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London’s Top Restaurants Can’t Find Enough Waiters, and Brexit Is to Blame

The aftershocks of the 2016 referendum to leave the EU continue to reverberate.

A waiter carries drinks. Unsplash

The effects of Brexit are becoming increasingly clear as time goes on, and London’s restaurant industry is learning that the hard way.

After England decided to leave the European Union, it meant that restaurants across the board lost a huge source of workers, according to a new article in The New York Times. Many establishments would recruit waiters, chefs and bartenders from countries like Italy, Spain and Greece. But those workers can no longer travel as freely between their home and England.

The result? About 11 percent of jobs in Britain’s hospitality industry remain vacant, compared with 4 percent in the larger economy, according to a recent industry survey. And another survey showed that 40 percent of restaurants have had to cut down their hours, while more than a third of restaurants, pubs and hotels could face insolvency or closure by early 2023.

“It’s worse than Covid, worse than energy costs,” the restaurateur Jordan Frieda told the Times. “It’s been the most traumatic event of my career in restaurants. It has been an absolutely devastating, transformative event.”

Frieda, who owns the restaurants Trullo and Padella, has had to cut back to opening five days a week rather than seven. And to cover rising labor costs, he’s raised prices, giving him pause about the future of his establishments.

He’s not alone. Ruth Rogers, the owner of the River Cafe, has luckily been able to keep her restaurant staffed—but it’s come at a cost. She paid more than 10,000 pounds, or almost $12,000, for a British visa to keep a well-regarded sommelier on her team. And the celebrity chef Jason Atherton told a local outlet last month that he might have to close several of his restaurants next year if he can’t fill the 350 vacancies he currently has.

Others in the space are also worried about the current shortage’s effect on the long-term success of the industry. Nick Jones, the founder of Soho House, told The New York Times that “it will put people off investing in restaurants and opening restaurants.”

For the time being, restaurants are trying to entice locals to pick up shifts. But many Londoners are less experienced in the industry than their Mediterranean counterparts, or they see a stigma against jobs like waiting tables.

If you have trouble getting a meal during your next trip to the city, that may very well be why.

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