An award-winning Highland pub will close for three days a week this winter for the first time – thanks to rising costs and staffing pressures.
The Applecross Inn in Wester Ross will be closed on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays every week until the end of January.
Judith Fish has run the business for 35 years and before the Covid pandemic, it was open every day.
But now the decision has been taken to cut back three days after another bruising year for the hospitality trade.
It comes into effect on November 6.
Judith, who was awarded an MBE for her services to Applecross and tourism in the Highlands in 2018, said: “It really hurts me, it’s the first time in 35 years we’re doing this.
“I know there will be people about looking for food on those days. And you’re letting them down, because you’re the village inn.”
Popular Applecross Inn facing tough challenges
The Applecross Inn has earned countless rave reviews over the years and has become one of the region’s best-known watering holes.
The growing popularity of the NC500 also brought it to the attention of thousands of new visitors.
But a perfect storm of rising energy costs, staff shortages and the cost-of-living crisis has been hammering bars all over the UK.
Judith said: “The cost of heating the building and getting the staff in for a small number of people, it’s just not viable.
“We’re fortunate that we’re a very busy venue but after Covid, we started closing for a day and a half every week.
“We’ll never go back to being open seven days a week again.”
‘I’ve been in the trade for 40 years and never come across this’
A report from earlier this year showed that around 25 pubs were closing across the UK every week.
Plenty have disappeared from the map in the Highlands in recent years.
But how are some of our best-known bars holding up?
In Inverness, there is still enough of a population to sustain daily opening for places like Johnny Foxes and Hootananny’s.
Don Lawson, who owns Foxes – as well as city cocktail bar Jimmy Badger’s and Aviemore restaurant Ski-ing Doo – said staffing remains a huge challenge for his businesses.
“We had a really good summer but the biggest challenge we’re facing in hospitality is staffing,” he said.
“I’ve had to close Jimmy Badger’s on a Monday and Tuesday because of staffing, those are days off for my two chefs.
“In Aviemore, our place is closed for the whole of November because I’ve not got a chef.
“I’ve been in the trade for 40 years and I’ve never come across a situation like this.”
Is there a solution to pub woes?
Further north in Durness, the Smoo Cave Hotel also closed for business on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday for the first few months of 2023.
It was the first time the owner had ever taken that step.
At the moment, they are still planning to open every day but they have reduced their opening hours.
Owner Hugh Morrison said: “The demand is still there but it’s obviously not on the same level as the summer.
“There are still some people touring about and if everywhere was shut, it would be hard for anyone to do it.
“It’s a difficult situation but you just have to cut your cloth accordingly.”
Kit Fraser, who owns Hootananny’s in Inverness, said he wasn’t surprised to hear about pubs having to cut back.
Hoots remains open seven days a week but Mad Hatters, the nightclub above it, closed for good earlier this year to make way for a new hotel.
Kit said: “That was a business decision. Less people were coming out so upstairs wasn’t making money.
“I’m doing the hotel so I can maintain our high standards of live entertainment downstairs.
“What’s the solution for pubs? I think we have to take our lead from France and Germany and cut VAT down from 20%.
“If they did that, we’d all breathe a sigh of relief and the hospitality trade could get off its knees.”