Hospitality trade hit hard as supplies disappear

Farr Brew's Matt Elvidge and Nick Farr.

Farr Brew's Matt Elvidge and Nick Farr. - Credit: Farr Brew

As you may have seen in the news, many industries are suffering from repeated and increasing supply issues. Nando’s ran out of chicken last week. As did KFC a while back. Not ideal for chicken restaurants. McDonald's ran out of milkshakes.

The supermarket chain Iceland believe that a “considerable percentage” of their products will not be available for this Christmas.

The head of the CBI was on the radio stating that the shortage in the availability of food and drink products was currently roughly akin to that last seen in 1983.

Meanwhile in the hospitality world our issues continue unabated. Heineken are currently experiencing huge supply problems. This doesn’t sound too bad does it? Until we realise that Heineken own and produce… well, Heineken. But also… Amstel, Birra Moretti, Fosters, Strongbow, Inches, Neck Oil etc etc. They are the principal supply source of nearly every single kegged product we sell across our seven locations.

In several pubs we haven’t had a full delivery from Heineken for several weeks. We put an order in, are told all is fine. And it just doesn’t come. So we are constantly milling around trying to source from others. I put an order in for 9 x 11 gallon kegs at one of our pubs last week. I got…. 2 x 4.5 gallon kegs. No notice. To keep supply going we are calling everyone, driving all over the place, paying so much more than normal. All to keep things flowing.

This is not meant to be a political piece (although I think you can probably guess which way the Farr Brew team voted). But without any doubt, this issue is down to 75,000 HGV drivers leaving the country, post - yes, you guessed it - Brexit. This has been compounded by Covid, and the pingdemic following. Heineken's issues were then brought about by their principal logistics haulier going on strike. Why? Because they don’t have enough drivers so are asking their current ones to work harder, longer, more.

There is no real sign of these issues ending. There are currently 90,000 advertised HGV driver positions in the UK.

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This issue impacts the whole supply chain too. The UK is missing roughly one third of our required dairy workers. And according to the head of the National Farmers Union, around 25 per cent of farming vacancies go unfulfilled.

These issues then transfer to the keg, the cask, and to the plate. Food orders are unpredictable to say the least. We are often having to make changes on our menus at short notice. Or simply remove whole sections from them. The largest ingredient supplier to the hospitality sector literally failed to deliver to us for over a month.

Gas is also an issue. And no, I have not been eating beans. There has been a huge shortage of CO2. Meaning we have not been able to bottle our beer for three months. Leaving our shelves nearly empty. The poor Reading Rooms has hugely suffered due to this. (Though you should pop in for a pint - it’s lovely!) Thankfully Jason and his team have been brewing like crazy recently and bottles have finally started returning.

We also continue to have staff issues; the pingdemic carries on giving. And chefs are like hens' teeth right now (anyone know any?!).

1.3M workers left the UK post Brexit. Most of which worked in either hospitality or food production. These aren’t negotiable figures, they are just facts.

So, what is my point? I seem to just be moaning. But the thing is, I don’t mind all this; it’s my job to sort problems. It’s a challenge and I quite like a challenge. But I will moan if people continue to blame my staff.

We recently had a customer complain that crab cakes were not available that day. They were looking forward to them (and rightly so - Adam at the Bull handmakes them and they're delicious).

Unfortunately we couldn’t get crab meat that week. Now, I’m no chef but I’m reasonably sure you need crab to make crab cakes. This customer had a huge hissy fit and basically shouted at our serving staff.

We’ve also had folks hugely upset that their preferred lager brand wasn’t available, we had someone complain last week that they had to wait ten minutes for food. For food! We aren’t a McDonald's! (Though we also don’t do milkshakes).

So, my tirade ends. In short: don’t blame the messenger. it is not the barmaid's or waiter’s fault if your preferred product isn’t available. Please know that there have probably been a dozen phone calls, lots of driving around, several expected but failed deliveries and a huge amount of frustration thrown in for free in trying to source that lager or crab cake.

These are but just a few of dozens of examples of customers being rude to our staff. So I just ask this… please understand that they are knackered, stressed and trying very hard to get things right.

So, forget the cakes, forget the lager. Have the cod and chips with a pint of Farr Brew instead.