Beyond Service: How Crofters Arran Diversified to Survive 2020

This is part 3 of a four-part series. Read part 2 here: Breaking the Mould: Crofters Arran Disrupts the Restaurant Model


When the first lockdown of 2020 caused music bar and bistro Crofters Arran to close its doors, the family-led management team were concerned that they might not have a viable restaurant business in future. This led to the launch of Crofters Larder, a food production business enhancing locally grown and sustainably foraged ingredients from Arran and the Ayrshire region to produce artisan larder staples such as condiments and preserves.

Over the course of the past year, Crofters has become an umbrella brand for sister enterprises including Crofters Music, providing musical entertainment online, Crofters Cruises, which will take the Crofters food, drink and music experience on board tall ship cruises, and the latest venture, Crofters Still, creating unique alcoholic beverages on-site at Crofters Arran using local ingredients.


“The key part of our evolution this year was to develop the ability to manufacture products and experiences that we could sell to a retail market, wholesale market and online, rather than just providing dining, drinking, music and service in the restaurant,” says Dónal Boyle, Managing Director of Crofters Arran.

“It’s a natural growth from the ethos and thought processes behind what we were doing. We’d aspired to it before, but then we had the opportunity to make it a reality. Crofters Larder, for instance, is an expression of a latent desire to connect with food, land and local communities and get away from the corporate supply chain.”

While Crofters Larder and Crofters Still are on hold as the restaurant premises at Crofters Arran undergoes expansion to prepare for reopening, the Crofters team has spent many months getting the businesses compliant and resourced, and are “waiting for the starter to go,” says General Manager Ealána Boyle.


However, the various Crofters micro-businesses face the challenge that is gripping the entire UK hospitality industry - staffing. How can businesses - particularly small, independent businesses outside urban centres - attract and retain staff while remaining profitable and offering customers a fair price for quality experience?


Never short of ideas, the Crofters team have long had to be creative when it comes to recruiting and accommodating staff in their island location. One possibility under consideration takes inspiration from offshore industries. Under this framework, Crofters would recruit staff who reside in the wider Ayrshire and Glasgow region, who would work a strict four-day, 40-hour week for a living wage with free accommodation, leaving to enjoy three days at leisure when their replacement arrives to take the next four-day ‘shift’ and accommodation. While effectively doubling accommodation capacity, it would also offer staff a truly healthy work-life balance, says Ealána.


“Ultimately it’s about trying to develop Crofters into a business that does not replicate the traditional hospitality model. The hospitality model is toxic on all levels - for staff, for business owners, for the viability of the business - it is a minefield of negativity. And yet we see other industries develop in a much more sustainable way, both environmentally and economically. We need to break the mould of what is defined as the hospitality industry and should be a very vibrant, immersive, healthy and positive experience for everyone.”

Read part 4 here: Lessons Learned: The Challenges of Running a Small Hospitality Business


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