The last thing a restaurant owner wants is to refuse party reservations during the Christmas period. But that’s the harsh reality for Rattle Owl, an independent restaurant located in… Michelin guidewhich, like the vast majority of hospitality companies, is understaffed and forced to make concessions.
“We used to be able to do 26 (people for a birthday party) but we can’t do that at all now. The maximum we can do now is 10,” said York restaurant owner Clary O’Callaghan.
Shortage means that anyone who calls to make a reservation for more people is declined.
“Independent restaurants are all in the same boat: we have to limit numbers to ensure customers get the best service.”
The restaurant has five chefs and six front of house staff, but needs one or two more chefs and two more front of house workers. She is not alone in experiencing a so-called “existential threat” to the hospitality industry.
Celebrity London chef Jason Atherton said last month that he would have to close restaurants in the new year because a third of the jobs in his restaurants are vacant. Tom Kerridge, Rick Stein, Angela Hartnett and Raymond Blanc have all raised their voices in support of training and hiring more hospitality workers.
Other restaurants make concessions about who they hire. One restaurant owner said that they train in-house staff to do kitchen work, which is not ideal, in addition to hiring international students, who are allowed to work 20 hours a week.
Last month, a group of hospitality organizations wrote to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions calling for “urgent intervention” in what has become a “perfect storm” that will force businesses to close.
In a joint letter to Mel Stride MP, UKH Hospitality, the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII), and the Institute of Hospitality and Charity Springboard, he wrote that the staffing crisis was causing an “existential threat to our industry”. .
“This is not an issue facing just one type of venue or hospitality business, it is a global issue, and it matters because brilliant, passionate people are the lifeblood of hospitality,” the letter read.
The vacancy rate in the hospitality sector is 11%, compared to the UK average of 4%, and this is costing the industry £22 billion a year, said BBPA chief executive Emma McLarkin.
“Obviously, hospitality is struggling to attract the people we need,” she said. “Obviously we’re always having trouble getting enough cooks in the kitchen. That was the case even before the pandemic, but now we’re struggling to get people to come in front of the house; it wasn’t a problem before. And that’s going to affect Christmas.”
During the pandemic, McLarkine said, many overseas staff left and did not return, and this was particularly the case with EU workers, who no longer had freedom of movement to the UK.
She said the uncertainty caused by various lockdowns, where businesses were forced to close on short notice, also led to employees leaving the industry.
“We’re seeing people who also moved away (from the industry) because they were concerned about long-term security. So they went to work, maybe, for Amazon or a delivery company, or maybe work in a supermarket or retail environment, where they felt they could maintain income.”
The organization estimates that bars lose 16% of sales due to staff shortages.
“It’s the difference between a business making it and not making it. That’s how hard it is. We’re in the cost of doing business crisis, as well as the cost of living crisis.”
Pubs are now closing at an average of 50 a month, compared to 30 at the start of the year. Last month it was revealed that restaurant closures increased by 60% post-pandemic, with 1,567 bankruptcies during 2021-22, up from 984 during 2020-21, according to a study by consulting firm Mazars. The number includes 453 over the past three months, up from 395 in the previous quarter.
“We expect it to get worse over the coming months, so we really need a great Christmas,” McClarkin said.
The hospitality industry is running a joint campaign called Rising Hospitality to encourage people to take up jobs in pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes. McClarkin said: “A pub business isn’t just a temporary hiatus, it’s an opportunity to rapidly advance in a long career where you have a lot of fun. There is never a dull moment in hospitality.”