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Carina Contini on August for Contini Venues

Carina Contini summarises August for Contini venues

This Festival was like no other. Record breaking wettest first week. Record breaking ticket sales across all the main festivals. Record breaking tourists everywhere and the city got more than a chunk of record breaking criticism for being too busy.

I struggle with the term over tourism. It’s like saying I love you too much.

Air travel is too cheap which makes international travel more accessible than ever. There is nothing Edinburgh City Council or Visit Scotland can do to fix this. Transient Visitor Levy at £2 per day isn’t going to stop anyone travelling to Edinburgh. A global recession may however and then we’ll be crying out for our visitors. Next year may be record breaking for other reasons none of us will want to deal with!

We need to make our visitors more welcome. More space, less clutter, cleaner streets, safer streets. We need to share the beautiful city we love to live in.

But please let’s not car crash them all together with every key activity you can think of as a reason to visit our beautiful capital.

And the solution isn’t road closures and street installations that don’t align with the quality of what a capital city should reflect.

Working as a waitress over August (it’s hilarious seeing people’s reaction when they realise Victor and I are the owners – the unnecessary gushing is a scream but the astonishment that we’d actually want to serve them is part of the devaluation challenge that the hospitality sector faces). Why is it seen as subservient to want to serve? If our customers take this view then how can we be expected to entice our youth into our industry?

It’s a pleasure and a joy to serve beautiful food, made by passionate people in stunning venues to lovely people. I love my job. I love and respect my team for serving.

Working on the floor gives us first hand feedback on the flavours, value for money, experience and lets us know the real stories behind the TripAdvisor and helps me sleep at night knowing the truth. It also gives me a great insight into our tourists and our regular visitors difference reasons for dining with us.

Many wonderful friends (now friends more than customers) dine with us every day for two weeks of their Festival holiday. Visiting from down south or up north and recounting this years highlights make me feel as if I’ve been to the opera to see Eugene Onegin (and this wasn’t a new Afternoon Tea collaboration with a new distiller) or Sir Ian McKellen at Assembly! I only wish I had!

But the bucket list item for so many in August is to visit the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. 170 guests four nights a week for the Pipers Package travelling from all over the world just to experience the Tattoo is incredible. As a cultural attraction the Tattoo out of all the festivals, as a reason to visit Edinburgh, is the driver for many of our customers. With so many of the Book Festival, Fringe and Official Festival being sold to the local market, Tattoo aside, the tourists aren’t actually the problem it’s all about timing!

I’ve heard the arguments but would love to see the Festivals spread not over the wider city but over the year.

If May or June saw the start with one of the festivals kicking off then the other following fortnight or triweekly etc with the Tattoo finishing perhaps later into September or even October the city would be calmer, more pleasant, less stressed much happier and a more sustainable place to live and to visit.

I understand that we are part of a world wide arts timetable but the performers love our city and if it was more cost effective for them to travel because everything wasn’t shoehorned into the same three weeks it may have more advantages than disadvantages. It may take a few years but it may be worth the risk to take the pressure of our services.

For a start our key visitor attractions and the hospitality sector would be able to deliver a more consistent visitor experience.

Recruiting teams for the 3 busiest weeks of the year is a massive challenge for our type of business but it’s just a lifestyle choice for most of the seasonal team. Shifting recruitment over our busiest period to a career focus with built in planning and training for a longer period would allow the livelihood choices for the sectors and for the teams to take priority. Career becomes the focus not a quick buck! This would allow the industry to invest at its peak in its key team. Rather than feeling like it’s a hit and run. The hospitality sector as a career of choice wouldn’t get diluted or devalued so easily because it would be seen more as a profession.

Let’s face it, the city isn’t clean, the city doesn’t flow, the city grinds to a halt and the locals feel disenfranchised – even though they are the main benefactors and participants of the majority of the festivals (and probably the Air B & B’s they’re letting out on the side) it’s sad something so loved is so criticised.

