Pascal Ausignac, Patron of the Michelin-starred Club Gascon, ticks the box as he counts down to the all-important season of Christmas celebrations.
“We’re not full at the moment. Of course we expect it to grow. We booked some Christmas parties, but there are fewer than in previous years,” said the 55-year-old.
“I still have a few tables available on Saturdays in December that should be fully booked. We’ve never had that before – for November and December it would have been full in previous years.
“I think right now, because of the economic situation, people are waiting to see if they have enough money before committing.”
Staffing problems forced Aussignac to close its French bistro Comptoire Gascon, near Smithfield Market in central London, and its workforce at its five remaining restaurants has fallen to 60 from 160 before the pandemic. He is “very scared” that too many restaurants could collapse in the months leading up to Christmas.
Aussignac’s fears are echoing in Britain’s towns and villages – a pattern of closures that fears a recession, rising rents and cuts in household spending, and undermining public transport and rail strikes.
Members polled by UKHospitality, the British Beer & Pub Association and the British Institute of Innkeeping and Hospitality Ulster forecast a 17% vacancy rate for this Christmas, compared to the current vacancy rate of 11%. That means 33% will shorten venue hours and 29% will simplify their menu for Christmas.
Ausignac said there was “nothing” in Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s fall statement to address the industry’s workforce crisis.
“I don’t think there was anything in there that addressed the biggest issue of hospitality and which means we can’t keep the venues open or working at full capacity,” he said.
Aussignac has had a full-time pastry chef position vacant since January but has only been able to fill it in recent weeks, a position she has never seen before. Staff shortages, which he attributes to people returning to Europe during lockdown and since Brexit, mean Club Gascon no longer opens for lunch and only serves dinner.
“Brexit is the main reason we are facing these staffing issues. It used to be easy for Europeans to come and work here, but now it’s not, so now they choose other cities like Paris or Madrid.”
A UKHospitality survey found that more than a third of hospitality businesses are at risk of failing by early 2023 due to cost overruns. Figures from the Bankruptcy Service show that the number of restaurants and grocery stores in the UK going into liquidation rose by 46% in the three months to September.
While Hunt’s autumn statement included a £13.6 billion package to support corporate interest payers, industry experts criticized the lack of focus on economic growth.
Arwen Beaton (right) activist at Digger’s Rest in Woodbury Salterton, Devon with Daniel Kelly. Photo: Emily Whitfield-Wicks
“It’s absolutely heartbreaking, we’ve worked so hard and after almost three years we’re down with nothing,” said the publicist of The Digger’s Rest in East Devon after closing its doors for the last time, Arwen Beaton said. The thatched pub in the picturesque village of Woodbury Salterton was taken over by Beaton, 48, and his partner Daniel Kelly, 42, at the start of the pandemic in April 2020.
The couple offered free food distribution to those in need and opened a shop selling essentials for local people before reopening after lockdown.
Beaton said: “We were in a good place at the start of the year, we sort of recovered from Covid and everything was looking positive and then we were hit by huge cost increases.”
Energy costs in pubs “tripled”, food prices have soared, prices such as cooking oil have more than doubled and the pub operator who owns the establishments increased rents by 10%.
Beaton said customers were first “talking about their finances in the bar” and attendance began to dwindle as they went from regular visits from once a week to once a month.
In August, The Digger’s Rest was down 30% year over year, forcing it to permanently close its doors on November 7th.
Beaton said three other pubs within a five-mile radius had also closed in recent weeks, adding that rural pubs in particular were “part of the community” and once they’d gone “you couldn’t get them back”. will fight”.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said the industry was “on a limb” and was “very disappointed” that the 12.5% VAT rate had not been introduced.
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UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls welcomed support for business tariffs but said the Chancellor had failed to outline “a plan for economic growth” and “there is nothing that can give business confidence, let alone investment”. Do”.
James Chiavarini, owner of Il Portico, High Street Kensington, London. Photo: ANL/REX/Shutterstock
The problems facing the hospitality industry have been described as “the five horsemen of the apocalypse” by James Chiavarini, owner of Il Portico, an Italian restaurant opened by his family on Kensington High Street in London and run for 55 years.
He said rising labor forces, utility, food and energy prices, the impact of the cost of living on his customers and despair over economic conditions have all hit the industry.
Chiavarini said this “economic adversity” forced him to close Pino, Il Portico’s sister restaurant in Kensington, in June this year.
He said: “After lockdown ended, people believed in the idea that everything would be like it was in the 20’s and the economy would explode, but that didn’t happen.”
Imogen Davies, co-founder of Native in Mayfair, west London, said it had always been difficult to find staff but “then Covid and Brexit happened and recruiting became so difficult” which caused the company to abandon plans to open an additional day.
Increased energy costs due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine are the biggest concern for Alex Greig, owner of Fugls Beer Cafe, which has premises in the west Kent towns of Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells.
The 37-year-old, who also owns a bottle shop in Tunbridge Wells, has seen energy bills rise by £10,000 but warned that without government rebates the cost would be £40,000 and render businesses “unviable”.
Greig said the government’s announcement on business tariffs was “something” for the industry but urged the government to clarify what energy support will be available for hospitality businesses over the next year.
“Our customers will have less money and our costs will be much higher. So we need certainty to motivate us to invest in our businesses and encourage us to grow,” he said.
Greig said a “reduction in sales tax” would be a “big boost” for the industry and would “give us confidence to keep investing”.
Kenny Atkinson, owner of the Michelin-starred House of Tides & Solstice restaurant in Newcastle, said his energy bills had “tripled” and he was struggling to find suitable staff with seven vacancies.
“There is no direction, no trust from the government. We’re not asking for help, but reducing VAT can help us grow our business.”
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industry Strategy said it had “provided an unprecedented package of support including VAT cuts, bank holidays for business rates and almost £400 billion in government-backed loans”.