Waiter, where are you?


By Adam Raphael

Unlike fishermen and farmers, hoteliers understood what Brexit meant for their industry. The lack of staff to cook, wait, clean bedrooms, man reception desks and perform all the myriad of duties involved in running a hotel is now being felt right across the hospitality industry. If you talk to hoteliers, words like ‘catastrophe’ and ‘nightmare’ spill out. For guests, higher prices and longer waits are in store. The industry is resilient, however, and not all is gloom and doom.

One benefit of the recruitment crisis is that it is accelerating a long-overdue change in how staff are treated and paid. The family-owned Scarlet and Bedruthan hotels in Cornwall have committed to paying all staff, regardless of their age, a minimum hourly rate of £9.50, significantly higher than the government minimum of £8.91 per hour. This will benefit more than 100 of their staff; a further salary review for other employees will take place in September. ‘We believe that paying well should be the foundation of our business, not a short-term fix to the current challenges,’ says Emma Stratton, the owner of the two hotels. ‘We want our guests to make a conscious choice about where they stay, and actively support brands that demonstrate their ethical practices.’

Another much needed reform is limiting the excessive number of hours that hospitality staff have to work in peak periods. The small family-owned pub group, EatDrinkSleep, has taken the decision to restrict its opening times. The Felin Fach Griffin and the Gurnard’s Head will open for lunch only two days a week through the summer, though their bars will be open all day for passing walkers, and will be serving dinner every day of the week.

Edmund Inkin, one of two brothers who own the pub group, believes there is an existential threat for many in hospitality: ‘Our own take is that people will continue to be driven away from working in the industry if the work/life balance isn’t right. So, this pre-emptive step (reducing opening hours) is one we want to take, even if the economics are unhelpful.’

The change will enable his pubs to focus attention on evening guests, and not spread the staff too thinly. Edmund Inkin says that he believes that staffing is a challenge that will not go away: ‘Replacing the skills of hundreds of thousands of people doesn’t happen overnight. If the Government is not going to change the rules of the game on immigration, the sector has no option but to get back to the basics of training and reskilling its whole workforce.”

That last point is the nub. Hospitality will have to improve not only the way it treats and pays its employees but also the way they are trained. All this takes time, and in the immediate crisis, ministers are foolish to enforce blanket, restrictive immigration rules that prevent young, Europeans who want to improve their English from taking seasonal jobs in hotels and restaurants.

No doubt, we will survive the Brexit madness. Sadly, The Good Food Guide, whose ethos and working methods, were copied shamelessly by the our Guide, has not. For more than 70 years, it encouraged and promoted the best cuisine and the best chefs. That this much respected guide has now ceased publication is a serious loss to restaurants and hotels throughout the country. Waitrose, its current owner, decided to close it because it has been unprofitable for years. But the supermarket should rethink its decision to hold on to the title because it blocks anyone from taking on the good fight. As the GFG’s founder, Raymond Postgate, once noted: ‘You can corrupt an individual but you cannot corrupt an army.’

Publishing a hospitality guide in a digital age is not for the faint hearted. As Caroline and I are well into our ninth decade, it is time for us to leave. Richard Fraiman, who has worked closely with us for the past five years, will take on the ownership of the Guide from September. We are confident that it has a great future because he will professionalise the operation, and widen the Guide’s reputation as a trusted independent source of information about the best hotels and B&Bs. We have much enjoyed our many years at the helm and thanks to all of our readers who have encouraged and supported us with reviews, comments and criticism. We couldn’t do without you because the GHG is, and always will be, a guide for readers.