Lean times lead to restaurant sell-off

SOME of Scotland’s best-known restaurants are being taken off the menu.

SOME of Scotland’s best-known restaurants are being taken off the menu.

In a sign that Edinburgh’s eating-out scene has been badly affected by the recession, Seadogs, part of the critically acclaimed Dogs chain of restaurants, is on the market while Creelers, the long-standing seafood restaurant, has closed its doors after 17 years of trading.

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At least two other major restaurants in the city, including one on Hanover Street, are currently for sale, while several cafes have also had to close their doors due to difficult trading conditions.

David Ramsden, who runs The Dogs, told Scotland on Sunday that times were extremely tough in the city’s restaurant trade.

“It has become clear in Edinburgh that the market has been contracting at a frightening rate,” said Ramsden. “I put Seadogs on the market in an attempt to contract the group and downsize, rather than face the possibility of getting into serious trouble.”

However, he said he still had concerns about the future of his remaining two restaurants, The Dogs, and Amore Dogs.

“I’m as positive as I can be, but the future is looking very bleak,” he said. “If the euro collapses, the impact everywhere is going to be enormous and it can only drive people further back into themselves. It’s very tough. It’s really a case of living day by day.”

Tim James, who ran Creelers, the much loved seafood restaurant next to the Royal Mile, with his wife Fran, said the financial situation had forced them to close.

“The recession has had a big impact on us,” he said. “Seafood is not cheap but we’re not a Michelin-starred restaurant either, and it’s that sort of middle market destination that’s really suffered lately. Edinburgh now has five Michelin-starred establishments and quite often people will save up to eat at one of them more regularly rather than going somewhere that’s £25-£30 a head.

“Meanwhile, our rates have gone up by over 50 per cent in the last two years. It’s been very difficult.”

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The couple have now retreated to Arran, where they run another restaurant and a smokehouse, and they hope to sell the Edinburgh restaurant.

Malcolm Duck, chairman of the Edinburgh Restaurateurs’ Association and owner of Kilspindie House hotel, agreed that business conditions were difficult.

“It’s not easy. But as people go out of the trade, there are fewer places for people to go to, so there is a balancing effect,” he said.

“If you’re doing what you’re doing and you’re doing it well and working hard, there is room for optimism. But everyone’s having a tough time, there’s no doubt about that.”

Ramsden said there were simply fewer people eating out as a result of the difficult financial climate. “Not only are there less people going to restaurants, but those who do are definitely looking to minimise their spend as well,” he said.

“Top-end wines and beverages are not selling as much, and the more expensive item dishes – for example, a seafood platter for two which we sell at Seadogs, which was once very popular – have fallen off the radar.”

Last Thursday, Edinburgh cafe Tea Tree Tea announced it was closing its doors, while another cafe and two other city centre restaurants are also believed to be on the market due to slack trading conditions.

Last year, the Edinburgh restaurant community was surprised when Andrew Radford, former Scottish chef of the year, shut down his two acclaimed restaurants The Atrium and blue because of tough trading conditions.

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Food industry consultant Stephen Jardine said that trends in eating out in the capital had changed radically.

“The start of the year will be tough for many people,” he said. “Cash is scarce and consumers face credit card bills from Christmas, so eating out is not a big priority.

“But moving forward I’m optimistic. Our Michelin-starred restaurants make Edinburgh the biggest foodie hot spot outside London and they are performing well, despite the downturn. The value end of the market is also holding up and in some areas performing strongly. The middle ground is where the squeeze is being felt most.”

However, restaurants in Glasgow appear to be weathering the economic storm.

Ryan James, chairman of the Glasgow Restaurateurs’ Association and owner of the Two Fat Ladies restaurants, said: “Glasgow is less reliant on tourism than Edinburgh and it also has no Michelin-starred restaurants. Most of our market is home-based, and people are still coming out to eat.

“Last year was desperately tough, no doubt about it, but not one of our members has shut in the past year and there are openings coming up. Nobody’s making a fortune, but everyone’s managing to keep their heads above water.”