Britain’s decision to leave the European Union could lead to staff shortages and even restaurant closures within Chester’s rapidly expanding dining scene.

The warning comes from Taste Cheshire – representing the Restaurant Association of Cheshire – and marketing company We Love Cheshire who hope to create a stronger working partnership with West Cheshire College.

This aim is to encourage local young people to pursue a career in the hospitality trade by providing opportunities for catering students to gain hands-on work experience in the kitchens of Cheshire restaurants.

Izzy Grey, managing director of We Love Cheshire

Izzy Grey, owner of We Love Cheshire, said: “The hospitality sector requires a large amount of labour to deliver its products and much of that labour shortfall has been filled with people from Europe who want to work in our industry and look at it as a strong and worthwhile career.

“With the Brexit vote, the industry fears not only losing many of their current staff as they are sent home but not being able to fill the void in the future as we will no longer have access to these people who bring so much to our businesses.

“Our aim in working with West Cheshire College and others is that we can organically create enough skilled labour to work in the hospitality sector and that by making the connection a strong one with West Cheshire College we can service the needs of the industry, locally.

“We have come so far in recent years but we need to look to the future and start solving our immediate problems or we are simply going to see businesses close because of a lack of qualified labour to deliver a product that the public demand in what is a very competitive market place.”

Chief executive Stephen Wundke is pleased Chester’s restaurant sector is booming but warns of the challenges.

He said: “The huge investment in the city recently by both the independent restaurant owners – with Chef’s Table, Urbano 32, Hickory’s, and many others – joined by the high profile, large chain openings in Pepper Street and very shortly, the new Miller and Carter in the Abode building is an indication of just how Chester is proving to be a major force for food and drink and whilst that is great news for the consumer it is placing an incredible strain on the labour market.

Stephen Wundke with Mark Walker, head chef at The Mere, during the Chester Food, Drink and Lifestyle Festival.

“We have a real shortage of chefs in and around Chester and we are looking now to create a stronger working partnership with West Cheshire College to stimulate the market place and explain to students just how they can create a successful career in the hospitality business as a chef.

“Myself and Izzy Grey of We Love Cheshire have been responding to many calls for help from hoteliers, restaurant and pub owners who are trying to recruit more staff and we need to move now before it’s too late.”

Mr Wundke also responded to recent remarks by Chester MP Chris Matheson who wants action to curb the influx of chain restaurants to the city, fearing it represents unfair competition for the independents.

He said: “I know our MP, Chris Matheson, is of the opinion that we need to be able to do something about the number of applications for eating places but I don’t see how that can work. What does work in controlling the market place is the public and their ‘appetite’ for a business.

“Bad businesses fail and good businesses survive. It’s a harsh reality but business doesn’t have a heart and neither does where the public want to spend their money. They go where they get good food and good value for money.”