Lessons Learned: The Challenges of Running a Small Hospitality Business

This is part 4 of a four-part series. Read part 3 here: Beyond Service: How Crofters Arran Diversified to Survive 2020


Like hospitality businesses across the world, Crofters Arran has had a turbulent year. However, the family-run bar and bistro on the Isle of Arran has adapted, taking the opportunity to build a brand, develop products and experiences for sale through several sister micro-enterprises, and revolutionise their approach to staffing, pricing and the traditional hospitality model.

Now, as Crofters Arran stands poised to open with an expanded premises and Crofters Larder, Crofters Cruises, Crofters Music and Crofters Still evolve along their own paths, the Crofters team is reflecting on what they’ve learned from their experiences in hospitality since the establishment originally opened its doors as Fiddlers’ in 2014.

General Manager Ealána Boyle says, “I’m still having to learn to balance the interpersonal needs of running an independent family-run business and building a culture of positivity with being a commercially-minded manager of a scaling brand.”

“I’ve been at the coalface of hospitality as a staff member, and I’ve also been a general manager, which has led to employing better industry standards in terms of health and safety, HR consultancy and following the right advice.”

“Unfortunately, because of the casual attitude in parts of the hospitality industry, sometimes you start bringing in systems or present staff with an employment contract, and they flee! At the other end of the spectrum, you find people who have see hospitality as a genuine professional career choice and demand structures, policies, handbooks and so on. This is how we need to operate now - legally and culturally. It’s standard in other industries, and even as a small business you have to employ state-of-the-art technology and best practices.”


Managing Director Dónal Boyle agrees, citing the need to develop procedures and standards to ensure fairness and optimal performance.

“One of the biggest mistakes I made early on was assuming that people would always behave in a reasonable way. By the time the business had momentum, we had a core staff upon whom we depended. When people let standards lapse and exploited their positions, it was not only difficult to replace them, but it would totally demoralise great staff who were committed to fairness and doing their best at work.”


Dónal also emphasises the importance of being properly capitalised, having kept Crofters afloat throughout 2020 on the back of personal alternative investments.

“We, and the hospitality industry at large, assumed the tourism market was always going to be there. The past year has demonstrated the importance of not being dependent on one market or third parties such as banks. Much of the industry runs on wafer-thin margins, with no capital reserves to soak up a downturn. A business our size, with a turnover of about £500,000 a year, should have £100,000 in reserve to get through times like these. I think that is changing, and small businesses are seeing the need to be robust and stable.”

As Ealána concludes, the future can be bright for small, independent hospitality businesses that are prepared to make changes and determined to attract employees that share their values:

“The last year has seen positives for the industry. It has provided the opportunity for a full break to reestablish a new status quo.  It’s going to be an increased challenge for us to find people who are accomplished, experienced and passionate about hospitality, who also want a healthy work-life balance, but we’re confident we can find the right people to fill that niche.”

Crofters are looking to recruit a cohort of entrepreneurial minded people across a variety of roles. Check out the vacancies available and enquire for more information. 

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