As Britain faces one of its biggest staff shortages in decades as it contends with the effects of the pandemic and Brexit, the restaurant and hospitality sectors have been particularly affected.
Restaurants attempting to reopen after months of closure have had to contend with a short supply of chefs, kitchen staff and waiters.
Food businesses in many small towns and villages have found it particularly difficult to reopen – and in businesses that offer dishes where special marinating and cooking is required, like kebabs and mezes, the problems are compounded.
But the UK government said businesses should seek to invest in Britain’s domestic workforce instead.
Many EU nationals who worked in the UK have returned home in the past year. The hospitality trade association UKHospitality says 1.3 million foreign workers left the UK during the pandemic.
Many were countries like Poland, Bulgaria and Italy and have not returned.
According to Foodhub, an online food delivery service, takeaway restaurants across the country have been experiencing rising costs of ingredients and delays in ports as a result of Brexit.
Salim Chowdury, the head of the Bangladeshi Caterers Association, told BritShish that the industries that bring curry and kebabs to the masses had both been affected by the transition in the supply chain: a resource that once almost exclusively European-driven is now looking to draw from both the EU and the rest of the world.
Restaurant owners point to price increases particularly in flour, chips, chicken and cheese, which are among the most used and ordered items.
The lack of certainty and adequate information have been heavily felt by many businesses who found it difficult to make forward planning to foresee the future of their business.
The small price increases are reported to build up at the end of a week, which created an extra burden on businesses who are also challenged by the limited availability of the products.
Chowdury said there was a “unique hit” for Bengali-run businesses and households, which aren’t large enough to match or sustain what a multinational on the high street can do.
“So our restaurants risk being picked off,” he said.
“The supply of chefs and staff from Bangladesh could be much more straightforward in process. I know the Home Secretary is trying hard on this area she supported in Brexit, and I trust it will come through.
“We have more options for younger people in the Bengali community, as do others. So unless young people see a clear trajectory and security we’ll get less supply.”
Businesses are now facing the dilemma of whether to keep or remove certain items from their menus as some of the ingredients are now higher in price and/or difficult to find.
Such critical decision as removing certain items from the menus could also cause a massive financial hit as it could be a risky move. Amid the availability crises, many businesses choose to carry on and pay the increased cost which causes for demand to become higher, supply lower. The suppliers are also tied to their suppliers which creates a chain effect in the sector.
The number of job vacancies in April to June 2021 was 9.9% (77,500) above its pre-pandemic level in January to March 2020 – the first time it has surpassed this level in 15 months.
From April to June 2021 there were an estimated 862,000 job vacancies, with growth of 38.8% (241,200) compared with last quarter.
It is also notable that the accommodation and food service activities increased the most – by 73,400 on the last quarter to 102,000. In this sector there is evidence of a shortage of skilled staff and of employees finding alternative areas of employment prior to the sector reopening.
It is however below levels seen before the coronavirus pandemic.
Government: ‘Employers shouldn’t rely on labour from abroad’
A spokesperson for the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Department told BritShish: “Employers should invest in our domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad and the Government will continue to take the necessary steps to ensure employers can access the skilled workforce they need as we safely reopen the economy, including through our Sector-based Work Academy Programme, apprenticeships, and traineeships.
“Our Hospitality Strategy includes measures to help address current recruitment challenges as well as make the industry a career option of choice. This includes highlighting opportunities to jobseekers through dedicated work coaches and exploring options for vocational training that support careers in the sector.”
Brexit, Chowdury said, does not affect teams on the floor of the restaurant, but there will be an impact on supply chains.
“The whole hospitality sector is transitioning to a more balanced intake of workforce from the UK, EU and the rest of the world.
“We have leaders in government who supported Brexit and who support opening Britain up for business. They have taken us through the worst of the crisis and we will be sure to overcome the next challenges together.”
‘Rules and regulations need to be made easier for the EU workers’
‘There’s definitely staff shortages in our sector at the moment. We are struggling to find staff to work in kitchen and floor sections. There are many Turkish and kebab restaurants, but not enough chefs to work in these restaurants at the moment. This is also increasing the amount of salaries paid to staff currently working as they are being paid much higher than before due to staff shortage. We are even reading about this on the newspapers almost every day not only concerning our sector, but other sectors being affected as well. Our friends working in construction sector is also complaining about staff shortage that is adversely affecting their businesses. We also know that currently there is a huge shortage of lorry drivers which is causing delays in delivering goods and lack of supply in the UK market.
As a result of Brexit many European workers left the country and as far as we know, they are not coming back due to visa restrictions and new regulations. Covid-19 also hit the sector very hard. Not only workers left the country, but also the ones who stayed do not want to work 12 hours a day and get their usual salary to pay for an expensive room in London. Many people cannot afford to live in London with decent standards and that is also a huge part of the problem.
Rules and regulations need to be made easier for the EU workers to come to the UK market. Big companies such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s are also suffering from the current situation. They don’t have any other choice, otherwise the shelves will remain empty. We know that Wetherspoon’s were against cheap European Labour previously. However, we even hear a change in their tone now because they say they need it. Companies are now applying for licenses to be authorised to bring chefs and staff from overseas because there is no other solution. We need staff…’