Of the 211 members of the foodservice sector - predominantly publicans - who were questioned for a William Reed/HIM survey around the impact of a Brexit, 38 per cent think it would be a 'good thing' for their business while 28 per cent said it would be a 'bad thing'.
Despite previously raised concerns that a Brexit would worsen recruitment problems across the hospitality sector, the majority (65 per cent) believe their business's labour force will be unaffected.
Just eight per cent said their labour force would be 'seriously affected' if Britain were to quit the EU while 16 per cent would be moderately affected.
Of those expressing concerns about a labour shortage with a Brexit, it is those in busy urban areas who will feel the pinch the most.
One member of the foodservice sector said: “As with many caterers, we rely on EU nationals to fill many positions, especially in the capital. It seems unlikely (given the distances involved) that the number of young people coming to London from the EU would be easily replaced by those from other continents.”
The exclusive survey of 525 food and drink professionals, including suppliers, wholesalers and retailers, found that 39 per cent overall will vote for a Brexit, even though 37 per cent believe leaving the EU could have disastrous consequences for their businesses.
Almost the same number (37 per cent), however plan to remain, with 21 per cent still undecided.
“Security comes above commercial interests, and closing our borders will go a long way to achieving this,” said one professional when asked as to why they were backing Brexit despite business concerns.
“We need to make our own rules and trade deals,” added another pro-Brexit respondent.
Yet many food & drink professionals remain deeply concerned at the potential impact of a UK exit. “If the vote is out, the changeover uncertainty will hamper investment and growth, potentially leading to stagnation for a period until new terms are established,” said one.
Another key area of concern is trading relationships, with 40 per cent of those surveyed warning that food and drinks prices could rise outside the EU by an average of 2.4 per cent with many citing a fluctuating exchange rate and changes to trade deals.
“The cost of goods imported by my wholesalers will probably rise, which means increasing costs for us and inflating prices to our customers,” said one retailer.
Significantly, many in the industry deeply unsure as to the impact if the UK were to quit the EU, with one in four opting to respond ‘Don’t know’.
“It’s such a complicated issue that I don’t have the full facts to make a decision,” said one professional. “We have civil servants and government officials employed to look after the country and we decide to give the decision to the ill-informed masses – crazy.”