Burns Night 2022 is like a life-raft for bars and restaurants. Let's make it one to remember – Stephen Jardine

January is the worst month. We start it with the best of intentions and about now realise this really is not the time to be trying to eat more salad and drink less booze.

A portrait of Robert Burns is projected onto the front of Prestonfield House in Edinburgh (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)
A portrait of Robert Burns is projected onto the front of Prestonfield House in Edinburgh (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)

While the rest of the world struggles on in misery, we have the great escape that is Burns Night.

We know we are supposed to be vegan and teetotal this month, but what are we supposed to do? It would be unpatriotic, even treacherous, not to tuck into haggis and whisky to celebrate the life of Robert Burns, or so well tell ourselves.

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Last weekend I was in a hotel in Northumberland which was advertising a big Burns Night celebration. “Have you got a Scottish connection?” I asked. “No, we’re just sick of January,” replied the owner. Fair enough, I suppose.

Others also seem to be jumping on the bandwagon. The Daily Telegraph this week had a feature on “London fine dining restaurants to book now for Burns Night”.

High on the list is Bentleys in Mayfair where Irish chef Richard Corrigan is serving up a four-course menu for £105 featuring Orkney scallops, venison, whisky flummery and Criffel cheese.

All this is a far cry from the days when a Burns Supper was less about the food and more about drinking cheap whisky and making sure there were no women in the room. Thankfully that is now mostly behind us and Burns Night has become the egalitarian celebration it should be for “a man’s a man for a’ that”, as we well know.

When his closest friends gathered for a meal to commemorate the life of Robert Burns, none of them could have anticipated that the concept would still be going strong more than two centuries later.

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There are no Brecht breakfasts, no Dostoevsky dinners but here in Scotland we have this remarkable institution which celebrates our greatest poet and also presents us to the world us as warm, generous people who love to eat and drink.

Last year of course it was a muted affair. With bars and restaurants closed and organised events cancelled, the only celebrations took place in the family home. I hosted a Burns Supper for Gleneagles featuring acting superstar Brian Cox. It sounds glamorous but it was all online with me in Edinburgh, Brian in New York and guests scattered all over the place. We still managed to toast Rabbie with a dram but it wasn’t the same.

That’s what makes this year special.

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After the toughest two years for the hospitality sector, we can be together again for a Burns Night and that alone is cause for celebration.

The requirement for table service in Scottish pubs is being scrapped just in time for the bard’s birthday and in restaurants that are normally quiet after the Christmas rush, Burns Night is being seized upon as a way to boost bookings and build the business.

In a storm-lashed January sea, it is a life-raft for bars and restaurants. So even if you normally ignore the occasion, perhaps this is the year to do something.

Amongst all the troubles around, we gave the world a poet who still touches people’s hearts every day. And his life gave us a celebration to lift and lighten the mood at the gloomiest time of the year.

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