Coffee shops coming out of lockdown - nearly!

I spent a few days travelling around Edinburgh recently to try and get an overall picture of the status of the city's coffee shops. Lockdown restrictions were lifted last week, allowing cafes and restaurants to serve customers inside as long as suitable safety measures were in place. 

However I was interested to see how owners would approach this with some very obvious major operational challenges. For example, they would need to consider the likely low level of custom available at this time, as "non-essential" businesses - especially the large offices - were still on lockdown. Travel is only just opening up again so the crowds of tourists normally seen at this time of year are also absent. I was also craving a professionally made flat white - I have been brewing coffee at home during the lockdown but could never achieve the great standard of coffees available in Edinburgh's coffee shops.

I visited the City Centre areas and some of the surrounding communities such as Bruntsfield and Stockbridge. Many of the coffee shops are either remain closed or operate a takeaway service only; and only open on certain days of the week. Those which are open and provide a sit-in service obviously have a reduced capacity due to the required safety measures; and only offer a restricted menu.

In general, the streets in the city are still eerily quiet. The impact of the large number of offices which were still closed was obvious to see - where is the footfall which would provide the necessary sales? A few of those who are trading have raised prices but this may also have an adverse impact on customer perception. It appears that the majority of coffee shops have decided not to offer a sit-in service but to continue with a takeaway service only for now, partly due to an anxiety over the various safety measures to be taken but also due to staffing issues. Some staff would still be furloughed - and why would you request staff to return to work without having confidence in achieving an adequate level of sales?

It's obvious also that the location and layout of the premises can affect the ability to open up safely. Some may be lucky to have patios or pavement areas for tables externally, while some may find it difficult to operate at all with the necessary social distancing requirements inside.

A brief summary of the current status of some of the city centre coffee shops follows (as at Wednesday 22nd July).

Burr & Co, George Street (within footprint of The George Hotel)

Lowdown Coffee, George Street
OPEN. Closed at the time of my visit for refurbishment but has since opened and provides a sit-in service. Mon to Sat 9.00am - 5.00pm, Sun 10.00an - 5.00pm.

Wellington Coffee, George Street
OPEN. Fully open but with minimal seats inside, however good seating is available outside on the basement patio or on the main street (weather permitting!)

Castello Coffee Co, Castle Street
Their second shop in Bruntsfield is open for takeaway service only.

Cairngorm Coffee, Frederick Street
Their second shop in Melville Street is open for takeaway service only.

Gordon Street Coffee Co, Market Street
offers a sit-in service, Sun to Fri10.00am - 5.00pm, Sat 10.00am - 6.00pm

The Milkman, Cockburn Street
OPEN, takeaway service only

The Milkman is a small but fabulous coffee shop and I have written about a previous visit in my post "coffee shops near Edinburgh Waverley Station". I had a flat white here, which was nice. The owner is currently using beans from Obadiah Coffee Roasters in Edinburgh.

Machina Espresso, Tollcross
OPEN, takeaway service only

Cult Coffee, Newington
OPEN, takeaway service only

Three.14, Newington
OPEN, takeaway service only

I stopped at this small Bakery and Coffee Shop just opposite The Commonwealth Swimming Pool on Old Dalkeith Road, as I had read some very good reports on social media about the coffee. They are currently serving a Peruvian coffee on espresso from Edinburgh roasters Williams & Johnson. I had a flat white and it was lovely, one of the best coffees I've had in a while. It would have been madness not to try one of their cakes so I had a slice of lemon and poppy seed cake, which was also lovely. This is the sort of small independent shops I love going to - I'll be back!

Fortitude, Stockbridge
OPEN, takeaway service only

I've been meaning to visit Fortitude's new coffee shop in Stockbridge since it opened but the lockdown period stopped that. I stopped for a flat white, although I had a decaf on this occasion, which was nice.

Although they are open for takeaway orders only I was able to get a glimpse of their impressive Modbar Espresso system, one of only two in Scotland I believe. This system allows the business end of the espresso machine to be hidden below the counter, with only the sleek taps/group heads on show. Really impressive! 

So, in summary, it's obvious that this is a difficult time for operators who must try to make the right call which best suits their business. While we all look forward eagerly to the coffee shops opening up as normal again I can understand their wish to take a bit longer for business needs. I'm sure we can wait a little longer before we can enjoy a coffee shop visit as we did before the lockdown. 💚

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