A qualitative investigation into the experiences of workers in the hospitality sector in Scotland

Chapter Eight: Working in rural locations

We interviewed eleven people who currently worked – or who had worked in the past – in hotels or restaurants in rural locations in Scotland. These participants highlighted a number of challenges that they linked specifically to working in rural areas. As the following sections explore, these included: struggles to find affordable or suitable accommodation, struggles to find adequate childcare, increased prices, and increased staff shortages. These are explored in the sections below and through Lizzie's worker story.

Workers' Experience of the Hospitality Sector

Worker Profile

Name: Lizzie

Age: 23

Nationality: British

Residency: Recently moved to an island for work. Previously lived and worked mainly in the north of England.

Work History: Worked in hospitality since leaving school, including in pubs, fast-food restaurants and as a restaurant supervisor in a holiday camp.

Takeaway: Happy with new job on an island resort but sees the job as temporary due to problems associated with its remote location.

When we interviewed Lizzie, she had recently started a new job as a waitress in a restaurant that was part of an island holiday resort. She had moved there with her partner, who had taken a job as a sous-chef in the restaurant kitchen. They had also worked together in their previous job in a holiday camp, where Lizzie had worked in a supervisory position in a restaurant. Both Lizzie and her partner had been born and raised in the north of England, and this was their first job in Scotland.

They had decided to move to Scotland due to their dissatisfaction with their previous job, which had involved working long hours without being paid overtime. In this previous job, they had never managed to have the same day-off in the week, which meant they had little time to spend together. Moreover, as her partner did not drive and the holiday camp had been in a rural location, Lizzie had spent her days off driving her partner to and from work, rather than travelling to see her family and friends.

When they accepted the job on the island resort in Scotland, they stipulated that they wanted to have the same day off, to which management agreed. Lizzie was pleased to be paid by the hour rather than on an annualised salary, as she felt that this would ensure that she was not expected to work unpaid overtime, as had happened in her previous job. Lizzie also told us that she had been pleased with how supportive the restaurant management had been when she experienced sexual harassment from a customer (see section She was aware that the resort was experiencing staff shortages – with several of its restaurants currently closed as a result – and she had already experienced changes to her hours due to these shortages. However, as long as her day off with her partner was protected, she did not mind last-minute changes to her shifts.

Despite this positive beginning to her new job, Lizzie saw her job at the resort as temporary, lasting probably just for the summer season and perhaps into the Christmas period. She told us that its remote location was the main reason for this: not only was it far away from her family and friends but it was also hard for them to see a future for themselves there due to a lack of affordable accommodation. They were currently living in a shared room in staff accommodation. She told us that while she was essentially happy with the accommodation, she was still adjusting to the lack of privacy and space:

"I found it a bit weird to adjust, because we would like a bit more privacy, because we've lived in our flat for three years, just us two and the dog, so, I think it's a little bit weird sharing a kitchen and sharing a bathroom, but I'm sure I'll get used to it."

Lizzie expressed wishes to settle down and buy a family house within the near future, but she suspected this would be impossible on the island:

"We've had a look [at buying a place] and just on the island, it's just, it's abysmal, I thought where we lived was bad, but there's nothing. Some of the chefs that [my partner's] been speaking to, have been here for three years and they still can't get a house."

In the shorter term, Lizzie also expressed shock at the price of petrol on the island, which she told us was higher than on the mainland. She also described to us how there was less choice about where she shopped and the products that were available:

"Oh my God yes [I'm worried about the cost of living] I mean, because it's an island, it's the most expensive, it's more expensive, like fuel for a litre is two pound thirteen. Now I nearly threw up in my mouth when I saw it, I was like, oh my God. Like the Co-op, I think the Co-op is more expensive here, we had a Co-op where we lived, and I don't know, just everything is a bit pricier….: Yes, that's the only choice, I'd kill for a Lidl or a McDonalds, yes, there's no fast-food restaurants, there's literally one pizza and a Chinese."

8.1. Accommodation and childcare shortages

Like Lizzie, many of the participants who had worked in rural locations had at some point lived in staff accommodation due to either an absence of local accommodation or due to its unaffordability. Tímea, a chef whose experiences are described in depth in Chapter Two, had worked in a number of different rural hotels in Scotland since migrating from Hungary around ten years ago. She had experienced difficulties with accommodation on a number of occasions, such as when she broke up with her partner, a man who lived locally, which then forced her to find a new job as local accommodation on the island where they were living was too expensive for her to remain in the area. She described this experience as follows:

"I tried to find a flat to rent but because [the island] is really literally lives on tourism, there is no flat to rent for a long term, just on a touristy price, and I cannot pay £50, £60, £70 a day. …So actually I wasn't able to find one single, not even like a room share or a flat share, nothing."

At the time of our interview, Tímea was living in staff accommodation in a rural town around two-hour drive north of Edinburgh. She told us that, as a small tourist town, any other form of local accommodation was unaffordable for her. This was problematic, however, as her partner lived in Edinburgh and her son, a university student, would usually spend his holidays at her with home. However, as staff accommodation entailed only a single room with shared living space, her son could not join her and so was staying with her partner in Edinburgh. She tried to see them both as often as she could although she found this difficult, given the length of the drive and her long working hours:

"[I see them] for a couple of days [but] sometimes I only have one day off. When I have one day off I can't even come back. [the drive] is just too much, it's roughly two hours. If you have a day off, you drive two hours and drive back two hours that's just like what's the point."

