Leading industry figures have said only a recession or a return en masse of foreign workers will fix crippling staff shortages across hospitality and drinks retailing.

Stephen Finch, founder of Vagabond, and Mark Wrigglesworth, owner of The Good Wine Shop, warned the growth of the industry and the wider economy will be stunted by a lack of available workers. The pair said job ads have gone unanswered or received poor take up, despite attractive packages. 

“Retail used to draw people in from hospitality who wanted different hours but still wanted to work with wine,” said Wrigglesworth. “That pool of people has reduced massively.”  

He said furloughed hospitality staff who lost the part of their wages covered by the tronc system have exited the industry. At the same time, jobs that once required a higher bar to entry have been forced to lower the bar while still offering higher salaries, meaning applicants who would previously have been unqualified now have that option. “Those jobs weren’t available two or three years ago, they have turned people’s heads,” he added.

The pair said there are also signs some younger people are less keen to work evenings and weekends. Finch said this generation “has gotten used to being catered to” adding that a recession would come as a shock.

“We have pretty good retention front of house,” Finch said. “But in the kitchen we are seeing the effects of a tight labour market, with people bouncing around to get more pay.

“I’ve seen this before and it almost always ends up with a recession,” though he was also keen to point out that a return of European workers is a longer-term solution.

Wrigglesworth agreed that a recession would fix the lack of candidates “as failing businesses go bust and return people to the job market”. He lamented the government line about full employment, instead pointing out the 1.2 million unfilled vacancies.  

“Businesses are reducing hours to cope with fewer staff. We have plenty of ambition to grow but we can’t if we are not able to offer the standard of service we want to offer,” he said. Finch also said digital ordering/fulfilment platforms are “sucking up labour”.

Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, said: “The message coming from our members is loud and clear – there are huge gaps in the drinks retailing and hospitality workforce which need to be addressed if UK businesses are to stand a chance of recovering from the punishing losses brought about by the pandemic.

“This must be a priority for the new Prime Minister and their cabinet. The UK drinks sector can only recover and rebuild with the government’s support in allowing skilled foreign workers to return to UK jobs and their help to encourage British workers back to fill these vacancies.”