As employers struggle to boost their workforce, three former hospitality professionals who left the industry within the past two years explain what needs to change and why they decided to walk away for good.
Names have been changed at the request of those interviewed.
Peter*, 40, worked as a concierge for over 20 years and was made redundant from a top London hotel in 2020. He says the treatment of hospitality staff by some employers during the pandemic made him turn his back on the industry.
"I've been a concierge since I was 18 and worked in some of the best hotels in London. There has always been a quick turnover of staff in hospitality. Hotels are blaming their recruitment problems on the pandemic, but it's got nothing to do with it.
"Many hospitality employers need to treat people better. I worked in the hotel for years but I didn't get a single call from HR or the manager during lockdown to see how I was getting on. Hospitality has always had a disposable view of low-level staff. The minute furlough was due to end last year they cut loads of jobs. They think they can get rid of you and just employ someone new.
"I worked in another hotel where I went on holiday and came back to find an entire department of guest relations had quit because of how they were treated. They had over 40 years' experience between them, but the hotel let them walk as they thought they could just replace them.
"It really upsets me to hear employers say they are now struggling to find staff. They know why people aren't coming back, but they don't care. My wages as a concierge probably went up about £2,000 in 20 years. Hotels will say you earn tips or commission, but people don't carry money like that any more.
It really upsets me to hear employers say they are now struggling to find staff. They know why people aren't coming back, but they don't care
"I know so many hotel concierges who moved to residential because they get paid and treated better. Hospitality is complaining they can't get waiters in restaurants, but the reality is they can't get people for minimum wage.
"Since losing my job I've had depression and had to claim benefits. I've had several interviews and I am trying to get on the rail network or somewhere with a better reputation for treating staff.
"Another reason I've walked away from hospitality is that the pandemic has set a precedent. I've seen how employers have acted, and as soon as there's a problem they will cut all the people at the bottom of the ladder again. The hotel I worked for spent years making millions, but the minute I needed them it was ‘see you later'."
Marco* was a chef for 10 years but left his job in a London restaurant in 2019 to start his own business. He has since returned home to his native Italy.
"I used to work in a corporate job but I left because I wanted to make pizza. I invested a lot of time and money in my education and ended up working in a restaurant in north London for about five years. I initially had a lot of independence but problems started when a new owner took over. We didn't get along and I left after about a year.
"In a restaurant you work long hours and nights to make someone else money. When you make 450 pizzas a day and are getting home at 1am only to get up at 9am to open the restaurant, it feels like you never left. You might as well have slept on the floor as you are so tired.
"What I found hard was that customers say thank you to the person who takes the order but never the chef. I don't feel like they have to come to me personally, but they don't even think about it. It happened maybe five times in my 10-year career.
"Now I have my own business teaching video lessons on how to make pizza. The whole idea is to have fun, and I didn't have fun in restaurants for a long time. The main difference is I feel gratitude from people I work with.
"As an Italian chef I never felt discriminated against or unwelcome in London. I'm not sure Brexit had such a big impact on hospitality staff. My understanding is people started to leave after Covid-19 struck. I do have concerns about the future of working in the UK because of Brexit and the economic outlook – there is a lot of confusion.
"I'd go back to hospitality if I could make 30-40 pizzas per service and work no more than eight hours a day. One day I might consider running my own pop-up, but I will never go back to a restaurant to work for someone else."
I'd go back to hospitality if I could make 30-40 pizzas per service and work no more than eight hours a day
The hotel manager
Luca*, 23, was a general manager for a mid-market hotel chain in the Midlands, but is now working in logistics for a technology company.
"I kept my job in the hotel throughout the pandemic. It was frustrating as a lot of people were let go, so I was doing four people's jobs on the lowest salary of the management team. I was working around 50 hours on a good week and about 80-90 hours on a bad one, and was sleeping at the hotel three or four nights a week. I was a salaried employee and if you divided my pay by the hours worked, the lowest I reached was £4.30 an hour.
"Hospitality was my passion and I was doing it for the guests and the hotel's reputation, but during the pandemic I realised there are other jobs that pay more and don't require as much of my energy or personal time.
"I always had lots of ideas to improve things, but there was never enough money or resources. Everyone was always struggling to recruit, which makes innovation in mid-market hospitality difficult.
"Customer service can drain your soul sometimes. As a hospitality manager you're always dealing with stressful situations for pay that doesn't necessarily reflect the amount of time put into a job. I'm Italian and in Italy mental health issues are not discussed in the same way as in the UK, but the more I worked in hospitality the more I understood why so many people were calling in sick with depression or other issues.
"During lockdown I was scouted by a technology company who encouraged me to apply. Hospitality staff are very skilled and resilient and other industries love it because they know you're a hard worker.
Hospitality staff are very skilled and resilient and other industries love it because they know you're a hard worker
"In my new job I have much more freedom to make decisions and I'm working 40-45 hours a week and making three times what I used to. I have stock options in the company and they also paid for my car. I have my personal and social life back, which is something I had to subdue over the four-and-a-half years while I was working in hospitality.
"For me the grass is greener outside of hospitality. If the right opportunity came up I would consider going back, but would I actively seek out another role in hospitality? No."
Photo: David Tadevosian/aleksandr talancev, both shutterstock.com
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