Staff shortages in the hospitality industry have forced Highland businesses to reduce their offering.
The Winking Owl restaurant in Aviemore is the latest venue to fall foul of the crisis, brought on by a perfect storm generated by Brexit and Covid-19.
Owned by Cairngorm Brewery, the popular eatery has gone “drinks only” because it is unable to staff its kitchen.
The Winking Owl is currently operating as a pub only until they are able to recruit a new team.
General manager Michael Farry said they would rather do this than let standards drop and disappoint loyal customers.
The staffing shortage hit crisis point when their head chef was offered more money by another restaurant.
‘Chefs are being offered extortionate amounts of money’
Mr Farry said: “Because there are no chefs, they are being head-hunted and offered extortionate amounts of money.
“Our head chef has gone and his team left as well. We found another chef and two weeks before he was supposed to start he phoned to say he had been offered more money to stay where he was.
“I think there are a lot of different reasons. Brexit is number one.
“What I feel has happened with Covid is that a lot of chefs have taken driving jobs or jobs in retail and have realised there is a work-life balance.
“I think there is going to have to be a revolution in the hospitality industry where people are paid better for a better balance.”
‘We’ve gone from 50 applicants for a job to two or three’
It is a similar story at The Applecross Inn in Wester Ross, where they have had to close on a Tuesday and until 3pm on a Wednesday due to staff shortages.
Owner Judith Fish said: “We have been advertising for staff. Where we might get 40 or 50 applicants before, we get two or three who are what we are looking for.
“I snap them up, and quite often before they arrive they say they have been given a better offer somewhere else.
“We have increased rates and we still find it difficult. I am hearing the same thing from my friends in the hospitality industry.
“People in the industry work such long hours, and following lockdown a lot of people have pressed the reset button. A lot of my more senior members of staff have changed their minds (about their career).”
In Applecross, the success of the North Coast 500 has placed an extra strain on the village and its restaurant.
Ms Fish added: “The Applecross Inn has always been an iconic place, but it has got out of control.
A lot of my senior members of staff have changed their minds about their career.”
“The extra interest means that lots of people are passing through. We can’t cope.
“I have been working 15 hour days since we opened.
“It’s all hands on deck and still never enough.”
‘Struggling to keep staff’
Gary Curley, who operates The Sligachan Hotel in Skye with wife Deirdre, said they have had to work extremely hard to recruit.
He said: “We have reopened right in the middle of summer.
“Now that the restrictions have been lifted, we are having to staff up a full team that can deal with summer business.
“A lot of businesses are struggling to keep staff. They are having to close a day here and there to give their staff a rest.
“We are OK but we have had to work extremely hard to recruit that amount of staff.
“Brexit is a disaster for hospitality businesses. Previously, 30% of our staff were from Europe. We have got two European members of staff at the moment.
“The effects of Covid will be felt in the hospitality sector for years to come.”
‘The best way to encourage people is to make sure conditions are good’
Jo De Sylva, chairwoman of Visit Inverness Loch Ness, is joint owner of MacGregor’s Bar in Inverness and the Bogbain Farm venue to the north of the city.
She said there are ways the hospitality industry can work to retain their staff.
She said: “Historically, the hospitality industry was seen as not good to work in.
“The best way to encourage people to consider a career in hospitality is to make sure conditions are good.
“We pay people for their breaks. They get good food, we encourage them to eat from the menu.”