Louise Maclean, director at Signature Pubs, explains how a tentative trip for takeaway coffee led to a swift operating model transition for the Scotland wide pub and restaurant group.

There’s a fantastic buzz around McLarens at Holy Corner. Can you tell us more about what you are doing there?

While adhering to social distancing guidelines we’ve been able to sell takeaway beer from Cold Town House; Copper Blossom cocktails; our Scranavan is selling burgers, hot dogs and fries; and a takeaway food service with Cold Town House pizzas, Kyloe Sunday Roasts, and McLarens weekend meal club.

How did you come up with the idea?

It was partly down to the joy of my first coffee when easing of lockdown started. I came into Bruntsfield one day when I heard the Little Tardis coffee shop beside Bruntsfield Links was open. Bruntsfield was really vibrant in contrast with the city centre.

We thought ‘we should do something here, we should be part of this’. And we don’t have the problem of people having to queue on the street as we’ve got space in front of the venue for people to wait.

It just seemed like a really obvious opportunity, and we went from concept to launch in two days.

Has it been a success?

Absolutely. It was a gamble: we had to bring back staff from furlough to achieve it. But it’s been a great success.

It’s also allowed us to promote the other venues in the group that weren't able to open, such as Copper Blossom and Cold Town House.

We were lucky that some of our chefs were here ready to go, as we had partnered with the Eric Liddell Centre and our chefs volunteered whilst on furlough to produce 6000 lunches for the vulnerable and shielding within the local community.

Have you done this at any of your other sites?

Yes, we’ve introduced a similar concept at The Meadowpark in Bridge of Allan, Church on the Hill in the Southside of Glasgow, and The Saint in St Andrews.

How have things changed since lockdown has eased?

It’s been fast moving.  Once pubs and restaurants were allowed to serve outside, we continued to operate a self-service concept, but people could consume on site.  Now that we can have customers back inside the restaurant, we have installed perspex booths.  We appreciate people will be nervous about making their first outings: government guidance is being taken very seriously. We have conducted two surveys of our customers, and these indicate that there is a drop in confidence in terms of coming out to eat and drink.  So we want people to feel reassured that we are taking all steps possible to make the environment as safe as we can.

So will you continue with the new takeaway model even after easing?

Definitely. We can’t see a return to pre-Covid conditions for some time to come, so the takeaway offering will continue for the foreseeable future.

We may offer delivery as well if we can make that work.

And your prognosis for the sector as a whole?

It’s really too early to tell. We will need to see what happens in the autumn. But we now have six sites open and are trading well.

Businesses need to see what they can achieve over what remains of the summer. For everyone, it’s a big jump to go from zero to a place where turnover is allowing businesses to break even, and that won’t happen overnight. What we really need to see is more footfall into city centres, tourism in any guise and office workers returning, when it’s safe to do so.

Joanna Fulton, partner and member of the food & drink team at Burness Paull was in conversation with Louise Maclean, director at Signature Pubs.

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