Finding gold in the Scottish hills

By Stephen Oliver

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Enterprise select committee Locally sourced food Customer service Public house

Oliver: Customere service is paramount
Oliver: Customere service is paramount
Great customer service is the name of the game in the pub industry, says Stephen Oliver.

In need of a break, having spent several days with a cold towel round my head writing our submission to the Business & Enterprise Select Committee, I headed off for the hills — literally — 'way up north near Ullapool.

Normally when I go hillwalking I camp or stay in a bothy, but this is the time of year in Scotland when the midges can still bite every bit as viciously as a Tisc MP.

Not wanting to spend several days being eaten alive, I booked into one of Britain's most northerly and remote pubs, the Aultguish Inn, on "Destitution Road" —

so-called as it was one of several constructed after the potato famine of 1846-7, when food was provided for work.

I last stayed at this famous inn many years ago and can still remember the freezing water in the shower, brown with peat from the hills. Its food and accommodation were about as desolate as the landscape.

Nowadays, the water's still brown and the landscape is brooding, but the quality of the welcome is totally different.

Dario and Lesley escaped the insurance industry to take on the pub a few months ago.

In that time, though, they've transformed the business, with locally sourced food and a major investment in the bar, dining room and bedrooms. Not much unusual about that, you might think.

But this is a place where "local trade" is defined as an hour's drive or more.

Where people are out-numbered by sheep. And where the place's former reputation goes doggedly before it.

Despite onslaughts of midges, they've enjoyed a good summer, but in the winter, days may go by with nary a customer. It's a business that requires the long view — and deep pockets to cover the cashflow. But what differentiates the Aultguish from so many inns is its outstanding customer service.

While I've been tramping across the hills of Scotland over the years, I've lost count of the times I've heard the refrain "The cook's just finished". At five past eight?! Dinner's a bag of crisps again, then.

The Aultguish understands that customers are few and far between up here and that they must be fought for, to win them over in the first place and then to retain them.

There's a lesson for many an English pub in them there hills.

Stephen Oliver is managing director of Marston's Beer Company

Related topics Legislation

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