THE restaurant ban in Scotland’s central belt is resulting in cafes struggling to cope with a surge in customers which could pose more of a risk to public health than keeping bigger premises open, it has been suggested.

Luke Tracey, the soon-to-be new chairman of Glasgow Restaurateur’s Association, said the restrictions had led to some cafes “cramming” higher numbers of customers in than they are set up for, which he said appeared to be “completely counter-productive” to the aim of reducing the spread of Covid.

It comes as the SNP-led Glasgow City Council confirmed it has written to the First Minister calling for “all licensed premises that serve food to be allowed to trade “ even if alcohol if not served, backing a plea by owners who could be facing weeks of closure if the current restrictions are continued under the new five-tier system.

At the moment only cafes are permitted to remain open and Councillor Matt Kerr, Chair of Glasgow Licensing Board, also expressed concerns about increased footfall in those premises.

He called for a reconsideration of the definition of ‘café’ within the current regulations which specifies those that serve ‘light meals’ and has led to businesses pursuing court action against the local authority. The Scottish Government said in response that it will consider all feedback gathered before the new five-tier system comes into play.

Earlier this week the owner of Eusabi’s in Glasgow became the first proprietor in Scotland to secure an interim interdict which prevents the local authority closing her down after successfully arguing that her business has been operating chiefly as a cafe since full lockdown ended.

READ MORE: Glasgow restaurateur wins court fight to stay open as a cafe in case that could open the floodgates for other businesses 

The council also agreed not to serve a prohibition notice on Italian restaurant chain Sarti’s, which has rebranded one venue as Sarti’s Cafe. The pancake chain Stack and Still has also been allowed to stay open.

Mr Tracey, who owns The Square Bar and Restaurant in Broomhill, said businesses should be given the opportunity to change the way they trade particularly given that current restrictions across the Central Belt may continue when the new five-tier system in introduced on November 2.

He said: “The words that were used was that it was about keeping us closed to ensure a smooth transition, which suggests to me that they are intending we will still be closed.

“I do think that even licensed restaurants should be allowed to operate even if it is during the day until 6pm.

“It’s a strange situation that they have created.

“Currently what I can see happening around town and in the west end, all these small cafes who are not used to dealing with the higher volume of people are struggling.

“I went to a couple of cafes and they are busy, they are not set up for dealing with that many people being crammed in to a limited space.

READ MORE: Four more businesses told they can stay open by council after 'cafe restaurant' legal wrangle 

“Which seems to completely contradict what we are trying to do.

“If businesses like my own were allowed to operate like a cafe, unlicensed you would find there was a more even spread of customers and a much safer environment.

“Restaurants are bigger, they are more spacious. People do still want to go out and have that small bit of normality in their life.

“The restaurants need to open and they need to be trading. One is that it creates cash-flow but it also created a safer environment in a spacious restaurant that we have already spent significant amount of money on to all the procedures and precautions to help people.” 

He believes other businesses may follow Eusabi’s example if they are a similar model and can afford to pursue legal action.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon unveils new five-tier lockdown system for Scotland 

He said:”It certainly opens up a bit of scope for more businesses to be open and trading in some form rather than being closed.

“For a lot of places being able to open even during the day, not serving alcohol, but having people through the door, moving the stock, keeping their staff employed makes quite an impact for them and certainly keeps them more secure.

“Although during the day most of our trade is quite similar to what Eusabi’s do -  sandwiches and small plates -  unfortunately on paper we are a licensed restaurant with restaurant dinner menus.

“It would be very difficult for us to put forward a case that we are a cafe.

“During lockdown because we knew it was a slightly longer term we were operating with take-away but because this has been such short notice, then because we didn’t have notice when it was extended we don’t have the time to implement putting this in place.

“At the moment I’m like a lot of places who have decided to stay closed, pause the business, have nothing coming in and hopefully very little going out.

“But unfortunately there are still costs going out.”