Cheltenham restaurants are places where politics might be discussed over lunch, but chances are your host is right of centre. In fact the hospitality trade is a pretty c(C)onservative sector of industry. As noted by George Orwell, the grander hotels and restaurants have long had a parasitic relationship with big money and a vested interest enthusiasm for wealthy excess.
In the apex of all that is London, the City and the West End, but the ripple effect spreads out to Cotswolds and Cheltenham restaurants. Basically the hospitality thrives – or it thinks it does – on low taxation, free enterprise, deregulation. Jeremy Corbyn’s promise of a £10 an hour minimum wage sent a slight shudder through an industry that has been built on low wages, low skills and long hours, even if that is slowly changing.
The 2017 – should have been – about a bigger issue this time though… and that’s Brexit. Set out to write Cheltenham restaurant reviews and chances are that 25% of the staff you’ll encounter at any cafe or restaurant are workers from outside the UK. A British Hospitality Association (BHA) survey estimates that 75% of UK waiters/waitresses; 25% of chefs and 37% of housekeeping staff are from the EU. The report highlights a looming recruitment crisis.
The issue isn’t just about European workers. Last year, a shortage of curry chefs emerged – around 600 UK curry houses shut in an 18 month period. This has driven up curry chef wages. It may not be a coincidence that the Cheltenham restaurants list these days feature more and more upmarket curry houses with higher prices. A smart move.
The BHA has called on the government to work with the hospitality and tourism industry on a ten-year planned approach so that businesses can have time to adapt.
The independent Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford estimates that 96% of the EU nationals who work in hospitality would not be able to enter the UK under the existing immigration rules for non-EU nationals. It’s a serious issue and one which isn’t covered by reassurances that Britain will be able to – post Brexit – attract the ‘brightest and the best’ – in some cases, what the industry needs is simply the hardest working, the people prepared to clean down a kitchen at 1am, to work split shifts in Cheltenham restaurants or prep food through a Bank Holiday weekend. Pret a Manger, which opens in Cheltenham soon, recently said that only one in fifty of its job applicants was from the UK, whilst EU nationals make up 65% of its workers.
Another issue is housing and staff accommodation – those picturesque Cotswold hotel restaurants and smart Cheltenham restaurants need to draw staff from somewhere.
The Conservatives haven’t said much specific about immigration post-Brexit yet. Kamal Ahmed, reporting for the BBC described the Home Office as being “desperate for data” on the impact of limits on European migration.
Hard or soft Brexit will have a huge impact on the future of the UK restaurant trade.