With the first weekend of the nationwide curfew on bars and restaurants under their belt, Julia Bryce caught up with Katie Campbell of McGinty’s Meal an’ Ale to find out how things went at the city-centre venue.
While Aberdeen may have appeared much quieter on Friday night, Katie Campbell, the manager of McGinty’s Meal an’ Ale on Union Street said the popular bar “was like a typical Saturday night” having been fully booked, just as with previous weekends.
However, the biggest change for Katie and her staff was that despite other weekends being full until 1am, this weekend saw their punters vacate the premises by 9.50pm ahead of the new 10pm curfew brought in on Friday.
She said: “Usually a weekend for us is very busy. Friday and Saturday were fully booked as it is mainly bookings only. Unfortunately for us, we saw fewer people on Friday than we usually would. Saturday was actually very busy with every table full. It was almost like a typical Saturday, apart from everyone had to leave early.”
Calling last orders hours ahead of their usual closing time, guests looking to enter the premises after 9.15pm are unable to do so. And for those looking for a final drink before heading home, 9.30pm is the last opportunity to do so.
“We’ve got a very strict operation in place. Our food orders have only been up until 9pm, so that hasn’t changed,” said Katie.
“For customers entering the building, we don’t let anyone in past 9.15pm. Last orders are at 9.30pm and that is when every customer gets a bill put onto their table so everyone has paid by 9.40pm. Everyone is asked to drink up by 9.50pm. Just after that, we will start to remove drinks from tables.
“As we have an entry system and have to sign everyone in, all the customers are told this from 7pm on entry so everyone is clear. We’ve tried to communicate with customers as much as possible so they are quite happy to leave by 9.50pm which gives us time to lock up for 10pm. That has worked quite well and we didn’t have any issues on Friday or Saturday.
“From what I know The Stag and The Grill are obviously similar to McGinty’s. I know The Stag especially does get a lot of late-night trade so it is quite difficult for them with the 10pm curfew but they are doing the best they can. With our table-service-only policy, we’re trying to do the best we can to give the customers a full proper service, too.”
Operating a fully booked venue on Saturday night, Katie and her team managed to ensure their guests didn’t leave at the same time, which resulted in everyone continuing to follow social distancing rules easily.
She added: “So far people have just been drip-feeding throughout, but it has only been two days, so it has worked out quite well this weekend and I hope it will continue like that. When it is a full venue I can see there being issues if everyone tries to leave at the same time, but as it stands right now it has all worked out quite well over Friday and Saturday.”
But it’s not just some of the punters who aren’t best pleased about the new curfew regulations. Closing earlier results in reduced hours for staff meaning there are fewer hours to be paid for, something the McGinty’s Group is combating with the continued support of the furlough scheme in order to protect their staff the best they can.
“It has impacted my staff quite a lot, but luckily because we still have the furlough scheme going they are quite comfortable enough with the slightly reduced hours and still getting their 70% furlough topped up,” said Katie.
“At the moment its not an issue, but hopefully that will remain ok for the time being.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would review any new regulations put in place on a three-week basis. But with suggestions that the curfew could last up to six months, the hospitality industry and festive season will look very different this Christmas.
Katie said: “As I’ve noticed in McGinty’s myself, a lot of our customers are late-night drinkers and do like to be in the pub until midnight/1am. That’s when we make a substantial amount of money so I do think it will be detrimental to a lot of businesses in Aberdeen. On a personal front, and for our business’ sake, I would hope the restrictions would be relaxed as soon as possible.
“Although everything has gone quite smoothly over the weekend it is impacting on the amount of money we’re taking in because we do take in a substantial amount of money between 10pm and 1am.
“We would hope that restrictions would be lifted by the festive season. Christmas is a massive part of our income, especially group parties. Obviously, I understand that’s not going to happen this year, but even the timing and being able to stay open that extra couple of hours would be a massive help. The festive season for us is so important and is a big earner for the whole McGinty’s Group.”
With Police Scotland announcing there was an increase of staff deployed across the country throughout the weekend, Katie said it was reassuring to get a visit from local patrols who offered help and assistance if needed.
She added: “On Friday night straight away we had the police in asking basic questions like how many customers were coming in, and what operations we had in place to make sure customers were out by 10pm. They were very supportive and let us know if we did have any issues in getting people out just to phone them straight away and they would be here as they had extra staff on and were patrolling the whole of the city centre.”
With images from scenes across the UK appearing on social media showing street parties and drunken revellers congregating in streets, Katie is glad to see the north-east following guidance and is hopeful the behaviour continues.
“I feel like with the second lockdown which got put in place in Aberdeen a lot of people are being a lot more cautious. I’ve spoken with our regulars quite a lot, especially the older ones, and they are primarily staying at home, or if they are coming out it is more for lunch on Saturday afternoon and going straight home. I think after that second lockdown everyone is a lot more cautious in Aberdeen now.
“I think what the customers have been doing, especially many of our locals, by continuing to support local businesses and pubs will really help everyone. We’ve seen a lot of support from our local customers which has been great. As long as they can abide by the rules, stick to the guidance and continue to support local businesses, that’s all we can ask from them and it is great to see so many of them doing so.”