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Hospitality curfew in Scotland makes no sense

By Matt MacPherson

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Matt MacPherson of the Malt Room in Inverness argues that there is no justification in closing bars and restaurants early

Matt MacPherson of the Malt Room in Inverness. Picture: Callum Mackay
Matt MacPherson of the Malt Room in Inverness. Picture: Callum Mackay

I feel we are extremely fortunate to live in the Highlands and that has never been truer than in the past year. I really sympathise with those in overcrowded cities who have not had the luxury of space that we often take for granted.

What does this have to do with whisky? Well, nothing really. I’m just very confused at seeing people enjoying drinks all over England on the news while the hospitality sector in Scotland remains forcibly closed.

There’s been a lot to navigate in terms of dates, so I’ll give you a brief outline of what the hospitality sector in Scotland is facing.

April 26: pubs, cafés, restaurants and bars will be able to serve people outdoors – in groups of up to six from six households – until 10pm. Alcohol will be permitted, and there will be no requirement for food to be served. There will also be a partial resumption of indoor hospitality – food and non-alcoholic drinks can be served until 8pm for groups of up to four people from no more than two households.

May 17: indoor hospitality is expected to resume with alcohol being served and pubs or restaurants allowed to stay open until 10.30pm with two-hour time-limited booking slots.

June 1: hospitality will be allowed to stay open until 11pm.

Where to begin? Firstly, allowing indoor hospitality to open but only until 8pm and not allowing alcohol to be served is clearly not going to work for any bar or restaurant, so that knocks the majority of us back to May 17. Fast forward to May and venues are open but you can only come in for two hours and you need to go home at 10.30pm – but don’t worry, June is around the corner and all restrictions are to be in the past, except for bars and restaurants – you must shut at 11pm.

The 10pm curfew was a complete failure first time around. We all witnessed the scenes on the news of packed streets and public transport systems full of punters squeezed in like sardines. We witnessed it first hand, customers who were enjoying their evening safely, in a controlled environment with adequate safety measures in place being forced to leave the premises at 10pm.

You could have confused Church Street at 10pm with a stag do in Ibiza. There were people singing, dancing on the road, hugging, picking up carry-outs for the inevitable house party. It was a complete bottleneck and all the hard work the venues have done keeping people apart utterly pointless.

What would I do? It’s simple, the same as England, no curfew. During the course of the evening, people naturally filter home. The majority of folk will stay out until 10pm but they won’t stay out until 3am, there is a flow of people getting food and taxis home from 10pm through to the early hours. Why take every single person who is out enjoying and supporting the hospitality sector and force them out in huge numbers at the same time?

What evidence are the Scottish Government basing this curfew on? Believe me, I’ve looked for the numbers or justification for it and it simply isn’t there.

For those who are going to be lucky enough to reopen their doors in the coming weeks, I wish them luck.

The unfortunate reality is that the financial support is stopping and venues are expected to survive while being placed under nonsensical operating hours.

Whoever was in charge of this so-called roadmap should be breathalysed.

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