Sonia and Enda McMahon outside Dún a Ri House Hotel in happier, pre-Covid times.Photo: Lorraine Teevan

Hotels hit by staff ‘crisis’

Workers abandon sector after Covid

Hotel bosses across the region have described a staffing “crisis” and an uphill battle to fill vacant positions right across the hospitality ranks. The revelation comes as restrictions eased further on Monday last.

Hotels including the Slieve Russell in Ballyconnell and Farnham Estate in Cavan are engaging in recruitment drives, with a variety of positions now advertised.

Managers are pointing the finger at rolling lockdowns in the sector, anti social hours, students returning to college and the “generous” Pandemic Unemployment Payments (PUPs) as contributing to their recruitment woes.

Some workers, who found themselves temporarily laid off, also found jobs elsewhere.

The proprietor of the Dun a Rí Hotel in Kingscourt, Sonya McMahon, put the dire crisis into stark perspective when she declared: “We have not opened yet for anything!”

It could be Spring 2022 before she opens the doors again to the public.

Highlighting there are almost 700 vacancies currently advertised online for in neighbouring Co Meath alone, she said: “There is no point in trying to run the ship here without chefs.”

When asked where all the chefs had gone, Sonya suggests: “They have all gone to day jobs. They don’t want to work the unsociable hours anymore.”

Good chefs still plying their trade, Sonya reveals, can currently command a wage of anywhere up to €1,000 a week now, and her business simply cannot afford such an extensive outlay.

But she says: “There has been a shortage for the past five or six years, but this has definitely put the tin hat on it. We could not get restaurant or bar staff this summer at all.”

Sonya though is hopeful that things, including recruitment, will pick up in the coming months, once PUP is phased out, and once the requirement for customers to have a Digital Covid Certificate (vaccine pass) for indoor service is lifted on October 22.

“We will have a look at [reopening] then, to see if we can get a run into Christmas. If not, it will be March next year before we re-open,” Sonya opines.

In the meantime the Dun a Rí business is being sustained by a contract the family-run hotel has secured with the Department of Justice to provide emergency accommodation for asylum seekers.

The move has proved itself a lifeline.

“We are doing the emergency accommodation for the Justice Department and that is what is keeping us going and that is also the reason I did not open to the public at this time.

“That is keeping the lights on and the basic bills paid,” explained.

Changing culture

Given all that has transpired, Sonya now believes it could take “years” to build the hospitality back up to where it once was pre-pandemic.

She also feels the Covid lockdown has changed people’s social habits, pointing to home bars and house parties, and notes too how most Irish people enjoying so-called staycations also appear to be going west or to Kerry.

‘Major problem’

Pat Kelly, proprietor of the Errigal Country House Hotel, agrees that staffing is a “major problem” for the sector.

“When the hotel was closed, staff went off to other jobs. “When they got those nine to five jobs, they did not want to come back, regardless of what you paid them,” he said.

Many foreign workers have also returned home.

“I am in the hotel business for the past 18 years and I have never seen it is as bad as this, in terms of getting staff,” said the Cootehill hotel proprietor.

On the bright side, Pat reported a strong summer season at the hotel, with good occupancy from people on staycations. “We were extremely busy and the outdoor dining went well,” he said.

Weddings are starting up again at the Errigal with 100 guests permitted and a return to live music. There already 10 weddings booked for November, which had transferred from last year.


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