As the fog clears from the months of lockdown, the hospitality industry is faced with new challenges. The most pressing one is the difficulty restaurants face in finding and keeping staff. British food writer and restaurant critic Jay Rayner has lent his voice to the call for customers to pay more.
Right across the board, restaurants are struggling to find staff. But the UK seems to suffering even more with many of the low-paid immigrant workers choosing to leave the country. It has left the industry with a critical lack of capable staff, with 80% of restaurants having vacancies at both front and back-of-house, according to a recent survey by UK Hospitality.
In a recent article for The Guardian, Rayner wrote that some of the onus for an industry that works, and allows staff a decent wage on which to live, lies with the customers themselves.
“I often wonder how much those people who complain about restaurant prices are themselves earning,” writes Rayner. “I’m certain it’s rather more than the people they expect to cook their dinner.”
What the events of the last two years have made patently clear, is that restaurants serve a much more important function than just feeding hungry mouths. During the hard winter of lockdown, it was the lack of eating out that people seemed to lament the most.
There has been an initial bounce back in hospitality as things open up and the pent-up demand for eating out has seen reservations lists fill up over the summer. But some feel now should also be a time to reassess how the industry works, and how it can remain a viable career choice for young people in the future.
“Most restaurants,” writes Rayner, “weighed down by rents and rates, by ingredients’ costs inflated by the folly of Brexit, by the rutted dysfunction of the British economy, cling to financial viability by their fingertips. Too often it is the underpaid and overworked staff who have borne the brunt.”
And yet, it seems that a minority of the paying public still seem unaware of the precarious situation most restaurants are in, with news of no-shows heaping additional woe on their balance books.
The UK is not alone in this, and as the US battles with itself over a hike in the minimum wage, almost all states are contending with staff shortages threatening businesses that somehow managed to survive the lockdowns.
Ireland’s hospitality industry “will collapse” unless the government ends its Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP), according to an article by The Irish Times’ Marie Claire Digby.
Photo Vanna Phon | Unsplash
While flagship fine-dining restaurants will attract top talent, and customers line up to celebrate an end to a trying period in lockdown, local 'mom and pop' restaurants are facing an uncertain future. For them, the crisis is far from over.
Most customers will recognise the need to pay more, however, and those who value their local restaurant as a meeting place for marking important occasions and celebrations can be relied upon to do their part.
Rayner, a food critic, points out that it may be all well and good for him, getting most of his dining expenses reimbursed, but his point is a valid one. If we really love our restaurants, it’s time to put our money where our mouths are. "It's about dignity," he writes. And you can't argue with that.