By Scott Wright

FIGURES across the Scottish hospitality trade have warned thousands of pubs and restaurants will be not be financially viable as they face being forced to reopen at significantly reduced capacity.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has unveiled a long-awaited roadmap to guide Scotland’s emergence from lockdown, which could see pubs and restaurants open outdoor spaces from the end of June.

The four-phase roadmap then envisages pubs and restaurants reopening their indoor spaces around the middle of July, with physical distancing and increased hygiene routines observed, before a full reopening in early August, depending on scientific guidance.

But hospitality operators say huge numbers of businesses will not be viable if customers are required to keep two metres apart from fellow customers and staff, amid concerns that physical distancing at that level will mean outlets are forced to trade at just 25 per cent of their usual capacities.

Leading industry figures have called for the government to maintain the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme even after outlets reopen to help ensure businesses can stay afloat.

Jack Cummins, one of Scotland’s foremost licensing lawyers and industry commentators, said without ongoing financial support “it is no exaggeration to say that thousands of businesses face a wipeout, bringing carnage to the economy in its wake”.

Mr Cummins, licensing director at law firm Miller Samuel Hill Brown, said: “Social distancing is the enemy of socialising. So there is a palpable risk that pubs and restaurants will find it difficult to draw back customers – especially those for whom domestic drinking and home-delivered food are a less expensive, more straightforward option.

“More fundamentally, social distancing will slash capacity numbers making reopening unviable for all but very large venues. If the licensed trade is to re-boot, it is going to need a huge amount of financial support.”

Paul Waterson, spokesman of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said the insistence that people keep two metres apart from each other – and not one metre as advised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) – “will make most places totally unviable”.

“The government support should continue after we open,” he added. “There should be a part-furlough system, otherwise we will have to lay off staff.”

Allan Henderson, director of Aberdeen-based McGinty’s Group, said: “Most restaurants would need to be at 60% to 70% of occupancy to be commercially viable. Down at 25% to 30%, it really is not worth doing. You would lose less money staying closed.”

Graham Suttle, managing director of Glasgow bar and restaurant group Kained Holdings, criticised the Scottish Government for not providing specific guidelines on operating safely while observing social distancing, including on whether staff will have to be employed to check the temperature of guests before they are admitted and to manage the number of people in outlets. He fears those overheads may have to be met even by small restaurants trading with significantly fewer tables.

Mr Suttle, whose firm runs Lebowskis and Porter & Rye in Finnieston, said: “You do not know if your order of service is going to require a deep clean of cutlery for every use, or whether they can go through the normal cleaning processes.

“You do not know any of these extracurricular things, and every extracurricular thing in hospitality is costed to the penny.

“So, asking someone if they are going to open with 20% or 30% capacity… how can we make that assumption if we don’t know what further regulations and restrictions the government are going to put in place?”

Industry figures say the predicament of trading while observing social distancing will be even more pronounced for the many small pubs and restaurants in the Scottish trade, including in Finnieston, where many popular bars and restaurants have been developed on the ground floors of tenement buildings.

And they fear the imposition of physical distancing will make it impossible to create the atmosphere that is the hallmark of the industry.

Mr Suttle fears the introduction of physical distancing measures, such as screens, would reduce hospitality to a “transaction”, making it no different to buying food and drink in a shop.

He said: “It is the experiential qualities that you can offer to a visitor to your venue, and that is something people pay for. The whole point of being in a pub is interacting with people.”

Mr Waterson said the fate of the sector also depends on people having the confidence that they will be safe when they visit bars and restaurants again.

Both Mr Waterson and Mr Henderson said efforts must be made by local councils to open up more pavement space in towns and cities to provide bigger outdoor spaces for bars, cafes, and restaurants, and to relax the procedures involved.

Mr Henderson said that would increase outlet capacities and allow customers to sit in safer environments, on the basis guidelines suggest people are safer when they

are outdoors.