As pubs, restaurants and hotels get set to reopen outdoor spaces, we take a look at some offering unique al fresco dining experiences and how they are preparing.
While many of us love the idea of al fresco dining, the Scottish weather sometimes has other ideas.
Cue the bucket-loads of summer rain we’ve had the past few days.
However, with venues with outdoor areas set to reopen on Monday (July 6), eateries, hotels and pubs across the country have been gearing up to welcome guests back to their establishments.
It’s been more than three months since many of them have enjoyed busy venues, and the road to recovery will be a long one for the hospitality industry, but many of those with outdoor space to use are seizing the day and making the most of the opportunity.
From igloos to open-sided marquees and canopies, there are an abundance of innovative ideas to allow diners to eat outdoors – whatever the weather.
The Chester Hotel in Aberdeen is best-known for its service and lavish surroundings. Undergoing a renovation last year, which saw the addition of The Gallery Bar and multiple new rooms become available, 2020 was set to be a great year for the hotel.
Diversifying in the face of the Covid-19 outbreak has not been easy, however, even when faced with adversity, the hotel has continued to capture its luxurious surroundings in its new outdoor al fresco dining area which has been erected over the car park.
The Al Fresco Gallery Bar will open on Wednesday July 8 and has already experienced huge demand, with more than 1,400 people booking to enjoy the new setting within the space of two hours of it opening for reservations.
It can seat around 70 guests at any one time abiding by two-metre distancing rules, and will run weekly from Wednesday to Sunday.
The Chester has already planned for a second transparent marquee to be built due to the demand to give greater capacity for bookings.
Stephen Gow, general manager at The Chester Hotel, said: “We’ve been working hard throughout lockdown to prepare for the day when we can reopen, but I don’t think anything has prepared us for the reaction that we’ve had.
“We had been considering erecting a second marquee, and it looks as if we will put another one in place to service demand. There will be a partnership between our team and our guests to make the new way of working a success.
As well as the one-sided 25-metre canopied al fresco dining area, the hotel has also invested in two transparent outdoor transparent domes which can seat up to eight people.
Resembling igloos, the vented dome will give diners a 360 degree view of the hotel.
Graham Wood, owner of the hotel added: “It’s important for us that, as well as keeping our staff and customers safe, we provide everyone with The Chester experience. After such a long period of lockdown, where treats, and socialising have been in short supply, we think people will want to feel a little normality and go somewhere of their choice. Our team, who have been working throughout the lockdown to protect and deep clean the hotel, have also augmented the planting at the front of the hotel and we have hurricane lamps and open fire effect patio heaters.
“Although we have a large area of our outdoor seating already under canopies, the addition of this marquee will give us one of Aberdeen city’s largest outdoor spaces. We’ll be serving a comprehensive selection from our full bar food menu and everything from our drinks menu. If we’re going to do something at The Chester we always do it properly and in style.”
To keep staff and customers safe, the hotel has put in place new procedures including one-way systems for clients and staff members alike, staffed toilets, two-hour reservation periods and cashless payments. All areas will be sanitised with electrostatic fogging technology after every use.
All tables will have to be pre-booked online and customers can only be admitted if they have a reservation. Guests will be able to download the menu to their own device and to order and pay directly via the contactless app.
A new summer menu with a restricted offering has also been introduced and will feature Gallery favourites such as tandoori chicken, fish and skinny fries, The Chester hand-cut rump burger and full face rump steak and frites.
Stephen Gow, general manager added: “A high degree of customer service has always been important to The Chester Hotel and we’re having to look at how we serve food and drinks which keeps everyone involved safe, but which doesn’t depersonalise the interaction to the point where it’s uncomfortable.
“The team is keen to get back to doing what we all love to do, which is providing award-winning standards of service to our customers in stylish surroundings.”
Wow – we never expected such a massive response to our domes. Thanks for all your kind comments. Booking for the domes is not open yet as we await Scottish Government Advice, but you can sign up here www.chester-hotel.com/about-us/newsletter for an email alert when booking does open. The domes will be available for same household groups of four initially but we expect that mixed house groups will be able to book the dome from the 15th of July onwards. in the mean time small mixed household groups will be able to book tables in our open-sided marquee in keeping with any advice. The domes are vented and will be sanitised in between every use with electrostatic fogging, as will all of our areas. We’d like to thank you all for such an enthusiastic reception of our plans and we can’t wait to open for you again
Posted by The Chester Hotel on Thursday, 11 June 2020
In Inverness, husband and wife team Bruce MacGregor and Jo De Sylva have been working hard to get their businesses prepared for customers’ return.
