Having operated a takeaway service from The Scallop Shell in Bath for the past seven weeks, owner Garry Rosser is looking forward to winding it down this weekend to concentrate on reopening the business as the fully-fledged restaurant it was before coronavirus. However, he warns it’s going to be a rough ride with the focus not on making money but instead not losing any.
Reopening on Thursday 9th July, table bookings at The Scallop Shell are already at 70% for Friday and Saturday. This means by the time its opening weekend comes round it stands a good chance of being full at its newly reduced capacity of 86. It’s a huge sigh of relief for Garry who has been nervously anticipating reopening the doors.
“The bookings are really positive and now I just can’t wait to reopen the restaurant,” he says. “What it does is put our destiny back in our hands again. The frustrating part about being closed is that you’re in limbo. You can do as many reports and opening up plans as you like, but you just don’t know what will happen until you reopen.
“Every business owner is nervous right now, but within a couple of weeks we’ll be able to see patterns and then we can make the choices that are right of the business from that.”
While Garry is committed to following government guidelines on reopening and making the restaurant safe, you won’t find plastic screens, app ordering or restrictions on table turnaround times here. Instead, Garry’s focussed on creating more space by taking out a quarter of tables, seating tables back-to-back, printing disposable menus, stocking up on hand sanitiser and implementing a rigorous cleaning programme every day.
“The most important thing is to keep customers and staff safe and we’ll be following all the necessary guidelines. But there are also things I won’t be doing because when you start buying in screens and tape it not only takes away from the restaurant experience but it also adds in a huge cost to your restaurant and you have to be really careful of that.
“We’re not doing time limits on tables, I don’t agree with that. We are big enough to roll tables, we do have that luxury. I really don’t like it when customers are told they only have an hour and a half at a table. That comes down to our manager to manage the restaurant and look at the situation as it’s arising and deal with it before it becomes a problem.”
And there will be no ordering via an app, normal table service will apply with staff socially distanced. “For me, I think an app is a great idea and it can work brilliantly in a high volume location, like a Five Guys, but I don’t think it gives the experience of going to a restaurant. We are a family-based restaurant and we do have interaction with customers and I think that’s really, really important still.”
Where The Scallop Shell is being dictated to by coronavirus is with regards to its trading hours. Garry explains: “What covid has done for us is make our evening trade stronger at the expense of our lunchtime trade and because of that we are going to open five evenings a week, Tuesday through to Saturday, and then lunchtimes on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only as they will be our strongest lunches. That will then give us an idea of where we are.”
The menu is also being scaled back to include eight main courses and eight starters, plus a specials board with additions such as lobsters and crabs. A casualty of covid-19 is the restaurant’s popular £10 Fisherman's lunch.
“Unfortunately we won’t bring back the £10 lunch,” says Garry reluctantly. “We’re just not in a position to take that hit. It was a great marketing tool for us, it brought people in and marketed the restaurant for the evening trade, but at the moment we’re not in a situation where we can offer that until we recover and I don’t think we will recover until next March, to be honest.
“Personally, I think we’ve got nine months of really tough times ahead. I don’t mean just us, I think the industry has nine months of hell because we’ve got two months of summer left but we’ve got no tourists, then we’re into our worst period. Everybody knows November and January are the worst times for this industry and I’m not even sure Christmas will give us the helping hand we’ll need. Winter is not a good time, you see a 40% drop in winter compared to summer.
“It’s all about survival. I don’t expect to start making any money until March or April next year. So it’s not about profit for nine months, it’s about not trying to lose any money in nine months and if we can achieve that then we’ve done a really, really good job.”
With only 50% of his workforce currently back, Garry is hopeful the business will recover in time for all staff to return by the end of October when the government’s furlough scheme closes. But that’s not a definite. “Hopefully we’ll see business grow but unfortunately that’s an uncertainty still and we just can’t make those decisions at the moment.” he adds.
On a more positive note, Garry has taken advantage of funds made available via the government’s Bounce Back Loan Scheme, which are being used to put a retractable roof on the outside terrace. This means come September, when the seating area would normally become unusable, The Scallop Shell can still accommodate an additional 20 covers with social distancing in place and 32 when it ceases.
“It’s a no-brainer,” says Garry, “and I would encourage every business to use it to help them survive or to improve by creating more covers or developing an area. There no payments for 12 months, then it’s repayable at 2.5% interest. It works out at a payment of £883 a month in 12 months’ time.
“When I consider what 20 covers will bring in and then when we go back to no social distancing what 32 covers will bring in, for me, it makes total sense. Even if you don’t use it, pay it back in 12 months and pay nothing. Even if it sits in your account, it’s there if you need it.”