Joe Cussens, director of the Bath Pub Company, said reduced numbers of overseas workers would spell disaster for the sector, which was already struggling to fill back-of-house roles.
The pub company currently operates four pubs in Bath and and has experienced problems recruiting in the aftermath of the 2016 EU referendum.
The Government said freedom of movement will end immediately in the event of a no-deal Brexit, with no phasing-out period, which caused calls for clarity from the trade.
UK labour gap
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Cussens has joined those urging the Government to provide more assurance that it will take the hospitality sector’s recruitment difficulties into account with post-Brexit immigration policy.
He explained: “My view is that [the current Government’s stance] sends out exactly the wrong message, at the moment the country's pub kitchens need more people to operate them.
“There simply isn't enough domestic labour. We rely on that additional EU labour and anything that sends out a message they are not really welcome or wanted is going to reduce the number of people who are willing to come here to work.”
Since the referendum the company has found recruiting kitchen staff increasingly difficult.
Cussens said: “A few years ago, when you were looking for kitchen staff, there was always plenty of EU labour.
“Now you get to the situation where you can't even find anybody to do a kitchen porter job.
“We had a situation last year where we’ve actually used agency staff to do a kitchen porter job.
“That was unheard of. The idea of doing that a few years ago was just be ridiculous because there’s always somebody who is willing to do that kind of work.”
Hard to prepare
The pub company has struggled to prepare for life after Brexit because of the lack of guarantees from policymakers, Cussens said.
He added: “It is frustrating that we could spend a huge amount of time and resource that we can ill afford to preparing different scenarios, which may not happen.
“That’s the big frustration really as you can spend a lot of time and effort mobilising and then there’s a delay or there’s a change.
“That uncertainty is difficult for us, in terms of what we can do for planning to help the recruitment problem in light of this – we are already doing everything we can anyway.”
Suggestions from Home Secretary Priti Patel that a future immigration policy could see salary thresholds imposed were criticised by the director.
He said: “That just doesn't work for our industry because the restaurants that Boris Johnson likes to go and eat in are staffed by EU nationals who are working on minimum wage or fairly modest wages.”