Between 15%-20% of the hospitality workforce has either declined, or staff are currently unable to return to their existing roles as restrictions are lifted, according to a UKHospitality surveys of its members.

Speaking during MCA’s The Conversation event yesterday (19 April), UKH chief executive Kate Nicholls said that the numbers were very location dependant but that it was “an emerging issue that businesses need to get their heads around”.

Nicholls said the staff were not returning for a variety of reasons: some EU staff had returned home over Christmas and were now staying put due to travel restrictions, other EU workers have made the decision to return home on a permanent basis, while others have found alternative jobs during the periods of lockdown and either aren’t available currently or don’t want to return to the industry at all.

Given that operators are also currently unable to offer the same level of hours that their staff had previously been used to working, it is likely that staff shortages are going to be a growing issue. “For a lot of these workers, the hours matter,” she added.

That said, Nicholls added that “the vast majority” of staff are looking forward to returning.

Natasha Waterfield, COO at New World Trading Company, said that the business was having to recruit around 20% of its teams for the sites that it has just reopened – six of out its 30-strong estate.

“When you are relying on trying to build some cash to be profitable, the training costs that are associated with new people have to be spread out over the next couple of months,” said Waterfield.

“I think it is probably a bigger thing that we will see come 17 May, because as much as you can try and stay in touch with people they are not always going to tell you whether they are going to come back or not,” she added.

Paul Gilchrist, chief executive, Thunderbird, also believes the problem will escalate as we go through the summer. In fact he anticipates that it will be Thunderbird’s biggest challenge this year as it opens new four-wall sites.

“When we recruited for Earls Court six weeks ago […] we had in excess of 400 applications for front of house and kitchen roles. Go forward another four or five weeks and we are about to reopen the O2 and that was down to 20-30 applications,” he explained to illustrate his experience of the problem so far.