Staff shortages mean some pubs and restaurants may not reopen

Staff shortages mean some pubs and restaurants may not reopen
UNDER THREAT: Vittle & Swig

Restaurants, pubs and cafes across the borough say they ‘are desperate’ for staff and many now fear they won’t be able to reopen when restrictions are lifted in two weeks’ time.

One local pub saw 13 job applicants fail to even show up for interviews last week when it advertised for waiting and kitchen staff. Other venues have had no takers for positions that pay more than £32,000 a year plus tips.

But the problem is a national one. Since the pandemic struck, around 350,000 hospitality jobs across the UK were lost and millions of bar and restaurant workers were put on furlough. Many have left the industry or returned to Europe.

Now as restaurants, cafés and pubs prepare to reopen on May 17, when Covid restrictions lift to allow customers to dine inside, hospitality businesses say they are facing a ‘desperate’ recruitment shortage as workers that were let go in the pandemic are no longer available.

In Tunbridge Wells town centre, for example, restaurateurs fear they may not be able to reopen because they can’t get the staff.

Gerry Stevens, who runs the popular Vittle and Swig restaurant on Camden Road, told the Times they are seeking around half a dozen staff members, including a restaurant manager and sous chef. So far they have had no takers.

“We survived the pandemic, but we are not going to survive this unless the staffing situation improves,” she said. “We are really desperate.”

Gerry says the restaurant has posted job adverts seeking kitchen staff, waiting staff, chefs and a restaurant manager but have had no applicants.

“The main issue is that many people in the hospitality industry were put on furlough and started working elsewhere,” she explained.

“A lot went to work in supermarkets or in retail while on flexi-furlough and have decided they just don’t want to come back—traditionally, hours in hospitality are seen as unsociable.”

She added that many workers in the industry also come from Europe and have now gone back home following Brexit.

“I put up a job last week for a sous chef advertised at up to £25,000 a year and had no applicants. I’ve now increased this to up to £32,000 plus tips so I have my fingers crossed,” she said.

“I can’t even get a restaurant manager. I’m terrified we just won’t be able to reopen or can only open part time.”

And other hospitality businesses in the town are experiencing the same problem.

Ed Lumsden, who runs The Superfood Company on Mount Pleasant Road said he wanted to rebrand the business into a late-night taco bar but may now have to cancel his plans because he can’t get the staff.

“I have been looking for months, mainly for chefs, but also for skilled baristas and bar staff,” he said. “There’s none about.

“I was hoping to do the rebrand in a couple of weeks, but I probably won’t be able to launch now.”

Matthew Sankey, who runs his eponymous pub on Mount Ephraim, said that some staff there could earn more than £40,000 a year, but even wages as high as this is not tempting people into the industry.

“A lot of it is the furlough. They got another job when they are off – which is not against the law – but it means they no longer want to come back.

“And of course, Brexit hasn’t helped, or the various travel restrictions caused by Covid.”

At the Salomons Estate, where they have begun welcoming wedding parties again, finding staff has also proved difficult despite some unrivalled pay and conditions.

A spokesperson for the country estate, said: “Across our venues we were fortunate enough to retain most key operational staff during the pandemic, but due to an increase in bookings from May we are recruiting for two additional chefs.

“Despite offering a very competitive package including health cover, pension, gym membership and accommodation, we’ve not had a single suitable application to date.

“We’re now trying an alternative approach to help source the people we need.”

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