Restaurants could be forced to replace staff with robots if Brexit leads to a downturn in available hospitality talent or pushes up the cost of wages.
That’s the view of Martin Robinson, non-executive chairman of the Casual Dining Group, who cited the “provision of appropriate people” as the headwind he remains most concerned about.
He revealed the group, which turns over more than £300m a year, is “very seriously” looking at ways in which it can reduce labour to manage costs.
“The majority of the people we employ on the shop floors in the restaurants are non-UK, were not born in the UK, and clearly something is going to happen with that,” he said.
“And we don’t know what it is, that’s not yet a topic which has been properly discussed. The whole topic about the provision of labour, and where it is going to come from and the cost of it and the ramifications of Brexit, has only received 1% of the attention of business rates.”
Asked what CDG, the owner of Bella Italia, Cafe Rouge and Las Iguanas, is doing about it, he replied: “We are trying to do what every good business would do, we are improving our training programmes, we are improving the way that we recruit people, and I have to say that we are looking very seriously at ways in which we can actually cut the numbers of staff required.”
Mr Robinson said he was in Hong Kong recently and ate in a restaurant where guests placed their orders and received their food on a track that passed by the table.
“The first contact that you had with a person was when you were paying and they could have done that in an automated way too. Now, I didn’t particularly enjoy that experience but conceptually, unfortunately, that will be the way that people will be forced to go if there is no labour and if the labour that there is is dramatically more expensive.”
Mr Robinson fears labour costs could force restaurants into more automation, including the use of tracks to deliver food to the table. Picture is of the Rollercoaster Restaurant at Alton Towers Resort.