Nevertheless on the back of this I am delighted to report that Contini George Street and Cannonball Restaurant & Bar have cracked our records and delivered a busier August than ever. We need this growth to get over the winter months that are more than miserable and this next winter may be more record breaking miserable than ever. We have had more great reviews than ever. One or two tough shifts (rather than three or four we may have had in the past) when we were caught off guard with seasonal staff letting us down and not turning up. On several days we had 5 team call in sick at the same time in the same venue. Massive pressure for the core team. So we dropped the ball for a couple of hours but caught up quickly and got back to delivering. Hospitality is tough! Career driven team know what the lifestyle choices are around hospitality. Seasonal workers don’t always appreciated that the reality of serving is very different to being served. Our sector is instant, it’s on demand. Timing of when guests want to eat and drink isn’t controllable. Working when you feel like it when you want to isn’t an option. The flexi lifestyle that some people want isn’t compatible with hospitality. The gig economy won’t work for the hospitality industry.

After a seven month closure The Scottish Cafe & Restaurant soft launched around the 7th of August.

Thank you to all the design team who helped get us open and have us looking more gorgeous than ever before.

Our back feature wall is the work of Scottish textile designer, Mairi Helena and we’re absolutely delighted to showcase this work as her first commercial commission.

The wall is a printed velvet, incredible luxurious, full of colour, happiness and with an upholstery background it is absorbing any additional sounds that vibrate from the enormous glass windows we have and the new one level oak floor that has created the best event space in the city.

We’ve always described this venue as our Gold Medal Olympian over the summer. We’ve been able to trade before the main Gardens entrance opens later than scheduled at the end of this month. We didn’t break any records this year but we are trading and our customers are loving the new look, the new menu and they’re just so happy that we are actually open. Hearing customers say we’re so glad you’re open; we’ve missed you; the Cullen Skink is better than ever; is so heartwarming, it really makes you so humble and so lucky to do what we do. It makes you so happy to serve.

When our new door opens later in the month we will feel back in the fold of the National Galleries as the flow back through to the RSA will be complete and the beautiful new shop will be packed with all those perfect gifts you’ll need to buy for Christmas. So come and visit us now or wait another few weeks and you’ll have even more reasons to eat, shop and relax.

We look forward to welcoming you, to serve you and to sharing our beautiful new venue and our ever delicious food.

Some of my festival highlights:

  1. All the happy customers so pleased to see us back open at The Scottish Cafe & Restaurant.
  2. All our festival friends who come to the city just for August festivities and always dine with us. Thank you!
  3. The incredible number of our customers that visit us at all three restaurants. So much fun bumping into them and chatting to them at different locations throughout the day. (Breakfast or lunch at The Scottish Cafe, Tattoo dinner up at Cannonball or dinner at George Street.)
  4. Feeding Sir Antonio Pappano – if you don’t know google! It’s a WOW! Proud to be Italian.
  5. Sharing our food with Hugh Laurie at Contini George Street
  6. Welcoming Greg Proops back to The Scottish Cafe, one of our Festival Friends for the last 20 plus years.
  7. The team serving Bridget Riley in Espresso (our cafe at the front door at the Scottish National Gallery) when she’s up being interviewed for her Summer Blockbuster exhibition in the Royal Scottish Academy. Diana who runs Espresso for us is even happier than usual.
  8. Contini George St providing the Fringe stop for our favourites like Fred McCauley, Janice Forsyth and Kate Devine. Sorry I missed the lovely ladies but Twitter kept me up to speed
  9. When Conor the Pipers Trail piper from The Royal Edinburgh Tattoo playing Happy Birthday on the bagpipes for guests celebrating and 180 guests stand up to cheer. Very proud to be Scottish.
  10. Delivering the many many harvests from the Contini Kitchen Garden at 9pm and it’s still warm outside…….
  11. Classic ………..I’m vegan – but I’ll have the meringue and ice cream for pudding! You’ve got to laugh.
  12. Can I get to the Castle through the Museum (while we’re standing in The Scottish Cafe in the National Gallery of Scotland). Yes we get asked this several times a day….
  13. Our new Club Buttery available at The Scottish Cafe, it’s cracking!
  14. Cake ………. we all need loads of cake to get through the Festival
  15. Salt Beef focaccia at The Scottish Cafe with our own pickled cucumbers and Uncle Roy’s mustard, amazing
  16. “You’re team are so welcoming and lovely” We love our Contini Family and can’t thank them enough. .
  17. “That was just delicious”……… and so much more……..
  18. Beautiful kind happy customers. You make our day. Thank you, we love serving you!
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