IT is hard not to feel sympathy for the hospitality industry in Scotland as the country faces up to another new regime of coronavirus restrictions.

After investing heavily to ensure their bars, restaurants and hotels met social distancing and hygiene requirements when the sector was permitted to re-open following lockdown in July, operators have been handed a new, onerous guideline to comply with.

You would be hard-pushed to find an operator who does not take their responsibilities seriously when it comes to halting the spread of the resurgent virus. But the new 10pm curfew – by which time all patrons must now exit hospitality premises – has caused widespread anger on account of many unintended consequences.

At the very least, the new ruling will hit the industry hard in the pocket.

Restaurants have already been operating at greatly reduced capacity since July to accommodate social distancing. Now, by having to close at 10pm, they are effectively being denied more valuable trading time.

Those restaurants traditionally accustomed to providing two evening sittings will now be hard very pushed to offer more than one. Whereas a first sitting would typically have begun at 6.30pm or 7pm, and a perhaps a second at 8.30pm or 9pm, the new rule would, by implication, mean the first would have to take place as early as 5.30pm. It is not exactly an appealing prospect for people with ever-increasing work commitments, and who are perhaps already pushed to get to a restaurant by 7pm.

Neither is it appealing for restaurants to attempt to turn tables even more quickly when they are in the business of providing a relaxing experience. As one leading Edinburgh restaurateur told me, people dine out to escape the daily pressures of working lives and indeed worries about the pandemic. Do they really deserve to hustled in and out of the restaurant door?

There are wider, practical ramifications of the curfew too. As was seen over the weekend, the mass decanting of pub-goers and restaurant customers at 10pm causes congestion on streets, as huge numbers of people gather at bus stops, taxi ranks, and takeaway outlets. It is not exactly conducive to social distancing.

As another restaurateur warned, the intense concentration of people on the streets raises the risk of disorder, especially if the curfew causes customers to drink alcohol quickly as they race to leave premises by 10pm. It may be argued that such a curfew risks the return of the bad old “binge drinking” days of the ‘90s and the attendant problems that period brought.

These added complications come at a time when the hospitality industry is facing the imminent prospect of the furlough scheme that has protected so many thousands of jobs coming to an end.

While it is widely acknowledged that the Job Retention Scheme has been a great support to the industry during the crisis of recent months, the response to its replacement, announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Thursday, has been mixed to say the least.

Some in business have welcomed the Job Support Scheme, under which the UK Government will contribute to the wages of employees for the hours they do not work, up to £697.92 per month, in a move to help protect “viable” jobs.

But representatives of the licensed trade and tourism sector were clear that it does not go far enough. For critics, the scheme simply kicks redundancies and business closures a little further down the road.

“It is designed to back ‘viable jobs’ – and with the latest restrictions on our pubs and bars, many jobs in our sector will be unviable,” said Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association.

The Scottish Tourism Alliance was even more emphatic, perhaps understandably in light of the ongoing quarantine restrictions which are severely constraining the sector’s ability to attract international visitors. Chief executive Marc Crothall declared: “The reality we must all face now is that within the coming days and weeks, business owners will lose their livelihoods, thousands will lose their income and the effects on the economy and people’s lives will be nothing short of devastating.”

These are clearly desperate and worrying times for the hospitality and tourism sectors. Cutting the trading hours of responsible businesses only adds to their woes.