Around 30% of restaurant and pub workers could be lost to the industry because of the Covid crisis, with the sector potentially facing into a severe crisis of labour shortages and company closures, the Restaurants Association of Ireland has warned.
The association said hospitality businesses, particularly restaurants, pubs and bars, face a challenge in getting staff back after Covid restrictions end.
Chief executive Adrian Cummins said a huge shortage of skilled labour from chefs to waiting staff is looming, with up to 30% of the workforce likely to have been lost to other industries directly because of Covid lockdowns.
Mr Cummins also warned that there are likely to be numerous restaurant companies going out of business if indoor dining fails to resume by early July.
The association reacted angrily to last week’s restriction loosening plan from the Government, saying the allowance of indoor consumption for hotels (though for residents only) from June 2, and only outdoor eating and drinking for restaurants five days later has divided the hospitality sector and created an unequal environment.
Mr Cummins said splitting hotel and standalone restaurants into separate categories is an “anti-competitive, inequitable decision without medical, scientific or public health rationale.”
“This also prohibits independent restaurant owners from functioning viably over the summertime and, in fact, prohibits the re-employment of approximately 110,000 workers,” he said.
Mr Cummins said the association is calling for “a fair and equitable solution by allowing all independent restaurants, coffee shops or gastro pubs to reopen alongside hotel and guesthouse restaurants”.
The nationwide representative for publicans, the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) welcomed last week’s reopening proposals, but said outdoor-only opening for pubs can only be viewed as a short-term solution.
“It’s an important first step to getting the trade fully reopen but can only be viewed as a short-term solution and we’re calling on government to confirm a date to restart indoor trading as soon as possible,” said VFI chief executive Padraig Cribben late last week.
“The fact hotels can reopen indoors from early June demonstrates that it’s safe to resume hospitality, with appropriate social distancing, in such venues. It would be wholly unfair to allow hotels trade indoors but prohibit pubs and restaurants from doing so. Reopening outdoor trading from the June bank holiday Monday will instil some badly- needed confidence into the pub sector”, he said, while also noting that most pubs do not have outdoor drinking space.
Mr Cribben said if pubs can open, even outdoor trading, on June 7, as proposed, it will mark a big day for the sector. However, he said there remains some distance to travel before the pub trade is “back on its feet”.
There is a similar staffing crisis threatening the hospitality industry in the UK, which has already partially reopened.
The workforce of pub group Mitchells & Butlers, which owns the O’Neill’s Irish-themed bar chain and ranks JP McManus and John Magnier among its main investors, has shrunk by 9,000 people in the last 12 months of the Covid crisis.
The skills crisis facing the UK’s restaurants and bars is not solely due to Covid, but also Brexit with more than 30% of workers having come from mainland Europe prior to the UK’s exit from the EU.
As a result of fewer EU workers, UK restaurant owners estimate they are 10% to 25% short of staff coming out of Covid and are seeing a marked reduction in properly skilled applicants looking for jobs.