Restaurants face a ‘real headache’ this Christmas with recruitment agencies warning that they will not be able to provide enough chefs to meet demand due to the industry’s ongoing skills shortage.

According to the results of a survey by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), 61 per cent of hospitality recruitment agencies say they do not have enough chefs on their books to fill forthcoming vacancies for the busy festive period.

Just 18 per cent said they had enough sufficiently skilled chefs to plug the gap while 21 per cent said they were unsure.

REC chief executive Kevin Green said the statistics were a real worry, not just for Christmas but beyond and warned that if not addressed it would have implications for the future of the industry.

“As we approach the festive season the shortage of chefs is causing real headaches for restaurants,” he said. “Training and progression needs to be improved so that more people are encouraged to become chefs. That’s a longer term fix, but there’s an immediate skills crisis which needs to be addressed. Any restrictions on access to chefs from the EU, such as a salary threshold for work visas, will only exacerbate the problem.

“Without a supply of chefs to meet growing demand, restaurants, bars and hotels will have to pay more for their staff and it’s likely that these costs will be passed on to the customer. We may even see restaurants close their doors if they can’t remain competitive and profitable.”

Despite moves by many in the industry to address the skills shortage by setting up in-house training academies and changing work hours, the REC said it was not enough.

Ninety-three per cent of agencies surveyed said there are not enough trained chefs in the UK to meet demand while 83 per cent expect demand for chefs to continue to increase over the next 12 months.

Looking ahead, the REC has warned that the shortage is likely to get worse due to a combination of poor staff retention in the hospitality industry, and potential changes to immigration policies which would make it harder for EU chefs to fill vacancies in the UK.

Currently 42 per cent of the 250,000 chefs working in the UK are migrant workers, leading to concerns that it would worsen following Brexit.

Martin-Christian Kent of business consultancy People 1st said: “Chefs continue to be a key recruitment challenge for many hospitality businesses. Currently, 42 per cent of chef vacancies are considered hard-to-fill. However, last year alone 14,000 chef students left college after completing their qualification which is more than enough to fill the 11,000 we need in the next eight years.

“Our research is starting to show two possible explanations – students’ expectations don’t match the reality of working in the industry, and students are entering the industry, but they’re not staying. It’s critical that we develop strategies to encourage progression and development of chefs in order to aid retention and enable businesses to operate effectively and remain competitive.”