The COVID-related ban is meant to keep customers from shouting or leaning in to talk.

By Jelisa Castrodale
August 26, 2020
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Earlier this month, the Scottish government updated its list of coronavirus-related guidelines for the hospitality sector, which includes all of the country's restaurants, pubs, and cafes. In addition to requiring all hospitality businesses to collect every customer's contact information to aid in any necessary tracking and tracing efforts (or 'Test and Protect,' as they calling it), restaurants and bars are now encouraged to prevent customers from waiting in line, to "challenge" anyone who starts singing or shouting, and to stop playing music and mute all of their televisions.

"While previously low level music/volume was permitted it is now necessary to ensure every effort is made to reduce noise levels to a minimum in hospitality premises so people do not need to raise voices to be heard or get closer to others," the guidelines read. "This presents an increased risk of transmission that must be mitigated. As noise control is a complex area with many variables, further work is required to understand how it can be managed safely and consistently across the sector so that it does not pose a risk."

The Scotsman's Lounge pub in Edinburgh in July on reopening day.
Jane Barlow - PA Images / Contributor/Getty Images

Although First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her government say that they're switching the music off in the name of public health, pub landlords and restaurant owners aren't exactly thrilled about having to fill their spaces with...silence. James Thomson, who owns The Witchery by the Castle restaurant and the Prestonfield House Hotel in Edinburgh, called the music ban "ridiculous" for venues like his that aren't playing Today's Dance Anthems or whatever.

"Having no music at all is the kiss of death in terms of atmosphere for us and there is no logic behind such a blanket ban," he told the BBC. "We need background music to kill the deathly hush as people feel they have to start whispering when a restaurant is quiet. Diners want to eat out in a place with atmosphere, not a library." (Although Thomson's hotel does have a £395 per night suite called "The Library.")

Rod Dos Santos, who runs the Southern Cross Cafe in Edinburgh, also used the word "ridiculous" in his criticism of the music-free requirements. "Customers expect to experience what they have done previously. This is a ridiculous situation," he said. "Background music is a talking point and customers are often asking me what band is playing in the background and it starts a conversation, which is what I love."

And Andy McCartney, who owns seven restaurants and pubs in Glasgow, told The Scotsman that turning the music off changes a venue's entire vibe. “It feels like one step into the graveyard,” he said. “I have been in a few places today which are not playing music and it feels like that last half hour at the end of the night when they turn the music off and are closing up — but all of the time. For bars and restaurants, music is a critical element of creating an atmosphere.”

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) has expressed concern that the music ban could "backfire," especially if people are weirded out by the silence and opt for house parties where they can play Spotify and watch sports –– without subtitled commentary –– instead. “We cannot underestimate the disappointment and concern for the future of the hospitality industry over the Government’s decision that there should be no background music or noise from TVs," Colin Wilkinson, the SLTA's managing director, told The Telegraph.

"While the Government says that this is absolutely necessary, the views of some within the hospitality industry differ, and the SLTA, Scottish Beer and Pub Association and the Music Venue Trust are working together to provide evidence that this ban is counter-productive to what is trying to be achieved.”