Commenting on the Government’s decision to introduce a points-based immigration system once the UK leaves the bloc at the end of the year, Gunewardena says the resulting labour shortages in the hospitality sector will be a death knell for the UK’s ‘currently thriving’ restaurant, bar and cafe scene.
“Without a replacement pool of people, restaurants will need to evolve to operate with fewer staff,” he tells BigHospitality. “The cost of staff will rise, and UK restaurants are actually likely to become more like the restaurants in a number of EU countries with high labour costs and taxes, restaurants have had to adapt to managing with fewer employees.”
The Government’s plans to end ‘low-skilled’ migration from the EU, which would effectively make it impossible for hospitality businesses to secure EU migrants for entry-level positions, have been met with fierce condemnation from across the industry.
Under the proposals, the Government is urging employers to “move away” from relying on “cheap labour” from Europe, and instead invest in retaining staff and developing automation technology.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has also said that any labour shortage could be dealt with by training those who are “economically inactive”, something Gunewardena dismisses as “complete nonsense”.
“If the government thinks the retired, long term sick, carers and parents looking after children are suddenly going to be retraining in big numbers as waiters and sommeliers, well I don’t think even the weirdest of weirdo advisors would seriously suggest that,” he says.
Gunewardena has previously told BigHospitality that D&D would focus on expansion in the US and mainland Europe if Brexit made it more difficult to open restaurants in the UK.
The group currently operates more than 40 restaurants worldwide, principally in London, but also with locations in Leeds, Manchester, Paris and New York.
“Maybe the government can be persuaded to alter its points system to avoid labour shortages from killing our currently thriving restaurant, bar and cafe scene – another potential body blow to our struggling high streets. But we are not counting on that.
“We are getting on with our plans to improve productivity and also, of course, reviewing our UK expansion plans in this new context.
“We have some big challenges. The first is to persuade our excellent EU staff to apply for and make sure that they secure settled status. We then need to ensure they continue to be welcomed and enjoy their working lives so that they decide to remain in the UK and at D&D.
“But realistically, of course, in the long term the numbers will reduce as a proportion return to EU countries.”