'If you really step back and look at your business there are ways to do it'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

This week marks the first week of quasi-normal operations for hospitality in Scotland for a year and a half as almost all restrictions have been lifted.

Many operators will breathe a huge sigh as regular service can resume, but for chef Billy Boyter, owner of Michelin-starred The Cellar Restaurant Anstruther, things have been close to normal for awhile: the staycation has caused a massive upsurge of British tourists in the area and the weather has been clement, so the restaurant has been busy as can be.

"Compared to a lot of places we've been really lucky in that we've been able to adapt the business to suit," he said. 

"We're quite a small restaurant, we've only got seven tables so we were able to spread them out to meet the social distancing so it didn't impact us too greatly."

For a variety of reasons - the size of the restaurant, local competition -  it made no sense for them to do takeaways when Scotland was in lockdown, so "everyone was delighted - eventually - to get back to work" after seven months away. 

But the return was tough on the team, including Billy, as they had all enjoyed time with their family and a manageable pace of life. 

The chef explained that there was "a lot of anxiety" when the time came to reopen. "I think all of my guys were in the same boat - excited to go back but extremely anxious and nervous about it all."

But after a difficult patch, "I feel we've opened up stronger than when we closed down, which is brilliant."

How it works at The Cellar 

The decision to switch to a four-day week as of January 2022 was a symptom of having had the time to reflect on the importance of having a balance between the whole team's personal and professional lives, but also the time to consider how to make it work in practice.

"It's something we've toyed with for the last few years," Billy said. "I'd always write it off because I thought the business couldn't manage it financially or that it would be too much strain." 

"But during lockdown I had time to look into it properly - and me having the time at home with two young kids, having all that time with them that I'd never had before, then imagining going back to seeing them for about ten hours a week... I really didn't want to go back to that." 

Much to Billy and restaurant manager Patricia McAllister's surprise, it didn't take much to make it work financially. As the restaurant transitions from a five-day operation to four, part of the bar area will become a private dining area, allowing them to make up the loss of income for the service they will miss.

"Because on a Wednesday we don't do lunch, all we had to do was cover the cost of that one dinner service to enable the restaurant to close for three days which meant that all we had to do was put an extra table of two in each service." 

"When we looked at it like that, we just thought, 'this is something we really should do, for our staff and for ourselves."

It makes business sense, too, "because our team is so small, if something happens to one person it has a massive effect on the business, so ensuring that we're really looking after our staff's wellbeing, we're doing everything to make sure the business is profitable long term." 

"We need to make sure that our business is going to be safe and secure and one of the ways we can do that is by making it a much more attractive place to work and stay longer."

A strong imperative in Billy's mind, however, is also to get the word out to help improve the industry as a whole. 

"It's always going to be a hard industry to work in, it is long hours, so anything we can do to make it more appealing, the better." 

Guests have been very receptive, too, he said, and this can only help. 

"They see it as such a positive move to make - I know that what we're doing isn't groundbreaking, there are a lot of restaurants in Scotland and across the UK that have already moved to a four-day week." 

"But if us doing it makes other businesses look at it as well, then it's worth it." 

"I don't think we're putting ourselves at any massive financial risk in doing it, so therefore we should do it, for ourselves and for the team."

Can a four-day week work for you too?

In response to the outpouring of messages he received from fellow chefs and operators when he announced the change, he found himself stumped by questions of how others could make it work for them, too.

"It's difficult because for every business it won't work."

"I know that every restaurant won't be able to do it, but if you really step back and look at your business there are ways to do it." 

Conceding that there is no replicable model for every restaurant, he said, "it's really just taking a step back and re-evaluating your business. Does it mean that you have to hire an extra guy and increase your covers by two in order to do that? There is no one-size fits all, but it's something we should all be looking at." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 10th August 2021

'If you really step back and look at your business there are ways to do it'