Reduction Of EU Workers Puts Squeeze On Hospitality Operators As Sector Continues Recruitment Drive

As the hospitality sector continues its recovery, the latest figures from Fourth, the leading global software provider for the hospitality and leisure industries, reveal there has been a significant reduction in EU nationals working in the sector, with roles instead being picked up by British and workers from the Rest of the World (ROW).

Fourth’s latest data, which has been aggregated from analysis of more than 700 companies across the restaurant, pub, bar and QSR sectors, reveals that:

  • EU workers made up 39.4% of the hospitality workforce in Q1 2021, compared to 43.4% in Q1 2019
  • In Q1 2021, 34.9% of new starters were from the EU, compared to 48.6% in Q1 2019
  • The workforce headcount is still down 28% compared to April 2020
  • The number of hours worked across the sector in April was tracking at 72% of the hours worked in July 2020, despite outdoor only trading starting from 12th April
  • Staff aged 18-21 made up just 4.1% of all hours worked in March 2021, compared to 10.2% in March 2019, suggesting younger people are working less

The data reveals that the percentage of British and ROW workers has grown considerably since 2019, with British workers currently making up 48% of the workforce and ROW workers making up 13%. This is in comparison to the first quarter of 2019, where British workers made up 45% and ROW workers made up 10% of the workforce. These increases coincide with a reduction in workers from the EU, dropping from 43% of the workforce in Q1 2019 to 39% in 2021.

When looking at the number of people starting new jobs in the hospitality sector, the majority of workers in Q1 2021 were British (54%), followed by EU (35%) and non-EU (11%) nationals. These numbers have shifted considerably since Q1 2019, where EU workers were the dominant category in terms of new starters over the quarter (49%), followed by British (42%) and non-EU (9%) nationals.

The pattern that there has been a reduction in EU workers is echoed by the data when it is broken down across the pub, restaurant and hotel industries. The pub sector saw the biggest decline in EU workers, dropping from 26% in Q1 2019 to 21% in Q1 2021. This is followed by the restaurant sector, dropping from 50% to 47%, and the hotel sector, dropping from 29% to 27%.

Conversely, the proportion of British workers making up the pub sector workforce has grown from 67% in Q1 2019 to 73% in Q1 2021; while the number of ROW workers dropped from 6% to 5%, suggesting that a greater proportion of the pub workforce are British nationals. The proportion of British workers in the restaurant sector has grown from 38% to 40%, while the number of ROW workers has grown from 11% to 12%. The contingent of British workers in the hotel sector, however, has fallen from 60% to 57%, while the proportion of ROW workers in this sector has grown significantly from 10% to 15%.

When focusing on back-of-house (BOH) and front-of-house (FOH) roles, the data paints a similar picture. Typically, EU workers have been more prominent in BOH roles, such as chefs and kitchen porters, which is reflected by the proportion of EU nationals making up 60% of the BOH workforce in Q1 2019; however, this dropped to 55% in Q1 2021. Likewise, EU workers in FOH roles dropped from 43% to 39%. The proportion of British workers in BOH roles has increased from 27% to 28%, while British workers in FOH roles has increased from 49% to 50%. The make up of ROW workers in BOH roles has grown from 12% to 16%, while in FOH roles their representation has grown from 7% to 10%.

The data also shines a light on how the sector is beginning to recover from a workforce standpoint. The size of the workforce grew by 1% in April, compared to March, which is the first time there has been positive growth since before the pandemic. This is in large part due to the fact that recruitment is three times higher than it was in March, with a 90% increase in the number of new starters in the sector.

In terms of hours worked, April’s figures are already tracking at 70% of the numbers witnessed in July 2020, this is despite the sector being restricted to outside trading only, which was introduced on Monday 12th April. This suggests that operators have been keen to bring staff back to sites and that the fact there are no further trading restrictions in place, such as the 10pm curfew, is having a positive effect on the number of hours worked. Despite this, the data reveals that younger age groups have been hit hard as staff aged 18-21 have made up only 4.1% of hours worked throughout April, compared to 10.2% of hours worked in March 2019.

Sebastien Sepierre, Managing Director – EMEA, Fourth, said: “It is very encouraging to see recruitment spike across the industry, as the easing of Government restrictions allows businesses to reopen. There is clearly pent-up demand from consumers, driven no doubt by the outstanding health and safety measures the industry has implemented.

“As restrictions ease further and indoor trading returns on 17 May, the necessity to recruit will heighten, placing a greater spotlight on the availability of workers. We have been tracking the make-up of the workforce for a number of years, and its reliance on transient workers from European countries has been a prominent feature, particularly in high demand back-of-house roles, such as chefs. Clearly, the pandemic, coupled with new immigration systems post-Brexit, have had a significant impact on the make-up and availability of workers from EU countries within our industry, which will become increasingly prominent as we return to full capacity.

“Against this backdrop, it’s more important than ever that operators understand the makeup of their workforce and are utilising smart technology and systems to ensure they are managing the cost of labour as effectively as possible. The next few months of trading will be mission critical for our industry, as businesses look to hit the ground running after a tumultuous period and we’ll be standing side-by-side with them to support where we can.”