It was on a Tuesday night in October 1956 that Margaret Harrison showed up at the Locarno alone. She was shy but determined to find the handsome bloke she had been admiring from afar on the dancefloor. As chance would have it, Duncan McPhie was at the ballroom with his two sisters. Duncan and Margaret locked eyes and he asked her to dance. Less than a year later, my nana and papa were married.

When I first moved to Glasgow nearly a decade ago, I remember staring up at the bright yellow cab jutting out over Sauchiehall Street. I was awe-struck that the venue I could thank for my existence was still open, albeit operating as The Garage now.

I had just finished a double shift in a city centre restaurant and a few colleagues had invited me out for post-work drinks. Determined to make friends in the city, I obliged. It was a time when midweek nights out in Glasgow were electric. After over 10 hours of waiting tables and 30,000 steps tracked, discussing a day spent in the trenches of the service industry over £3 Black Russians at Sleazy’s was mandatory, I learned.

Margaret & Duncan, date unknownMargaret & Duncan, date unknown (Image: Marissa MacWhirter)

As shift workers, midweek was typically our weekend. A few drinks might lead to a boogie somewhere on Sauchiehall Street. Or you might end up shoulder to shoulder with the city’s other hospitality workers in Max’s. We spent our days dealing with complaints, scraping half-eaten plates into the bin, smiling as well-dressed punters made derogatory comments about our profession. And we spent our nights laughing it off and paying our tips forward to fellow bartenders before taking a £4 taxi ride home.

This month, The Garage announced that it was slashing its opening nights by more than half. Scotland’s largest nightclub and one with a special place in my heart had only just celebrated 30 years of music and dancing in February. In those three decades, the team couldn’t have been more proud to be open every single night – Christmas Day included.

I think all young people should have a chance to experience casual nights out like I had, and my parents and grandparents before me. But the reality is that nights out are just too expensive these days. We save them for special occasions only now. A taxi ride from Central Station to Merchant City alone can cost upwards of £8. You're lucky if you can find a place where 5 drinks cost less than £30. Entry to a club can be another £5-£10 on top of it. That’s about five hours of a minimum wage job just to pay for a night out.

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Moreover, night-time taxi charges in Glasgow look set to increase by about 10%. The price of food continues to rise. Don’t get me started on energy bills. The industry is also crippled by taxes. Everyone I’ve ever interviewed in the sector claims things have never been this bad.

People complain about the price of a pint, often side-eyeing staff as if it’s their decision to charge over £5 for a Tennent’s – but I don’t know a single pub owner who relishes the days they’re forced to put prices up. How we fix our badly neglected hospitality industry rarely seems to make national headlines. And it should.

It’s four years on from the pandemic and hospitality still can’t catch a break. The Garage cited rising costs and changing habits for cutting their opening nights from seven to three. But the glaring issue behind these two factors is that politicians time and again completely take the industry for granted. Ironic, as I imagine a lot of business is done over long lunches and pub pints.

The Locarno in Sauchiehall Street - now The Garage - in 1938The Locarno in Sauchiehall Street - now The Garage - in 1938

According to trade body UKHospitality, the industry contributes £140billion in economic activity and £54billion in tax receipts to the economy every year, employing over 3.5 million people. It also makes up the beating heart of our cities. Bars, pubs, restaurants and clubs are where we meet with loved ones, relax, dance and network. They’re a core part of building friendships and romantic relationships, especially for young people.

The years I spent working in the hospitality scene were some of the best. I would never be in the position I'm in today without the life skills and adaptability I learned from eight years of bar and restaurant work. I know the joke is a bit tired now but the Tories would be wise to swerve their National Service policy into a mandatory National Customer Service job initiative. Now that would be character-building.

Since I doubt they’ll be in a position to make any decisions after July 4, let's look at a policy that would actually have a positive effect on the industry: lowering VAT. Not just for the sake of a good time, but for the success of our tourism, music and food and drink industries. The average VAT on hospitality in Europe is just under 10% (compared to our rate of 20%) and the proof is in the pudding. The tax savings allow venues to keep prices down despite rampant inflation and reinvest in staff.

The Garage is in the old Locarno building


Too many bars, restaurants and clubs have been forced to close leaving gaping holes in our city’s high streets. In his 5 Point Plan to Save Hospitality, Manchester Night Czar Sacha Lord says VAT should be dropped to the 12.5% introduced amid the pandemic.

He writes: “Ultimately, 12.5% of revenue for the exchequer is better than 20% of nothing, which will repeatedly be the result if businesses go under (to say nothing of the lost PAYE/business rates and corporation tax revenue).”

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Going out to bars and restaurants has always been a source of joy to me. I would rather spend what money I have left over at the end of the month on a nice dinner with pals than a pair of jeans. Both Millennials and Gen Z are faced with such bleak financial prospects that spending a bit of cash on a night out (the memories!) is one of the most rewarding ways to blow off steam.

In a Facebook statement announcing their reduced opening, a spokesperson for The Garage wrote: “A thriving nightlife scene is more than just fun and games. It's a vital part of the city's culture, bringing people together, supporting local businesses, and creating those unforgettable memories. Without it, Glasgow loses a bit of its magic.”

I would argue that without it, Glasgow will lose more than a bit of its magic – it may lose the will to survive. We’re staring down the barrel of a future where only vape shops and soulless student flats line the high streets. What’s the point in a city like that?

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