Busta: 'people are just happy the service is there'

20 June 2020

While some eateries have begun gradually phasing in takeaway services during the Covid lockdown, Busta House Hotel was one of the few to take a swift decision in March to continue serving their local community and to help out individuals who were self-isolating.

“We very quickly realised that we’d have to diversify in order to keep going,” joint manager Grant O’Neil told Taste of Shetland.

“The immediate thought was to turn it into a takeaway, initially just the immediate area, then through time realising we could expand the service a little further by doing temperature checks on additional foods that we had taken with us”.

After offering deliveries to Brae, Voe, Mossbank, Sullom and Muckle Roe from the outset, they soon added Nesting, Hillswick, Ollaberry and Vidlin - and for the past fortnight Scalloway and Lerwick “which really is as far as we can go”.

Explaining their thinking, Grant said there were obvious financial concerns but also the question of morale both for staff and for the management personally, not to mention providing “some sense of normality in these abnormal times” for the local community.

“Was it better to close the doors, have no money coming in but less bills, or to have a little bit of money? Even though we’ve not broken even, it’s been better coming into work six days a week rather than just being at home.” 

Grant, joint manager Joel D’Eathe and two kitchen staff have carried on working. Ten staff have been placed on the government’s furlough scheme, though normally by this time of year they’d be looking at around 18 staff in total.

Demand has generally been good – one night they even had to stop taking orders and managed to cater for 140 people, more mouths than they’d normally feed when open as a physical restaurant – though it can be “so up and down”. 

“For the most part it’s been very well received, pretty much all the feedback is extremely positive about it – a number of people who are just happy the service is there. People who maybe would go out once a month or once a fortnight, they can’t do that but they can have a little bit of it at home.

“When you think about takeaway you tend to think burgers, fries, things like that. We did discuss whether we should go down that route but very quickly decided no, we’re taking away from what we are. Let’s continue to do what we do and hopefully there is a market for that.”

The extensive six-days-a-week menu features homemade Blydoit peppered mackerel pate, traditional fried Shetland haddock and chips, a Jalfrezi curry using local beef and much more.

Grant said local suppliers had been “absolutely fantastic” and will be “key moving forward – without them we wouldn’t be able to offer what we offer”.

The hotel kitchen uses meat from Gremista Farm, seafood from Blydoit and SSMG and other produce from Anderson Butchers, L&S Gifford, Shetland Farm Dairies and Skibhoul Stores, in addition to its bar stocking Lerwick Brewery beers and Shetland Reel Gin.  

“People are looking for local produce, we enjoy using local produce and collaboration with local suppliers is something we’re extremely keen on,” Grant added.

It was already a tough climate for hotels in Shetland before Coronavirus struck only a couple of months ahead of what had been anticipated as the busiest tourism season the islands have seen.

Now most tour operators and hospitality businesses are realistically planning for few, if any, visitors - while facing uncertainty over how long social distancing may constrain what trading they are able to do.

Grant and Joel at Busta House Hotel were already making do with a decline in midweek stays for oil and gas workers with the camp at Sella Ness swallowing the majority of accommodation needs.

The popular North Mainland hotel’s bar and restaurant can normally seat over 100 customers across the two spaces but with two-metre distancing in place they’ll be lucky if they can accommodate around a third of that.

“It’s a huge reduction in the numbers we could do,” Grant said, adding they have begun looking at whether something outdoors is an option over the summer, while recognising the windswept climate could limit the appeal. They are also considering whether other areas of the hotel could be turned into dining areas.

  • Check Busta House Hotel's Facebook page for regular updates on delivery days and locations. You can then phone in your order  to 01806 522506 after 9.30am or message the page with your details.

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