Tímea, 45, chef in a hotel, rural location

Like both Lizzie and Tímea, Vicki – whose story is also described in more depth in Chapter Two – similarly found that working in hospitality in a rural location presented problems for her family life. For example, when Vicki fell pregnant, they had to move out of staff accommodation, as they felt they needed their own space once the baby arrived. They did manage to find somewhere to live although they subsequently struggled to find affordable childcare once Vicki was ready to return to work after the birth of her baby. As there was no childcare in their town for children under three, Vicki could only work on evenings and weekend – something that she found very tiring and detrimental to her family life (see worker story in Chapter Two):

"The only nursery in [our town], is three plus and [my daughter] is only one and a half, so, I can't really work during the day anyway….We don't have family here or anything and we can't afford to have someone come to watch her, because it would cost the same as what I would earn, it would just be silly."

Ellen, an officer supervisor and hotel manager on an island, described the difficulties of working in hospitality as a single mother. She told us that she would like to work more hours at the hotel but is restricted to working during the hours childcare is offered:

"There's only so much I can do because I can't be there the whole time. I'm a single mum. So I don't have people to look after my child in the evening, so this is a bit tricky. I can only get childcare from 8 in the morning […] Unfortunately there is a big lack of childcare here as it is, lots of people have trouble trying to find childcare and child minders, nurseries, there's just not enough for everybody."

Ellen, 40, office supervisor and manager in a hotel on an island

As a final example, another participant, Mike, described to us how he had lived in staff accommodation for a period while working for a rural hotel in the Highlands. He told us that staff were only allowed to live there for a six-month period and also that it was not available to more senior staff members, as it was deemed inappropriate for them to share living space with those whom they managed. Once he was promoted, therefore, he had to start commuting long distances to work every day, which added to the pressure of his work:

"The first time I worked [in the hotel] yes I lived in, but you only got six months in staff accommodation, before you had to find a place in town, because the staff turnover was relatively high, that they always needed fresh rooms for people coming in. The second, so, six months and then I found a flat with a friend. The second time I worked there, I wasn't allowed staff accommodation, because my grade was too high… So, I was doing the commute, which wasn't that bad, it was forty five minutes, but when that's forty five minutes, each way on the back of a twelve, thirteen, fourteen hour shift, that knocks the hell out of you."

Mike eventually decided to buy a place locally due to the stress of the commute, which he was able to do given he was on a management salary. He noted, however, that this was not an option for more junior members of staff:

"So then after about five months, I ended up buying a place closer to [the hotel] because I couldn't keep [the commute] going….[It] is quite expensive because it's besides [this famous resort] so it creates its own little sort of economic bubble. If you're speaking about the entry level, the coming in as a commis chef, a waiter, a housekeeper, a bartender, basically if you wanted to have a life outside of work, you'd have to share with somebody, you wouldn't be able to afford a one bedroom flat in that area, and live between the rent, council tax etc., and you're on minimum wage essentially, or not far above it. Not far above it, they're not a minimum wage employer, but they weren't far above it, at that time."

Mike, 44, bartender and former hotel manager, Dundee

8.2 Staff shortages

Finally, some of our participants believed that staff shortages were more acute in rural areas than in other locations, because the pool of available workers was smaller. For example, Vicki described how the combination of Brexit, Covid and her rural location affected staff shortages:

"Yes and the café, everywhere in [our town], all the businesses at the moment are really struggling for staff, I think a lot of people that were here from overseas went back home during lockdown and maybe didn't come back, or whatever, and also just being quite a small town, it's really hard for people to, there's no accommodation really here. So, if a business doesn't have staff accommodation, then it is really hard to find staff."

Vicki, 28, bartender in a small town in Perthshire

These sentiments were echoed by Ellen, who worked as a manager and officer supervisor in a hotel on an island. She believed that a range of factors, including the stressful nature of the hospitality industry and the impacts of COVID, were causing staff shortages, although she also believed that these problems were more acute for those in remote locations.

"Very understaffed, yeah, staffing this year has been really, really poor. I know it's a nationwide thing, it's not just [us], but they really affect [us] because…[in] the rest of Scotland, there's a lot more people going around. And you can have your pick of a job at the moment, because it's not just hospitality that's understaffed, everywhere' s understaffed. So if you don't like a job you just move on to the next one, and it's really hard to retain people because hospitality is not for everybody. It's a very demanding job and sometimes it's not very thankful, unfortunately."

"I mean we've noticed things since Covid really, that we used to have a lot of European people coming over to help work. And they would be our summer staff, sort of thing, so they would work for maybe five months through the year, and that always helped us get through. But since Covid as well, there's a lot less people and I think, this is just my own personal opinion, that they have been in furlough…and everything, they get too much for staying at home. So why would you want to get a job when you can stay at home and get the same money? That's how I kind of feel at the moment…..I know we've had people coming in and they've done two days and they've like, "No, not for me," and they just go back home again…. I don't know, like I said, hospitality is just a different field, you have to be a people person, you have to work in teams, you know, it's not for everyone."

Ellen also identified a lack of childcare in her local area as a barrier to recruiting staff:

"But all we can get at the moment for people applying is 14, 15-year-olds looking for summer work. And they can't serve in the bar, so we've had days when we can't open the bar. And then we had a gift shop built just prior to Covid, we had one summer out of it… And we can't open it every day because, again, a lot of our staff for the shop are parents, mothers who work during school hours only. But then in the summer there's no childcare for us up here at term-time. So it's really poor because, then, they can't work for the summer. So I think childcare needs to be addressed as well, somewhere outside of the 8 till 5 sort of work times."

Ellen, 40, office supervisor and manager in a hotel in the Highlands.