Will students save the drinks industry after Brexit?

Hospitality workers are fleeing the country, while salaries are on the rise as Brexit looms, but our break from the EU could have a positive effect on the industry’s reputation.

Is bartending about to get an academic reputation?

Since the referendum result was first announced in 2016, bars and restaurants have been in turmoil. Around 330,000 staff currently working in the UK hospitality industry are considering leaving the UK due to Brexit, which could result in a severe shortage of staff, according to the findings of a YouGov survey.

Of course, it’s not solely connected to Brexit. CGA, which recently reported that restaurant figures had fallen for the first time in eight years, blamed a combination of Brexit’s weakening of the pound, and increased competition after a surge of private equity-backed restaurants have opened over the past decade.

Yet despite this, the amount of firms providing accommodation and food services activities in the UK has grown by just under 20% in the last five years, having reached 202,060 – up from 169,235 in 2013. Industry leaders in the sector have found a new group of recruits who may be more inclined to stick around than they were before: students.

Recruitment platform Adia expects this figure to comfortably reach £100 billion in the ONS’ 2018 data, which is expected to be published in the autumn.

“It’s a very symbiotic relationship in the early years of their career,” Andrew Scutts, the founder of Cocktails in the City, told the drinks business.

Adia recently published a second survey, which found that the amount of students registered on its platform has surged by 83 per cent in the last four months, compared to the first four months of 2018, as the new academic year approaches.

Adia CEO, Ernesto Lamaina, said that as staff shortages continue to put a strain on businesses, they should look at students as “quality and flexible part-time employees.”

“Most bars exist because of the opportunity to employ educated and intelligent people part time, and a lot of people go on to work full time,” Scutts said.

Scutts is one of a group of executives in the industry who are putting their support behind a more structured form of education for hospitality workers. JJ Goodman, the founder and owner of The London Cocktail Club group, has partnered with The Princes Trust and Springboard UK to create the first government accredited qualification for specialised bartending in the UK. His vision, according to his website, is to to open doors within hospitality for Britain’s unemployed youth to create the first government accredited qualification in mixology.

Mixology, Scutts said, isn’t that far different from a creative role in any traditional workplace, be that marketing or architecture. Granted, salaries are low when you first start working (as of Sep 2018, the average pay for a bartender is £6.96 /hr or £15,670 annually, according to Payscale), but a combination of experience and talent could soon see you rise up in the ranks. Some bartenders in New York’s established hotels earn as much as $100,000 pa.

“If you take a more global context, looking at places like Italy, America, and Germany. A lot of other cultures see baristas and sommeliers ads a highly regarded position.” This, he said, could account for the strong presence of european sommeliers in London, particularly from Italy.

Bartenders are required to become experts in spirits, flavour profiles, mixology, and trade influence, and many countries already provide rigorous academic training for these. If the UK had its own accredited course for the service industry, students, Scutts believes, could well plug the post-Brexit gap.

Currently, it’s still a stop-gap for most young people in education. Ruth Bennett, 19, is just the kind of student they’d want to attract. She’s starting at university n Birmingham this year, studying drama, and she’s already looking for part-time jobs. She’s never worked behind a bar before, but likes the social aspect of the job.

“I just think it would be good to try something new,” she said, and although she currently has no plans to become a master mixologist, she’s open to ideas.

“I mean, I am doing a drama degree,” she said. “It’s a tricky business, so who knows?”

Bartending may be attractive to young people who are still considering whether paying for a university degree will secure them a job in three years time. Scutts said he was working for a bar group after graduating from university, but was ultimately guilted into applying for a PGCE “because I felt like I needed to use my degree.” His friend, also at the same university, chose to stay on, and is now on the board at a top restaurant group in London. “He’s got a few flats in London and a fantastic career.

“My little girl is 5 years old. In 13 years time she’ll go to uni. I’d personally be more keen for her to follow a vocation than something without a definite career path.”

Students are being utilised in a variety of new ways in the UK’s drinks industry, not just the on-trade. Wineries had also warned that they’re running short on fruit-pickers, but that wasn’t an issue for Richard Balfour-Lynn, the hotelier-turned owner of Kentish estate Hush Heath, at a media event last month.

The former Malmaison boss held an open weekend at the end of September to promote Hush Heath’s new visitor centre and tasting rooms. The operation was smooth, and run almost exclusively by students earning a few days work before heading back to halls in October.

“Some of them stay for the whole summer to help in the vines,” Balfour-Lynn said. “Some come for the fruit picking, and some are just here for the night.”

“It just can’t be stressed enough how important they are going to be to us.”

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