Hospitality bosses are warning of possible staff shortages as the sector reopens again – prompting concerns that standards of service could drop throughout the industry.
Last week it emerged that Pizza Express is seeking 1,000 staff to join its business ahead of indoor reopening on 17 May, while other operators have spoken of difficulties in hiring qualified kitchen staff.
Foodservice analyst Peter Backman said it’s a case of “haven’t we been here before?”.
Writing in his weekly briefing, he said: “It’s as if we hadn’t had a Covid shutdown but had just skipped a year or so while conditions remained the same. And yet when the first lockdowns were put in place, it seems that our lives were filled with zoom sessions in which HR people and C-suite directors were telling us how their number one priority was staff well-being and retention.
“And they highlighted the many, varied and creative efforts they were putting in to keep their teams on board. And now here we are a year later, the Covid numbers have been beaten down, vaccines are doing their job and the first stage of removing lockdown restrictions is underway.”
Mr Backman said that while comfort can be taken from the fact that al fresco dining has allowed some operators to reopen, reduced capacity means they are serving fewer covers and therefore the number of positions they need to fulfil that demand are lower than before Covid struck.
“But there’s a problem,” he wrote. “There aren’t enough people to fill even those reduced numbers of job positions. Hospitality businesses thought they had employees on their books during Covid but many had crept away, perhaps they’d gone back to their home country, or perhaps they’d got another job working in an Amazon warehouse, or doing rider gigs for Deliveroo.
“One can ask why operators have only just become aware of this situation. Furlough, the saviour of many businesses, had hidden what was actually happening. Reopening has ripped away that cover. Staff shortages potentially threaten an already precarious situation. If there aren’t the people to work in the kitchens, or work in the front of house, or manage the restaurant, or even manage the managers, then there won’t be the people to serve the customers no matter how many come knocking on the door.”
Mr Backman said some restaurants may cope by paying more but that threatens already exposed profit models and adds risks to overburdened balance sheets. As a result, businesses are faced with either not opening, or opening but at reduced profitability, or opening with fewer people and therefore lower standards of service.
“All of this is down to an age-old problem for the hospitality sector – not enough people, particularly not enough people with the right sort of training. And this will become even more critical as the sector wakes up,” he concluded.