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How Glasgow's food scene can build on Games legacy

If the Commonwealth Games have showed anything, it's that Glasgow can do street food and pop-ups like the very best of them - given access to the relevant trading licences.

That it's possible to relax the usual restrictions has been proven by the granting of automatic one-hour extensions on serving alcohol, coupled with swift turnarounds on pavement licence applications. I raved about the resultant pop-up and food trucks earlier this week; how has it been for restaurants?

Those lucky enough to have outdoor space have seen customer volumes triple. Last weekend 350,000 ticket-holders plus tens of thousands of marathon supporters flooded the streets, meaning Glasgow experienced its busiest ever weekend - and its restaurants, bistros and cafes sometimes struggled to cope. Some ran out of food, and staff were doing extra long shifts to cope in sweltering conditions of up to 32C. Suppliers were working to new delivery slot options of early morning or late night under lock-down security conditions.

It was an exceptional situation which Ryan James, head of the Glasgow Restaurant Association, described as the "toughest and most challenging weekend ever". The additional number of pavement eating spaces in the Merchant City, Royal Exchange Square and Buchanan/Gordon Street tipped capacity, putting strains on venues turning around meals at all times of the day to fit in with travel to and from sporting events. Even without pavement space, I'm told Cafe Gandolfi has had its busiest period since opening in 1979.

Out of the city centre, the high-end Sisters restaurants at Kelvingrove and Jordanhill in the west end have seen customer volumes at least double throughout the Games. They have adapted to accommodate diners who want to eat later than normal due to night events: last orders have been switched to 11pm from 9pm. Another change has been learning to embrace a "walk-in" culture, where families will simply come in and ask for a table at any time of the day without having pre-booked (though the newly introduced online booking system has also proven successful). "It's not very Scottish because we're more used to fixed eating times, but it's absolutely wonderful to be cooking for people at 10.30 at night," said chef and co-owner Jacqueline O'Donnell.

At the nearby Ox and Finch, chef-patron Jonathan MacDonald (simultaneously running his Scoop street food truck at the Edinburgh Fringe) has also seen record volumes of all-day eating, with last Sunday topping a record 330 customers and some dishes having to be taken off the menu because they'd run out. The usual lull between 3pm and 5pm simply didn't happen. Even so, he's delighted to be given the chance to prove he can do it, and wishes Glasgow's licensing system was as flexible as Edinburgh's.

"We didn't know what busy really was until last weekend," said Ryan James, addressing a Commonwealth Games business breakfast hosted by the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. The intensity hasn't died down much since then, with queues a common sight at many eateries.

Even if the city wasn't quite big enough to cope with that intense level of demand, it's got by. It's almost as if it was just waiting for the chance to prove it can punch above its weight. Vital lessons surely have been learned about the value of good service too. James describes smiling, knowledgeable waiting staff and customer-friendly chefs as "the first part of the new future of Glasgow". Even if the Michelin Guide has so far turned its nose up at the city, it doesn't mean it can't win in the charm and innovation stakes. Perception, after all, is everything and changing preconceptions has already begun.

Love it or loathe it, the online review site TripAdvisor plays a pivotal part in sealing a city's culinary reputation, and restaurateurs ignore comments at their peril because it looks like they don't care. A confident city must react to how others see it. That's what's called slaying the myths.

The question now is what happens when the Games end tomorrow and the licences expire. We should not squander the opportunity for selling our re-energised food scene to the world. Jacqueline O'Donnell reckons we need to keep it going. "VisitScotland needs to keep pushing Glasgow as a food destination. For too long we've been made to feel like a poor cousin to Edinburgh. People need to be reminded that we are just as good, if not better."

It would be good to think permanent outdoor eating might be here to stay, either at pop-ups or at established restaurants. Stuart Patrick, head of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, agrees that now is the time to consider it. Canopies and downheaters to protect against the weather are feasible in appropriate spots, given proper planning permission and investment by businesses.

He mooted the idea of creating an avenue of restaurants on the downbeat middle section of Sauchiehall Street with the help of the newly announced £1 billion City Deal. The road would be narrowed, allowing more pavement space for tables, chairs and, dare I suggest, a few trees.

Now that would be a truly delicious legacy for the Dear Green Place.

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