Hospitality businesses reopening in England and Wales have warned that staffing shortages, the rising cost of ingredients and coronavirus restrictions are among issues posing a major challenge to their recovery.
Venues served customers inside for the first time in months today, but some are having to limit trading hours due to a lack of staff.
The St Enodoc hotel in Rock, Cornwall, is fully booked until the end of September but is without a full team. Executive chef Guy Owen told The Caterer this meant he had to cut the opening hours of the hotel's fine dining restaurant and turn down some bookings.
"Hospitality has suffered a staff crisis for a number of years, but there is a certain sting with reopening," he said.
"People are offering crazy stuff. I've heard of a commis chef on £22,000 who handed in his notice and was offered £32,000 to stay. People are panicking and it creates a concerning future."
A survey of 15 large companies, including IHG Hotels & Resorts, BaxterStorey and Compass Group UK & Ireland by the Springboard charity found one in three felt they did not have enough staff to cope with reopening indoors.
Businesses have told of staff quitting before they are due to return from furlough and many European workers returning home overseas due to a combination of Brexit and travel restrictions.
Luke Garnsworthy, owner of restaurants Crockers Henley in Oxfordshire and Crockers Tring in Hertfordshire, said staff shortages meant he was having to limit opening hours to reduce pressure on the team: "Henley should be open seven days a week but we're down to five and it might have to go to four and a half," he said.
"We're passionate about enforcing a 45-hour week so we won't be stretching it. I spent too long in London being mistreated, so I'm not going to do it to anyone else."
Although most guests had been pleasant during outdoor dining, some had "lost their manners", he added.
"People have to understand we're short-staffed and have had a mental battering like everyone else."
Staffing in Wales
Operators in Wales are also struggling to fill gaps in their team. Shaun Hill, chef and co-owner of the Michelin-starred Walnut Tree Inn in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, told The Caterer he had lost a head chef and chef de partie "at the last minute".
He said: "There's normally seven or eight of us in the kitchen and we'll be down to five, maybe even four. You can't blame people – there's always a certain amount of turnover, especially in the more junior ranks in restaurant kitchens, and all this has compressed it.
"I think we're due a skills shortage. It's a difficult job and recruiting got easier for a while [but] I'm not sure how much of that glamour is still there to attract people in."
Debbie Cappadona, general manager at the 18-bedroom, five-red-AA-starred Palé Hall in Bala, Gwynedd, said the hotel's bookings were looking "extremely good" over the next few months. The property has retained all 49 team members since December but is seeking extra staff.
"Finding chefs with the right skill set to deliver the high standards that we are renowned for is proving to be virtually impossible," said Cappadona.
"[We are] having to approach recruitment agencies, which comes with heavy costs."
Impact of restrictions
Many businesses are still unable to trade at full capacity due to rules requiring a one-metre distance between groups on different tables and mandatory table service in venues serving alcohol.
Piers Baker, owner of the Sun Inn in Dedham and the Church Street Tavern in Colchester, said: "We aren't allowed anyone standing at the bar or outside, and we've lost about 25% of our tables to maintain distancing."
According to the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), 45,000 pubs were expected to reopen on 17 May, but beer sales were expected to be 65% of normal and below the break-even point for most pubs. The BBPA estimated that some 2,000 pubs – 5% of all the pubs in the UK – will remain closed.
Operators are also concerned about the looming rent crisis, with the moratorium on evictions on commercial premises due to end on 30 June. The government has issued a call for evidence on a solution to the issue, which ended on 4 May, but some 75% of late-night venues face bankruptcy without a solution.
Garnsworthy said: "Our landlords have been supportive and we have informal agreements in place. We're looking at paying 1.5 times the rate per month until we've caught up, which is hard. But everyone does need to share the pain down the line."
Owen said the inflation in ingredient prices was also proving to be an issue: "Things like lamb have gone up in cost and the price of fish is crazy. We're so positive and happy to be reopening but it's a very challenging time."
He added that despite concerns within the industry, the public response to reopening had been "fantastic".
"From 12 April virtually every holiday let within a 40-mile radius was fully booked. Our check-in time today [17 May] is 3pm but most people are trying to get here at 11am, as they're so desperate to be away."
The government is hoping to lift all restrictions on social contact on 21 June, but there are concerns that the new Indian variant of the virus could delay this. Prime minister Boris Johnson said it "could pose a serious disruption to our progress and could make it more difficult to move to Step 4 in June".
Jay Patel, founder of Legare in London Bridge, said it was exciting but "nerve-racking' to open, with the restaurant booked most evenings in June and July.
He added: "The only thing we're keeping in the back of our minds is the potential for another lockdown with all the variant talk, but we [will take it] one day at a time."
Garnsworthy added: "Overall we're very excited, though a bit nervous about talk of new variants. My biggest worry is that as good as opening will be, [there is] the niggling thought that we could go backwards. I don't think I could deal with that, and neither could my teams."
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