Berlin – It has now been four months since you can eat and drink again in Berlin restaurants after the long lockdown break. Although sales have been rising slightly since then, the mood in the hospitality industry is still depressed. Around every second innkeeper in Berlin still sees his restaurant threatened with bankruptcy. 28 percent are even considering leaving the company. This was the result of a survey of capital city restaurateurs at the beginning of September. A big problem: there is a lack of staff.
According to information from the Federal Employment Agency, there were almost 28,500 vacancies nationwide in the catering and hotel industries in August. That was twice as many as in April. Current figures for Berlin are not available from the local employment agency. The latest information relates to February of this year. At that time, the Berlin gastronomy had 49,860 employees subject to social security contributions, 14,753 in the hotel industry. Compared to February 2019, the restaurant operators in the city lost around 8,500 employees. The hoteliers counted 5,000 fewer. Berlin projections for June show that the industry is short of another 2,000 employees. The people had left and many did not come back.
Shorter opening times, buffet instead of service
“Many companies have great difficulties in finding people for the kitchen and service,” says Gerrit Buchhorn, Vice-Head of the Berlin Hotel and Restaurant Association. And he knows the consequences. Restaurants and bars have shortened their opening times, some only open five instead of seven days a week. Sometimes there are buffets instead of service. Hotels offered fewer rooms because there was also a lack of housekeeping. In some cases, companies would have to limit themselves to a breakfast menu due to a lack of chefs. The reasons for the staff shortage are also clear, according to Buchhorn: 19 months of pandemic, only scarce short-time work, no tips and no clear prospect of when it would continue again. “Many have reoriented themselves.”
The fact that many waiters and cooks do not come back after the lockdown is attributed to the industry’s poor image in the Food, Pleasure and Restaurants union. The causes are low wages, unpaid overtime, and no reliable working hours. Gerrit Buchhorn also believes that companies should make more attractive offers to potential applicants. “When in doubt, the companies also have to look at the general conditions,” he says. He doesn’t want to say that better wages have to be paid.
The hospitality industry in Germany ranks in the lower part of the salary statistics. While last year the average gross monthly income in this country was 3975 euros for a full-time position, according to the Federal Statistical Office, an average of 1,893 euros was earned in gastronomy, about half as much as in retail.
Marko Domazet, who owns the burger restaurant Grindhouse on Kollwitzstrasse in Prenzlauer Berg, has also experienced a great exodus. During lockdowns, half of his crew hung up their aprons. He lost six employees who did not come back even after the restart. “They are no longer in the industry, and some are no longer in town,” says the landlord, whose workforce is now complete again. Luck and chance came together. Some are without any experience, but Domazet wants to try. Is he paying more than before? “No,” he says. “I pay a minimum wage of EUR 9.60 with the prospect of more.” That is common in business. Finally, there is also a tip. That is at least 400 to 1000 euros a month.
Patrick Junge tries to improve the industry image. He is the offspring of the Lübeck baker dynasty of the same name and head of the Peter Pane burger chain, which has seven branches in Berlin. Junge explains with some pride that of the chain’s 200 or so employees are still on board and speaks of “solidarity” and “family”. During the pandemic, they all swapped their trays for bicycle helmets and set up their own delivery service in a very short time. “He saved the company from the Corona crisis,” says Junge. Fair pay for employees is one of the company’s important values. However, it is not specific: “Clearly above the minimum wage.”
And what about the hotel industry? There, too, the restart was a good quarter of a year ago. Since then, the Berlin hotels have been able to receive tourists again. If there was initially a capacity restriction of 50 percent, the hostels were finally allowed to reopen completely in mid-June.
The Park Inn at Alexanderplatz is the third largest hotel in Germany with over 1000 rooms on 37 floors. Jürgen Gangl is the boss there and very satisfied. “It’s going better than expected,” says the 57-year-old. In the first month, the occupancy rate was 25 percent, in August it was 78 percent. “This puts us at least 20 percent above the overall Berlin market.”
There is a lack of truck drivers in laundries and beverage suppliers
Gangl knows that his hotel in Berlin is one of the exceptions. But he also felt the shortage of staff. However, the situation has improved in the meantime. While almost 50 employees were missing in the summer, according to Gangl, there are now only about 20 vacancies. He was also able to take over some employees of the Ellington Hotel in Schöneberg, which had to close in August. For better pay? “We have always paid through collective bargaining,” says Gangl. However, he now also offers more flexible working hours, which is important for young parents.
What is more problematic for the hotel manager is the lack of staff in peripheral areas, such as laundries or beverage suppliers who lack drivers. “But we are able to act,” says Jürgen Gangl and also that this is unfortunately not the case in all hotels in the city.