THE return to profit at Glasgow-based drinks wholesaler Inverarity Morton could perhaps be seen as a welcome sign of more normal times for the hospitality sector.

The company endured two enormously difficult years during the pandemic, when lockdown brutally curtailed its principal activity of supplying beers, wines and spirits to pubs, restaurants, and hotels.

Understandably, there was palpable sense of relief in managing director Stephen Russell’s voice as he told The Herald that it was “almost like a transformation” in the company when its latest accounts showed a profit of £1.5 million in the year to September 30, following two years of losses arising from Covid.

It is certainly hard to imagine just how difficult it must have been for everyone connected to Inverarity when lockdown forced it to all but cease operations, and a move into serving consumers directly was deemed impossible for the on-trade specialist, owing to the intense competition in that part of the market.

Mr Russell signalled that the sense of frustration was all the more acute when the company was not given relief from business rates when the supermarkets were, even though they continued to trade throughout lockdown.

As such, the lifting of Covid restrictions and the freedom to get back to doing what it does best would have been an enormous boost to staff, with the return to profitability confirmed by the accounts perhaps providing a nice bookend to an enormously difficult period.

But just because Covid is in the rear-view mirror it does not mean all the dark clouds have lifted.

Inverarity and its customers remain in the thick of a cost inflation crisis that has yet to show any significant sign of easing. Mr Russell highlighted the rise in interest rates as perhaps the biggest challenge now facing the industry, as for many households it has meant a dramatic reduction in their discretionary income and thus their ability to spend cash in hotels and restaurants.

For experienced hospitality operators and suppliers to the on-trade, it is the latest in a series of obstacles they have faced in the last two decades, which have included the introduction of the smoking ban in 2007, the recession following the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, and Covid.

But having successfully navigated those, Mr Russell said he is confident that human beings’ inherent desire to socialise will ensure this latest threat is seen off too.