A quarter of the 3 million people in Britain’s hospitality sector are EU nationals. Many are going, with few arriving to replace them.
The restaurant and fast food businesses are among those sectors likely to be hardest hit, as the industry relies heavily on overseas workers. The Office for National Statistics estimates that 68,000 EU nationals are employed in the restaurant and hotel sector across Britain.
It’s just after lunchtime in the kitchen of Damian Wawrzyniak’s new restaurant on the outskirts of Peterborough and the Polish chef is busy preparing an evening menu reflecting the rich ingredients of his culinary journey: Polish “noodles” from his homeland; beef tatare inspired by a stint at Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant and succulent duck, pigeon and vegetables shot or picked in the East Anglian countryside.
Wawrzyniak came to the UK 15 years ago before rising to prominence on the BBC showing Mary Berry how to make his signature “babka” cake but these days he has more than recipes on his mind: specifically the challenge of finding trained staff for his House of Feasts and another restaurant that he plans to open in London next year.
“We are struggling at the moment to find staff because of Brexit – there is no doubt,” said Wawrzyniak, who recently switched entirely to hiring trainees and teaming up with Peterborough Regional College to run an apprenticeship scheme.
EU citizens make up a quarter of the 3 million workers in hospitality, according to a report by professional services firm KPMG. That includes 75% of waiting staff and 25% of chefs. As the clock ticks down to Britain’s departure from the EU, senior figures in Britain’s hospitality sector are warning that staff shortages brought about by an exodus of European workers, and a dearth of new arrivals post-Brexit, is a crisis in the making for an industry that is Britain’s fourth-biggest employer.
The squeeze is being felt all over the country, from booming northern “destination towns” such as York and Harrogate to London, at a time when consumer demand shows no sign of dropping off, notwithstanding Brexit-related anxieties.
Sandwich chain Pret A Manger highlighted the problems Brexit causes when it warned that it faces a staffing crisis, with just one in 50 applications to work at the fast food shop coming from UK nationals.
Simon Cope, the boss of burger chain Byron, told Business Insider in May: “Byron, along with everyone else in our industry, has some fantastic people in it but a lot of those people are from abroad. They play such an important role in our economy, in our business, and to our customers.”
Fulham Shore also said that Brexit is affecting existing staff who come from the 28-nation bloc. “The result of the EU Referendum has created considerable uncertainty of immigration status of EU nationals. To mitigate these issues the Group has invested in its human resources teams and has implemented a number of incentive schemes designed to retain key individuals.”
Page, the former CEO of Pizza Express, warns that “we are entering a difficult forecasting period due to Brexit,” with inflation pushing up food costs and depressing consumer spending.
Read more on this at the Huff Po.