Hospitality plays a key role in the employment and development of young people and marginalised groups, and this must be communicated in our lobbying efforts, Tampopo director David Fox has said.

Speaking at MCA’s The Conversation, Fox, whose six-strong restaurant group spans Manchester and London, expressed concern that some of the sector’s lobbying efforts at present, often spearheaded by the large pubcos, could appear too London-centric and focused on big business.

“The reality is that all we can do is lobby, but there’s been a bit of a disconnect with the fact that hospitality is made up of a great myriad of people from a diverse set of backgrounds, that actually fit the Conservative narrative of levelling up,” he told host Peter Martin. “It’s the ability of the entrepreneurs and the ‘little people’ to bounce back that I don’t see being communicated.”

“Hopefully, all those people are writing to their MPs to get that message across.”

Fox likened this disconnect to the inability of Government to consider the impacts of its previous restrictions to lower income groups, which he said were disproportionally affected by the likes of the substantial meal rule, which assumed those wanting to visit pubs had the financial means to afford a meal.

However, he added that such socio-economic inequalities are one area where hospitality is ordinarily a force for good, making it all the more important the sector is protected and enabled to recover.

“We need to protect hospitality businesses, because those businesses employ a lot of young people, and a lot of people who, if they’re on 80% of their income, aren’t receiving a lot of money,” he said. “One of the things that we should shout to our success is that we are an employment route for a lot of people who are who are marginalised.

“We are bringing them into mainstream society; they’re paying taxes and developing as individuals, after a number of them have been failed by the education system.”

And as the pandemic pressures fade and Brexit-imposed staff shortages start to become more apparent, he said the sector must push harder on establishing and advertising concrete career paths into hospitality.

“There’s very little feeling of structured routes to catering,” he said. “How integrated are our links to catering colleges? It’s all a little bit hotchpotch and mismatched, so more of that integration will need to happen for us to get the right people in to our sector.

“We as an industry will need to work on that into the future, when we don’t have the previous pool of net migration coming through the doors.”

D&D London CEO Des Gunewardena agreed, adding that whilst staff shortages are not a problem of today – given the clear “customer shortage” caused by the pandemic – they will “definitely be a problem of tomorrow.”

Since the onset of the crisis, D&D has lost around 700 of its staff, 500 of which were from the EU.

“A lot of them have gone home, and they will not come back to the UK,” Gunewardena said. “One of our top managers has left to retrain because the industry is just too fragile, so we will need to think about how we make ourselves attractive to new staff.

“There are some big questions that we need to answer about our industry and to our people when we come out of this to make sure that we remain an attractive career path.”