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December 31, 2018

Our last blog took a light-hearted look at the new ingredients and flavours which we might find on our plates in 2019.

For the final blog of 2018, we're going to put on a more serious thinking cap and predict the big changes which will hit the restaurant industry in the coming year.

We don't want to harsh your Hogmanay vibe but it's hard to imagine that many restaurateurs are looking forward to 2019 with glee.

If Brexit dominated the political landscape in 2018 then, over the next twelve months, its effects will start to be felt for real in the catering sector.

Unless we quietly drop the entire idea and forget all about it then Brexit - either with the current proposed deal or a no deal scenario - will be hugely challenging for the restaurant industry.

Perfect storm

With the exception of the chairman of Wetherspoons, most industry commentators are predicting a perfect storm of higher food prices and increased staffing costs.

The latter is already being driven by minimum wage and pension legislation plus a shortage of labour produced by increasingly restrictive immigration laws.

I'm not going to argue against the minimum wage going up or the introduction of workplace pensions. Both may be painful for restaurateurs but they have wider benefits for society.

It is harder to make the same case for restricting the ability for non-UK nationals to work here.

Like agriculture, the restaurant trade is heavily reliant on staff from Europe and further afield. Make it more difficult for people to work here - say by setting a minimum income of £30,000 before you will be granted a visa - and they will stop coming.

The argument that this will 'free up' jobs for hard working UK nationals is not borne out from experience.

Staff shortages

Need an example?

Having argued for Leave in 2016, the Bangladesh Caterers Association (BCA), which represents 12,000 British-Bangladeshi restaurants and takeaways, now says that its members have been misled and that their industry is 'dying due to staff shortages'.

While they may be effected more than most in the catering industry, Indian restaurants are not the only ones finding it hard to recruit and retain good staff.

Sterling's continuing devaluation against the Euro is exacerbating the situation. Why leave your friends and family to work in a country which is perceived as being unfriendly when you can earn more money at home doing the same job?

Brexit will close restaurants. Most importantly, this means workers will lose jobs and taxes won't be generated. For restaurant lovers, it will mean reduced choice and the slow strangulation of a restaurant scene which has improved beyond all recognition in the last 25 years.

We could also mention how increasing numbers of dark kitchens could have a damaging effect on bricks and mortar restaurants but we have probably scribbled enough bad news for one blog.

We will finish on an upbeat note. Assuming that Brexit does happen, it will make opening and running a restaurant more difficult.

This won't stop clever, creative and determined people from doing. We look forward to eating in their restaurants in 2019.

Happy New Year!