RESTAURATEURS say it is becoming ‘incredibly difficult’ to run their businesses due to supply failures caused by a perfect storm of problems caused by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.

In recent weeks, supply chain issues have caused chaos, with the hospitality sector particularly hard hit. 

Mark ‘Baz’ Butcher, owner of The White Hart in Wytham, near Wolvercote, said supplies were so unpredictable, his kitchen team did not know what they would be able to cook from one day to the next. He is also suffering a shortage of staff, and has been forced to close on Mondays and Tuesdays.

He said: “It is incredibly difficult.No one has seen anything like it. We are all scratching our heads saying ‘when is this going to end?’. 
“We have had to close two days a week now at a time when our demand could not be greater. 

“We have endured the past 18 months of the most appalling conditions because of lockdowns, where we have struggled for our very survival. I nearly faced bankruptcy; I nearly packed up twice during the course of last year. Now, at a time when we have lots of demand for our food and service, we have to close.”

A major problem is believed to be the reported shortage of more than 100,000 UK drivers, meaning products cannot be picked up and delivered to restaurants. However, restaurateurs have also complained of a lack of chefs, front of house staff, workers to pick fresh foods and warehouse staff. 

These issues have been compounded by both Brexit and Covid-19 as many European workers who previously held the jobs have returned to their home countries or have found work elsewhere, leaving gaps in the market. 

He said: “My mornings now see me rushing around the local shops trying to find things like chicory or onion. This situation started two weeks ago, but now it is starting to hit supermarkets. The issue as I see it is when schools, who rely on national contracts, are affected. 

“I hope they will be prioritised. They could well not be able to serve school lunches, God forbid, and it will end up impacting on the most vulnerable sections of society.”

Sarah McKenzie, head sommelier at the Nut Tree Inn, Murcott, said: “There’s a shortage of certain wines from certain regions – such as Italy – and they get stuck there and can’t get out of the country. Whether that’s because of the driver shortages or Brexit, I don’t know. In the kitchen, they’ve ordered items and other items have been sent instead.” 

At the former Michelin star-awarded Two One Five Kitchen in Summertown, Oxford, a member of staff said deliveries had been delayed by two or three days, which meant they frequently ran out of stock. They said: “The main issue is not so much being able to get the products, but the deliveries being very delayed. 

“We do not import anything from aboard but other restaurants have really been struggling to get many of their products.”

At Raymond Blanc’s restaurant, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Great Milton, a spokesman said: “We, like many others, are experiencing a number of new challenges. We are helped by having our own kitchen garden here and using much of our own produce.”

The Government is delaying post-Brexit border controls due to shortages. Brexit minister Lord Frost said the timetable for bringing in the “same controls on incoming goods from the European Union as on goods from the rest of the world” would be postponed beyond the plans set out in March.