The pub has traditionally been considered the cornerstone of village life in the UK, but publicans are now warning more of these businesses are facing a bleak winter as customers tighten their belts to deal with rising energy and food costs.

Their plight came to the attention of social media users when Dave Taylor, landlord of the Golden Boar at Freckenham, made an online apology to customers who found the level of service was not up to their expectations during a recent visit.

In his post, he said: “Through Covid and the new energy crisis and now the current staff shortages, my team and I have continued to try and provide good service and sometimes we have not achieved this and tonight was one of those occasions and in hindsight we should have cancelled all bookings tonight.”

On Wednesday, he told the EADT his pub was having to deal with a double whammy of staff shortages and rising energy costs as bills rocket from £1,500 a month to £6,000 a month.

On Saturday nights, he only has two staff on duty and he has had to cancel bookings, while he said many pubs were cutting back on Monday and Tuesday lunchtime sessions to reduce costs.

Ipswich Star: The Bramford Cock is also facing difficulties this winterThe Bramford Cock is also facing difficulties this winter (Image: GOOGLE MAPS)

He believed many people simply did not want to work anymore, especially as the Government was considering a U-turn on plans to cut benefit payments and instead increase them in line with inflation.

He said: “It is a perfect storm now for pubs - one, we have got to pay more for our utilities. Two, people have just lost money in their pockets to come out to have something to eat and drink and, three, even if we get customers in, how do we serve them if we haven’t got any staff?”

He added the squeeze on customers’ incomes was now starting to "filter through" and impact pub trade.

A similar situation is confronting the team at The Dog pub in Grundisburgh, which currently has vacancies for three full-time staff, two chefs and a front-of-house team member, with the existing employees having to pick up the 150 hours that would have been fulfilled by these positions.

Landlord Charles Rogers said the combination of Covid and Brexit was at the heart of the staff shortages, especially as many potential recruits had discovered they did not want to work in jobs with long hours while on furlough during the pandemic.

Although he hadn’t especially noticed the impact on his trade so far, he thought there was a good chance the effect of rising energy costs would start to trickle through.

“Eating out is considered a luxury. It is a fact that people cut down on eating out and drinking out during a crisis. Rising food costs are a particular concern as the wholesale cost of food has increased by 30% and we are trying not to pass this on to the customer,” Mr Rogers said.

Teresa Brinkley, landlady of the Bramford Cock, said she was lucky that her pub was well supported by Bramford villagers, but staff have had to make changes to reduce energy costs, including drying tea towels on an airer rather than using a tumble dryer.

In addition, staff numbers had been cut during the week to ensure there were enough people on duty for the busier weekends.

She said: “We are hoping that people will still come in even though everything’s going up in price. I think people have started to cut back because it has gone really quiet during the week, but we do make it up at the weekend. Literally, through the week, I would say that everybody is cutting back already.”

While all the pubs had good booking levels for the Christmas period, the lack of staff was likely to be an issue.

Steve Lomas, managing director of Deben Inns, which operates seven Suffolk pubs including The Ship at Levington, Newbourne Fox and Maybush Inn at Waldringfield, welcomed chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s business energy cap, but wanted to know what the plan was beyond six months.

He said: "Christmas bookings and enquiries are currently strong at all of our sites but inflationary pressures are pushing prices and therefore squeezing margins. I’m confident, however, that demand will be strong over Christmas."