Rural venues determined to survive

Scottish rural businesses are feeling the squeeze of new drink drive laws but we’re determined to survive, writes restaurateur Alison Bouteloup.

• All change at Barley Bree.
• All change at Barley Bree.

We’ve seen numerous articles recently about the decline because of the changes to drink drive limits in Scotland. It’s impossible not to see the impact this is having on the trade.
Our restaurant with rooms in Muthill, near Crieff, is in part of the country which, thankfully, sees thousands of visitors each year and this is likely to continue.
But it’s the impact the change in the law is having on our regular customers, and their spending habits, that we’re seeing.  We’ve seen a marked decrease in the number of larger tables for Sunday lunch and customers are no longer ordering a bottle of wine to enjoy over a leisurely two or three-hour lunch.
A recent report by the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) shows that almost half of Scotland’s rural pubs, hotels and restaurants recorded a decline in trade over Christmas 2015 and predicted bleak forecasts in 2016.
It’s at least a small comfort to see the SLTA understands the predicament many rural businesses are in. But what can be done to help?
In the wake of the challenges to alcohol sales, food is becoming more important than ever.
At Barley Bree we are, first and foremost, a restaurant. We’ve just spent a considerable sum on changing things up in the hope that this will set us apart from our competitors.
Our bar was, until last month, located in the main restaurant which didn’t provide space for anyone who just wanted to come in for a drink.
We’ve now created a dedicated lounge bar area, freeing up space in the main restaurant for more tables.
We’re also trialling a small snack menu for those not wishing to have a full meal.
It’s all about trial and error at the moment but we’re determined to rise to the increasing challenges.
Barley Bree is also a hotel and our rooms are comfortable and good value.
In my opinion the government should reduce the VAT rate, especially for selling rooms, which could encourage more people to spend a night or two away more often.
In terms of a proposed tourist tax, it’s a bad idea if you ask me. Why not target the big businesses that sell large quantities of alcohol at cheap prices instead?
The government needs to create a level playing field and a stable economic environment for the benefit of the rural trade, and indeed the whole country.
Barley Bree is one of the lucky ones and we’re not going anywhere.
• Alison Bouteloup and her husband Fabrice own Barley Bree in Muthill, near Crieff.