The restaurant trade in a post‐Brexit world

Restaurateurs fear rising ingredient prices and problems with labour as immigration is curbed, writes Dev Biswal.

My restaurants are my passion, but they are also my business. That’s why my immediate thought the morning after the referendum was: how will the UK economy be affected? And then, how will this affect footfall in my restaurants and ultimately, my books?

Like many other restaurateurs, I fear that the economy could be weakened by us leaving the UK. If the housing market takes a dip, this will inevitably have an effect on the spending habits of my customers; after all, if money’s tighter, it’s natural to want to hold on to it rather spend it on a special meal.

If fruit and veg prices go up will meal prices follow suit, or will the goodness in meals suffer?

When people start feeling the pinch, restaurants and luxury dining are the first to fall. And restaurants that sit within a certain price bracket suffer most in this scenario.

However, nothing is decided yet and we could see a resurgence in the economy, plus all the bonuses that come with this. For restaurateurs, this brings a noticeable increase in footfall and new faces through the door. Indeed, if more money does stay in the UK, leisure spending could go up.

Fruit and veg decline

But even if diners are able to pay for it, will there be food there to eat? This is the next question on the lips of many a chef or restaurateur.

The UK restaurant market sources a large proportion of its vegetables from the EU. If trading laws change as a result of Brexit, prices could rise and affect many businesses’ bottom line. Some will increase meal prices. Others might even cut the amount of fruit and veg in dishes. Either way, it could be bad news for consumers.

However, here at the Ambrette we’re great believers in using locally sourced UK produce wherever possible. Brexit could encourage others to do the same. If EU imports become more expensive, the positive consequence could be that produce options closer to home will be explored further – and we could see the rise of the British vegetable once more.

My request to the government is: if you tighten one border, open another one

Labour is the other area of concern for those in foodservice. I’m proud to work with a truly international team across my three restaurants; a group of people for whom inspiration and ideas abound. Brexit may create a seesaw effect
on labour: whatever the final deal looks like, where one group of people wins, another loses.

Four years ago, a change to UK immigration laws made it difficult to bring in skilled workers from outside the EU in order to encourage immigration from the EU. Like others, we found it more difficult to bring in skilled Indian chefs, for example, with an in-depth knowledge of their native country’s cuisine to create our Indian fusion dishes. Soon we could see the situation reversed, which could bring new opportunities for cuisines like ours.

But curbing EU immigration won’t just stop the free movement of people; whole cultures could be blocked, including food, language and traditions. So my request to the government is: if you tighten one border, open another one.

If EU immigration laws are tightened as part of Brexit, I hope that the process of employing highly skilled non-EU migrants will be made easier and that we will once again be able to easily welcome highly trained Indian chefs to our restaurants.

It goes without saying that Brexit will affect the UK restaurant industry in a number of ways. Whether these changes taste sweet or sour remains to be seen.

Dev Biswal is head chef and owner of the Ambrette restaurants in Kent and East Sussex.

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