British restaurants and pub businesses are being forced to reduce hours and close early as UK hospitality job vacancies rise above pre-pandemic levels

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The UK hospitality sector is suffering from a post-Brexit and post-Covid staff shortage

Across the UK, restaurants, pubs and hotels are struggling to remain open and offer their usual service, especially where demand is seasonal, according to press reports.

Trade body UKHospitality says its members are experiencing a job vacancy rate of 11 per cent, and according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there are 132,000 unfilled roles in the sector – 48 per cent above pre-pandemic levels.

“We’re seeing a third of businesses closing early, closing on certain days or adjusting rotas and services to retain staff and protect their wellbeing,”  Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality, told The Telegraph. “In rural and coastal areas, the problem is particularly acute. The very nature of being seasonal means it’s harder to prepare and staff up for the summer.”

The hardest hit areas, she says, are the Yorkshire Dales and Moors, South West England, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Restaurateur Stuart Jackson, how has run The Lower Deck seafood restaurant in Portree on the Isle of Skye since 2007, told The Telegraph that he currently has six full-time staff instead of the usual 11 or 12 and relies on family and friends for part-time shifts.

“The effect on the business is to limit our opening hours. We were used to providing a service seven days a week and we are lucky to reach four or five,” he said. ”We often have to close at short notice. This causes problems for staff who rely on regular, consistent wages. As a seafood restaurant, the uncertainty has also caused substantial problems when ordering fresh produce.”

He says everyone he speaks to in hospitality is having the same problems and all feel the Government is ignoring the problem. “Brexit, with the removal of the free movement of EU citizens and their right to work, has been a big factor,” he told The Telegraph.

Speaking at the FPJ’s annual industry event Festival of Fresh last month, Andy Pembroke, managing director of leading fresh produce supplier to UK foodservice Fresh Direct, said that retaining staff within the UK hospitality sector “is worse than it has ever been”.

He said that while foodservice has proved to be one of the most reslient sectors during and after the Covid pandemic, bouncing back from single-digit revenue figures, a number of “hangover” elements remain, ”namely people retention and attracting great talent” into the UK hospitality sector.

“There is a marked challenge in terms of [recruiting and retaining] back-of-house and front-of-house [in pubs, restaurants and hotels],” Pembroke said. “Up until six months ago, the challenge was dire for our entire customer base. And the churn element is worse than it has ever been.”

Pembroke said that Fresh Direct is working very closely with its restaurant, pub and hotel customers to develop meal and menu solutions that help mitigate the hospitality skill shortage.