Like many businesses throughout Shetland and beyond, Busta House Hotel has faced a challenging year. We spoke to Grant from Busta to hear how they quickly adapted to salvage something from 2020, with the enormous support from local folk in Shetland. Grant, Joel and the whole team at Busta have gone to great lengths to provide an excellent service to Shetlanders this year and won a Shetland Community Spirit Award for their efforts. We urge folk to continue supporting Busta throughout the winter season.

'Lockdown and Local Loyalty'

by Grant O' Neil

A few days prior to Mothers Day, usually our busiest food service day of the year, we were given the blow along with the rest of the country that we would no longer be able to have people in to dine with us. Devastating news, what would we do ? Close the doors, was then we made a decision, to do something that we had never done before, we would offer takeaways!

We rushed to local suppliers to buy up whatever takeaway containers we could and quickly worked on a reduced menu that would be workable from a takeaway perspective. We had a few ‘trial’ days before we got to Mothering Sunday, were there initial errors? Indeed there were, whenever you turn your hand to something new, undoubtedly there will be ‘teething’ issues, this was the case, however we learned and adapted as we went along. Onto Mothers day itself, we had initially been running the takeaway service evenings only, however in the hope that we could serve as much of the local community as possible that day we decided to extend our hours and serve from lunch through until evening. It really was just as well that we did, it was a roaring success, so much so in fact that we had to stop taking orders, approximately 140 meals were ordered and collected from us that day!

Since then we continued with our takeaway service and decided there was scope to deliver to the local community, now when I say local I mean Brae, Mossbank, Voe, Sullom & Muckle Roe only, the furthest distance to be travelled was a mere 8.7 miles, clearly doable. Our service was initially to these areas only and was to the door to ensure we were compliant with all social distancing measures. Through time and trial we were convinced that we could offer our services further afield. We decided to try and see if there was demand in other areas of the island, firstly we started with Vidlin then on to North & South Nesting, indeed it appeared that there was a demand there. Was it then time to expand further? We would give it a go, eventually spanning all the way from Ollaberry, through the Westside and finally on to Lerwick & Scalloway.
The response to the takeaways really was great, people genuinely appreciated the fact that although they couldn’t come and enjoy the full Busta experience they could enjoy a wee bit of it at home. Friendly delivery staff coupled with delicious food, albeit without the relaxing ambience of the hotel, but enjoyed in the comfort of their own homes.

We continued this service all the way through ‘Lockdown’, four of us working six days a week, our 2 chef’s in the kitchen, whom it must be said were unbelievably flexible and instrumental in allowing us to continue, and myself and Joel. Alas, like anything new there is an initial honeymoon period and things started to quieten down a little bit as time went on, however there were many of our previous regular diners, coupled with some new takeaway regulars who kept ordering, like clockwork, once a week. This truly showed how much support there was for us from the local community, in Sheltand when you say local it’s isn’t really only those within a stones throw away, but the whole of the island. This level of support for us, even though everyone was going through their own struggles during lockdown really was amazing and will always be truly appreciated.

As time went on and ‘Lockdown’ appeared to be easing somewhat, Joel came up with an idea, which initially I wasn’t keen on…………..outside dining in SHETLAND! We knew that outside dining was to be announced ahead of indoor dining and reluctantly I agreed that we should give it a go. Purchasing several small gazebos and plans in place we waited, with baited breath for an announcement regarding outside dining. The First Minister was giving an announcement, all sat separately, streaming the announcement we waited………..not the news we had hoped for, a further announcement would be made several days later regarding outdoor dining. The gazebo plans were placed on hold!

Eventually we were given the green light for outside dining and so it began, the grass was cut (for the first time in a very LONG time), the garden was looking great, it was time to build the gazebos. We stayed late at night, after the takeaway service was finished, enjoyed the late summer sun and proceeded to erect something in the grounds that had never set foot there before…….gazebos!

We were ready to go, all plans in place, it was the day before we would open outside dining. We all went home happy that night, looking forward to welcoming our first outdoor diners the following lunchtime, but alas, this was not to be the case. For the time of year the weather on the Monday morning could not have been more out of character, biting Northerly wind and torrential rain, you’d be hard pushed to want to go outside, let alone dine outside. With a heavy heart and somewhat dismayed we decided to close that day and offer, by this time, our usual day off Thursday, as an alternative day for dining. The following day, still with a bit of a chill, but dry at least, saw us welcome the first of our outside diners. Slightly apprehensive to ask the question “how did you find having your meal outside?” was met with the response of “thoroughly enjoyable, the kids absolutely loved having the freedom to roam around the garden”. Now, if this was the initial response on a cool summers evening then surely on a beautiful sunny day we would see more demand for this service. We did continue and on occasion found the garden to be teaming with people who all thoroughly enjoyed their time, well apart from the pain of one of Scotland’s national treasures…….the dreaded midge!!!! Citronella candles purchased, although not fully alleviating the problem did offer some relief.

The takeaways continued as did the outdoor dining and at last we were told we could open our doors to the public again……Hooooraaah! Hand-sanitiser, the UK’s, nay the entire worlds rarest commodity was sourced and purchased along with Perspex and who knows how many types of duct tape in various, poisonous snake type colours. We started to begin on making indoors socially distanced and as safe as possible for our customers and staff alike.

The first few days of opening up inside dining again were relatively quiet, quite understandable as there was (and to some degree still is) some trepidation about coming out and mingling with other people, albeit socially distanced at 2 metres. Folks soon started to come in larger quantities, I think for many they wanted to hear from other folks how well measures had been put in place before venturing along. Indoor trade has continued to increase and although there is a lack of tourists in hotel accommodation this year the number of local folk booking in for dinners has been incredible.

We are nowhere close to ‘normal’ yet, and I don’t think we will get to the ‘new normal’ anytime soon, however the support shown to us by the Shetland community throughout lockdown and currently really has been phenomenal.

As we continue to offer the services that we can, we are aware that the (non-existent) season is coming to an end, the nights are drawing in and we are hopeful of the continued local support that we have seen throughout.

Since we spoke to Grant additional restrictions were brought in by the Scottish Government which meant they could no longer serve meals or alcohol to non-residents past 6pm. We hope these restrictions will not be in place too much longer and businesses can start to trade in the evenings again. In the meantime why not purchase a voucher for yourself or a loved one for Busta, order one of their famous takeaway meals, pop along for lunch or an overnight stay! You can also support Busta and other local businesses by following them on social media, liking and sharing their posts.

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