Borders hotels look to great outdoors as they prepare to welcome back customers

Hotels and restaurants in the Borders are going alfresco as they prepare for life after lockdown.

Thursday, 2nd July 2020, 11:31 am
Billy Hamilton at the Buccleuch Arms in St Boswells.

The last three months have hit the region’s hospitality trade hard as the lead-up to summer is traditionally amongst the busiest times of the year for bookings for wedding receptions and other functions.

Instead of staging such events, establishments have been forced to furlough staff and sustain a huge hit to their finances and economic viability, however.

Now, though, as coronavirus lockdown laws are eased by the Scottish Government, hotels and restaurants are set to reopen from Wednesday, July 15.

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Lynn Murray at Mansfield House Hotel in Hawick.

And for those premises with beer gardens, a return to some form of normality will come even earlier, with the go-ahead having been given for trading outdoors to resume next Monday.

Because of social distancing restrictions, many businesses now intend to utilise their outdoor spaces as never before to ensure public confidence and safety.

Husband and wife Ian and Marie Wells have run the Philipburn Hotel in Selkirk’s Linglie Road for almost 13 years

Independently owned and operated, the four-star hotel offers 12 rooms in its main building, seven garden rooms and a lodge within its grounds.

Katie Tuddenham, general manager at the Philipburn Hotel in Selkirk.

Marie believes the key to a successful reopening of the specialist wedding venue will be to restore public confidence, and utilising the hotel’s outdoor assets will be key to that.

She said: “We closed at the end of March as we had some key workers here until the end of the month.

“Since then, we have just been waiting for dates from the Scottish Government for when the hospitality industry could start reopening.

“The hotel sits in four acres of land, so we have always had quite extensive gardens, with a patio and a terraced area for outdoor dining, but in the past couple of years we bought a pavilion, which, in the main, has been used for outdoor wedding ceremonies.

A marquee erected at the Kingsknowes Hotel in Galashiels.

“It’s an open-sided building with a roof on, but what we are going to do now is obviously put some tables, chairs and furniture in there as well, so when the weather is not too kind, customers can still sit outdoors.

“I think some guests at the hotel will probably feel safer outdoors rather than indoors, and it’s just trying to get that consumer confidence back into the industry and to give them the choice here so they will feel comfortable if they want to call in for a drink or afternoon tea or lunch.

“When we have weddings at the hotel, a lot of people like to get married outside, but we were always dependent on the weather so we built the pavilion so they would be under a roof and that even if there was a hint of showers, they could still get married outside.

“The weddings that we had for this year have been postponed to 2021 and 2022, so the pavilion isn’t going to be used for wedding ceremonies this year anyway.

“We are closed at the moment and are planning to open on August 1, and throughout the month of July we will be doing quite a bit of staff training in preparation for the reopening, covering practice and procedures so that we can follow the guidelines.

“It has been a very strange time because the whole point of having a hotel is to welcome people to your property, and there has certainly been a stillness about the place because there has not been the toing and froing of guests arriving and departing.

“We have 16 staff, the majority of whom were furloughed, and they are all looking forward to getting back to work, as are we, because we have good business on the books for 2021.

“It has just been a matter of getting through, consolidating the business through this difficult time and looking forward to next year.”

It’s also going to be a much more outdoor life for Billy Hamilton, co-owner of the 19-bedroom Buccleuch Arms Hotel in St Boswells with wife Rachael, MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, from now on.

Like many other establishments, the Buccleuch Arms launched a takeaway service during the period of absence enforced by the lockdown starting on Friday, March 20.

He said: “On the basis that we don’t get any more dummy passes from Nicola Sturgeon like we did the other day, then we are going to open as we are allowed to.

“We have got arguably one of the finest beer gardens in the Borders, and that will be open next Monday on the basis of what has been indicated.

“It has been hell the last three months not being able to open in a time when you arguably do make money and sometimes a profit – in April, May and June.

“It’s indicated that we can open the accommodation on July 15 and that’s what we are looking at now.

“In a normal year, we’d already have quite an inventory but itis exceptionally quiet from the 15th right into August, so goodness knows how much accommodation we might pick up – a little bit maybe, but I am not anticipating a lot.

“It’s said that people are desperate to get out, but with increased redundancies around the country, it is quite difficult to picture that.

“July, August and even September are exceptionally high-occupancy for us normally, but I’m not anticipating it being so this year. We will be lucky if we have between 30 and 40% occupancy.

“What we did do from day one of closing was start this frozen meal side to the business, which we called Buccleuch on the Road, which we continue to do and are going to continue.”

The Mansfield House Hotel in Weensland Road in Hawick will also be reopening its outdoor restaurant next week, from Tuesday for bookings only, and it’s also taking bookings for its indoor restaurant for July 15 onwards

The hotel’s takeaway business was also extremely busy during lockdown, it says, and that will continue to operate.

Owners Lynn and Stephen Murray plan to utilise all the venue’s outdoor areas to the maximum as they begin the task of getting their business, which employs five full-time and six part-time staff, back on its feet.

Lynn said: “We are opening on July 7 and we have the marquee, the beer garden and another area from the beer garden to the grounds, so most of the activity will be outside. It will have to be.

“We expect a lot of regulars to come back.

“We have had a takeaway service for the last month, and we will be taking bookings only because obviously we have to follow guidelines.”

Stephen added: “It’s been a long time closed, and we’ve lost a lot of money with the weddings and everything.

“We had been hoping for one of our busiest years yet and we have had one of the quietest.

“We just need the money coming back in because what the government was giving out just covered the bills for the first month, and there was more help for the workers than there was for the bosses.”

The Kingsknowes Hotel at Galashiels has also upped capacity at its restaurant by putting up a marquee in its grounds in preparation for reopening.

Hotelier Robert Lamont said: “The marquee will be used for outside dining, and if people want to have a drink at the same time then they can do so.

“We are planning on mapping it all out and will follow the guidelines.

“We have been doing take away food and some essential guest bookings for delivery workers, but it has been quite difficult.

“The marquee is not going to be like a big festival. It will be controlled. Outdoor dining can be more dangerous than going into a small shop.”

Mr Lamont, a partner at the hotel, employs 22 full and part-time staff, some of whom have been kept on to help with its takeaway service over recent months.

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