Staff shortages leave British restaurants struggling to cope with the Christmas season | Restaurants

Turning down party orders over Christmas is the last thing a restaurant owner wants to do. But that’s the harsh reality for Rattle Owl, an independent restaurant featured in Michelin guidewhich, like the vast majority of hospitality businesses, suffers from a lack of staff and has to make compromises.

“We used to be able to do 26 (people for a Christmas party booking) but we certainly can’t do that now. The maximum we can do now is 10, says the owner of the York restaurant, Clarrie O’Callaghan.

The shortage means that everyone who has called to make a reservation for a larger number of people has been turned away.

“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 front-of-house workers. It is not alone in suffering what is being called an “existential threat” to the hospitality industry.

London celebrity chef Jason Atherton said last month that he will have to close restaurants in the new year because a third of the positions at his restaurants are vacant. Tom Kerridge, Rick Stein, Angela Hartnett and Raymond Blanc have also all raised their voices in support of training and recruiting more hospitality workers.

Other restaurants compromise on who they hire. One restaurateur said they trained front of house staff to do kitchen work, which is not ideal, as well as 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 was shaping up to be a “perfect storm” that would force businesses to close.

In the joint letter to Mel Stride MP, UKHospitality, the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII), the Institute of Hospitality and the charity Springboard, wrote that the recruitment crisis caused “an existential threat to our industry”.

“This is not a problem for just one type of venue or hospitality business, it’s a universal issue, and it’s critical because brilliant, passionate people are the lifeblood of hospitality,” the letter said.

BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin said unemployment in the hospitality sector is at 11%, compared to the UK average of 4%, and this is costing the industry £22 billion a year.

“It’s stark that hospitality is struggling to attract the people we need,” she said. “It is clear that we have always had problems with getting enough cooks in the kitchen. That was the case even before the pandemic, but now we struggle to get people to come in to do front of house; it was never a problem before. And this is going to affect Christmas.”

McClarkin said that during the pandemic many staff left from abroad and had not returned, this was particularly the case with EU workers, who no longer have freedom of movement to the UK.

She said the uncertainty caused by the various shutdowns, where businesses were forced to close at short notice, had also seen staff leave the industry.

“We see people who have also moved (from the industry) because they were concerned about long-term security. So they’ve left to work for, maybe, Amazon or a delivery company, or maybe work in a supermarket or a retail environment, where they felt that they were able to maintain an income.”

The organization estimates that pubs are losing 16% of sales due to staff shortages.

“That’s the difference between a company that makes it and one that doesn’t. That’s how difficult it is. We are in a ‘cost of doing business’ crisis, as well as a cost of living crisis.”

The pubs are now closing at a rate of 50 a month, compared to 30 a month at the beginning of the year. Last month it was revealed that restaurant closures rose by 60% following the pandemic, with 1,567 insolvencies during 2021-22, up from 984 during 2020-21, according to a study by consultancy Mazars. The figure includes 453 in the past three months, up from 395 in the previous quarter.

McClarkin said: “We expect it to get worse over the coming months so we really need to have a great Christmas.”

The hospitality industry is running a joint campaign called Hospitality Rising to encourage people to take up jobs in pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes. McClarkin said: “A job in a pub is not just a stopover, it is an opportunity to jump into a long career where you have a lot of fun. There is never a dull moment in hospitality.”

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