Celebrity chef Rick Stein struggles to hire staff at restaurants due to shortage of EU workers and people refusing to return from furlough

Rick Stein

Celebrity chefs Rick Stein and Michael Caines are among hospitality bosses struggling to hire enough staff as the country’s lockdown is eased.

A combination of housing shortages, absence of international staff and workers not returning from furlough have been blamed for the problems.

On Monday, indoor dining can resume – marking the most significant milestone to date for businesses in England.

But restaurants, hotels and pub owners are now facing skyrocketing demand coupled with fewer workers.

Jobs lost in hospitality account for 43 per cent of the national total during the coronavirus crisis, with many staff who lost employment moving into retail – and others heading back to their home countries in Europe.

As restaurants open back up for a roaring summer trade, bosses have started to feel the shortfall.

Rick Stein Restaurants would normally hire a quarter of their workforce from Europe and rely on international staff, especially during the peak season between May-October.

Jack Stein, Chef Director of the group, said: ‘Staff and customers will have to bear with each other for a while it’s an extra challenge to be this busy straight away.’

In Exmouth, Devon, Michael Caines is facing similar challenges with fewer international workers in the UK and the population in the South West due to rise exponentially.

He said: ‘Our local population isn’t enough to sustain that amount of work and so we are struggling to get people into jobs.’

The Michelin star chef said more needs to be done to attract local people into working for hospitality. He said he doesn’t like the Government describing people in the industry as low-skilled.

‘Hospitality is not valued as a professional industry but that’s not the case we’ve got some bright people, extraordinary entrepreneurs, it’s an important sector that employs so many people and a massive contribution to our GDP here in the South West.’

Karen Wisby, from Frontline Recruitment in Weymouth, said she does not know how they are going to change the minds of people to come back.

‘Chefs, for example, have gone and become delivery drivers for e-commerce businesses, earning about the same sort of money on a day shift and not on a split shift.’

Fergus Chalmers, a newly recruited Chef De Partie for Rick Stein’s restaurants in Padstow, Cornwall was offered his job in December. While getting a job was easy, he said finding somewhere to live was next to impossible.

It took until March for him to find lodgings because the centre of the town was reserved for holidaymakers.

‘I had this vision of a small seaside town, I thought it would be quite easy to find accommodation but it just turned out to be very difficult in the end,’ he said.

‘The whole of the centre of Padstow seems to be let out to tourists.’

It comes after some restaurant bosses said furloughed staff left to get a better-paid job at an agency, while another said he had not had a single response to an advert for a bar worker on a salary of £22,000 a year.

Those trying for a job in hospitality said they were grateful for the ‘abundance’ of jobs available at the moment, but bosses have ‘concern’ about the exodus of Eastern European workers following the pandemic and Brexit.

Among the chains facing a big recruitment effort is Pizza Express which is trying to hire 1,000 staff to join its 360 sites across the UK before indoor hospitality returns on May 17, having spent much of the past year closed.

Wages are on the rise with businesses telling of their struggle to find bar staff despite offering higher rates – and waiters commanding £15 an hour in South East England, equating to nearly £30,000 a year if full-time.

Many workers from Eastern Europe are said to have gone back to their home country before the third Covid-19 lockdown with no reason to return to Britain because much of the hospitality industry has remained closed since.

And one in five companies with furloughed staff now say they are unlikely to keep all of them on, according to a YouGov study released this week. The UK Government estimates 4.9million workers were furloughed in February.

Among the business owners facing recruitment problems is Gordon Anthony, manager of The Park Hotel Ayrshire in Scotland, who said no one has applied for bar positions despite their job adverts highlighting the higher pay.

His business is facing having to retrain other staff for bar work if they can’t recruit mixologists, and Mr Anthony added that people are leaving hospitality to work in retail instead because it’s perceived as a more stable industry.

He told Business Matters: ‘We did a recruitment drive a couple of weeks ago. We were looking for various positions from waiting staff to chefs and bar staff.

‘We had a fairly good response but the difficulty we found is that for bar staff, there were zero applications for the positions we had available and purely I think that’s based on the fact that the alcohol restrictions in Scotland have probably been more effective than the food aspect.’

Mr Anthony added: ‘I think a lot of people have moved from the hospitality sector. Pretty much the bulk of the people have moved to retail because there’s a wee bit more stability in the retail industry, but people are very nervous about hospitality.

‘We’ve tried over and above the minimum wage for the position, so we’ve predominantly focused our advertising on the fact that it’s higher paid.’

Prem Anand, who runs the Mango Tree vegan restaurant in Taunton, Somerset, said that potential workers have a ‘different perspective’ in the current climate and it is ‘not so easy as it used to be’ to hire staff.

He also told Business Matters that workers’ confidence is down and it is hard to find people who subscribe to his company’s vegan-friendly ethos, while he remains concerned about making enough money to pay people immediately when furlough ends.

Office of National Statistics data shows four in five people who have lost their jobs since the pandemic began are under the age of 35, and hospitality businesses were the worst hit with 355,000 fewer employees than a year ago.

Hospitality’s young workforce is also reflected in the figures, with 78 per cent of those leaving payroll employment under the age of 35, and more than half who have lost jobs being under 25.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, told Business Matters: ‘Some sector businesses are experiencing recruitment challenges for some roles, and this is just one of the many negative effects stemming from a prolonged period of closure that hospitality has suffered.

‘Whilst furlough has helped protect many sector jobs, businesses that have been haemorrhaging cash or accruing debt during enforced enclosures and trading restrictions have been forced to let staff go and were unable to reopen with full teams intact.

‘Some of these workers will have moved to different sectors that have been open and busy over the course of the pandemic.’