Ireland’s hospitality sector is still in the middle of a major staffing crisis as well over 40,000 workers left the industry during the Covid pandemic.
As one of the worst affected industries, many businesses had to either close downed for good or became de-facto delivery services.
Speaking to BreakingNews.ie, chief executive of the Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI), Adrian Cummins said the issue will become more pronounced over the next few months.
“What we are seeing now and will see through the summer months is businesses just will not be able to open certain days of the week. They just don’t have enough staff to cover it.”
“You take a town like Kinsale, which is a big tourist spot. I have heard from operators down there that they are asking Fáilte Ireland to advise tourists to pre-book their meal for a Saturday or Sunday night.”
“They just cannot guarantee they will get a meal if they just show up.”
The other main issue is that there is no overall strategy for the industry, and it is going from “one crisis to another,” he said.
“Everybody is crying out for one single agency to deal with staffing for the industry. You have Teagasc who looks after the farmers, but we are one of the biggest parts of the economy, and we do not have anyone in charge.”
When it comes to the idea that low wages are one of the reasons workers are leaving the industry, Mr Cummins called it a “load of nonsense.”
“Staff moved to other sectors during the pandemic, and we also had a high level of non-EU people working in our industry. Many people simply went back home and never returned.”
Mr Cummins said there needs to be a co-ordinated campaign either by the Government or Fáilte Ireland to attract non-EU workers back to the industry.
“It is not a viable business if premises can only open certain days of the week. We are going to have to fix it and the Government needs to help us.”
In terms of what the Government can do, he said they can start by processing more permits, so more people can come into work from overseas.
He said putting hospitality on the Critical Skills Occupations list — which highlights the industries where there are shortages in qualifications, experience or skills — is crucial.
“Prior to Covid we had to 240,000 people working in our industry and the majority of them seemed to be happy. We only really had a shortage of chefs, but now we have a major shortage in waiting staff as well.”
In terms of how owners are dealing with the shortages, Arsen Hoxha, the owner of the Little Kitchen in Dublin said his own restaurant is doing well in terms of staff, but most are struggling.
“I had to build a new team from scratch really as most of the staff I had left.
“My assailant manager was working here for four years, but during lockdown she got her taxi licence and when things opened back up she became a taxi driver.”
He said a lot of people reassessed their work life during the pandemic and the unsociable hours did not suit a lot of people.” In terms of wages, we pay our staff well here (the Little Kitchen) because we are smaller.”
Mr Hoxha said the biggest problem currently is trying to get chefs either from Ireland or abroad.
He thinks there has been a shift in recent years and not as many people are as interested in cooking. As a whole, he said there are not as many young Irish chefs coming through as before.
“Because of the pandemic we don’t have as many students coming from abroad to work in the industry as well, They were a big part of the workforce.
“I think over the summer period staffing will be a big issue both in front and back of house. I think businesses will have to start looking further afield to recruit staff for sure.”