Nick Nairn warns strict new Covid regulations could be "fatal blow" for many hospitality businesses

Celebrity chef Nick Nairn has voiced fears that new Covid regulations could cripple Scotland’s hospitality industry.

He said it looked as if Scottish Government plans for a stricter interpretation of the one-metre distancing requirement in restaurants would mean a table that would normally seat six could be restricted to just two people.

And he warned the rules could lead some restaurants to decide it was not worth reopening despite being allowed to do so from April 26.

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He described the draft regulations as a “potentially fatal blow to many in our beleaguered industry” and said he hoped Nicola Sturgeon would clear matters up when she gives an update tomorrow.

Nick Nairn is hoping for clarity from Nicola SturgeonNick Nairn is hoping for clarity from Nicola Sturgeon
Nick Nairn is hoping for clarity from Nicola Sturgeon

From April 26, cafés, pubs and restaurants can open until 8pm indoors without alcohol, and until 10pm outdoors where alcohol is allowed.

Nairn, who runs Nick’s on Henderson Street in Bridge of Allan, said: “If I can’t do the same number of covers, I don’t need the same amount of staff. We've assumed we're going to be busy, so we've recruited staff.

"When do I tell the staff I don’t need them? How much food do I order? Am I going to do 120 covers or am I going to do 80 covers? At what point is it worth doing at all and we just stay closed until they relax regulations a bit more?

"Maybe I’m worrying wrongly, but I want someone to tell me because I can’t open my business until I know.”

Nairn said restaurants had been assuming the one-metre rule would operate as it had when it was introduced after the first lockdown.

“That would be fine,” he said.

"That's what we're geared up for, that's what we're used to – and all the mitigations; ventilation, track and trace, masks, sanitising, toilets one-person-in-one-person-out, everybody seated all the time, no singing, no shouting, we're fine with that.”

But he said the new regulations appeared more specific and demanding, talking about pinch points and seating arrangements taking into account whether people were from the same household.

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"I spent most of Sunday morning with a tape measure thinking this could be potentially not worth opening for,” he said.

Nairn said he had calculated that a table that pre-Covid sat six people and which was reduced to four after the first lockdown could now only take two people.

But he said furlough support was about to be reduced and restaurants which did not open would face bigger costs.

"We're on full rent, loan holidays have all finished, we're back to paying full bhoona for running a restaurant that we can’t run at full capacity,” he said.

Another industry insider said the rules seemed to require tables to be one-metre wide whereas many pubs and restaurants would have tables 80-85cm wide.

"It will have to be a case of going to B&Q and buying a load of wallpaper pasting tables,” he said.

Edinburgh restaurateur Paul Brennan, who runs Dine above the Traverse theatre and Dine Murrayfield cafe, said he could not open the venue until alcohol was allowed inside, but hoped to open the cafe on April 28.

But he said clarification of the rules was needed from Ms Sturgeon, adding: "Unfortunately when you're trying to get the information you require, it's actually quite hard to get and some of it is conflicting.”

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