AS the tourist season gets into full swing, an entrepreneur working in a scenic part of Scotland highlights continuing concerns about the impact of VAT and the business rates system on the key leisure sector.


John McNulty.

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I am 27 but purchased The Taynuilt Hotel when I had just turned 22.

What is your business called?

Officially we are Taynuilt Hotels limited but operationally we are The Taynuilt, Etive Restaurant with rooms.

Where is it based?

The village of Taynuilt, Argyll.

What services does it offer?

Good food, wine and whisky really! We are a restaurant and we also have 10 letting rooms to provide accommodation for people looking for dinner, bed and breakfast.

To whom does it sell?

Anyone and everyone to be honest. We have a following from the surrounding areas and also have built up a great repeat business of guests who return three or four times a year. We also get tourists visiting Scotland and the local area.

What is its turnover?

Honestly, we don’t know yet, we started this business with a different model to the one we operate now and we changed once or twice in the middle.

The old model followed a high volume, open all hours approach with a public bar and restaurant serving bar food, a bistro style lounge menu and takeaway food as well as a hotel - literally trying every available option to increase turnover.

The new model is based on consolidating what we do best and focussing on our passion for Scotland, its producers and the really great suppliers around the UK as well. This resulted in closing the hotel for quieter nights, stopping serving bar food and just concentrating on making it a restaurant with rooms with the focus on dining rather than the accommodation.

The new model is only six months old but is already on track to be successful turning over between £400 and £600,000.

How many employees?

The most I have ever employed was 17 employees but now I have just three.

When was it formed?


Why did you take the plunge?

Because it was a good opportunity; for the price of the site we could see the potential. We knew there would be a massive amount of tireless work involved but we knew what we wanted to achieve overall and I think we are on track.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I was working away, gaining experience, trying my hardest to learn as much and to understand not just how a kitchen works but how the kitchen can drive a business forward, trying to work with chefs who did this and observing as much as I could.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

We initially tried through the banks but that was a non-starter, they pretty much just laughed at us. I was fortunate enough that my family were in a position to back me and the support ongoing has been invaluable.

What was your biggest break?

Gaining two AA Rosettes last year; if I had to put my finger on one thing that really pushed us forward and focused my attentions it would be that. It is a standard that you must maintain every day and push for better.

What was your worst moment?

I haven’t really had a “worst moment”, but I have had plenty of setbacks: key equipment break downs, guests fighting at 2am, staff problems.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

The constant improvement of not just the business but the building. This is not just my place of work, it is my family home, so to see it develop is very enjoyable. Before, a lot of the jobs were out of sight such as electrical work, a new boiler and other back of house jobs but now the customer is seeing the improvements as we develop the front of house, rooms and the grounds.

What do you least enjoy?

The continual clash and restrictions imposed by local governing bodies who are not business orientated and do not appear to understand what it takes to move forward.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

The refurbishment is my biggest ambition: The rooms, the grounds, how we develop our sustainability model, growing as much as we can onsite, using our smoker and herb gardens, making the whole site work for the guest.

What are your five top priorities?

The food sourcing and provenance; the marketing and outside image of the restaurant; building our clientele and database targeting new and return custom; the development of the whole site. The biggest current priority is how I’m going to do all this and cook with a new baby arriving hopefully on time on the 19th of August, ideally before service.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

Reduce VAT for the tourism sector in line with some of our EU counterparts and sort out a working model that is live and flexible for the utter shambles that is business rates. I’m keeping this brief as I don’t think the paper has enough pages.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Don’t listen to other people when they tell you how to run your business and where you’re going wrong. Everyone is an expert but it is you that has the big picture, you that will be there in the end paying the bills and staff so stick to your guns, roll out your model, your ideas and stick to them, do what you do, what you want to do and if it is good and people like it they will come back. If it needs tweaked that’s fine but don’t stray off course, keep going forward towards your aims and goals.

How do you relax?

I don’t really; well I haven’t yet, but I do enjoy the satisfaction of completing a task, and we have a lot of tasks to complete so whilst I might be tired I should be pretty satisfied.