A HOSPITALITY crisis has beset the Isle of Wight, leaving busy pubs, hotels and restaurants desperately looking for staff.

Trained and experienced chefs are most sought after — but a 'perfect storm' of Covid and Brexit has been blamed for low numbers of available staff across the industry.

The problem is exacerbated by the natural boundary of the Island, leaving a smaller pool of candidates to pull from.

Now tourism body Visit Isle of Wight has stepped in to offer help, working with MP Bob Seely and local businesses and organisations to find solutions to the problem.

A Visit IW survey this week garnered 100 responses, which highlighted the scale of the staffing issue.

One long-serving pub owner told the County Press: “Everyone I know in hospitality is suffering hugely through lack of staff. We’ve never known it so bad in the 20-plus years we’ve been in business.”

This was echoed by Phil Gilbraith, group general manager for Inns of Distinction, which has four Isle of Wight pubs, but currently only enough staff to cover three of them.

The New Inn in Shalfleet re-opened in May but had to close as a temporary measure due to staff shortages.

Phil said there are several recruitment issues, and they are looking for eight to ten chefs from apparently no pool of available people.

He said some potential staff are on furlough from other establishments, paid to be sitting at home.

Another problem is that hospitality staff who were furloughed during lockdown had decided to get alternative work and have since chosen to leave the industry permanently — preferring the 9-5 hours they can get elsewhere.

He also said staff from within the EU, who he described as 'the lifeblood of the industry', had returned to their home countries during the pandemic, and haven't returned.

He said: "Recruitment is very difficult and chefs are the crux of the problem. Finding good chefs is difficult and the tipping point has come now where it is almost impossible.

"We offer 45-hour weeks and attractive terms. Catering and kitchen work is not the pit of hell people say it is. It's enjoyable with good benefits and we pay well." Phil said as one solution he was drawing up a charter outlining the company ethos and hopes others in the industry will form an Island charter along similar lines.

Georgina Gibbs, manager of Shanklin's Steamer Inn, said she cannot emphasise enough how disastrous the staff shortages are.

A job advert, despite hundreds of views, only resulted in one applicant.

She said: "We don't have enough staff in the kitchen and front of house, so if the government had lifted restrictions and put more tables in we simply couldn't have served customers.

"The last few days we've been opening later and closing the kitchen early as we simply do not have the staff.

"We are staggering the number of customers we're letting on site so we can keep the levels to a more manageable level.

"We've never known anything like it and we are just adapting day by day."

Will Myles, managing director at Visit Isle of Wight said: "The current staffing crisis is a perfect storm of Brexit and the pandemic, which has highlighted a underlying issue with recruitment and retention in the hospitality industry.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to try to change things around.

Isle of Wight County Press: Will Myles, managing director of Visit IW.Will Myles, managing director of Visit IW.

"This is a staycation year for the UK and to be put in the situation where businesses can’t deliver their normal top quality level of service could lead to the Isle of Wight’s tourism industry suffering from a bad reputation, from which it will take time to recover.

"The Isle of Wight is well known for the warmth of its welcome and we want to ensure everyone benefits from that.

"The strains businesses are currently under with reduced staff, mixed with customers who are unaware of the pressures businesses are going through, is causing unprecedented levels disruption to normal service.

"Visit Isle of Wight is working with the MP and local businesses and organisations to see what can be done."

However, he warned it wouldn't be a 'quick fix' for this summer.

Visit Isle of Wight has raised the issue with the national tourism body of Visit Britain and Visit England.

A meeting is scheduled with Visit England director Andrew Stokes next week to look at ways Destination Management Organisations can work together to address the problem and bring pressure on the Government to act in the interests of the hospitality industry.

Visit IW has set up a working group with Mr Seely, the Isle of Wight Council, Isle of Wight College, Job Centre Plus, local training provider HTP, job recruitment specialists and industry representatives from the Island to see what can be done to address the problem locally.

It has also secured funding for customer care courses from Tourism South East.

Solutions being tried by the hospitality industry to overcome the problem includes offering simpler menus, reduced days and hours of service, staggering the number of customers, and training and upskilling existing staff.