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British hospitality sector struggling with staff shortages

By: Raf Fabisz

Posted on

Empty bistro in London

Photo author: Simon Rae

Restaurant owners are struggling to staff their businesses as they get ready to welcome customers back indoors on 17th of May.

Businesses are faced with a double whammy, in which lockdowns and new Brexit immigration restrictions have caused a dramatic shrinkage of the available workforce. This problem is particularly severe in London, which was especially popular among workers from Europe. Smaller establishments who were forced to let go of their staff during lockdowns will be met with additional training cost.

Richard Gladwin, co-owner of Gladwin Brothers, which has four London restaurants, said he currently employs 40 staff, but needs 60 on his payroll to operate at full capacity, plus a further 20 by mid-summer when he aims to open a new site in Richmond. Richard Green, owner of 28°-50° Wine Bar & Kitchen, said he is seeking to hire “about 50” new people by the end of May, and the same again by summer. Getting new people is impossible.

Figures

Shortage is felt the most in the south east and in London. Waiter hourly rate has already increased from about £11 to £15, not including tips. Kitchen staff in some areas are not willing to return to work unless their renumeration increases by at least a third, when compared to figures from before the pandemic. Current top operators trying to recruit are:

  • Stonegate Pub Group: over 1500 vacancies
  • Pizza Express: over 230 vacancies
  • Britannia Hotels: over 250 vacancies

James Chiavarini, owner of Il Portico, London’s oldest family restaurant, told the Daily Mail: “Wages are going through the roof. I have chefs who usually would be on about £35,000 and they are now saying, ‘we want £50,000’.

Nick Pring, co-owner of Urban Pubs and Bars, said: “It’s great to have most of our sites back up and open but it has certainly been a challenging couple of weeks for our teams. Not everyone has come back after furlough and with sites being busier than anticipated we've got vacancies in some tremendous sites for assistant and general managers and head and sous chefs.”

Something sweet

British staff have also decided to stay at home. Many younger people who lost their jobs during the pandemic appear to have pivoted into other professions, while those with more experience have reassessed their work-life priorities during lockdown and taken jobs nearer to home.

This creates a great opportunity for more local, community engaged operators, as more people now prefer to sacrifice high wages in favour of smaller cities, shorter commute, and flexible working.

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