LONDON • As nationals in the European Union (EU) leave Britain in ever greater numbers ahead of Brexit, restaurants like pizzeria chain Franco Manca are reporting shortages that could spell trouble for a sector that relies on immigrant labour.
The number of EU nationals leaving Britain, most of them from central Europe, rose by 33,000 to 122,000 people during the 12 months to March, according to the latest data following last year's Brexit referendum.
Franco Manca's parent company, Fulham Shore, said the prospect of new controls on immigration when Britain leaves the bloc was "already affecting the availability of skilled European restaurant staff".
The company, where only 20 per cent of the staff are British, said it was implementing "a number of incentive schemes" to persuade Europeans to stay.
Business owners worry that British workers may not be able or willing to fill the gap left by departing Europeans. The hospitality industry currently has the highest proportion of unfilled jobs in Britain, according to the Office for National Statistics.
And the situation is worsening, with 4.3 per cent of hospitality jobs vacant in June to August, compared with 3.5 per cent a year earlier.
Mr Alex Wrethman, the head of Charlotte's group of bistros in west London, said EU nationals were being put off by the sharp fall in the value of the pound against the euro since the Brexit vote.
Percentage of hospitality jobs vacant in June to August this year.
Percentage of such jobs vacant in the same period a year earlier.
The devaluation was "effectively a pay cut for them" as it decreased the value of remittances, he said.
Mr Wrethman added that he struggled to find Britons who were as committed to the job as their European colleagues.
"It's difficult to find a British person to get out of bed to wash dishes," he said. "It is tied up with something historic. It is a class thing."
Leaked government proposals for restricting the stay of low-skilled EU workers to just two years would be "catastrophic" for the industry, according to the British Hospitality Association (BHA), the trade body.
A BHA-commissioned survey by KPMG warned that if EU immigration is halted after Britain's EU exit in March 2019, the sector would face a "recruitment crisis" and an annual shortage of 60,000 workers.