The hospitality industry in one of the busiest holiday hotspots in Wales is relying on friends and family to stay open, according to one business.
Debbie Neale, owner of the Blue Ball restaurant in Tenby, said a desperate shortage of staff meant many businesses were taking the tough decision to close for days on end, and even entire weeks, just to get some respite.
This week, three of Tenby’s most popular restaurants announced they had taken the “totally shocking” decision to close their doors despite it being the height of the tourist season.
Debbie, who runs the Blue Ball with her best friend and business partner, Mel Fairman, said: “We’re literally running on low staff and relying on friends and family to get through this, and everyone in Tenby is the same.
“This is unheard of, I’ve never seen anything like this.” The pair have been running the restaurant for 15 years and whereas most summers they’ve had students pour through the door looking for work, this year they’ve not had a single one.
Last week, the two women, both aged 52 and who’d been doing the equivalent to two peoples’ jobs all summer, decided enough was enough. On Thursday, August 18, they announced: “It’s with a heavy heart that we have had to make this difficult decision to close until further notice. The reason is that we just can’t staff it up and believe me we have tried but the pressure on Mel and myself is taking its toll. We will be closed until further notice. Please bear with us through this horrible time and we hope to be back open soon.”
They’d just finished a 14-hour day with Mel working out the front and Debbie overseeing the kitchen without a pot washer.
“You’ve got to have a washer-upper,” said Debbie. Since they’d shared their desperation, friends and family have come to the rescue and offered their help. So much so they are looking forward to reopening the restaurant on Saturday, August 21. But the situation is far from ideal – they still desperately need a chef, waiting staff and kitchen staff too.
“We can’t cover every section between the two of us,” Debbie said, blaming Brexit and the furlough scheme as the main reasons for the shortage of workers.
“We have employed people from Poland and the Czech Republic in the past, but they’ve all gone back to their countries now.
“We hit a wall a couple of nights ago and just couldn’t staff it. That’s stressful enough and then having to ring round and say we can’t open is even harder. We’re not doing it because we enjoy having to close.” Most people have been understanding, she said, but one or two had been angry at having their bookings cancelled.
There are restaurants all over Wales who’ve been forced to close temporarily because of staff shortages. You can read more about that here.
It’s particularly galling when Tenby is enjoying peak summer season and tourists have poured into Pembrokeshire. Debbie added: “It’s packed, there’s just people everywhere. Every day is like a bank holiday.”
The past 18 months had been “horrible” Debbie admitted, and the fact they’re unable to open now that nearly all coronavirus restrictions have been lifted is a real kick in the teeth.
“It’s pressure, constant pressure,” she said. “You think as you get more into a business you can step back a little bit but it’s harder now than when we started 15 years ago. It’s 14 hour days, it’s hard going and it takes its toll.
“We’re doing two peoples’ jobs which we can do but it’s unsustainable.”
Two other popular Tenby restaurants – Twelve and Plantagenet House – also closed recently due to a shortage of staff. On August 12, the Plantagenet House, tucked away on Tenby’s Quay Street, closed temporarily, saying: “It is with a heavy heart that due to staff shortages we have had to temporarily close our restaurant. We are deeply saddened and bitterly disappointed and would like to take this opportunity to apologise to all of our customers.” It remains closed eight days later. The website says the restaurant is looking for chefs immediately.
At the beginning of this week, Twelve, a stylish wine bar and restaurant located in Tenby’s Food Quarter announced that it would also be closed temporarily, reopening on Monday, August 23. They said: “Unfortunately we will remain closed until next Monday due to staff shortages. We want to provide the full Twelve service and feel we cannot in the current situation.”
Twelve had already taken the decision to close on Tuesdays to help alleviate the pressure on its team. The staff shortage problem is not new – some restaurants found staff were quitting just days before they were due to reopen back in May.
And even as the first tranche of restrictions were lifted in May, many restaurants, bakeries, holiday parks and hotels were left crippled, desperate for staff and unable to fully open.
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