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City comment: Why getting a lunchtime restaurant booking in London is a struggle

By Oscar Williams-Grut

Waiters at a restaurant

(Picture: PA Wire)

Finding a lunch booking in London these days can feel like trying to get Glastonbury tickets.

A good sign, you might think — London is booming.

Not so, says a well-placed restaurant industry insider. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Restaurants are facing a staffing crisis so severe that some have resorted to quietly closing at non-peak times — the first few days of the week or lunchtimes in areas not near office hubs. Some even shut on Fridays now that working from home has left city centres a ghost town.

Restaurants aren’t shouting about this. They simply don’t list tables on booking services like Resy or OpenTable. Hence, it looks like they are fully booked during a busy lunchtime. Those that do open are also getting a boost as there’s less competition.

Anecdotal evidence of a staffing crisis is backed up by hard data. A survey of the London jobs market this week found hospitality workers and chefs are two of the most in-demand skills at the moment due to a shortage of qualified candidates. An exodus of wait staff post-Brexit and rising wages elsewhere are blamed for the shortfall.

The problem is getting worse, says KPMG’s Anna Purchas, who helped put the survey together. The number of qualified candidates is dwindling by the day and shortages are now “critical.”

“A sustained focus is needed if employers in London are to fill their vacancies and drive the prosperity and growth of their organisations,” she says.

That, unfortunately, is likely to mean higher inflation as restaurants and bars are forced to put up prices to fund higher wages and investment in training and recruitment to grow the talent pool.

At a hospitality event this week peak inflation of 13% was whispered about. Surely not, you may think. But then 10% looked outlandish until a few months ago…

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