just now, so we really need those booked in to turn up.
“The lead up to Christmas and Hogmanay is going to be difficult. On Hogmanay you can’t even have dinner as everywhere closes at 6pm. A resident can have a meal after 6pm, so maybe more people will stay in hotels. I think our restaurant is open until 8pm for residents – as long as the restaurant is open they can dine, but they still can’t have an alcoholic beverage.”
Just along the road The Chester Hotel will be closed for Christmas Day but is running a series of Season’s Eating’s events and a Hogmanay event which they have adapted to ensure it is an alcohol-free offering from 6pm tonight.
Lunches and dinners have been reduced in price, and for those who have already paid in advance, the credit will go towards their soft drinks. Dinner will also move to a start time of 3pm.
Stephen Gow, general manager of The Chester Hotel, said: “Moving into Tier 3 at this time, so close to Christmas, is particularly difficult for our team and our business. It’s been a tough year for everyone and the hospitality sector has been particularly badly hit. It’s been a year of constant reinvention all against a backdrop of keeping our staff and our guests safe.
“At this time of year we’d have a full hotel with lunches, dinners, Christmas parties and groups of families and friends in our bars. But this year all of that is prohibited. And now alcohol and dining inside after 6pm for non-residents is prohibited, too.”
Investing in al fresco
After investing in an Alpine Glühwein Chalet recently which hundreds of people have flocked to during the past few weeks, Stephen says while the changes will be challenging, there are still a number of ways to celebrate at the hotel.
“In an effort to give our guests a novel Christmas experience with lots of atmosphere we’ve invested heavily in the construction of an Alpine Glühwein Chalet with an open grill and the extensive ventilation system this requires.
“It’s already been hugely successful with a massively positive social media reception. It’s positively heart-breaking for the team that we have to curtail both our opening hours and our drinks menus.
“We’ll be open throughout, closing only on Christmas Day. The Gallery Bar is open for bacon rolls and coffees from 10am daily and for indoor dining we’re open from noon to last table bookings at 4pm, closing at 6pm. The Chalet will be open from noon closing at the same time.
“We’ve had a deluge of enquiries for table bookings this week as people try to catch up with friends and family in a social setting in the run up to Christmas.
“I sincerely hope that the people of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire support all of their local, independent businesses during this increasingly difficult winter – not just hotels, restaurants and cafes but all retail, hospitality and service businesses.”
Getting creative with the drinks menu
In Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, Raj Hamid, owner of fine dining restaurant Carron to Mumbai is keeping his restaurant open for Christmas, and while he’s experienced a few booking cancellations, it has mainly been customers cancelling throughout the entire festive period that has affected his business.
He’s also introducing a range of non-alcoholic drinks to accommodate guests, including new Indian drinks.
He said: “Since the Tier announcement came into place the phone has been ringing non-stop with cancellations. It is primarily dinner reservations between Christmas and Hogmanay. On Christmas Day we’ve had three reservations cancelled and I think that may be as a result of them not being able to have drinks, or have the gathering they had hoped for.
“The staff rota has already been populated and we’ve already purchased what we need for the day with produce ordered and everything. These things don’t have long shelf life so we have to be prepared for the day.
“We’ll have non-alcoholic drinks and lots of soft drinks for guests. There will be plenty of non-alcoholic beer, wine, and other drinks for people to enjoy. We will also be serving up authentic Indian drinks, too.
“We have to be festive and give what we can give. There’s no point just cancelling everything. We want to put smiles on people’s faces and keep the festive spirit alive.”