'Ondine went into the pandemic with a team of 34 and will open next week with just 12'

The Staff Canteen

From lockdowns to vandalism to scaffolding surrounding the entire Ondine restaurant, Roy Brett and his wife Karin and their team have experienced it all over the past 14 months.

As we see indoor hospitality in England reopen this week, Scotland is still subject to a 10.30pm curfew and the lack of unity and clarity is a growing frustration for Scottish hospitality.

“Watching what is happening down south, it seems to be getting more normal and it seems to be more progressive,” said Roy. “What I don’t understand is why the decision making going and coming out of this isn’t the same, we should all be coming out as one island together.

“I think it has been very confusing for everybody, not just hospitality, every sector.”

The downside to furlough

Ondine is set to reopen next week, they went in to the pandemic with a team of 34 and were due to open the doors with just 8 but this has now gone up to 12 thanks to a fantastic response to a recruitment drive. A shortage of staff is being widely discussed within hospitality with many chefs saying team members are not coming back once furlough has ended.

Roy says within Scotland there has been a lot of movement and its people moving to different restaurants not leaving the industry.

“It’s unreal, we’ve seen people on furlough who have had wages topped up just leaving businesses for another opportunity – I spoke to Tom Kitchin the other day and he said the same. The pool is that shallow that people are actually just trying to take staff from each other.

“There’s the Bonnie & Wild foodhall in Edinburgh's St James Quarter opening and you know what it’s like with something new, there’s a lot of interest in the beginning but it’s just going to continue the shortage."

He added: “Ondine like The Kitchin, are trusted restaurants, so we are starting to see th green shoots to recovery in terms of staffing."


One challenge after another

Ondine wasn’t due to open this month due to ongoing works on the outside of the building but Roy said: “I have to reopen – I have to make an income otherwise there won’t be a restaurant.”

The exterior of the restaurant, the cladding is all coming off and there is ongoing investigative works on the building. Roy found out at the end of 2020 that this would be happening, but the time frame has been extended until September this year.

“We’re still not clear how long this is going to be here – you look out at the moment from inside the restaurant and all you can see is scaffolding and workmen.

“It’s a challenge which is out of our control – we don’t have a disable drop off point because of it and for older people it’s quite a journey they have to do as we now have a one-way system in the street outside the restaurant. I think we are really going to be hit hard when it comes to walk in trade but we atre continually trying to find a solution for this.

"We have taken some inventive steps and measures to block out the ongoing works and invested heavily into the interior of the restaurant. We have also pushed the boat out in the kitchen with lots of new kit to evolve the cooking. We are grateful to so many of the local Edinburgh tradesmen for dropping work to get us ready on time."

Roy and the team are determined to make the experience count from the inside, and they are spending the last of their money to make it work.

He said: “I feel like we owe it to the restaurant. It is what’s on the plate and how we serve it which counts.

“We want to give people the best experience we can – we’re just going to go for it and give it everything we’ve got. “Our regulars have said they will come regardless but we do still need walk-ins.”

The future of Scottish hospitality

Despite a tough year, Roy says he still feels positive for hospitality going forward once restrictions are lifted.

“I don’t know what the new normal will be but hopefully it’ll be more normal than what we have now.

“It’s a short season in Scotland and Edinburgh used to be a tourist city but it’s not right now and it won’t be for another year or so. We have to encourage people in England to come, we need to close that gap and get as many UK visitors as possible. And likewise, we need to be doing the same.

“I just want us all to support each other and get through this. We really need cross border support.”

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 21st May 2021

'Ondine went into the pandemic with a team of 34 and will open next week with just 12'