Opening their outdoor spaces on July 6 at MacGregor’s Bar and Bogbain Farm, the duo, and some of their staff, have been adapting the current outdoor areas to accommodate the two-metre guide, which they hope is dropped to one-metre by the Scottish Government ahead of opening.
Jo De Sylva, said: “When lockdown first happened we launched an online pub meet-up. We did a Live at Five, an hour-long programme of live music and chat. It took place every day for the first six weeks and our audience got bigger and bigger. We started Scotland’s Big Session with the idea of showcasing the best traditional musician’s online. We had people from America and Japan viewing the sessions. We get between 5-8,000 viewers and its still going now.
“We’re going to reopen on July 6 and because there’s so many changes to legislation, it’s just a case of adapting to it as and when it comes out.”
Posted by MacGregor's on Tuesday, 2 June 2020
Proud to support a host of local producers in its premises’, Bruce and Jo have partnered with a number of local food businesses who would usually be exhibiting at festivals and selling their dishes at markets to provide them with a space to trade throughout the summer.
Jo added:”In terms of when we reopen, we’ve teamed up with some of the local street food vendors. We’re very aware of the fact that food festivals aren’t happening just now and people are really struggling with this opportunity being taken away.
“Everything we do is local so we decided to bring in those street food vendors to work with us each weekend. They will bring something totally different to MacGregor’s and we have a rotation of four vendors just now. We’re doing the same up at Bogbain Farm, too, and we’re opening it up and using the outside space there. It gives them the chance to earn money.
“We will have Red Shank Catering Co. who do incredible fish dishes, Cheese and Tomatin, The Lunch Box Boys and Ness Side Catering Co. and another two who we think will be joining us across the summer.”
Initially just focusing on serving drinks for the first few days to let staff settle back into the way of working, and to get customers used to the new way of dining and drinking out, both venues will be well-equipped with sanitation stations and ways on how to navigate everyone through them smoothly.
“We’ll open on July 6 and or a few days we will just serve drinks. That first weekend will be our first weekend of food. We’ve set up for two metre distancing just now,” said Jo.
“We are trying to put ourselves in the shoes of consumers so we’ve got cleaning stations, well spread out seating, hand gel stations, tables within the pub where there is also spray and gel to re-spray tables, and all the staff have done Covid-19 training.
“We’ve also got screens for the tables inside the building and have changed our toilets to ensure they are kept as clean as possible. Customers have to get a key from behind the bar so we’ll be able to monitor that, too. We’re trying to do everything we can to ensure it is as safe as possible.”
Looking south, Graham Bucknall, owner of The Ship Inn in Eile is preparing to reopen the venue’s outdoor area, too, with two-metre social distancing practices in place for the moment.
Already “well equipped” for two-metre distancing, Graham says the venue is “ready as it will ever be” and is following what guidance the Scottish Government has released to date.
He said: “We haven’t been given full guidance yet but we’re getting everything ready. We brought staff back from furlough yesterday and we’ll be ready to go from noon on Monday.
“We’ve only got outside so we’re very weather dependent. For nine days it will be the only bit of the business which can operate until we reopen inside on July 15. We’ve really had to weigh up the risks and costs of everything. We really need to get off to a good start and will take gentle steps initially, but we’re really excited to be opening.”
Having to reduce his capacity dramatically, Graham says it is better to safely welcome guests back than to do nothing, and is hoping the Scottish Government drop two-metre physical distancing to one, so he can allow more people into the well-policed space.
“Outside if it’s two metres we have a total covers of around a maximum of 60. Realistically we’ll see about 40-50. One metre would give us more space, especially inside,” said Graham.
“Unless we’re told masks are mandatory we’re not going to insist staff wear them as the appeal of a pub is a friendly atmosphere. People working hard will find it hard to maintain the integrity of it. I think we’d rather just stick to strict hygiene regulations.
“Everyone will get hand sanitiser when they arrive and leave, and we’ll have one-way traffic. Initially we’ll run booking only and have a queuing system and everyone will be greeted at the entrance and have to be seated. The outside beer bar will be in operation and the waiting staff will take orders on an app on the iPad. Initially we’ll leave the drinks on a tray on the table, then customers will place their empties on the same tray which will then get collected.
“For the first three days we will just offer drinks, but we’ll get our barbecue on from the Thursday. We don’t want to put too much stress on the team in the first few days. We will also be doing temperature checks for all staff and we’ll have staff on standby just in case. Our staff understand why we’re having to do things like this.”