OPINION - London restaurants like mine need EU workers to succeed

 (JWH Photography)
(JWH Photography)

Migration is a funny thing. I migrated to London from a Yorkshire village when I was 18. I remember my early years in hospitality here: Seb and Rafa, the Polish couple whose camp style delighted me; Barbera from Italy trying and failing to teach me how to spin a bottle like Tom Cruise in Cocktail; Greek Giorgio, who made me an expert pizza puller and tosser (no laughing at the back).

My 30-year love of London stems from its international, diverse, liberal, tolerant culture. Now I am lucky to lead a team filled with European and global talent at my M and Gaucho sites, which operate across London and the UK. Diversity sustains us.

And yet, since leaving the EU, hospitality has suffered a well-documented chronic staffing crisis: respected operators including Jason Atherton have publicly said they’re on the verge of “mothballing” their restaurants due to staff shortages. In monetary terms, it is estimated as a loss of £25 billion in income to restaurants and £7 billion lost contributions to the Treasury.

 (M Restaurants/Gaucho)
(M Restaurants/Gaucho)

Yesterday, I was in the House of Commons with sector colleagues trying to explain the situation to detached MPs. The reluctance to support immigration from the EU apparently doesn’t take the hospitality sector’s huge contribution to our economy and communities seriously. To be clear: it is impossible for restaurateurs, hoteliers and publicans to operate either functionally or profitably without EU immigration.

Sensible immigration reform is vital to make London’s restaurants function. The current points-based system deems our world-class chefs and bartenders to be “low skilled”, while a “right to work” visa granted to managers or head chefs costs up to £19,000 each in sponsorship, a cost many operators cannot afford.

A lack of foreign hospitality workers will mean increased costs, unavoidably one day passed on to our guests, and will result in a lack of diversity in our kitchens. Multicultural hospitality workers, who often demonstrate both an inspiring commitment and work-ethic, tend to complement and raise the game of British workers such as myself.

It is time for our national politicians and the Mayor of London to support the hospitality sector and stop hiding behind their napkins.