September and October weather gave all of us in hospitality an extended late summer and autumn with customers enjoying eating, drinking, and relaxing outdoors. This was great and we were all very busy in the restaurant and pub trade. However, now, the damp and cold days with long dark nights have arrived. Hopefully, people will still celebrate Christmas and the New Year, but we are all worried about what will happen in January, February, and March.

The unimaginable energy cost rises and the soaring inflation over the last few months, which has been going through the roof, has made customers very cautious about how they spend their money (and quite rightly so).

Hospitality plays a major role in the local and national economies, and it is so important to highlight how fragile our industry is right now. A short-term cap on the electricity and gas unit rates helps, but we use a lot of units compared to the ‘average household’, and it does not help at all the rural families and businesses that rely on oil for heating.

The Government has again left us with very little practical support. Lowering the VAT rate would have helped offset the soaring costs, even if they dropped it to 15% rather than keeping it at 20%. All pubs and restaurants have to sell everything with 20% VAT, which is basically a consumption tax we, and therefore our customers, have to pay to the government. It is one of their biggest sources of revenue. I’m sorry, but the government just don’t seem to understand what it takes to survive as a small business. In the South-West we have some of the poorest counties in England.

The original Eat Out to Help Out scheme probably wasn’t needed, people were just waiting to go out and socialise after the lockdowns, but now is the time when it would really help. The Government won’t listen to small businesses because we don’t have an organised pressure group, it is time for our (and your) local MPs to stand up and be counted.

Our great British pubs are at the heart of town and village communities, and the true value of this is greatly underestimated in my opinion, and they are closing down at an increasing rate. You can never replace face-to-face socialising with modern technology or artificial intelligence, we all need real people after all, Covid and lockdowns highlighted that. You can meet friends and family at home but mixing with your local community is a really important thing and that is where your local pub is the hub.

This is the first proper Christmas that hospitality has seen since 2019 so I’m pleased with the bookings that we have in the diary. We always try to offer good value; providing quality, local, home-cooked fresh food.

No, we can’t compete with big supermarket prices; especially on alcohol, and people have to stop thinking that they can have cheap good food at a pub. To mention VAT again; supermarkets selling raw meat and fish, fruit and vegetables, cereals, nuts and pulses, culinary herbs, etc are zero-rated, as are most ingredients or additives that are used in home cooking and baking. For ‘restaurants’ anything made ‘in the course of catering’ is always at the 20% standard rate, and that is before you add in the overheads and labour costs.

Our hard-working loyal staff have been with us for many years and always have smiles on their faces. They are part of our ‘family’ and need to be looked after to ensure that we keep upholding the standards that you expect. But pubs, clubs, restaurants, cafés, hotels and other hospitality providers can only continue to do this with your support. Love your local or, as the saying goes, “use it or lose it”.

Have a very Merry Christmas and I wish a Happy New Year to all of you!