‘We’re in a catastrophic position’: how pub owners in Scotland feel seeing beer gardens open in England

Scotland’s beer gardens face a few more days of closure before they can reopen on 26 April, while hospitality venues in England opened for business this week

With the good weather set to continue in Scotland, there is one notable absence.

Beer gardens in the country are still closed due to the Covid crisis and pub owners are patiently waiting to reopen their doors to Scots on Monday 26 April.

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Meanwhile, their counterparts in England were able to welcome customers back for pints and food on the 12th, a full two weeks earlier.

Pub owners in Scotland are preparing to reopen to customers, while venues in England are back open for business (left) (Getty Images)

The difference in government dates has caused envy among Scottish pub owners as they are forced to watch while businesses bounce back south of the border.

And the rare good weather, which would have inevitably caused Scotland’s beer gardens to be packed out in normal times, has only exacerbated feelings of frustration.

“We’re frustrated and a little bit jealous seeing pubs open in England,” Graham Bucknall, co-owner of The Bridge Inn in Ratho and The Ship Inn in Elie, told NationalWorld.

“It would have been good for all four nations to say ‘let’s come up with a date’.

The Ship Inn in Elie (Credit: The Ship Inn)

“It’s cracking weather up here in Scotland, and we know we’d be absolutely stowed out with people.

“And it’s frustrating because it’s an extra two weeks we’ve lost when we’ve already lost Mother’s Day and Easter.”

‘Pubs across the UK should have opened at the same time’

Bucknall is also anticipating how the different hospitality rules in Scotland and England will impact the running of his pubs once they do reopen, including the number of people allowed at a table (in England, it is the rule of six indoors and outdoors, while in Scotland it is up to six people outdoors and four people from two different households indoors).

“The slightly different restrictions continue to be a frustration. And as people travel, a lot of English will come up and won’t understand why the rules in Scotland are different to the rules there.

“It’s good to now have a common approach across Scotland, but it would definitely be better to have a common approach across the UK,” he said.

Fraser McIlwraith, manager of Vodka Wodka in Glasgow, agrees that there should have been a UK-wide approach to easing coronavirus restrictions on hospitality.

“Hospitality venues across the whole of the UK should all have opened at the same time - this would prevent customers travelling to areas where they can enjoy food and drink in advance of their local area opening,” he said.

“It has been interesting to watch and learn how we can improve our customer experience for when the time comes, but ultimately frustrating that we are two weeks behind England.”

And Sam Doncaster, General Manager of The Baby Grand in Glasgow, echoed this sentiment: “It’s been hugely frustrating, and a co-joined approach would have been beneficial.

“However, this hasn’t happened with retail and travel and there is no point dwelling on what we can’t control.”

‘It’s a ridiculous situation’

The problem facing Scottish pub owners when they are able to open on 26 April is that indoor venues are not permitted to sell alcohol.

This will only be possible if restrictions are eased further on 17 May, when customers will be able to drink alcohol inside until 10:30pm.

As only around 30 per cent of pubs in the country have outside areas, for many, reopening on the April date will not be viable, according to Scottish Licensed Trade Association spokesperson Paul Waterson.

He told NationalWorld: “We understand how difficult it is for the government to balance out the needs of hospitality businesses with the needs to control the virus.

“But we’re in a ridiculous situation, that pubs can open but if you don’t have an outside area you can’t sell alcohol, which defeats the whole purpose of it.

“With the figures we’re seeing, and the success of the vaccinations programme, we had hoped that on 26 April we could have opened under the restrictions that are reserved for 17 May.

“Because England’s ahead of us, that certainly does annoy us, but we’re in a catastrophic position here and every week that goes by people are being added to that closure rate.”

He added: “That's the point we need to get over here - people are saying we’re reopening, but we’re not really.

“And when we do open, that won’t be the end of the closures. People will still have to open with social distancing and a lot simply won't be viable.”

McIlwraith called the restrictions imposed on hospitality venues as they reopen “the greatest test” of the pandemic.

He has fears about the rules impacting the profitability of his business.

“Yes, it’s great to be able to reopen, but we are only able to open outside and are so severely limited by capacity restrictions and table service rules that it is impossible to be profitable,” he said.

“Even when we can access tables inside, a further three weeks from this date, these Covid restrictions that the government have imposed on hospitality will prevent us from making any money this year.”

‘We’ve become used to being shut’

Despite feelings of frustration, some of Scotland’s pub owners are still brimming with excitement about opening their doors once again.

“We’re now firmly focussed on reopening and looking forward to it. We’ve been working hard on developing our beer garden and redesigning our menu to welcome back our loyal customers,” Doncaster said.

For Bucknall, the positivity that comes with the thought of reopening to customers after many months of lockdown significantly outweighs the frustration and envy at seeing hospitality resume in England.

He said: “The situation as a country was looking pretty grim three months ago, and we were hoping to open in June or wondering if that was too optimistic.

“So the fact the sun is shining and we’re opening later this month is great and we’re focusing on that.

“We’ve become so used to being shut for weeks and months. Normally I'd be really really upset but I've become a lot more pragmatic.”

In another positive, his team hasbeen able to take tips from colleagues down south about the challenges they have faced since reopening.

The difference in dates means there is no sense of rushing and he has a bit of extra time to “get everything right for our customers”, Bucknall added.