It seems to be a gloomy day. I'm not just referring to wildfires and strikes and global warming. On one of this column's favourite subjects, restaurants, the news seems to be worse than usual. Now I'm not shedding any tears over the impending closure of Noma. Rene Redzepi has declared that the model for his iconic Copenhagen restaurant is no longer sustainable, and has called into question the business model of top end (and top dollar) dining. That despite the fact he got a lot of free labour over the years, many young chefs being willing to do six month stints for free so that they could have Noma on their CVs.
But closer to home well loved and respected names are disappearing. Perhaps the biggest shock was that Brian Maule has just closed the Chardon d'Or in Glasgow after 22 years, citing financial pressures. It's not just in city centres. The highly rated Monadh Kitchen in Bearsden has also shut up shop forever.
It's not hard to see why, On their website, Martin and Sharlene of Monadh posted, the financial burden of the world we live in has forced us to close with immediate effect. Managing through Covid to then head into a cost-of-living crisis has been the most difficult challenge for all small independent businesses. Soaring food, fuel and staff costs mean that many are hanging on by their fingernails. Speak to many in the industry and you detect a pattern of quiet desperation.
Many blame Brexit for the staff shortages. Keep your eyes open as you pass hospitality businesses. Almost without exception they are advertising staff vacancies. I suspect, however, that there's more to it than Brexit. Friends who have homes abroad say that the same problems exist in Europe. I think that Covid meant that a lot of people had time to take stock and decided that they really didn't want to work long and anti social hours for relatively little money.
As ever, the canny operators realised they had to evolve. At one time Craig and Vikki Wood of The Wee Restaurant in North Queensferry were running two places with a lot of staff. They have now scaled right back, running with a fraction of the staff and are ably assisted by son Ethan. A lot of restaurateurs are cutting back opening hours to make the job more attractive. Vikki told us, many operators like us had more than one place but have decided to stick with one and make sure it’s done well. To concentrate on our staff and look after them well. Close for staff holidays so we all can keep ‘burn out’ at bay.
The trade has had those issues for a while, but for many soaring interest rates are proving the last straw. Not just because of the impact on any borrowing they may have, but because of the pressures on customers. If your mortgage has soared by hundreds of pounds in a month, the easiest economy you can make is in your eating out budget.
We do hear some positive news, but some of it may be of no consequence to the average diner. It is indeed good news that the energetic Stuart Ralston (of Aizle, Noto and Tipo) is to take over the former premises of 21212; however, his tasting menu will come in at £145 a head. We'll not be going soon.
The licensed trade is one of the most resilient ones, but I fear for many of its members. At this difficult time, one can simply echo the heart felt plea on the Monadh website, please continue to support local. If you can afford it, your local restaurant needs you.