By Matthew Lynas
AS an industry that’s not always known for its short, sociable hours, the licensed trade can take a lot out of a person. But in Fort Augustus, there’s one publican whose commitment to the trade shows no sign of waning after decades of hard work.
Liz Ferguson, manager at both The Lock Inn and The Scots Kitchen in Fort Augustus, has over 40 years of hospitality industry experience and she’s not shy to share the knowledge she’s accrued with her greener colleagues.
In fact Liz’s commitment to training impressed judges for the 2015 SLTN Awards so much that she picked up the SLTN Licensee of the Year award, in association with Carlsberg, on the night, amidst strong competition.
While some publicans may be edging their foot off the gas slightly after four decades in the trade, Liz continues to operate at full speed, leading a revamp of The Lock Inn at the moment.
The secret to licensed trade longevity? Liz reckons it’s passion.
“I think you’ve got to have a passion for it or you wouldn’t do it, because it’s anti-social” said Liz. “We’re still hard at work over the Christmas holidays when people want to be with their families.
“You’ve got to be committed and have a passion for it.”
Liz’s commitment began in 1974 when, after achieving a City & Guild professional cookery qualification, she started working in hospitals as an assistant head cook.
From there, Liz went on to rack up a wealth of experience, including stints in the kitchens of Fort Augustus Abbey – a monastery and boys boarding school – before joining the team at The Lock Inn in 1997.
The pub would be where Liz ended up but only after a spell at the Inchnacardoch Hotel before she was head hunted by Highland Inns Limited to return to The Lock Inn as manager.
Now, with it and sister venue The Scots Kitchen under her charge, Liz leads around 30 staff in the summer and 15 in the winter as well as managing stock control, purchasing and banking.
In addition to these managerial tasks, Liz has taken a hands-on approach to staff training – an aspect of the job which she believes is worthwhile for both parties.
“I think [training] makes [staff] more respected and wanted, as if there is a place for them,” she said.
“It makes them more positive and gives them more self worth.”
Under Liz’s care, The Lock Inn has become a leader in its locale at developing skills, especially among young adult workers.
Liz was the first employer to come forward seeking an apprentice from local organisation Fort Augustus and Glenmoriston Community Company, and as licensee at The Lock Inn she still provides personal development plans for her staff, including support through SQA-accredited qualifications.
And while well-trained staff is of obvious benefit to The Lock Inn, Liz also reckons she’s prepared her staff well for a
career in the hospitality industry. “We’re just a wee country pub, but if they (staff) get the basics here then the world’s their oyster,” she said.
While Liz may have become trainer extraordinaire she hasn’t turned her back on the culinary skills that got her into the licensed trade in the first place.
Liz said she is “constantly” working on the venue’s menu, making sure her “wee country pub” is at the cutting edge in terms of cuisine.
“I’m constantly changing the menu,” she said.
“We look at what’s on trend and we try and set trends.”
The restaurant at The Lock Inn is one of the areas set to benefit from the ongoing renovation work and Liz said the project represents “another wee adventure”.
“I hate to be bored,” she said.