The Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum, Perthshire, has closed its doors for at least six weeks after government-imposed travel restrictions in Scotland saw trade over the last week "nosedive".
The roadside restaurant and takeaway, which turns over £1.6 million a year, is located in a remote location halfway between Glasgow and Fort William and is heavily reliant on tourists as well as walkers, mountain bikers, runners and skiers. With local restrictions stating people should avoid unnecessary travel or keep journeys to an absolute minimum, trade has virtually fallen away.
Owner Sarah Heward hopes the restrictions will be lifted in time to reopen ready for the school holidays, which start on 18th December. She comments: “We did everything we could, it’s galling to be honest. People are still flying in from the country from all over the world, without testing or a need to isolate in some places, and yet because of local travel restrictions I’ve had to close.
“When we reopened in July, the end of July, August and September were very busy, there were lots of people travelling and choosing staycations and we went from nothing to 100 miles an hour very quickly. But because of social distancing, we had capacity issues in the cafe so it wasn’t doing the levels of business it would normally do. We introduced click and collect and online ordering, which were really well received and which helped fill some of that gap, so we did well for three and a half months.
“But as soon as travel restrictions started being mooted a week or so ago, trade nosedived. It’s great that people are following the rules but if people can’t travel, we can’t open, even with click and collect.”
While Sarah has furloughed some of the 21 staff she would normally carry on through the winter, others are being retained to focus on what are called “Go Forward” projects, one of which involves expanding the brand into Glasgow.
Sarah comments: “We’re looking at opening in Glasgow so that we spread our business risk and we’re not totally reliant on tourism and travel. If we were in central Glasgow right now, we would be open. So we’ll spend some of the time now looking at those expansion plans, considering our identity, looking at menus and site selection.
"Loosely speaking, we want a modern version of The Real Food Cafe but a takeaway, click and collect and delivery version only. It won’t be a full cafe, but it will have fish and chips at the heart of it. I think we may have gone down that route anyway of not having another restaurant, but coronavirus has absolutely crystallised that for us.”
While welcoming the extension of the furlough scheme, Sarah is concerned by the government’s decision to withdraw the Job Retention Bonus, which promised businesses a one-off payment of £1,000 per staff member still in employment at the end of January 2021. A "retention incentive" is expected to take its place, however, no further details have yet been issued.
“The government cannot renege on the Job Retention Bonus,” Sarah says. “They cannot do it when they promised it to people. Furlough is great from a staff perspective but it doesn’t give anything to the business, it costs the business as we still have to pay national insurance contributions. Furlough is no replacement for the Job Retention Scheme, which was designed to give the business something. This is fundamental for businesses like us, it’s a lot of money to us.”