Spiralling energy bills, rising food prices and staffing challenges: The truth about running a Yorkshire village pub in 2022

The owner of three gastropubs in North Yorkshire has spoken out about the issues facing the hospitality industry.

Simon Wade wrote to The Yorkshire Post about his experiences after reading about The Hovingham Inn's Richard and Lindsey Johns' decision to end their lease on the village pub due to rising costs and staffing challenges.

Mr Wade - who appeared on Channel 4's Four in a Bed - owns the freehold to The Bay Tree at Stillington, between York and Helmsley; The Fox and Hounds at Langthorpe, near Boroughbridge, and The Grantham Arms at Boroughbridge. He employs 65 staff across the three sites.

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He has recently taken over and refurbished The Bay Tree again after leasing it to four different tenants in 12 years until it closed when the last one left in September 2021.

The Bay Tree, Stillington

"I decided to invest heavily and take the pub back on, joining the portfolio I have created in the time I have not been there. I have a fantastic team that work with me, so this gave me an opportunity for promotion within and it has made the opening and day-to-day running of the venue possible.

"Regarding the ever-increasing challenges we face in the industry, considering the forced closures we had to endure during times of Covid, the limited operating times and outdoor space only scenarios, we now face horrendous contractual problems with the energy markets and suppliers.

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"The Grantham Arms, Boroughbridge, is my 'flagship' and has 13 bedrooms, 100-cover outdoor areas and an 80-cover indoor restaurant. It was in contract with CNG for gas and electricity. They didn't survive as a company and therefore my existing contracts were tendered out to other companies and I did not have a choice of who would supply me thereafter, I was automatically put on a deemed rate which pushed my energy bills up four-fold.

"This applied to my other pub, The Fox and Hounds at Langthorpe. I contacted Direct Business Solutions who negotiated new contracts on my behalf, but due to the volatile energy market, I am left with energy bills that are three times my original contract price for gas and because none of the energy companies will issue long-term contracts for electricity, I am on a yearly rolling contract at a price three times of my original supply cost, with a higher daily standing charge.

"This is completely scandalous and I have no power to change.

"The return to 20 per cent VAT has not helped me to combat the escalating costs, nor has the minimum wage increase.

"I have always paid over the minimum wage for my full-time employees, so exponentially everyone's salary has increased; the new employees are walking into a great time to be employed. I remember my first managerial position, at 18 years old my salary was £4,550 live-in as a trainee junior assistant manager with Mount Charlotte Thistle Hotels, and it was hours as required. Things have changed for the better over the years, without a doubt.

"The now-daily price increases on different foods is taking more time out of my team's day to negotiate and decide what to purchase; the supply chain has gone from one of each supplier for fish, meat, veg and beer, wines and spirits, to multiple accounts with multiple suppliers.

"Some of these changes came because of the pandemic; the brewers could not deliver the demand, they all seemed to misforecast the thirst of the British public after being locked down, so we had to spread our wings and change around our portfolios just so we could serve cold pints and chilled wines.

"We opted to work with as many local producers as possible, taking on the increase in prices so we could maintain supply to our guests. There has been a slight increase in product prices on our menus and over the bars, but we rely on volume of sales in order to keep the impact minimal.

"It's all about using our experience and making our venues better for our customers than the competition, so they choose to come to us when going out.

"There is also a shortage of new talent especially in the kitchen and chef department. It's very difficult to attract talent due to location; we can attract people with a great salary and benefits, and flexible working hours, but this can often cause friction with the existing team, so you can negate this by reducing your opening hours and toning down your offering, but who wants to do that?

"It's the reason you are successful as a business, because your offering is on trend and better than your competition. I have recently employed two new chefs to join the team, they start in the Grantham Arms, the existing team move up the ranks and run the other kitchens, which is fantastic for them and allows me to reward their hard work and effort so far.

"I am looking for another venue, however, with the escalating costs of the above and the shortage of the right calibre of employees, the fact that I would have to start with energy prices being escalated three times and the uncertainty of inflation increase and cost of living, I am reserving my decision for a while, which is not easy, as I didn't become self-employed and start a journey in business to be chained down and recede.

"On top of all this and more importantly, I have a family; two boys aged seven and 11. I try to balance work and life to the best of my ability. When I started my journey I was barely at home, as I've progressed, I've been able to spend more time with them; now the balance is changing again and that's why I employ a great team.

"I have been in the industry for 33 years and seen a lot of changes. I remember how the industry was turned on its head with the birth of pub companies. They were property management companies that sold beer, charged unachievable rents and wiped out the traditional pub landlord in a few years. How many pubs have closed since they turned up? How many village pubs are now houses?"