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Last minute unplanned closures are damaging to business, says Highland restaurant owner

By Niall Harkiss

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Meikle Ferry Station has been forced to close its doors on several occasions due to staff self-isolating.
Meikle Ferry Station has been forced to close its doors on several occasions due to staff self-isolating.

The full effect of Covid and temporary closures is still to be felt by the hospitality industry, says William Cowie, the owner of a recently refurbished gift shop and restaurant in Tain.

Proprietors William and Linda Cowie have spent the past five years extensively renovating the Meikle Ferry Station, which finally opened its doors in July last year.

But the new venture, which employs around 12 staff from the local area, has seen an initial summer boom turn to frustration, after it was hit by a series of stumbling blocks.

In the wake of restrictions imposed to tackle the spread of Omicron, the cafe had to cancel its planned events for the festive period, and adding to their woes, they have had to close to public trade on several occasions with staff having been instructed to self-isolate.

As if matters weren’t frustrating enough, the restaurant had to close its doors for a full day due to an unplanned power outage.

Mr Cowie said: “I believe the power was back on by around 2:30pm, but by then the bulk of our daily trade was lost. When that happens, we suffer the loss of prepared food and we also have to pay staff when income has significantly reduced.

“We are only just starting to recover, but we were delayed in reopening after the new year because of the impact of the virus. Our staff take regular lateral flow tests, and Covid has impacted on staff availability both directly through having contracted Covid, and also through being identified as close contacts and having to isolate. We have lost a number of days because of this.

“These things are worrying as closing at short notice can have an adverse affect on customer perception. Even when things like this are out with our control, it’s challenging enough just now without losing further trade.”

In December, the Scottish Government announced a Hospitality Business Support Top-Up Grant Scheme which will provide a one-off payment for businesses in the hospitality sector who have lost bookings during December 2021 and January 2022.

Businesses who are eligible will receive a grant of £4500 or £6800 depending on their rateable value.

But Mr Cowie believes the worst could be yet to come for the sector.

He said: “The support provided so far is welcome, although it doesn’t go far enough. As a new business it’s hard to tell the full impact that Covid and related restrictions will have on us, but in an industry where margins are tight at best of times it’s a real struggle to stay afloat.”

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