Nine in 10 hospitality business leaders expect to face staff shortages this year, the latest Business Confidence Survey from CGA and Fourth reveals.

Half (51%) of those responding to the poll anticipate shortages in all roles, with another 39% concerned about back of house roles only.

The figures reinforce widespread concerns about a crisis in hospitality recruitment as trading restrictions ease.

Many restaurant, pub and bar staff have left their jobs during lockdowns, and Brexit has also caused a steep drop in people travelling from Europe to work in the UK.

Shortages appear to have caught many employers by surprise. The Business Confidence Survey shows half (51%) of leaders have found that the reduced recruitment pool has been a bigger issue than they anticipated since restrictions began to ease.

Nine in 10 (88%) employers now expect to hire staff this year—half (44%) of them to a greater extent than expected—while just 4% are confident they will not need any new recruits. Although two thirds (67%) of leaders remain confident about their ability to recruit, retain and train staff, there is likely to be intense competition for available labour in the coming months, increasing the pressure on businesses to keep hold of team members.

Business leaders are also concerned about drops in staff productivity. Nearly half (47%) say improving employee productivity will be a major focus for their business in 2021, with just 4% unconcerned about the issue. With many staff only just back at work after many months of on-off furlough, employers now face the challenge of engaging and motivating teams.

Anxiety about staff, along with concerns over sales, input costs and the risk of further restrictions, could dampen business optimism in the coming weeks. Ahead of full reopening, the Business Confidence Survey showed that 79% of leaders were optimistic about prospects for the eating and drinking out market—the highest level for just over six years.

Karl Chessell, CGA’s director - hospitality operators and food, EMEA, said: “It’s already apparent that recruitment and retention are going to be huge concerns for hospitality over the remainder of 2021. Post-Brexit shortages had been expected for some time, but COVID-19 has multiplied the difficulties and many businesses are already facing a staffing crisis at the worst possible time.”

Sebastien Sepierre, managing director – EMEA, Fourth, said: “The survey paints a very stark picture of the staffing crisis currently facing the hospitality industry. We know from our data that the number of EU workers in the UK hospitality workforce fell by 4% when comparing the first quarter of 2021 with 2019. This, coupled with a 12% reduction in new starters from EU countries over the same period, has exacerbated the impact of the pandemic on the workforce, generating the most challenging recruitment market in recent memory.”