The hospitality industry is overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU.
That's according to an exclusive survey of nearly 600 industry professionals conducted by The Caterer yesterday.
A total of 62% of respondents from across the hotel, restaurant and foodservice sectors said it was better for the British hospitality industry to remain in the EU.
That compared with just under 27% who said they thought it would be better for the sector if Britain left the EU. Around 12% of respondents said they didn't know whether it would be better or worse for Britain to remain in the union.
Those who said they thought it was best for hospitality if Britain remained in the EU indicated that the biggest impact that leaving would bring about would be "reduced staff availability" (56% of respondents).
That was followed by concerns about a reduction in visitor numbers from the EU, which was cited as the biggest probable impact of leaving the EU by just over 21% of respondents. A total of 12% feared rising food costs first, while 8% selected "rising cost of equipment and materials" as the factor they estimated would have the biggest impact.
Of those who said that leaving the EU would be best for British hospitality, just over 49% said the biggest advantage it would bring would be "more freedom to set our own taxes, laws and regulations".
Meanwhile, just over 26% said that a reduction in EU red tape would be the biggest advantage. That was followed by "more jobs for British workers", selected as the biggest advantage by slightly more than 16%, and "increased visitor numbers from abroad thanks to a weaker pound", which was selected by slightly more than 1%.
The Caterer's snap survey came on the same day that hospitality giant Whitbread, owner of the Costa coffee and Premier Inn hotel brands, came out in favour of remaining in the EU.
In a somewhat lukewarm statement from its board, the company said: "The referendum on the EU is a decision for the people of Britain. At our regular board meeting today we considered the impact of the EU referendum on Whitbread.
"The board has concluded that, given a very large proportion of our profits and operations are UK-based, the direct impact of a vote to leave the EU is likely to be relatively minor. However, the uncertainty arising from a vote to exit and the subsequent potentially lengthy negotiations could negatively affect consumer confidence and the general economic outlook in the UK, which would be both unwelcome and potentially damaging to our business. On this basis, we believe that Whitbread's best interests are served by remaining within the EU."
However, there have been some prominent figures in the UK hospitality sector who have come out in favour of leaving the UK, including hotelier Rocco Forte, who told The Times that he thought an EU exit would increase Britain's world role rather than diminish it.
Meanwhile, only a handful of hospitality businesses signed an open letter, the details of which were published in The Times yesterday, in which 197 UK firms pledged their support to the ‘remain' campaign.
Among them were Tony Fernandes, founder of budget hotel firm Tune Group, as well as Ruth Rogers, owner of the River Café.
They were joined by other representatives from the sector including Ashley Govier, managing director of cleaning firm Hotel Services Group, and John Harries, proprietor of the Three Horseshoes Inn in Brecon, Powys.
Paul Walsh, chief executive of foodservice firm Compass Group, signed in a personal capacity.
The publication of the letter came just a day after London Mayor Boris Johnson declared in favour of leaving the EU, electrifying the debate.
A referendum is set to take place on 23 June this year.
The Caterer's poll was conducted online and the results were based on 569 responses.
Handful of hospitality firms sign pro-EU letter >>