With Aberdeen’s local lockdown lifting today, will diners feel safe enough to return to venues? Julia Bryce finds out how the hospitality industry will keep us safe.
The hospitality scene in Aberdeen just after the lifting of the first lockdown, was a positive place to be. Restaurants were steady, bars were proving popular, and people were meeting up at their favourite cafes to enjoy a fine piece and a cuppa.
Then coronavirus numbers spiked again in the city and those weeks of hard work in reopening venues all came crashing down.
Now, as the fightback begins again, the hospitality sector is equipped with a new 10-step assurance scheme which will ensure the industry creates a safe environment for both customers and staff.
Born out of the local lockdown, Aberdeen Hospitality Together, a group which has been set up to give the industry a unified voice, has created a set of guidelines which its 50-plus members have all agreed to follow.
Attracting more businesses to sign up every day with more than 100 firms interested in the group already, it hopes to implement new procedures to ensure hospitality businesses across the city are all following the same practices.
Aberdeen Hospitality Together has been linked with a small collective of businesses including McGinty’s Group, Siberia Bar & Hotel and PB Decvo. The group is in the process of lining up a committee and its members include No.1 Bar & Grill, The Craftsman Company, Dusk, BrewDog, Revolucion de Cuba to name a few.
Some of the 10 steps that members have approved include customer behaviour systems around last orders, collaborative working with Police Scotland, LSOs, EHOs and more, and clear action plans if a suspected Covid-19 incidence in a premises arises.
What are the rules?
So what are the rules for customers as it stands? The Scottish Government states you must abide by two-metre physical distancing (1 metre in some venues which have to state this on entry) and you must provide your details for Test and Protect to the venues on entry, too.
While it doesn’t state you have to wear a mask, many venues are now implementing this as one of their rules so it is important to carry it with you when eating out. Establishments are also restricting movements within their venues and most require you to sit at your table for the duration, with table service being offered.
Martin McAuley, a member of the group and owner of hospitality group Watermelon Catering which boasts five venues across the city and shire, welcomes the new 10-step scheme and thinks it is a great opportunity for the industry to pull valuable resources and information into the one place.
He said: “We’re all trying to follow government guidelines as much as we can, but pulling all of that information together into one place can be quite difficult. For it all to be pulled together and for us all to be working to the same 10 steps is a really positive thing. It is very clear cut and we’re all working to the same procedures.
“From when we opened we’ve had all of these steps in place. Test and Protect has been compulsory and we ensure people wear face coverings when they are out of their seat and only offer table service and that sort of thing. We really applied all that from the start.”
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Conscious that some customer confidence in eating out may have been lost due to the local lockdown, Martin is determined to ensure everyone who steps through his doors is fully aware of the practices they have in place.
Reopening his venue The Pier at the beach from noon tomorrow, Cafe Ahoy will follow on Friday, with Corner Tree Cafe reopening for a dine-in experience in the coming weeks.
“From a customer point of view it is all about transparency and making sure everyone is aware of our guidelines before they arrive. We’re sharing lots of information regularly on our social media channels and we’ve just updated our website and we have a Covid-19 page which we always update with what’s in place. That will explain the different households at the same tables and that sort of thing,” said Martin.
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“When they do get here we’ve done a lot of training and we’re ensuring the message is communicated verbally as well as on signs throughout the venues. From the start we’ve taken steps over and above the general guidelines anyway. The feedback from our customer base has been really positive about our safety and the confidence they have. From a staff point of view everyone is actively involved in the risk assessments and is very aware of what we are doing. We wear visors and masks which makes sure everyone feels safe.
“The Pier will reopen today at noon, Cafe Ahoy will reopen on Friday and Corner Tree Cafe will remain closed for a couple of weeks. With it being a smaller venue we want to work out distancing at tables with different households and make sure we do that correctly. All three have been open for takeaway.”
Stephen Gow, general manager at The Chester Hotel which is not a member of the group yet is also looking forward to welcoming guests back to the premises tomorrow.
He said: “We had the EHO out earlier this week who went over a questionnaire and took a walk around the property and there weren’t any issues. We’re not changing a great deal as we took the guidance as being our law.
“We took the details of the lead booker initially when booking online but now we are taking the details for each household. We’ve worked out a system of doing that. We are just staying operating in the marquees until the end of September. It is a partnership between us and our clients. We have put out new terms and conditions, but the danger is you spoil the experience. People want to enjoy themselves and have an experience and it is difficult to get that balance right but we’re doing the best we can and people were really enjoying The Chester Hotel.
“Everyone is always seated at our venue and we’ve always offered table service. It is important that we work cohesively as an industry and that everyone is doing the same. If people do stuff over and above that, then that is fantastic, but everyone has to be doing the basics in the same way.”
Aberdeen Hospitality Together’s 10-step scheme in keeping the public and staff safe:
- Robust risk assessments must be created for your venue in line with government guidance and local authorities.
- Physical distancing measures in place throughout in order to maintain social distancing between customers and staff including limits on household mixing indoor and outdoors.
- Mandatory collection of customer/visitor details in line with Test and Protect system. City-wide system to be developed to support with test and protect, venue capacities and customer behaviour. Encourage advance bookings and restrict walk-ins.
- Queue management systems in place with physical distancing and crowd control measures. Make use of supportive bodies. If venue is full, queues to be dispersed.
- Noise control within venues – no background music and televisions must be muted.
- Customer Behaviour System ‘Last Orders’ in place for venues which will allow staff to warn and refuse customers if not adhering to rules.
- Stringent hygiene and cleaning procedures in place for both customers and staff along with adequate facilities for hand washing or sanitising. Toilet management systems must be in place.
- Collaborative working partnerships with local authorities such as EHO, LSO, City Council and Police Scotland to ensure compliance across industry. Weekly meetings with council for a joined up approach.
- Clear action plan for an incidence or suspected Covid-19 incidence in your premises, whether among staff or customers, agreed by all relevant parties.
- Positive operator communications and marketing campaigns about the region and our sector to share with customers, press and others.